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.
ATHERINGTON. St. Mary. The church [plate 8a] consists of chancel, nave, north aisle, south porch and embattled western tower. The chancel was rebuilt in the Early English period, and added to and altered in the Perpendicular. There are two screens, one separating the chancel from the nave and the other in the north aisle; the latter, which still retains the loft and gallery front, is said to be the finest in Devonshire [plates 8a and 8b]].
The chancel screen consists of narrow square-headed lights under a horizontal beam, most probably originally there was a horizontal coving to support a loft, as is the case at Willand. In the reign of Elizabeth [1558-1603] an order was made for the removal of lofts to the level of the groining. This order seems to have been pretty generally carried out, which accounts for there being only two examples of the ancient gallery front in Devonshire. Unfortunately, when the lofts were removed the groinings were often taken down as well, hence the large number of screens with a flat surface ornamented with portions of the carving which formerly composed the fronts of the lofts and galleries.
In 1880, when the chapel at Umberleigh Manor House was demolished, its beautiful rood screen was brought to Atherington, and erected in the north aisle of the church. It is of unpainted oak, richly carved, the divisions of the fans are filled with beautiful designs, and the fans spring from carved figures of angels holding shields. The original gallery (front and back) remains, the only instance of the original gallery in existence in Devonshire with the exception of the one at Marwood, near Barnstaple, and there only the east side remains. There are projecting canopies on the front of the gallery which formerly held figures, but these were destroyed in 1548. The carving of these canopies is exceptionally fine. The panels underneath the canopies in the time of Elizabeth [1558-1603] were ornamented (?) with the Royal arms, shields, and an inscription running:- "God save the Church, our Queen Elizabeth and Realm, and grant us peace and truth in Christ.-Amen."
Several monuments, formerly in Umberleigh Chapel, were removed here in 1818. One of these is a cross-legged figure in armour, and is supposed to be that of Sir W. Champernowne. In the chancel are recumbent effigies of the 14th century of Sir Ralph Willington and Elinor his wife (died 1329). On the north side of the chancel is an altar tomb on the slab of which are the effigies of a knight in armour, bare-headed, with broad-toed sabbatons, shirt of mail, sword, and spurs. The effigies of his two wives are clad in the head-dress of the period, fur trimmings, girdles, and pomander balls; there are two groups of children, three girls and four boys on the left, and four girls and one boy on the right. The three shields of arms are:- 1. Bassett quartering Champernowne and Beaumont. 2. Bassett as before, impaling Granville. 3. As before, impaling Dennis. This tomb is the monument of Sir John Bassett (died 1528) and his two wives, Elizabeth, daughter of John Dennys of Orlegh, and Honor, daughter of Sir Thomas Grenville, and twelve children. Sir John was Sheriff of Devon in 1525. There is an interesting inscription on the tomb of Sir Arthur Bassett and his wife.
There are some good bench-ends in this church. The churchyard is approached by an ancient lychgate with a stone slab on which to rest the coffin.
The church was restored under the supervision of the late Mr. J. Pearson, and re-opened on October 30th 1883.
The registers date: baptisms, 1538; marriages, 1548; burials, 1570.