Some Old Devon Churches
By J. Stabb
London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)
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.
ASHTON. St. John the Baptist. The church dates from the end of the 14th or beginning of the 15th century, but some portions are earlier. Dr. Oliver says, in Monasticon Dioecesis Exoniensis, it was dedicated to St. Nectan on November 22nd 1259. The building consists of chancel, nave, north aisle and Lady Chapel, south porch, and an embattled western tower with six bells. Both nave and aisle have waggon roofs. The door of the porch bears the marks of bullets, possibly fired by some of [Sir Thomas] Fairfax's troops when Place Barton, which is near the church, was taken by the Parliamentary forces in 1646. There is an octagonal font, and some of the bench-ends are carved with shields.
The screen is perpendicular and extends across nave and aisle. It is of early 15th century date; the cornice carved with designs of birds and grapes over eight bays, filled with open tracery work. The lower part consists of thirty-two panels filled with painted figures of saints [plates 6a, 6b, and 6c]. Mr. C. E. Keyser gives the following list, beginning at the north end:- 1st, St. Gregory; 2nd, St. Jerome; 3rd, St. Ambrose; 4th, St. Augustine; 5th, St. Petronilla; 6th, St. Michael and Satan; 7th, St. Dorothy; 8th, St. Clement; 9th, St. Mark; 10th, St. Matthew; 11th, St. Luke; 12th, St. John; 13th, St. Erasmus; 14th, female saint with scimitar; 15th, St. Stephen; 16th, St. Sidwell; 17th, St. Blaise; 18th, St. Catherine; 19th, an archbishop; 20th, St. Margaret; 21st, St. John the Baptist; 22nd, Virgin and Child; 23rd, St. George; 24th, St. Mary Magdalene; 25th, St. Anthony; 26th, St. Ursula; 27th, St. Leodegar; 28th, St. Apollonia; 29th, a bishop; 30th, female with book; 31st, St. Sebastian; 32nd, St. Sidwell. The rood loft and groining have been removed since 1825, but the entrance to the loft can still be seen in the south wall. The Lady Chapel retains its ancient piscina.
There is another fine series of paintings on the screens in the Lady Chapel [plate 6d], seven of the panels are painted with half-length male figures in black and white on a red ground; these are supposed to be portraits of the Chudleigh family, some of whom are buried in this chapel. The paintings are Flemish work of the 15th century. On the eastern side of the doors are two paintings, one representing the Angel Gabriel, with wings on his back and a sceptre in his hand; a scroll bears the following words, "Ave Maria Gracia Plena Dominus tecum"; the second is of the Blessed Virgin kneeling before a desk on which is an open book, the scroll bears the words, "Ecce ancilla dni fiat michi sedm verbu tuu" [plate 6e].
When the church was restored, the Chudleigh monument against the wall of the north aisle was taken down and re-erected. Behind the monument was found an interesting painting in a very faded condition, representing the figure of our Lord with the instruments of the Passion, painted in monochrome on a red ground. Above the head is the Cross, on the right-hand side are the ladder, the scourge, hammer, etc., and on the left, the nails, pincers, spear, etc. There are small scrolls on the left-hand side, but no inscription is discernible. The fresco is about 5 feet from the ground, between the first and second windows of the north aisle; it measures about 8 feet in height by 41/4 feet in breadth. The pulpit [plate 6f], which is of carved wood, and dates from the time of Elizabeth [1558-1603], has a carved canopy or sounding-board. The old iron stand for the hour-glass remains but the glass has vanished. I do not know what people who grumble at sermons of half an hour's duration would have said if they had seen (as sometimes happened) the preacher at the end of the first hour turn the glass and continue his discourse.
The registers date from 1547.