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.
SWYMBRIDGE. St. James. The church [plate 226a] consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, south porch, and west tower with short spire of the same style as those at Barnstaple and Braunton. The rood screen [plate 226b], dating from 1420, is one of the finest in the county; it extends right across the church. The work of restoration has been well done, but at present the differences in colour between the new work and the old make it look rather patchy. The carving is magnificent; the design, while possessing distinctive features of its own, in some respects resembles the screens at Lapford and Hartland. It was restored about 1887 by Pearson, when the paint was scraped off, the woodwork renewed and new carving, the work of Barnstaple men, inserted. There are two square empty spaces in the screen, which it has been suggested were intended to hold pictures. The lower panels, instead of the usual paintings of saints, are filled with carved foliage in relief [plate 226c]. The screen retains its groining, cornices, and doors; over the loft is the ancient rood beam.
The nave roof to the west of the rood loft has diagonal ribs and cresting, and is painted blue with gilt stars. There are some curious bosses in the roof above the organ; among them will be found St. Dunstan holding the Devil by the nose with a pair of pincers. There is a hagioscope between the north aisle chapel and the chancel.
The stone pulpit is richly carved with figures of the Evangelists in niches [plate 226d].
The Jacobean font cover has doors and canopy with fine carving [plate 226e]. In England, in post-Reformation times [i.e., after ca. 1550], principally at the beginning of the Jacobean period , it was often the custom to enclose the font in panelled woodwork, sometimes plain, sometimes ornamented. In this church we get a good example of the wooden casing in conjunction with an elaborate font cover, surmounted by a canopy projecting from one of the pillars. The panels of the cover, which open for access to the font, are well carved, and the canopy, is also elaborately carved and gilt. The canopy looks as if at one time it might have served as the sounding-board of a pulpit.
There is a curious inscription, dated 1658, to John Rosier, and attorney of the Court of Common Bench:-
"Loe with a Warrant, sealed by God's Decree
Death his grim Sergeant hath arrested me!
No Bayle was to bee given : no law could save
My body from the Prison of the Grave,
Yet by the Gospell my poore Soul hath got
A Supersedeas, and Death seazd it not.
And for my downe cast body, here it lyes
A prisoner of hope it shall arise.
Faith doth assure me : God of his great love
In Christ will send a Writ for my remove
And sith my body, as my soul is, free
With Christ in Heaven, Come Glorious Libertie."
The registers date: baptisms, 1563; marriages, 1563; burials, 1562.