Accept and Continue

Cookies on this site

This site uses cookies. For more information, please see our privacy policy.
Skip to main content

The Pinwell Sisters

The Remarkable Pinwell Sisters of Plymouth.  Presented by Helen Wilson 4th May 2022.

Recorded by Rick Purnell.

Dr Helen Wilson the Teignmouth Probus Club’s May speaker entertained 26 members with illustrations of the ecclesiastical wood carving skills of the Pinwill Sisters which can be seen in a host of churches in Devon & Cornwall.  In Queen Victorian times, the Vicar of Ermington had seven daughters and the middle 3 girls, Mary (1871), Ethel (1872) & Violet (1874) were enrolled as woodcarving apprentices to a William Giles of Somerset by their remarkable mother Elizabeth who much against the ethos of her times, believed her daughters should have employment and thought wood carving would provide a worthwhile livelihood. Wood carver William Giles was engaged by the local wealthy land owner Henry Midmay who sponsored the restoration of the incumbent Vicar Reverend Pinwill’s Church so the girls were learning on the job at their father’s church restoration. By 1889 they were expert and talented carvers and set up business as Rashleigh Pinwill & Co in Plymouth. (Rashleigh was Mary’s middle name). They became the principal contractors for this type of work under for the church Architect Edmund Seddings often to his designs.  The sisters became specialised in all aspects of church decorative wood carvings, working in oak and chestnut but latterly in stone too. 

Looking at the family background, forbears were shipwrights and workers in wood so it may have been ‘in the blood’.

Mary married in 1900’s and left the business with Ethel working from Ermington and Violet running the company in Plymouth. In 1911 Ethel moved to Kingston-on-Thames. By 1918 Violet employed 29 people including a few women. Violet died in 1957 having run the business for some 50 years.

During this time some 650 substantial items were carved ‘new’ or ‘restored’ mainly large ornate alter screens depicting biblical characters and scenes, high pulpits and whole rows of pew ends in over 185 churches mostly in Devon & Cornwall but also for 20 other countries. Impressive photographs of examples of their works. The first being the pulpit at St. Peter and St. Pauls Church,  Ermington,  Other examples in our locality include St Peters at Shaldon Bridge, St Mary Abbotsbury, All Saints Lady Chapel Babbacombe. Perhaps the most interesting was a large armorial bearing for HMS New Zealand which is now the pulpit at Davenport Naval Base. The photograph shows pulpit at Saint Peter & Pauls church in Ermington. Inset is speaker Dr. Helen Wilson with Teignmouth Probus Chairman Malcolm Adams.

More about the Pinwills’ can be found at

Our next speakers are Ian & Caroline Lycett-King talking about “Food, Medicine and Magic“.

Teignmouth Probus club meets at Richard Newton Hall Community Centre on the 1st & 3rd Wednesdays at 10:00am

If any retired male readers in Teignmouth would like to know more about us, please visit our website:



Teignmouth Probus Club The Remarkable Pinwell Sisters