St Mary the Virgin

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The document includes the sketches described herein

THE DEDICATION of the church is ascribed to St. Mary the Virgin, however, a church with such an old foundation as this one may well have been dedicated to a Saint of the British Church, especially as Brattonne or Bracton was in the region of the British Church. For example the church in nearby Bridestowe is dedicated to St Bridget. Thesaurus Ecclesiaticus’ of 1782 records that during the reign of Edward III (1327 - 1377), Thomas de Somerton held Brattonne, Combe, Gonaescott and Bratton St. Mary, the latter may have been where the church stands, hence the name of St Mary the Virgin without an actual dedication.

THE DOORSTEP is probably the oldest part of the church, it is an old menhim or memorial stone. Originally the menhim would have stood erect; it has Roman characters at one end. Normally these stones are much longer; this one has been broken and may have been associated with the ancient British Church. More recently it has been suggested that this stone is from the dark ages and part of a very early church. If an OLD CHURCH existed it was probably sited some 25 feet to the south of the porch where there is a mound in the churchyard. Graves have prevented further investigation.

THE NORMAN PERIOD - The history of the church can be seen in the architecture. The bases of the columns are believed to be the remains of a Norman Church, cut away and squared to support the clustered columns. The unfinished levelling of the base at the north west end of the arcade supports this view. It may have been the intention to make the top of the square bases the floor level. Note the difference in height between the north door (now blocked) and the south door serving the present lower floor level of the original chancel floor. The new floor level idea was probably dropped when the plans to build a cruciform church were abandoned.

THE FONT AND THE TOWER both belong to a Norman church, authorities vary in the dating of the tower, one says it is Early English another that it is wholly Norman. The latter is more likely as there is a very strong Saxon influence in the tower finish and the unique bases. The font is Norman, made of Tintagel stone, square with masks at the corners ornamented at each side with a sun enclosed in a circle around which two dragons are clasped, their heads meeting at the top. (A replica of the font may be seen at Jacobstowe in Cornwall). There is one suggestion that the stone to make the font came from Normandy - France. Further evidence of the Norman church may be seen in the masks at the apexes of the windows on the north side both inside and outside. The question has been posed “were these saved from the Norman church or are they 15th Century folk art?”

CHANCEL & VESTRY note the lancet windows. The chancel, vestry and possibly the north aisle are Early English (1189 – 1272), these may have been added while the Norman building was intact, and the vestry used as a chapel.

THE NAVE AND THE THEORY OF A LARGE CRUCIFORM CHURCH In 14th Century the patronage of the church was in the hands of Plympton Priory and probably in a state of poor repair. In 1335 the patronage passed to the great builder of churches, Bishop Grandisson of Exeter. It is probable that a large cruciform church was planned, the present nave, with one more bay to form a choir and a corresponding nave to the west of the tower. On the north side of the tower it is possible to see an arch now built in.

The existence of these three arches has led historians to believe that a fourth arch with the appropriate wing was in the design, also note the make shift buttresses at the face of the tower and the absence of a west door. The Newel Turret at the southwest corner is also thought to have been a part of that same plan, necessary for access to reach the upper part of the tower. (Stairways like these give great strength to large structures.)

The great plan was never carried out and we are left with the beautiful church of today with its original chancel. It may seem strange to have planned such a large church in such a remote area of Devon; Bratton Clovelly was on the main pack horse routes west to east and south to north, a crossroads village of great importance. The number of chapels in the parish also points to the importance of the community, in 1411 Stephen Anteswell, rector received a licence to celebrate in the four chapels of St James at Bonsleghe (Boasley?), St Margaret at Godescote, St Katherine and the chapel of St Anne & St Stephen at Domons, the old rectory in the parish.

The nave is unusual for a Devonshire church, the clustered columns of polyphant stone are similar in design to those of Exeter Cathedral suggesting the influence of the same builders, 1375. All but two of the bosses in the nave were replaced in 1897. Most of the screen was removed in 1820, the only part remaining is to the right of the entrance to the chancel. The rood loft stairs are still in place and a squint allows the congregation to see the altar from the nave. A gallery was erected in 1820 and removed in 1874.

