Some Old Devon Churches

By J. Stabb

London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)

Page 228

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.

TAWSTOCK. St. Peter. The church is cruciform in shape and consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, north and south transepts, south porch, and lofty central tower containing six bells dating from 1753 to 1794.

The chancel and nave - without doubt the oldest portions of the church, the chancel probably dates from the time of Edward I [1272-1307] - are divided by a handsome screen of light and graceful design, dating from early in the 16th century [plate 228a]; it does not appear to have been intended to carry a rood loft. Dividing the Wrey Chapel (1560) from the transept is another screen of plainer design [plate 228b]. Coloured woods are used as an ornament on one of the cornice bands instead of the usual carving.

This church is full of objects of interest to the antiquary; screens, tombs, bench-ends will be found in profusion.

In the north transept is a large Jacobean pew [plate 228c], which has often been called a "confessional", but it is much too large and unsuitable for the purpose; there is a panel at the back, made to open, and perhaps this gave rise to the idea, but their is no doubt that its real object was to serve as a manorial or squire's pew. It has a roof and cornice on which is carved the Bourchier knot. There are several examples of the same kind of pew to be found in other parts of England [five examples being: St. Catherine's, Birtles, Cheshire; St. Mary's, Puddletown, Dorset; St. Nicholas', Leckford, Hampshire; St. James', Edgecote, Northamptonshire; and All Saints', Selworthy, Somerset].

In the north wall of the chancel is a recumbent wooden figure under an arch, said to be the effigy of Thomasine Hankford, the wife of William Bourchier, it dates from about the reign of Henry VI [1422-1461].

On the north side of the chancel is a handsome Elizabethan monument [plate 228d], with an elevated canopy, in memory of William Bourchier [died 1623], 3rd Earl of Bath, and his wife Elizabeth [died 1605], who was the daughter of Francis, Earl of Bedford [1527-1585]. The recumbent figures of the earl and countess are arrayed in crimson robes lined with ermine. The earl's head, resting on a cushion edged with gold, has long hair and bears an earl's coronet; he is arrayed in a complete suite of armour, and wears an Elizabethan ruff round his neck. The cuirass extends to the lower part of the waist, and he is wearing full black breeches gathered in at the knee; the legs are encased in greaves; on the feet are sabbatons which rest on the Bourchier crest, a Saracen's head; there are rowel spurs on the heels, and on the left side is a long sword. His right hand, ungloved, rests on the breast, and the left holds a handkerchief. He wears a crimson robe lined with ermine, open so as to show the upper part of the armour.

The countess reclines on the left of the earl, and wears a flat hood surmounted by a coronet, and her head rests on a crimson cushion edged with gold; around her neck is a small ruff with a falling collar beneath. She wears a tight bodice, with sleeves fastened at the wrists; she holds in her left hand the folds of a crimson cloak lined with ermine, which partially screens the body and lower part of the dress. The Russel crest, a goat, is at her feet. At the head of the monument is a male figure arrayed in plate armour, and wearing a coronet and Elizabethan ruff. At the foot is a female figure kneeling on a cushion, arrayed in close bodice with ruff, and a loose dress tied in at the waist; at her right side lies the figure of an infant, probably a chrisom infant.

[The Rev. Charles] Wheatley [1686-1742], in his work on the Book of Common Prayer, says, "Children who die in the month, or such have never been baptized, are usually called chrisoms, the time between birth and baptism was also called chrisomus." In reality the chrisom was white vesture put on the child by the priest, saying, "Take this white vesture for a token of innocence, which by God's grace in the holy sacrament of baptism is given unto thee, and for a sign whereby thou art admonished, so long as thou livest, to give thyself to innocency of living, that after this transitory life thou mayest be partaker of the life everlasting. Amen." Then the head was anointed. From this anointing with chrism the garment was called chrisom. When the mother came to be churched [i.e., brought to church after childbirth for the appointed service of thanksgiving], she was to offer this chrisom to the church, but if the child died before she was churched, it was customary to wrap the child in it when it was buried, hence the term "chrisom child". Around the canopy of the monument there are no less than eleven shields of arms.

There is also a monument to Henry Bourchier, 5th and last Earl of Bath, noted for his loyalty to Charles I [r. 1625-1649]; by his side is a fine marble statue of his wife Rachel, fourth daughter of Francis, Earl of Westmoreland.

The first rector mentioned is on October 19th 1275.

The registers date from 1558.