Writer: Ed Prichard
Photography: Laura Blight
The Reverend Lovibond’s Dream
Eglosheyl, 10th November, Year of our Lord 1467
Before I slept
I pray’d to my precious true relic –
St Petroc’s knuckle bone
And I dream’d through peals of bells
of distressed souls
drown’d by dowr Kammel
And the Lord shew’d me
a pons war gwlan
founded on flocks of golden fleece
raised by dull masons and
the spiralling songs of angels
Lovibond’s Ladder, they laughed,
stretching from Eglosheyl to Nanssans
The name Egloshayle is an anglicised version of the Cornish Eglosheyl – the church by the estuary or church on the shore.
Reverend Thomas Lovibond was vicar of Eglosheyl between 1461 and 1475. During his tenure he rebuilt the church, adding the tower. He is best known for building the pons war gwlan, the bridge on wool, at Wade in 1468. Many people were drowned fording dowr Kammel at Wade (subsequently Wadebridge), which motivated him to build it. Kammel is Cornish for crooked, so the river is also known as ‘’the crooked one.’’
Legend has it the pons war gwlan’s foundations were made of woolsacks, hence the name. During extension works in 1963, no wool was found and it’s thought the name is an ironic reference to it being built on the profits of the wool trade. It seems Lovibond persuaded local landowners and sheep farmers to fund the construction.
On my visit, I crossed from Wadebridge and walked down the river to the church at Eglosheyl. It is dedicated to, and possibly founded by, Saint Petroc in the 13th century. Petroc was the son of a Welsh chieftain and, after his death in 564, his relics were kept in an ivory casket in the eponymous church in Bodmin before being stolen in the 12th century.
The churchyard has ranks of slate gravestones featuring bravura carved lettering and inlays. Inside, there are impressive monuments to the Molesworth family (later Molesworth-St Aubyn) of Pencarrow. The original Baronetcy was created in 1689 for Hender Molesworth, then Governor of Jamaica. The family line continues today with the 16th Baronet, Sir William Molesworth-St Aubyn.
Other features include a rare carved Caen stone pulpit, a Norman font, and a tower with eight bells. The bellringers are celebrated in the song The Ringers of Egloshayle – all those named in it are buried in the churchyard.
There’s something elemental about Eglosheyl, both in name and place. Arriving under overcast skies and driving rain, it all felt somewhat Biblical. It wasn’t hard to imagine religion being deeply entrenched here, where the wild land flows in granite from Bodmin Moor, down the estuary to Padstow, and meets the fearful force of the Atlantic: a rock and a hard place indeed.
In the sestude, I liked the idea of Thomas praying to his “true relic” even if it more likely originally belonged to a pig than a saint. Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale was published less than 75 years earlier and the trade in fake relics continued in England until the 1530s, when Henry VIII broke with Rome and dissolved the monasteries.I also thought the locals – although grateful for the safe passage – may have mocked Lovibond behind his back. If the bridge was his dream version of Jacob’s Ladder, then it probably fell a little short of its ambition. Pons a gwlan links the parish of Egloshayle to the parish of St Breock or Nanssans in Cornish, on the opposite side of the river – possibly not everyone’s idea of heaven at the time.