THE GLASS - The oldest glass is in the church in the vestry. It was removed from the southeast window by Rector Birdwood 1816 – 1846 and placed in the east window, moved again in 1886 to the vestry. The glass bears the arms of Burnby, the original position of the glass in the south east corner of the nave, where there was a chapel (note the overhead canopy and piscina) suggests that the Burnby’s had some share in the building. The historian Risdon wrote, ‘Burnby hath been the dwelling place of the Burnbey’s many generations a name extracted even from the line of the English Saxon Nation and who are allied to the worshipful families’. The choir Stalls hide a memorial slab to Thomas Buneby and the lectern a stone to Richard Burnby 1603. The smaller window in the vestry depicts the arms of Kelly. The modern glass in the church is by Lavers and Westlake and was given by Mrs Elizabeth Manning between 1883 – 1892.

MRS ELIZABETH MANNING was very generous in her giving to the church. She gave, the glass in the chancel and the nave, the alabaster Reredos, the Connemara marble paving, the carved oak pews crafted by John Northcott of Ashwater, the font cover 1875, the pulpit 1885, the church clock 1895 and paid for the re-hanging of the bells in 1900.

THE SOUTH PORCH dates from 1375, the same date as the cluster columns and is Late Decorated or Early Perpendicular in style. The roof, original, is open timbered with carved beams and bosses. The porch was rebuilt in 1870 after falling down. The old oak door and ancient lock are of unknown date.

THE NORTH DOOR was blocked in 1880. A list of clergy who have served in the parish now hangs there. The Revd R S Hawkins of Morwenstowe said that the north doors were opened at baptisms so that the Evil One might depart, the door was then closed until the next baptism.

THE FLOOR OF THE CHURCH slopes downwards from west to east and when the church history was originally written older residents could remember the slope ending in steps down to the altar. Sampford Courtney church had a similar arrangement. The church slopes to the south when looked at from the west, this may be interpreted as symbolic of the inclination of our Lord’s head as he hung on the cross, or did the builders follow the natural levels of the ground?

THE PARISH STOCKS are kept in the church porch and are inscribed ‘Fear God, Honour the King’.

THE ALTAR PLATE which includes a very fine flagon inscribed ‘Ex dono Dominae. Honoris Calmady Aclesiae de Bratton Clovelly 1639’ is now kept in a local bank. There is a silver chalice 1552 and paten 1704.

THE PARISH REGISTERS date from 1555 when it was made compulsory to keep them, the registers that are not in use are initiative to try and find  funds to restore and conserve the wall 1680; it is not kept in the Devon Records Office.

 THE BELLS were cast in 1767 by Penningtons, the peal of six are still on brass bearings in an oak frame and were rehung in 1900, a chime was installed at the same time. Penningtons repaired the bells in 1792, new bell ropes cost 3s 6d to 12s 6d, they now cost £150 (2000). The bellringers annual feast was held on the 5th November and cost 10s 6d. The only other record that refers to the bells is “1805 paid Barkwell for dolling the bell at Nelson’s burial 1s 6d”.





Tenor 39 7/8”

10 ¾ cwt


Ego vox clamantis parate – Charles Peters, Rector Arthur Turner, gent. Churchwarden 1767.

Fifth 35 5/8”

7 ½ cwt


Prosperity to this Parish 1767

Fourth 32 5/8”

6 ¾ cwt


Penningtons cast us all 1767

Third 30 ¼”

5 ¼ cwt


God save the King J.P. + 1767

Second 29 5/8”

5 cwt


God preserve the Church J.P. + 1767

First 28 ½”

4 ¾ cwt


I call all ye to follow me J.P. + 1767


MISCELLANEOUS - Either at Bratton Clovelly or Bratton Fleming, Henry de Bracton was born, he was a well known jurist and wrote “De legions et Consuetudinibis Angliae”, he was rector of Bideford in 1261, Archdeacon of Barnstaple in 1264 and Chancellor of Exeter Cathedral. A memorial slab presented by the Lawyers of England in 1923 now marks Brattone’s Altar in the Cathedral.

EXTRACTS FROM THE CHURCH RECORDS. CLEANING - In 1775 the church cleaner was paid 8s 4d (42p) per annum. For cleaning linen and plate 4/- (20p) and books and cushions 3/- (15p) per annum. By 1783 the cleaner was paid 8s 8d, this had risen to £2 by 1838.

