Some Old Devon Churches

By J. Stabb

London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)

Page 91

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.

DUNKESWELL. St. Nicholas. The church, which consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, south porch and west tower, was rebuilt in 1868, and with the exception of the font, does not contain much of interest; the font is, however, worth seeing. It is is circular in shape, decreasing slightly in size at the centre, which is surrounded by a twist pattern, not cable moulding; beneath the twist is a scallop pattern. The upper portion of the font is divided into eight panels; in one there is a figure of a bishop arrayed in chasuble and holding a staff [plate 91a]; next to this is another figure, apparently in chains; there are also represented a king, a lord and a lady, and an elephant. It is difficult to date the font, it might be Norman, but if the elephant was sculptured from life the font cannot be earlier than the 13th century as, according to Matthew Paris [ca. 1200-1259], the first elephant was seen in England in 1255, when King Henry III [r. 1216-1272] received one from Louis IX [r. 1226-1270] of France. It has been suggested that the lord and the lady may be intended for Lord William de Briwere and his wife; he was the founder of Dunkeswell Abbey, died in 1226, and was buried before the high altar of the Abbey church. The presence of an elephant on a font is appropriate, as there was an ancient belief that the elephant brought forth her young in the water, and the animal thus became a symbol of the new birth in the water of baptism. The carvings on the font are much worn and difficult to make out; the elephant will be found on the west side [plate 91b].

The registers date: baptisms, 1750; marriages, 1743; burials, 1740.