St John in the Wilderness
Some Old Devon Churches
By J. Stabb
London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)
Transcribed and edited by Dr Roger Peters
Full text available at
Between 1908 and 1916, John Stabb, an ecclesiologist and photographer who lived in Torquay, published three volumes of Some Old Devon Churches and one of Devon Church Antiquities. A projected second volume of the latter, regarded by Stabb himself as a complement to the former, did not materialize because of his untimely death on August 2nd 1917, aged 52. Collectively, Stabb's four volumes present descriptions of 261 Devon churches and their antiquities.
ST. JOHN-IN-THE-WILDERNESS. This was originally a large church and the mother church of the district; it is said to have been called St. Michael's Chapel in the reign of Henry VIII [1509-1547]. The greater part was pulled down in 1778, and all that is now left is the north aisle [plate 216] and the west tower; the latter up to a year or two since [ca. 1908] was covered with ivy and formed a picturesque object, but the ivy has now been removed.
The north aisle retains some windows of good design, and has a waggon roof. The altar piece is curious, it covers all the east wall; near the top on each side are angels with trumpets, at each corner are flaming torches, and in the centre is a heart in flames, over a book; above this is a triangle encircled with divergent rays, and in the centre of the triangle the name of God in Hebrew characters; lower down are two panels with angels' heads at the corners containing the Commandments. In the south wall, near the door, is an old capital belonging to one of the pillars of the old nave. There is a tablet to the memory of the Rev. W. Holwell Carr, D.D. [1758-1830], who left his collection of paintings to the National Gallery [London]. The tower is entirely cut off from the church, from the churchyard can be seen the outline of the original roof, but what was formerly the tower arch has been walled up. There is a very fine yew tree [Taxus baccata] in the churchyard, the trunk being about 25 feet in circumference. Francis Danby, A.R.A. [1793-1861], whose paintings of scenes in the neighbourhood are well known, is buried in the churchyard.
The font is old, but the date on the base is, from the style of the font, far too early; it is quite impossible that it was erected at the date given, viz., 911; someone must have put this date on for a joke.
The registers date from: n.a.