Some Old Devon Churches

By J. Stabb

London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)

Page 181

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.

PILTON. St. Mary. The church, which consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, south porch, and west tower, originally formed part of a Benedictine priory, one of the most ancient and well as one of the most important ecclesiastical foundations in North Devon. In the Bodleian Library at Oxford there is a Ms. Book of Hours, with calendar for use in the church, drawn up by Thomas Oldston the prior in 1521. The traditional founder was King Athelstan [r. 925-940], and the old seal of the priory bore his name and figure. On the north side of the chancel an Early English archway was discovered which now gives access to the vestry. During the Civil Wars [1642-1651] the tower was destroyed and it was rebuilt in 1669. There are eight bells, one of which bears the inscription:-

"Recast by Thomas Taylor and son
Who the best prize for Church bells won
At the Great Ex-hi-bi-ti-on
In London 1-8-5 and one."

It is said, that with the exception of that at Exeter Cathedral, this is the finest peal of bells in the west [of England]. The custom of ringing the curfew still continues in the parish.

The rood screen [plate 181a] has carving of fine and delicate character, but is in a bad state of repair, it encloses chancel and south aisle chapel. The work is of a type not often met in Devonshire, showing a reversion to florid Decorated forms. It is said that the screen was "made and painted by Dr. Jonys" in 1508. No two arcades agree in the character of the tracery. The groining has disappeared, but there is a good deal of cornice work left. There is no cresting strictly speaking, but some of the canopy work from the old rood loft has been nailed on the top of the screen.

The font [plate 181b] is plain, octagonal in form, of the Early Decorated period, but the carved oak canopy and cover date from the 15th century and has been said to be the finest in the West Country; behind the font is a canopy which at one time formed the back of the prior's chair, the mark can be seen where the seat was removed. The pulpit [plate 181c] is of stone, Late Perpendicular; it retains the arm holding a stand for the hour-glass, and is surmounted by a sounding board.

The chancel contains monuments of the Chichester family, that on the north side of the altar is the elaborate tomb of Sir Robert Chichester (eldest son of Sir John Chichester, whose monument is also in the chancel), his two wives, daughter and two children, date 1627 [plate 181d]. On the base of the tomb is the figure of a knight kneeling on a crimson and sable cushion edged with gold; before him is a prie-dieu, on which is a closed book; he wears a ruff and the head is uncovered. He is arrayed in plate armour, the right hand resting on the breast and the left holding the hilt of the sword, of which the blade is gone. He wears full breeches, close at the knees, greaves on the legs, and rowel spurs on the heels. Facing him are three kneeling figures, all dressed alike, with their hands raised in prayer. They wear head-dresses of black lace falling in ample folds to the feet, round the necks small ruffs from which hang white lace. The bodices fit tight at waist and wrists, and a full skirt completes the dress. They kneel at a prie-dieu, on which are a closed and an open book. Behind the knight are the figures of two children, male and female. The boy wears a black suit, with short breeches, and shoes with buckles: the girl has a white head-dress and ruff, and a black dress with closed bodice and full skirt. There are three shields of arms behind the figures; at one time there were four, but one is missing. They represent the arms of Chichester, Chichester impaling Harrington, and Chichester with the impalement left blank.

The altar rails once surrounded the altar on three sides, but many years since were rearranged across the chancel and aisle. In the vestry are preserved the Elizabethan altar table, the old chained books, and set of pewter altar vessels.

The earliest record of the dedication of the church is 1259.

The registers date: baptisms, 1569; marriages, 1569; burials, 1566.