From ‘Lady Woodcarvers’ to Professionals: The Remarkable Pinwill Sisters

The Remarkable Pinwill Sisters


This splendidly illustrated book brings the story of three remarkable nineteenth-century women to life. It recounts in rich detail the beginnings of the Rashleigh Pinwill ecclesiastical woodcarving company in Ermington, Devon, in the early 1890s, through to the establishment of a Plymouth-based business, ranked among the best in the Westcountry, and run single-handedly by Violet Pinwill until the 1950s. The front cover, featuring a beautifully-carved praying angel from Plympton St Mary, Devon, is shown on the right.

Full colour throughout with over 350 illustrations; xii + 300 pages and 246mm x 191mm.

£25.00 + £3.00 p&p (mainland UK) with payment by bank transfer or cheque. Please enquire for overseas postage and payment. You can use the Contact page to order.

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For those living in (or visiting) Devon and Cornwall, there are several bookshops that now stock The Remarkable Pinwill Sisters. These are:


The book has been reviewed by several national and local journals, magazines and newsletters. Here’s an online one from Victorian Web and some extracts from printed reviews.

The title speaks of performers being summoned onto the stage of the Music Hall by the Master of Ceremonies and that sense of anticipation is fully rewarded by this outstanding book, with plates to match. Matthew Saunders, Ancient Monuments Society, Summer 2021.

In this tercentenary year, while we consider Grinling Gibbons’ life work, it is useful to reflect on the stepping stones to be found in the historic record. Dr Wilson has revealed the Pinwill sisters as significant contributors. Hugh Wedderburn, Friends of City Churches, August 2021.

This book is much more than a combination of biography and business history, though it is certainly both. The chronological survey of the expansion of the firm, its changes of premises and the enlarged scope of its output is set against the history of changing artistic taste, economic forces and social movements. Jane Howells, British Association for Local History, Summer 2021.

The book wears its scholarship and exacting research lightly… Wilson has pieced the story back together again to reveal the importance, skill and tenacity of the Pinwill sisters, particularly Violet, restoring their reputation as one of the foremost ecclesiastical woodcarvers of the South West, and leaving us the happy task of going to discover the works for ourselves with the book as our guide. Kirsty Hartsiotis, Decorative Arts Society, Autumn 2021.

I had heard of the Pinwill sisters before reading this book, but I had no idea how prolific they were or how they had developed their amazing woodcarving skills. The author has undertaken a vast amount of research to write the sisters’ story in a very readable and interesting way with plenty of illustrations. Rachel Bloomfield, Magazine of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, Autumn 2021.

Their work is described in detail in a highly readable style by one who is clearly completely in awe of all the pulpits, bench ends, rood screens and other ecclesiastical carvings the sisters created and repaired. One is left with a new understanding of the art of woodcarving and an empathy for the past times which allowed for its creation. Stella Beaven, DA News, Magazine of the Devonshire Association, Autumn 2021.

The author has already made the Pinwill sisters more widely known in recent years through her articles and lectures, but this volume firmly establishes their reputation and will be a valued resource for all those interested in the history and decoration of churches in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as those who love visiting country churches. Kate Hay, Furniture History Society Newsletter, November 2021.

One hopes that Helen Wilson’s superb achievement in chronicling the Pinwill sisters, with such lively writing and scholarly skill, will now generate widespread interest and enable an important part of the West Country’s artistic heritage to be properly appreciated. Peter Cormack, The Victorian, November 2021.


Online and face-to-face presentations on The Remarkable Pinwill Sisters have been arranged with various organisations. In 2022:

  • Kresen Kernow (‘Cornwall Centre’): Online talk Monday 28 March
  • Devon Rural Archive, Shilstone, Devon: Live talk Thursday 7 April
  • Public Statues & Sculpture Association: Online talk Tuesday 10 May at 6:30pm
  • Stratton Church, Cornwall: Live talk Friday 27 May (time to be arranged)
  • Plym Valley Heritage Society: Live talk Thursday 21 July at 7:30pm
  • Teign Valley History Group: Live talk Tuesday 13 September at 7:30pm
  • Women’s History Network (West of England & South Wales) 29th Annual Conference
    ‘Women and Money: A Historical Perspective’ Bristol, Saturday 15 October

The following presentations took place in 2021:

  • Cornish Buildings Group: Online talk Thursday 18 March
  • The Victorian Society: Online talk Tuesday 27 April
  • Devonshire Association Buildings Section: Online talk Thursday 20 May
  • BBC Radio Devon: Interview Monday 24 May by Pippa Quelch
  • Ecclesiological Society: Online talk Thursday 27 May
  • Devon Buildings Group: Online talk Thursday 10 June
  • St Tudy Historical Society: Live talk Monday 28 June


Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB): The Remarkable Pinwill Sisters and Crantock Church, Cornwall

Arts & Crafts Tours: The Pinwill Sisters – Professional Woodcarvers of the Movement

Other publications by the author

Helen Wilson, ‘The Emergence of the Pinwill Sisters’, Devon Buildings Group Newsletter, 34 (2016) pp. 59-67.

Helen M. Wilson, ‘The Architect Edmund H. Sedding and his Devon Churches’, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 148 (2016) pp. 255-292.

Helen M. Wilson, ‘From ‘Lady Woodcarvers’ to Professionals: The Remarkable Pinwill Sisters’, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 151 (2019) pp. 273-294.

Helen M. Wilson, ‘The Architect Edmund H. Sedding’ in P. Holden (ed.) What is unique about Cornish Buildings? Proceedings of the 2019 Cornish Buildings Group Conference (in press).