St Dubricius ChurchGloucester
Church Lane
Whitchurch
Herefordshire HR9 6DA

 

This beautifully located church is worth visiting for a number of reasons. It is dedicated to a local 6th century Celtic Saint, the oldest parts date back to the 13th century and it has historic connections with Canada.

St Dubricius
Dubricius or Dubric was born c.465 AD, beside the River Wye at Madley near Hereford. He was the illegitimate son of Efrddyl, the daughter of King Peibio Clafrog of Ergyng (post-Roman Welsh kingdom). When her father discovered she was pregnant he threw her into the River Wye to try and drown her and the unborn child. His attempt failed and she ‘miraculously’ gave birth to a son.
 
Dubricius (Dyfrig in Welsh) and his mother were reconciled with Peibio when the child touched him and cured him of his leprosy.
 
This 6th century British ecclesiastic was venerated as a saint – teaching and allegedly healing the sick by laying on of his hands. He lived in Herefordshire and founded monasteries which were centres of learning. He was the evangelist of Ergyng and much of south east Wales. It is thought that he even travelled as far as Somerset.
 
His life is full of legends, such as being made an Archbishop of the Llandaff See which he later relinquished in favour of St David. He is alleged to have crowned King Arthur, but one thing is certain, he died c.550 AD whilst living on Bardsey Island in North Wales. His body was later moved to Llandaff Cathedral in 1120.
 
It couldn’t be more appropriate for this historic church on the banks of the River Wye to be dedicated to a saint who survived drowning in this same River Wye!
 
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The Church
An old church stood here in the 9th century but the oldest parts of the current church date back to the 13th century. Constructed of local sandstone rubble, ashlar dressings and stone roof slates, the church was built in the Gothic Decorated style but underwent substantial enlargement and heavy restoration in the 19th century.
 
The three-bay enlargement of the nave in 1861 is recognisable by its octagonal piers, moulded bases and capitals.
 
Nevertheless, there is still some of the ancient building visible. The nave and chancel are topped with 14th century trussed rafter roofs and there are two continuous moulded chamfers to the chancel arch. The font is a combination of styles. The incised bowl is late 12th century in origin, the lower edge being cut away to octagonal form to fit a 14th or 15th century stem with a square base.
 
The obvious love that the local community have for their parish church is evident by the amount of beautiful needlepoint hassocks and tapestries that decorate the interior.
 
Churchyard TulipTree
Near the south porch a magnificent North American Tulip Tree dominates the churchyard. It is reputed to be over 300 years old and is a magnificent sight during June and July when it is in full bloom. The 2-4 inch blooms are a spectacular sight.
 
Tulip trees (a form of white Virginia Poplar), were introduced to England in 1656 by John Tradescant the Younger, head gardener to King Charles I.
 
Gwillim Enclosure
St Dubricius owes much of its later enlargement and restoration to the benefaction of the Gwillim family, lords of the manor and local aristocrats who lived in the The Old Court, just 500 yards (450 metres) away.
 
To the west of the churchyard is the Gwillam tomb enclosure, built by Thomas Gwillim in 1744. The Gwillim family owned Old Court at Whitchurch from 1600 until 1898, and the enclosure contains numerous family graves.
 
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Canadian Connection
The Gwillim family goes back as far as the Norman Conquest in 1066 but it was not until the late 16th century that the Gwillims came to Whitchurch Court through the marriage of Thomas Gwillim to Barbara Powell.
 
Colonel Thomas Gwillim, the sixth in line, who had married his cousin Elizabeth Spinckes at Whitchurch in 1750, fought with General Wolfe at the battle of Quebec in 1759.
 
Thomas died in Germany in February 1762 not knowing his wife was carrying a daughter after 12 years of childless marriage. It is this daughter who is intimately connected with Canada. Thomas’s widow moved to her mother’s house in Northamptonshire where her daughter Elizabeth was born in September 1762.
 
Unfortunately, Elizabeth (nee Spinckes) died in childbirth and her daughter was left an orphan.
 
Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim (1762-1850) spent her early years with her grandmother Jemima Spinckes. However, Elizabeth frequently spent time with her other grandparents and aunts at Whitchurch Court. After the death of Jemima, she went to live with her aunt Margaret and Admiral Graves in Devon. Admiral Graves was the godfather of John Graves Simcoe.
 
It was here in 1781 that Elizabeth met her future husband, John Graves Simcoe. John was convalescing after distinguished service during the American War of Independence. They married in 1782 and thus began Elizabeth’s extraordinary life, travelling with, and supporting her husband in far off lands, and managing to give birth to eleven children, many of them daughters.
 
In 1781 John Graves Simcoe was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.Taking their two youngest children with them, they endured incredible hardship during their journey to Canada.
 
Elizabeth’s strength and personal capabilities were of immense help to her husband. She was an able diplomat and fluent in French which made her acceptable to the French-Canadians. She was an accomplished diarist, illustrator and map maker with an intense interest in the lifestyle of Canada’s First Nation. Much of what we now know of Canada’s early history is thanks to Elizabeth Graves Simcoe.
 
The family returned to England in 1796 due to Simcoe’s poor health. On the very eve of their next major overseas appointment to India, Simcoe was taken ill and died at Exeter in 1806. Elizabeth never married again and lived another 40 years as a widow.
 
This writer is indebted to the Old Court Hotel history page at:
for the above information on the Gwillim-Simcoes’ connection to Whitchurch and St Dubricius church.
 
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Contact & Further Information
Telephone   +44 (0)1600 713459 (The Vicar) 
 
Getting There
- By Car:
Sat Nav Setting JR9 6DA
Take the A40 between Ross-on-Wye and Monmouth. Exit the A40 at Whitchurch. Turn south onto the B4164 towards Symonds Yat West for 200 metres. Go past the aMazing Hedge Puzzle attraction after turning left along Old Wharf Lane and follow it to the end of the road. Church car park is free of charge to visitors.  
 
Google Maps - Whitchurch