MUSIC - Music in the church is first mentioned in 1788, a Mr Hobbs was paid £6 6s 0d. A bass violin was bought for £5 5s 0d, strings cost 12s 8d and a music case 4s 5d. In 1804 there is a record of the purchase of 11 ½ yards of Holland @ 3s 8d to make surplices either to dress an existing choir or dress a new one. In 1826 the records show that repairs were made to a violin and an oboe, a new bass violin and clarinet were purchased, the latter cost £3 3s 0d. Until 1855 the clerk (the person who sang responses) was paid £2 / annum. In 1895 the piano was repaired for £5 10s 0d and in 1896 a one year old American style 903 was purchased for £18 18s 0d (new price £46 10s 0d). The present organ was bought for £163 6s 0d. The records also show that there were disagreements between the members of the PCC over the selling and purchasing of a new piano and that singers had their own feasts. In 1821 the singers’ dinner cost £3 13s 6d. Singers from Northlew, Black Torrington, Halwill, South Tawton, Broadwood and Inwardleigh (The Engirly Singers) sang at Bratton Clovelly every year.

FABRIC 1783 Thomas Rowe was paid £41 18s 0d for pewing the church. 1787 – 88 Slate slabs were purchased from Lewtrenchard quarry to make gutters around the church. Stone for 38 yards of hedging cost £5 14s 0d, hedge plants 2s 0d. The rate of pay for 2 men and 2 horses was 6s 0d and for 1 man and 3 horses 4s 0d 1795 the north door was plastered up, two new seats were placed by the door, new cushions were supplied for the pulpit and the church was paved. 1790 – 1803 8 stitches of reed were purchased until proper roof repairs could take place. 1803 Repairs to the floor of the bell chamber needed 43’ 6” of oak timber, cost including labour £2 16s 0d, ironwork and nails 17s 9d. 1809 Mr Reddicliffe paid £14 6 s 0d for painting and drawing the Commandments and the coat of arms with union. 1816 Painting the tower, cost £8 12s 0d 1826 New altar table and new railing installed. 1856 Records the first mention of Mr & Mrs T E Manning of Eversfield. It was decided at a vestry meeting attended by the majority of ratepayers and parishioners to erect a seat for Mr Manning. The pulpit and reading desk were moved to accommodate this. 1870 The Revd Edward Seymour paid £22 12s 0d to Messrs Lavers and Barraud to replace the ancient glass of the east windows of the chancel and provide Commandment tables. The Sacrarium floor was tiled in black and yellow tiles with new oak rail and iron standards. A new lectern and seat was provided. 1871 The southeast window was replaced in Hatherleigh stone and glazed in dark glass by S Hooper, builder. 1871 – 83 The second south window of the chancel was replaced, the rector paid for this and a new oak Reredos. The Altar was restored after warping. 1876 For £53 10s 0d Hortop provided new seating for the south half of the church, new joists for the aisle floor, repaired the flooring and sizing and varnishing. 1877 The arches and pillars were repointed. 1878 – 79 Messrs Hortop & Son relayed the floor of the north side of the nave and the east corner of the north aisle, reseating the same in good solid pine and with bench ends, book rests and back rails in pitch pine. The pulpit was lowered, seats fixed for the children at the west end of the north aisle. A new Gurney stove was fitted and fire insurance was first mentioned. 1880 Hortop & Son removed the earth below the floor, laid a new floor in oak joists and planks, varnished new seats in the north aisle and fitted four new children’s seats. (The cost of fitting new oak joists, pinning and flooring the north and south aisles in 1980 was £1225.68, the work was done by Mr H James of Boasley). 1883 – 84 A sexton’s and mason’s house was built in the churchyard for £20 and 18 brass candleholders and extinguisher cost £2. 1883 – 1900 Mrs Manning paid for the repointing of the north and south walls in Portland cement and manganese sand, the tower repointing from top to bottom, repairs to the battlements, new louvers for the bell-chamber, a new turret door and weather-vane, and a new Tortoise stove. In memorium a Vestry meeting in 1902 applied for a faculty to set aside a part of the burial ground for Mrs. Manning and her sister Miss Caroline Jones. Mrs Manning died in 1914 and a faculty was applied for to erect a memorial to her in the church. 1912 A resolution of deep regret at the passing away of P R Kenyon- Slaney and appreciation of his valuable services to the church.

