Exeter St Mary Steps
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.
EXETER, St. Mary Steps. The church is situated in West Street and may be known for the ancient clock projecting from the tower with three figures popularly known as Matthew the Miller and his two Sons. The dial is embellished with designs representing the four seasons; above the dial is an alcove containing three automatic figures; seated in the centre is a statue of Henry VIII [r. 1509-1547], and when the clock strikes the hours he inclines his head at each stroke; on each side of the central figure is a soldier with a hammer in one hand and a javelin in the other; beneath their feet are bells on which they strike the quarters with the hammers. There is an old local rhyme respecting these figures which runs:-
"Adam and Eve would never believe
That Matthew the Miller was dead,
For every hour in Westgate Tower
Matthew the Miller nods his head."
There are the remains of a rood screen [plate 101a] which formerly stood in the old church of St. Mary Major; when that building was demolished the screen was re-erected here. The groining and cornices are gone, and the top of the chancel portion is little more than the bare boards of the framework.
On the lower panels there is a good series of paintings of saints, of which Mr. C. E. Keyser gives the following list in "Devonshire Screens and Rood Lofts", Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1903:-
"Nave screen, north to south, (1) St. Anne instructing the Blessed Virgin, (2) ? St. Margaret, (3) St. Blaise, (4) An aged male saint; (1) St. Mary Magdalene, (2) St. Stephen, (3) St. Andrew, (4) St. John Baptist." "Panels on the doors varnished over: (1) The Virgin and Child, (2) St. Peter, (3) St. Bartholomew, (4) St. James Minor; (1) St. Paul, (2) St. Clement, (3) St. Lawrence, (4) St. Sidwell; (1) St. Anthony, (2) St. Matthias, (3) St. Jude, (4) St. John the Evangelist." On the doors, (1) St. Gregory, (2) St. Jerome, (3) St. Ambrose, (4), St. Augustine. On end compartment, south (1) St. James Major, (2) St. Simon, (3) St. Thomas, (4) ? St. Philip."
The Norman font [plate 101b] is very fine, and noted for a rather unusual feature in font ornament, viz., zigzag. It is said to be one of the four finest specimens of the period in Devonshire. There is a good font cover with small opening in front.
The registers date from 1655.