Some Old Devon Churches

By J. Stabb

London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)

Page 3

Transcribed and edited by Dr Roger Peters

Full text available at


Prepared by Michael Steer

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.

ALPHINGTON. St. Michael. The church dates from about 1480, and consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, north porch, and embattled western tower containing eight bells cast by T. Bilbie in 1749, in place of a former peal of five bells.

The perpendicular rood screen [plate 3a] was restored by Reginald Earl of Devon in 1879. The groining is lost, and the spandrels filled in with fragments of old carving. There is a difference in style between the chancel portion of the screen and that in the north aisle, and it would seem probable that the latter portion came from some other church. On the lower panels are paintings of saints, bishops, etc. On the south side of the chancel portion is a curious representation of St. Dunstan clutching the Devil by the nose with a pair of pincers, and on the north side is a painting of Sir John Schorne who, according to the legend, caught the Devil and shut him up in a boot [ca. 1300]. This figure will also be found on the screen at Portlemouth, near Salcombe.

The church contains a remarkably fine Norman font [plate 3b] remaining from a former building. It is what is called "bucket shaped", and stands upon a plinth, above which the bowl is ornamented with a design of interlaced arches, surmounted by a band of carving. On the south-east side are two panels representing St. Michael's contest with the Dragon, rather an unusual subject for a font; possibly the fact of the church being dedicated to St. Michael was the reason for which it was chosen. The dragon is given plenty of tail, divided into two parts, spreading into the panels on either side. On the left of St. Michael is an animal which from its spots is probably meant for a panther. Following round the font to the left, the next panel represents an eagle. The eagle is often carved on fonts, and is symbolical of baptism. An old idea was that when the eagle got old, and its wings heavy and sight failing, it mounted high in the air and scorched its wings in the heat of the sun, after which it dipped itself three times in a fountain of clear water and became young again. Another panel represents a bird falling head downwards with the wings outstretched. Another panel has an archer shooting an animal most probably intended for a goat, as it has horns and a beard; another bears a large flower, possibly a rose; another the figure of a man carrying a stick. In Paley's Baptismal Fonts it is stated that one of the carvings on the Alphington font is of a man carrying a hare on an axe. The reference is probably to this panel, but it is not easy to discern the hare. The crocodile and hydra are also carved on the bowl. This subject will be found [in St. Mary's Church] at Melbury Bubb, Dorset.

The registers date from 1603.