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.
BIDEFORD. St. Mary. The church consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, transept, north and south porches, and tower containing eight bells, six of which date from 1772. The present building is modern, having (with the exception of the tower) been entirely re-built in 1865. It is a fine church, but one regrets that so little of the ancient building was preserved. The old fluted granite columns, the corbel heads, carved bench-ends, etc., were handed over to the builder, and some years afterwards were sold, the oak being split up for firewood, and the granite pillars used as gateposts for the suburban villas. What was saved of the old oak has been made into a belfry screen, and the richness of the carving makes one doubly regret the taste (?) of those who could prefer pitch pine seats to the ancient oak.
The Norman font [plate 18a], saved from the old church, is circular in shape with double rows of cable moulding and carved panels on the bowl; it is supported on a shaft with cable moulding round the base.
On the south side of the chancel is the monument of Sir Thomas Grenville [plate 18b], died March 18th 1513, with his effigy in armour. On the tomb are shields of arms of Grenville, and Grenville impaling Gilbert, this knight having married Isabel, daughter of Otho Gilbert, of Compton Marldon. Mr. W. H. Hamilton Rogers, in his Sepulchral Effigies in the Parish Churches of North Devon, gives the following account of the figure of the knight:-"The pauldrons and coudiéries are ornamented, and the brassarts and vambraces puffed or ribbed. Taces to which are appended deep lambeaux of overlapping plate, large apron of chain mail, and broad-toed sabbatons, complete his costume, and he is armed with sword and misericorde." On his breast hangs a double chain. The head of the effigy is, in accordance with a practice adopted towards the end of the 15th century with armed figures, bare; it rests on a tilting helmet, out of which is issuant a small shield charged with the Grenville arms (three horseman's rests). In his hands he holds his heart, an occurrence also frequent with mediæval figures. At his feet are two half dogs conjoined. Over the figure is an arch with screen work, the top of which is mutilated, and on the frieze of the monument is the following inscription in black letters:-
Hic jacet Thomas Graynfyld miles patron isti
eccle q obiit xviii die mensis marcii A.D.
Mcccccxiii cuy aie ppiciet de. Amen.
Below the effigy on the tomb on either side are shields displaying his arms and those of his first wife (on a chevron three roses), and two canopied niches for the figures of saints. This monument had been stored away in the crypt as being out of keeping with a new church, but has now been reconstructed and placed in its original position.
The date of the former church is unknown, but it is believed to have been Early Norman, when it was pulled down remains of a smaller, and probably Saxon, building were found.
In the churchyard is the following curious epitaph:-
"Here lies the body of Mary Sexton,
Who pleased many a man, but ne'er vext one,
Not like the woman who lies under the next stone."
The registers date from 1561.