Some Old Devon Churches

By J. Stabb

London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)

Page 258

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.

WOODBURY. St. Swithin. The church consists of chancel with priest's door, and piscina with shelf, nave, north aisle, a small south transept forming the Drake Pew, south porch, and west tower with eight bells; the two trebles were added to the peal in 1898 by parishioners, relatives, and friends, in memory of Rev. John Loveband Fulford, M.A., vicar of the parish for upwards of 52 years, who died March 12th 1898. A distinctive exterior feature of the tower is a pair of buttresses at each angle which terminate just below the battlements; the tower dates from 1409. On the north side of the chancel is an old monument with recumbent figures of a man and a woman. The former is arrayed in plate armour and wears a ruff, his head rests on a helmet and his feet on a lion. The woman is dressed in ruff, tight-fitting bodice, and full skirt with embroidered front; her head rests on a cushion and her feet on a dog. There are the mutilated remains of a small male figure resting between the two larger figures, but this is evidently not its original position, and possibly did not form part of this monument. The Rev. S. Baring-Gould says these figures probably represent Sir Thomas Prideaux died 1640, and Joan his wife; Mr. Rogers states that probably it is this Sir Thomas or his father. I think it must be intended for the father of Sir Thomas who died in 1640, for the tomb is dated 1610, thirty years prior to the death of the generally accepted occupants of the tomb. The Prideaux came from Ashburton and settled at Nutwell, in Woodbury Parish, somewhere about 1540. The first occupant of Nutwell was succeeded by his son Thomas, who died in 1605; this date is nearer the date on the tomb, so most probably this is the person commemorated. The date on the tomb seems to have escaped notice.

The communion rails [plate 258a] are very fine and date from the time of Elizabeth [1558-1603]; the actual date is not known. There is an entry in the churchwarden's accounts for the year 1640 giving the price of the rails as £2. 2s. 0d.; even allowing for the difference in the value of money then and now the price would be too low for new work, and it is probable that they were brought from another church, especially as the carving is of considerably earlier date than 1640.

In the church are preserved a chair and chest which are said to have accompanied Sir Francis Drake [1552-1618] on his travels; the chair at any rate does not bear evidence of sufficient antiquity. Two of the ends of the choir stalls are old and well carved, and the back of the stalls is composed of old oak carved with linen-pattern, which possibly at one time was part of the rood or parclose screen. There is a piscina with drain in the Drake Chapel, and a niche in the east wall with the figure missing; there is another piscina with drain in the south wall between the Drake Chapel and the south door. The pulpit is old carved oak. The rood screen [plate 258b] remains across the chancel, but has been much altered, the tracery having being removed from the lights; there are four bays, doorway, a cornice of leaves and fruit, and cresting. The screen was in its original condition in 1847, and the chancel arch above it was filled with a tympanum of lath and plaster; this was removed in 1848, when the Ten Commandments had at three different times been painted upon it. A former vicar in 1862 removed the tracery, raised the lights and inserted foliations in the top of the arches. The rood staircase and doors remain in the north wall. The north chapel, now used as an organ chamber, is enclosed with rails of the same date as those in the chancel. On the shelf of the north-east window of the aisle is preserved a small carved figure of an angel with a trumpet, this is said to have formerly stood on the top of the organ, it has been restored and mounted on a block of oak. The font [plate 258c] dates from the 15th century, and has, carved on the shaft, details of a groined roof, ribs, and bosses. The whole church is panelled round the walls with oak, some of which formed part of the old west gallery now removed; a panel on the south wall bears a cherub's head and wings with the inscription:- Mr John Snow Waren in 1740 & Mr Robt Beale.

There are many old tombstones; the oldest, that at the east end of the aisle being in memory of Richard Haydon, is dated 1583. A small stone in the floor near the rood staircase in memory of a man named Cooke, and his wife, has the following epitaph:-

"Hee first deceased
Shee for a little tryed
To live without him
Liked it not and Dyed."

Near the south door is a tablet in memory of Samuel Traugott, and Elizabeth, his wife, who died in 1813, and in 1816. The inscription states:- Her remains with those of her husband lie deposited here in a dormitory erected in this churchyard.

In a kind of mausoleum on the north side of the churchyard, by looking through an opening in the doorway, can be seen the lead coffins in which their remains rest. There is a local tradition, if true or not, I do not know, that if they had been interred their money would have passed out of the family. Beneath the tower are preserved the arms of George III [r. 1760-1820]:- "Presented by Thomas Huckell, Esq., Captain of the Woodbury Volunteers, 1779."

Four old bench-ends, which were found buried under the floor of the church, and which are much decayed, are preserved at the west end of the church.

The registers date: baptisms, 1557; marriages, 1557; burials, 1575.