Some Old Devon Churches
By J. Stabb
London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)
Transcribed and edited by Dr Roger Peters
Full text available at
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.
BLACKAWTON. St. Michael. The church is Perpendicular, and consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, south porch, and embattled western tower containing six bells, five of which were recast in 1782. The chancel portion of the rood screen remains [plate 21a], but is sadly in need of restoration. It retains traces of ancient colour, and the panels have shields with emblems of the Passion and paintings of arabesque pattern. The south parclose screen is richly carved.
The ancient double piscina and sedilia remain in the chancel [plate 20b]. Sedilia is the name for the three stone seats which are often found on the south side of the church near the altar. The usual number of the seats is three, and they were used by the priest, deacon, and sub-deacon at High Mass. They are generally graduated, but sometimes are on the same level. At Blackawton the floor of the chancel must have been considerably raised; if the seats were used now, they would be uncomfortably low.
Piscina is the name given to the shallow basin or drain found in the south wall of the chancel of many of old churches. They are sometimes single and sometimes double. When there are two basins side by side, one was used for the disposal of the water used by the priest for washing his hands, and the other for the water used for the cleansing of the sacred vessels. In the 14th century it became the custom for the celebrant to drink the ablutions, and a single piscina was sufficient. Examples of most periods of architecture will be found - Norman, Early English, and Perpendicular, but Norman are rare. In some cases they are very plain and in others highly ornamented.
In the aisle there is a fine brass to the memory of Nicholas Forde, of Forde, died 1582, and his wife Margaret.
The font [plate 21c] is Norman with circular bowl; there is cable moulding round the top, and beneath, a band of carving. It is mounted on shaft and plinth. On some of the capitals of the pillars will be found the arms of Torre Abbey, which possessed large estates in the parish. The church, with the exception of the chancel, was restored in 1887. In 1893 the church was again restored, and a new vestry and south porch added.
There are two curious epitaphs in this church:-
Here lyeth ye body of Agnes wife of Richard Cholwich of this Parish gent. who departed this life 1st day of July 1646.
"Cease friend to weep she's but asleep not dead
Changed from husband's to her mother's bed
Or from his bosom in to Abram's rather
Where now she rests blest soule in such a father."
Richard Sparke Minister of the Gospel April 4th. 1700.
"All you that here God's word declare
Pray keep my Tomb in good Repair
And you that my bread doe eat
See that is stands both clean and neat
For whiles my Tomb here safely stands
In peace you shall enjoy my lands
But if you let it decay
My Alms from you shall pass away
Henceforth let no man move these bones
That buried lie under these stones."
The registers date from 1538.