St Juliot Church
St Juliot in
an isolated position on the northern slopes of the Valency Valley. The
church is snugly tucked away below the road, and for those with the time to
do it, the walk along through the woods from Boscastle is perhaps the best
way to find this magical spot which has become indelibly associated with
Thomas Hardy, the novelist and architect: readers of "A Pair of Blue Eyes"
will rapidly recognise church and place. The churchyard is at its very best
in the early spring, when snowdrops drift the banks, but at any time of the
year the setting is timeless.
When hardy first came to St Juliot, in March 1870, he came not as a writer, but as an architect, appointed to make preparations for the restoration of the church, but the visit changed his life. For here he met Emma Gifford, the Rector's sister in law, who became his wife.
What Hardy found was a church in a parlous state, hard to imagine today, but echoed many of the churches of the area at the time. The 14th Century tower was in a ruinous and falling state, and the whole building was in 'irredeemable dilapidation'. Emma's own record states that 'that the carved bench ends rotted more and more , ivy hung gaily from the roof timbers and birds and bats had a good time unmolested. No one seemed to care. 'Drastic measures were needed. The tower had come down; the old nave and chancel were replaced by the smaller north aisle, and the 15th Century former south aisle became the nave and chancel as it is today. So the rebuilt tower is now at the west end of
The present north aisle replaced the old nave and chancel. On the north wall is the memorial to Emma, designed by Hardy himself. There is also a memorial tablet recording Hardy's" association with the church and the neighbourhood" installed in 1928. Click image to enlarge
the new small aisle. The northern transept was destroyed at this time together with much old woodwork and a Jacobean Pulpit.
Hardy himself regretted so much had to be destroyed, but there was no other way forward.
His drawings are still preserved in the church, and there is a useful booklet on sale
which describes in more detail Hardy's association with St Juliot.
Inside, whilst the restoration is immediately obvious, Hardy's work is sympathetic to the past. The church gives a comfortable feel of use and tradition - with one stark, sad nod at the present day. A notice on a pillar declares " The brass and other items have been stolen."
Click to enlarge image
St Juliot Changed Hardy's life for ever. Here he fell in love, and much encouraged by Emma, was persuaded to spend the rest of his life as a writer. This place much influenced him, and the church as it stands today is a fitting memorial to his affection and enthusiasm for the place. But he was building on a past of centuries of worship, which continues to the present day. Remember, if you will, past benefactors with gratitude, and remember and support those in this small community who keep the church for the future.
Pay a visit to Otterham local Village Hall:
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Extracts taken from 'CHURCH TRAILS IN CORNWALL' packs produced by North Cornwall Heritage Coast & Countryside. Original text by Jeremy Dowling