Ancient chalice saves crumbling church tower

Joseph Bulmer

Sale of ecclesiastical silver helps fund ‘vital’ restoration work at Instow church

A 400-year-old chalice has come to the rescue of a crumbling North Devon church tower.

The sale of the 1576 communion cup and paten – and the generosity of parishioners – is helping to fund a long-awaited project to restore the tower and west window at the Church of St John the Baptist in Instow.

Repair work to safeguard the 54ft tower, one of North Devon’s most prominent church buildings, is well under way and is expected to be finished by the end of the month.

The landmark tower, which looks straight out across the Taw/Torridge Estuary and out into the Atlantic, has long been in danger of eroding against the elements, so much so that church-goers feared it could collapse completely.

Church warden John Warner said the west window was being fully renovated, while the west and south sides of the tower were being re-pointed with lime mortar.

“It has slowly eroded over the years and had become a bit of an eyesore,” he said.

“There were concerns that the church tower would come down but this work should keep it going for at least another couple of hundred years.”

Pam Cantle, the church’s grants and appeals officer, said this was the church’s third attempt at repairing the west window and that lumps of stone had been “falling out in chunks”.

“It was getting very dangerous and one of the reasons for the deterioration was the type of mortar used in previous repairs over time.”

The sale of the chalice, as well as money raised by parishioners and a substantial donation, is paying for the repair work, estimated to be in the region of �40,000.

The ecclesiastical silver artefacts have been sold to the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon for �4,250, on condition from the Diocese of Exeter that the money be spent on the tower renovations.

Alison Mills, museum development manager, said the “Instow Communion Cup” was bought with funding from the Art Fund and the V&A Purchase grant fund and will be put on permanent display at the museum in a gallery dedicated to the region’s merchants and manufacturers.

She said: “It is a unique piece for the collection demonstrating the kind of silver in use in North Devon churches at that time and the skills and tastes of Devon goldsmiths.”