Exeter St Martin


Some Old Devon Churches

By J. Stabb

London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)

Page 98

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.

EXETER. St. Martin. The old church was dedicated on July 6th 1065, but of this church there are no remains. The present building dates from the 15th century, and consists of chancel, nave, and north tower, with one bell dated 1675. The chancel is divided from the nave by an arch, on the north side of which is a niche for an image, but the figure is missing. The west gallery dates from the 17th century; on the panels are angels with trumpets and the arms of the City of Exeter, the Royal arms, and the arms of the See of Exeter. There is a very good Perpendicular west window with the arms of Courtenay, and the See of Exeter. On the south side is another window of about the same date, with shields of arms, including those of Bishop Lacey [elected 1420]. The pulpit was erected about 1804.

The altar is surrounded on three sides by rails [plate 98a], and on the north and south sides are seats for the communicants. When nearly every church had its chancel screen, altar rails were not so necessary, but in Elizabethan days [ca. 1560-1600], when the rood screens were removed, the need became apparent. Objections were raised early in the 17th century to the rails being placed round three sides of the altar, and in the days of [Archbishop] Laud [elected 1633; executed 1645] it is common to find instructions for the rails to be placed across the chancel from north south. There are a few survivals of the three-sides rails in Devonshire, of which St. Martin's is one. We have here also the seats at each side of the chancel for the communicants; a great change from the time when the only seats in the chancel were the sedilia for the officiating priests. At Ermington, some years since, the altar was at some distance from the east end, and was entirely surrounded by rails, but this has now been done away with, and the altar is at the east end.

The font [plate 98b] is, I believe, unique in Devonshire in possessing the bowl at the side to take the water dripping from the child at a baptism. It used to be the custom to consecrate the water for baptism once or twice a year, when the font was filled. When submersion was the general use, it was the practice to use the water over and over again, but after a time people became more scrupulous, and when affusion became general, it was even felt wrong to allow the water falling from the child's head to return into the font. Different plans were devised to prevent this; in some cases the font was divided into two parts, in others a smaller basin was attached to the side of the font to catch the water.

I think in this font we have an example of the latter custom. I found by blowing down the main drain, that the hole in the projection on the shaft communicated with the main drain, and I do not think that there is a doubt that we have here a specimen of the secondary bowl. The position certainly seems inconvenient, but allowance must be made for the fact that the present top is comparatively modern, and is most probably larger and deeper than the original one, besides, these small bowls were often used for pouring away the water that had been received in a vessel held by an assistant at the baptism. The west gallery dates from the 17th century; on the front are panels bearing the Royal arms, those of the See of Exeter, and of the City of Exeter.

The wall behind the altar is panelled and has the Creed, Lord's Prayer, and Commandments, and shields with the arms of the See of Exeter, and the arms of the Hooper family. On the north wall is a monument in memory of Mr. Philip Hooper, who died in 1715; he is represented kneeling before a desk, on which are a skull and some books, and wears a flowing wig; there is a long Latin inscription. A tablet, commemorating Mrs. Judeath Wakeman, who died January 5th 1643, has the following epitaph:-

"This is my dwelling this my trewest home
A howse of clay best fitts a guest of lome
Nay t'is my howse for I perceave I have
In all my life been walking to this grave."

The epitaph of Mrs. Elizabeth Butler, who died October 17th 1644, is as follows:-

"So good a neighbour, mother, friend, and wife
That Heaven and Earthe, about her were at strife.
Earthe was desirous here to have her rest
Heaven was desirous there to have her blest
To please them both herself in twain divides
Earthe has her body, the soul in heaven resides."

The registers date: baptisms, 1784; marriages, 1754; burials, 1783.