Church Monuments Society

Photo 2023 06 12 114653

Monument to George Hughes in St Edmund’s church Kingsbridge

Month: September 2023
Type: Wall monument  
Era: 17th Century

Visit this monument

St Edmund King and Martyr
70 Fore St, Kingsbridge TQ7 1PP

More about this monument

An elaborate wall monument to a man who lived in very turbulent times, a man who suffered for his beliefs and views and who was forced to retire to a town with which he had no great connection.

Near the entrance of the choir in St Edmund’s church, Kingsbridge, is the mural monument to Reverend George Hughes who died in 1667. Quite a large memorial, it is one of a sizeable group of similar monuments made by an Exeter workshop between the mid-1650s to the 1690s. However, it has not been possible to identify the actual sculptor responsible. The monument, constructed of limestone and local ‘marbles’, retains nearly all its original painted decoration. It consists of a framed inscription panel flanked by two composite Corinthian columns which in turn support an entablature with end projections, the frieze containing three small winged heads and with a simple dentil moulding above. On the top of the monument is a shaped plinth that supports a blank cartouche of arms. At the bottom of the composition is a pair of supporting console brackets with acanthus leaf facings. Between them is a strap work apron with a skull and crossed bones in the centre.

The question is who was George Hughes? He was born on Southwark, London in 1603 to humble parents and managed to secure entry to Corpus Christi College, Oxford in 1619. He gained a BA in 1622, MA in 1625 as a fellow of Pembroke College and was ordained in 1628. In 1631 he was made lecturer at All Hallows, Bread Street, London and while there he achieved his Bachelor of Divinity in 1633. Because of his refusal to obey the rules of preaching laid down by Archbishop Laud he was suspended but eventually managed, through the intervention of the Earl of Bedford, to be appointed to the living of Tavistock. In 1640 he moved to Exeter where his wife Rebecca Martin, whom he had married in 1633 died.  It was whilst in Exeter in 1644 that he married his second wife, Rebecca Upton. Of their three children, their only son Obadiah Hughes also became a minister.

The Corporation of Plymouth elected him as vicar of St Andrew’s in 1643 where he remained until being ejected for non-conformity in 1662. After his ejection he continued to hold secret services and for this he was arrested in 1665 and confined for nine months to St Nicholas Island, now known as Drake’s Island. On his release, organised by his friends, he was banned from living within twenty miles of Plymouth and took up residence in Kingsbridge, at that time a known centre of non-conformity that welcomed persecuted preachers. Hughes died in 1667.  His will, preserved in the Public Record Office (PROB 11/324/100), gives no mention of a monument.

A casual examination of the inscription on his monument reveals that it was erected by his friend Thomas Crispin sometime around 1670, the wording being composed by Hughes’s son-in-law John Howe, another well-known non-conformist.  Thomas Crispin, whose portrait can be seen in the Cookworthy museum, Kingsbridge, founded the local Grammar School for fifteen boys and his interest in learning is suggested in the books and pens behind his right hand in the portrait. This endowment was further enhanced in 1691 by the donation of property generating £350.00 per annum by William Duncombe with the aim of sending four boys to Oxford or Cambridge, putting others to apprenticeships and for the salary of the lecturer.

Most people who visit St Edmund’s church probably give very little attention to George Hughes’s monument. The inscription is written in Latin, which very few people now read. The architecture is simple and devoid of obvious imagery and other parts of the church are doubtless more interesting, especially the monument to Frances Schutz Drury, 1817 by John Flaxman. However, a glance into the details of George Hughes reveals a life lived in very turbulent times, a man who suffered for his beliefs and views and who was forced to retire to a town with which he had no great connection.  Through the medium of this unassuming monument we are offered a window into a world that was so very different from our own: a world few of us now understand or recognise.


Dr Clive J Easter FSA