CHURCHWARDEN’S ACCOUNTS - An extract from 1774 show as follows: A book of Common Prayer 16s 0d Paid for two seats for Bawsley and Bartyn 1s 0d For caring out dead rubige out of the church £2 2s 0d Minister W Laskey 3s 0d Churchwardens Henry Glanfield Samuel Martyn Much of the above information was correlated by Mr P R Adams ‘ Extensive work has been done on the church in the past twenty years, a new gutter over the south wall, a new roof on the tower, replacement of the north aisle roof, (timbers and slate), repointing of the tower and north nave wall, new lighting and heating systems fitted. Funds were raised in the parish and considerable financial help was given by English Heritage, and grants received from the diocese and Devon Historic Churches Trust. The total cost of this work was in the order of £80,000.

WALL PAINTINGS A report written by Dr Clive Rouse in 1978 stirred the parish to take the initiative to try and find funds to restore and conserve the wall paintings. English Heritage, The Devon Historic Churches Trust, The Council for the Care of Churches and the Esmee Charitable Trust all made generous grants to aid the work. The conservation team was lead by Anna Hulbert. Her team started work in 1982 to very good effect, turning cement washed walls into the much brighter patchwork quilt of colour that is now seen. The very detailed work has been done with pains-taking patience, one person may have taken as long as five weeks to uncover and consolidate just one square metre of paintings. The paintings probably date from a period 1630 – 1680; it is not possible to date them exactly as no records exist of the order for the paintings, the artist or the cost.

THE NORTH WALL (see sketch on p 11) - The figures represent the prophets. From left to right they are 1?, 2?, 3 Isaiah, 4 Ezekial, 5 Jonah, 6 Micah, 7 Hosea, 8 Malachae, 9 Job, 10 Zakarias, 11 Joel, 12 Zephania, 13 Moses, 14 Obadiah, 15 Amos, 16 Haggai, 17 Nahum, 18 Habakkuk, 19 Nehamiah. The circular painting depicts the offering of Isaac as a sacrifice, the text is 1 Samuel 9: 22 ‘Behold to obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams’. (Spot the deliberate mistake! The text is actually from 1 Samuel 15: 22.) The other texts are ECL 5: 1 ‘Keep thy foot when though goest to the house of God and be more ready to hear than to give for the sacrifice of fools, for they consider not that they do evil’, and 1 Corinthians 6: 9,10… ‘Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers nor extortioners shall inherit the Kingdom of God.’

THE SOUTH WALL (see sketch on p 10) has the least detail remaining. The figures above the windows depict St James the Great with his black hat, our Lord Jesus with the halo and ‘the bald man in shades of pink and red probably holding a scroll or at least with black folds of drapery, seated on a yellow hill’ is probably St Peter. The texts are Hebrews 10: 24,25 “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to do good works not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is”, and Hebrews 13: 2 ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares’ These texts appear in the left-hand box. The other box contains the text form Matthew 6: 33 ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.

THE EAST WALL (NORTH) has a passage below the window COLOS 4: 2 ‘Continue in prayer and watch in the same with thanksgiving’.

THE WEST WALL - Only fragments of paint remain.

THE NAVE - There are traces of colour under the lime wash. There are no plans to uncover these areas.

THE EAST WALL (SOUTH) depicts the military scene of ‘David and Goliath’ with their armies and camps in the background. The text above is Hebrews 11: 32,33,34 ‘Who through faith subdued kingdoms and turned to flight the armies of the aliens.’ In the text there is a piece of missing plaster, note the deep red colour of the plaster in relief, whilst conservation work was been done Anna and her team discovered a set of medieval paintings behind the 17th Century ones. The detail has been taken, with kind permission, from reports written by Anna Hulbert between 1982 – 1993, and S R Blaylock & P J F Bishop of Exeter Museum’s report entitled St. Mary’s Church, Bratton Clovelly, Devon. Recording of the Wall Paintings - 1993. The drawings are copies of originals from the same publication.

St Mary the Virgin.pdf