Ottery St Mary
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.
OTTERY ST. MARY. St. Mary. The church [plate 176a] consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, with chapels at the east end, a second aisle on the north side called the Dorset aisle, north and south transepts, with towers as at Exeter, Lady Chapel, and north and south porches. The original church was dedicated by Bishop Bronescombe in the month of December, 1260. His successor, Bishop Grandisson, began the work of reconstruction about 1337, his idea being to make, on a smaller scale, a copy of Exeter Cathedral. He used the wall and windows of Bronescombe's church, but added a new nave at one end, and a Lady Chapel at the other, and converted the transepts into two towers similar to those at Exeter Cathedral. The Dorset aisle was added between 1504 and 1530 by Cicely, daughter and heiress of William, Lord Boneville; as her second husband she married Henry, Lord Stafford, who died in 1523. Over the entrance to the north porch are carved the Stafford arms. The church was restored by Mr. Butterfield in 1850. In the western arches of the nave, on the north and south sides, are two very fine monuments; on the north side, beneath a richly carved canopy, rests the full length figure of Sir Otho Grandisson, Knt., brother of the Bishop. The armour in which he is clad is a good example of that worn about the middle of the reign of Edward III [1327-1377]. The monument on the south side has the full length figure of Beatrice, Sir Otho's wife, clad in the costume of the same period [plate 176b]. Both monuments are surmounted with elegant ogee and crocketed arches, terminating in bold finials. It is a great pity that such a fine monument should be surrounded and half-hidden by pews.
The south porch door retains its ancient lock, the handle being dated 1575 with the initials of the donor, John Haydon of Cadhay. The interior of the west wall of the church has been covered with carved stone work, the gift in 1901 of Mrs. Metcalfe, the widow of William Henry Metcalfe, vicar of the parish from 1874 to 1890. The old font is buried beneath a modern construction of many coloured marbles, a fine font, but out of keeping with the church. There is a good carved wooden pulpit, the work of a parishioner, and dated 1722; the lectern of bronze is copied from a brass one in St. Nicholas' Chapel, Kings Lynn [Norfolk].
In the south transept is preserved an ancient clock, probably dating from the time of Bishop Grandisson [1327-1369]. For over 30 years it was silent, the works being in a heap of debris, but in 1907 it was restored and restarted by the Bishop of Exeter, on the Monday in Whitsun week, May 20th. There are four 14th century clocks of this description in existence in the west of England; those at Exeter Cathedral [Devon], Wells Cathedral [Somerset], Wimbourne Minster [Dorset], and Ottery, but it is only in the two last that retain their original works. The dial is arranged according to the old theory of astronomy, which regarded the earth as the centre of the solar system. A round ball to represent the sun, points the hours, a star the moon's age. The clock is still wound the old-fashioned way, capstan fashion, by four spokes projecting from the barrel, and hempen rope is still used. The interior of the south transept was much enriched by the late Lord Coleridge [1820-1894], Lord Chief Justice of England, in memory of his first wife and his parents, and contains a recumbent figure of the first Lady Coleridge. The eight bells in the south tower are rung from this transept.
In the chancel are some old choir stalls dating from Grandisson's time, and two parclose screens with doors, said to be 14th century work. At the east end of the chancel is a fine altar screen, with canopied niches, from which the figures are missing [plate 176c]. On the cornice are carved coats of arms, these were originally painted on a flat surface, but were carved at a restoration of the screen. The shields bear the following arms:- (1) The Grandisson family; (2) Sir John de Northwode; (3) Sibill, wife of William, Lord Grandisson, and mother of the Bishop; (4) Blanche, daughter of Roger de Mortimer, wife of Lord Peter Grandisson, who was brother of the Bishop; (5) the Royal arms of France; (6) the Royal arms of England; (7) the arms of Bishop Grandisson; (8) the arms of William de Motacute, who married one of the Bishop's sisters; (9) the arms of the Courtenay family.
On the south side of the chancel are very fine triple sedilia in carved stone. On the north side is the tomb of John Haydon, who died June 9th 1587. At the east end of the south aisle there is a piscina and three brasses with male figures representing members of the Sherman family of Knightstone. Two of the figures were apparently ecclesiastics, the third a laymen; two of them dated: the first, Joannes, died 1542; the second, Gulielmus, died 1583. At the extreme east end of the church is the Lady Chapel, with some old stalls, sedilia with four seats, a gilded wooden eagle, given to the church by Bishop Grandisson, whose portrait is on a corbel on the south wall, and lastly, a very fine stone minstrel gallery, with double arcade. The eastern side of the gallery is surmounted by a parapet of open quatrefoil work. The supports consist of six shafts of Purbeck marble, and two corbel heads projecting from the wall; from these spring the groining and the tracery [plate 176d].
The north or Dorset aisle [plate 176e] has a roof of very rich fan tracery springing from angel corbels, and having pierced pendants. On shields held by the angels on the corbels are the arms of Bishops Courtenay and Vesey. There is a fine western window of six lights to this aisle, representing the Transfiguration. At the east end of the aisle is the monument of John Coke, Esq., of Thorne, who died on March 28th 1632; he is represented in armour grasping his sword; he is said to have been murdered by a younger brother, and the story goes that at midnight the statue steps down from its niche and walks about the church. The monument was restored by his grandson in 1726.
Throughout the roof of the church may be seen small leaden pipes, which it is supposed were used for the chains which suspended the numerous lamps used for lighting the church. The building is peculiarly rich in "consecration crosses"; there are 13 outside, and 8 inside. These crosses were used to mark the spots where the Bishop touched the walls with holy oil when he consecrated the building.
There are some fine bosses in the roof running from the centre of the church to the end of the Lady Chapel. The first represents Bishop Grandisson in episcopal robes, then St. John the Baptist, St. Anne presenting the Blessed Virgin in the Temple, the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin and Child; and over the altar is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (the Assumption celebrated on August 15th was the great annual festival of the church); the next boss represents our Lord offering the Blessed Virgin the orb of sovereignty, as the Queen of Heaven, and lastly, our Lord as Judge of the Quick and the Dead [2 Tim. 4:1-5].
The first vicar I can find was Mainwarynge, admitted to the then vacant vicarage on June 28th 1580.
The registers date from 1634.