Petition to Erect a Vault The Vestry Room Burials in the Vault

On the 9th of July 1805 Francis Rodd of Trebartha Hall asked the Bishop of Exeter for permission to create a vault for his family on the North East corner of St Torney's church, with a vestry room above. Permission was granted the same day.

Petition to Erect a Vault

Francis' written request, along with the plan reproduced here, has been preserved in the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter (reference - Diocesan Faculty Causes, Cornwall, North Hill 1) and was as follows:

"To the Right Reverend Father in God John by divine permission Lord Bishop of Exeter, his Vicar General in Spirituals or any other competent Judge in this behalf

"The humble Petition of Francis Rodd, of Trebartha Hall within the parish of Northill in the County of Cornwall, Esquire, Churchwarden of the said Parish


"That your Petitioner is willing and desirous at his own Expense to make a Vault or burying Place in the Church Yard of the parish of Northill, in the said County of Cornwall and on the North side of the Chancel of the said Church to contain seven feet and two Inches in Depth or thereabout, and, the Parishioners are desirous to have erected over the same a convenient Vestry Room for their accommodation to contain fifteen feet in width or thereabout and eight feet in height or thereabout. Your Petitioner therefore prays that your Lordship will be pleased to grant your Licence or Faculty to enable him to make or cause to be made the vault or burying place aforesaid, which is intended as a vault or Burying place for himself & Family, and also to erect or cause to be erected a Vestry room of the dimensions aforesaid agreeably to and in Conformity with the plan hereto annexed Assuring your Lordship that a Vestry room is much wanted and will be of general convenience to the parish And your Petitioner as in duty bound will ever pray and so forth

Dated 9th July 1805                   Francis Rodd"

click for a larger image*

The document is annotated in another hand at the foot as follows:

"Launceston 9th July 1805
"Exnd by Turner, & on his petition, Intimation decreed
Ralph Barnes
in the presence of
Wm Davey, Notary Public"


The Vestry Room

Above the main porch which is on the south side of St Torney's church is a Vestry Room. It is accessed from inside the church and the steps up to, and down from, the room are very steep and almost impossible to negotiate for all but a fit, young person. The make up of a parish council would not normally be exclusively of fit, young people. There was, and probably always has been, a need for a more accessible vestry room.

The plan above clearly shows that a new vestry room was to be built over the Rodd family vault (outlined here in yellow). The current view of the vault (imaged below) shows it with a castellated roof but with no vestry room above. Whether the vestry room shown on the plan above was never built or was built but later removed or another structure was built instead is not definitively known. The churchwardens' accounts for 30 March 1830 state "At a vestry held at the Vestry room in the parish of North Hill ...". In 1846 the accounts say "At an adjourned public Vestry held ... in the Vestry Room of the Church at North Hill this 23rd day of April 1846 ...". This tells us that a vestry room existed but was it the one above the south porch, the one above the vault or another structure?

The 1840 tithe map (see below) shows the church in plan and the vault is clearly included as part of the church but whether the vestry was above it cannot be discerned from the map. An unreferenced description of the church on the GENUKI website indicates that there was a parochial vestry room as an integral part of the church at some time, but this could refer to the one above the south porch.

A hundred yards or so east of the church is a building now known as "The Old Vestry", suggesting that this may have been the alternative to the structure over the vault. This location was part of an orchard in 1840 (plot 1018 on the Tithe Map shown below). In 1995 this property, marketed as "The Vestry Room" but is now known as "The Old Vestry", was sold for conversion to a residence, as can be seen from the sale details below. This building was used for civil parish council meetings until the 1990s and Brian Ruby remembers being involved in meetings in there. The cost of maintenance and availability of more suitable accommodation in the village hall prompted the sale of the property. The age of this building has not been established but it is clear from the 1882 map, also shown below, that the building was built after this date and cannot, therefore, be the one mentioned in 1830 and 1846. It was probably built much later when the councillors eventually came to the decision that the whatever accommodation was in place at the time was no longer usable.

