Sampford Courtenay


Some Old Devon Churches

By J. Stabb

London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)

Page 196

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.

SAMPFORD COURTENAY. St. Andrew. This is a remarkably fine church [plate 196a] for a country village, and consists of chancel with piscina, nave, north and south aisles, south porch, and west tower with six bells, cast by Pennington in 1770. The rood screen, which is said to have been a very fine one, was removed in 1831, but the stairs and doorway remain. On the north side of the nave the pillars are of granite, those on the south side, up to the chancel, are polyphant. The double capital on the pillar between chancel and nave is curious, the chancel arcade is lower than that of the nave, so the double capital was adopted to get over the difficulty of one pillar having to support two arches of unequal height.

There is some old 15th century glass; in the top light of one window are some seraphim, blue and gold, and a figure of the Blessed Virgin, with the face gone, in another. The carving of the beams of the roofs of the chancel, nave, and south aisle is very good. The wall plate in the chancel has figures of angels, and there are some fine bosses. In the chancel there is a boss with a carved head of our Lord, and one with the three rabbits with their ears conjoined, in the nave, one with a sow and a litter of pigs, and one with the heads of a lord and lady, supposed to represent the Courtenays; other bosses bear their arms. About half-way up the church, in the wall of the south aisle, is a piscina, a rather unusual position, possibly to be accounted for if the church had been lengthened eastwards. There is a plain Jacobean pulpit, and a late Norman font; the top is square and mounted on an octagonal shaft and base; the dark line across the top is an iron band used to keep the font together [plate 196b].

In 1898 restoration of the church was commenced, the pillars were taken down and given new foundations, and the nave roof was renewed, but almost the whole of the old carved woodwork was preserved. The west gallery was removed and the high pews. The altar stands on an ancient altar slab which was found built into the wall of the rectory when the house was pulled down nearly 50 years ago [ca. 1860]; it remained lying in the grounds until 1899, when it was restored to the church as a base for the altar. It retains the five crosses cut in the stone. There is a record of a license being granted to John Passenham, Rector of Sampford Courtenay, and Elena, his sister, for the celebration of Divine Service in a private chapel in the rectory in 1397 (Bishop Stafford's Register), and it is conjectured that this is the original altar slab. The tombstone of Roger Gostwyke, a former rector, who died in 1645, has the following inscription:-

"You that seeke wonders
lo a wonder here
i that was soiled by sin
by Christ am clene
my sin is His
His righteousness is mine
He tooke my shame
that i hy Him might shame."

Another stone gives the age of a parishioner as 99 years and 8 months, just missing being a centenarian. The old cross stands in the churchyard. The lychgate was erected in 1901 in memory of Queen Victoria [r. 1837-1901].

The registers date from 1558.