Some Old Devon Churches

By J. Stabb

London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)

Page 11

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.

AXMINSTER. St. Mary. The church consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, north porch with parvise, and central tower with eight bells.

The building exhibits several styles of architecture, the lower stage of the tower and part of the chancel are Early English, the greater portion of the chancel and the nave are Decorated. In the chancel is a piscina under a beautiful trefoiled pointed arch resting on corbels of heads; there are triple sedilia under trefoil headed arches, and near these, in a recess in the wall, is a whole length effigy of a female, attired in a long flowing dress, the hands in an attitude of prayer, and holding between them an image of the Blessed Virgin and Child. This effigy is said to be by Mr. Davidson to represent Alice, daughter of Lord Briwere and wife of Reginald de Mohun, to whom the Manor of Axminster belonged as co-heiress of her brother's estates; she died about the year 1257. It was the custom of the time to place the effigies of the founders of churches in the walls of the buildings, and as she holds an image of the Blessed Virgin, to whom the church is dedicated, it is most probable that she was the founder of the church. In the north wall of the chancel there is a corresponding arch containing the figure of a priest arrayed in chasuble, with maniple on the arm. The figure has been much mutilated, part of the head is missing, and the body has been badly treated. This effigy is supposed by Mr. Davidson to represent Gervase de Prestaller, chaplain and steward of Lord Briwere (the father of Alice de Mohun) and vicar of the parish.

There is nothing remaining of the rood screen, but that it originally extended across the western arches of the tower is indicated by a walled doorway in the turret which doubtless led into the rood loft. There is a hagioscope in each of the eastern piers of the tower arch. The pulpit [plate 11a] and reading desk were erected in 1633, which date was formerly on the back of the pulpit. They are made of oak, the panels enriched with arches and devices of foliage, etc. There are galleries on each side of the nave, the one in the north aisle was erected at four different periods, the eastern end in 1735, the western portion was erected by private subscription, and the intermediate part in 1826. The south aisle was erected in the same year. The capitals of the pillars on the north side of the nave are carved with figures of angels, those on the south side with foliage.

Before the south aisle was built there was a transept called the Trill or Drake's aisle, this transept was removed in the year 1800, when the south aisle was erected, and the doorway belonging to it was re-erected at the east end of the new aisle. This doorway is the most ancient and interesting portion of the church. A plan and elevation are given in Carter's Ancient Architecture of England, where it is given as an example of the Saxon style; it is also attributed to the same date in Kings' Munimenta Antiqua. It is supposed by Mr. Davidson to be the only portion remaining of the minster erected by Athelstan [r. 925-940]. I should say that the doorway was Norman work, but to whichever period it belongs it is a very fine doorway [plate 11b].

The name of the first vicar was Gervase de Prestaller, about the end of the 12th century.

The registers date: baptisms, 1566; marriages, 1695; burials, 1559.