1840 Tithe Map showing the location of "The Old Vestry House". **
1995 sale particulars.
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1882 and 2020 maps showing the location of "The Old Vestry House" which was not shown in 1882
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Two interesting structures are shown on the 1882 map and have been circled in red. Neither of these are shown on the 1840 and the 2020 maps but there was something there in 1882. The right circle appears to show steps leading upwards on the north side of the vault. Could the vestry room above the vault have been constructed but oriented differently, and later removed? There is nothing on the north wall of the vault to suggest that these steps ever existed. The structure in the left red circle no longer exists and could have been the vestry room sited at ground level on the exterior north wall of the north aisle, but again there is no evidence to support this. One wonders what the 1882 surveyors were recording.

Any structure built above the vault would have blocked light getting to the chancel's north window and the north aisle's east window. For this reason it seems unlikely that this was considered to be viable once the vault's walls had been erected. It is possible that the new vestry room above the vault was included as part of the proposal to build the vault in order to obtain consent to the construction of the vault but there never was a real intention for the vestry room to come to fruition.

Side view of the vault that suggests the Vestry Room was not constructed. The plan above shows stairs on the west side of the vault which, seen here directly attached to the north aisle and with no space for stairs.
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Front (east) view of the Rodd vault. The entrance is narrower than that shown on the plan above.
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Arch over the entrance to the vault; the inscription reads "Blessed are the dea[d they] die in the Lord".
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Burials in the Vault

The Rodd family vault at St Torney's was built with space for 16 coffins. An undated document listing the occupants exists in the Diocesan archive and shows twelve spaces filled with named occupants, one space with an unnamed occupant (#13) and three unfilled spaces (#14, #15 and #16). The chart below shows where the coffins were placed in the vault, according to this document.

The parish burial register for the parish does not state whether burials were interments in the ground or placements in the vault. They were all recorded as burials. Some newspaper reports record that bodies were placed in the Rodd family vault, but not all reports were this informative. The doorway to the vault has been sealed with mortared stone blocks and the vault may not have been opened since the last entombment, probably in 1927.

Later burials were in the earth of the churchyard indicating that the vault had been closed, probably when full. If this is so, then the placement guide could be inaccurate. The four spaces with unnamed occupants on the document held by the diocese may be occupied by the coffins of those shown in the yellow panels on the chart below.

Francis Rodd, who commissioned the vault, is not named as occupying a space in the vault. His wife, Ann, is also not named as being in there. She died in 1807 and Francis died in 1812; it would be reasonable to expect them to be the first occupants but this appears not to be the case.

The vault would appear to have been filled from the bottom upwards, with the first coffins placed against the wall, but keeping married couples together. Following this convention the order would be as shown on the diagram below, the numbers on the panels indicating their placement in the vault. Oddly, in the instances of spaces 7 & 8 and 9 & 10 it seems that any earlier interment has had to be temporarily moved away to allow a later interment to be placed against the wall. The chart shows that Elizabeth Thomson died in 1915 before Francis Rashleigh Rodd and his wife Julia but she was interred in the churchyard. This could indicate that space in the vault was limited and Francis Rashleigh Rodd (1839-1922) had reserved the last two spaces for himself and his wife.

A plaque on the wall in St Torney's erected by Alicia Rodd to remember her family. Her brother, Francis, commissioned the vault. Click for larger image. Other memorials can be seen here.

There are three known graves in the churchyard of family members.

The funeral of Elizabeth Anne Rodd (1836-1891 and shown in yellow on the above chart) took place at St Torney's on 27 November 1891 and the newspaper cutting shown below suggests that she was interred and not placed in the vault.

In June 1971 an inventory of gravestones, and memorials in the church itself, was created by C L Scoble for the Society of Genealogists but there is no mention of a gravestone for Elizabeth. Had one been erected it is reasonable to expect it to have survived 80 years.


You can read more about The Rodd family, Edward Rodd (1768-1842), John Tremayne Rodd (1769-1838) and Charles Edward Rodd (1849-1865) by clicking on the appropriate link.


The image at the top of the screen shows St Torney's Church seen from the east with the castellated vault on the right of the church.
* Reproduced by kind permission of Devon Archives & Local Studies, DHC Diocesan Faculty Causes, Cornwall, North Hill 1.
** 1840 Tithe Map reproduced with the permission of Kresen Kernow.