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HER Number:MDV15043
Name:Holy Trinity Parish Church, Buckfastleigh


The parish church of Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh is now a ruin following a fire in 1992. Restored in 1845, it had a 13th century west tower and a 15th century nave. Excavations in 2002 revealed an apse-like structure (possibly early Christian) and five well-preserved later Anglo-Saxon burials in substantial wooden coffins. Evidence that Holy Trinity Church was the focus for the early medieval monastic community before this moved northwards to the present site of Buckfast Abbey.


Grid Reference:SX 742 665
Map Sheet:SX76NW
Admin AreaDartmoor National Park
Civil ParishBuckfastleigh
Ecclesiastical ParishBUCKFASTLEIGH

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • National Buildings Record: 90747
  • National Monuments Record: SX76NW33
  • National Record of the Historic Environment: 444857
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX76NW/57
  • Old Listed Building Ref (II*): 392236

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • CHAPEL (Constructed, Saxon - 701 AD? to 1065 AD)
  • INHUMATION (Saxon - 701 AD to 1065 AD)
  • FONT (Constructed, XI to XII - 1066 AD (Between) to 1170 AD (Between))
  • PARISH CHURCH (Built, XII to Late 20th Century - 1200 AD (Between) to 1992 AD (Between))

Full description

Adams, M. et al, 1913, 5th report of the church plate committee, 100-101 (Article in Serial). SDV336182.

The church plate belonging to this church has been described in great detail. Items include a 19th century chalice, an 18th century flagon and an 18th century alms dish.

Thompson, A. H., 1913, Church Architecture in Devon (Article in Serial). SDV15387.

Clarke, K. M., 1916, The Baptismal Fonts of Devon. Part 4, 314 (Article in Serial). SDV145498.

The font is one of the older of the Romanesque 'honeysuckle' type pedestal-bowl fonts. The bowl has a cable below the round moulding of the rim, below which is the band of honeysuckle. Below this is a band of saw-tooth. Interestingly, the font stands on a central pedestal around which are four columns older that the font itself. One has an Ionic valute on the cupital, the others have plain mouldings. Their origins are unknown.

Department of Environment, 1951, Buckfastleigh (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV325654.

Parish church of Holy Trinity spectacularly sited on a high hill and some distance from the town of Buckfastleigh below. It has a 13th century tower; the chancel and transepts are also possibly 13th century in origin; 15th century aisles and chancel chapels. Thorough restoration of 1844-45 to the designs of John Hayward of Exeter included new roofs and the upper part of the spire; severely damaged by fire on 20th of July, 1992. Smooth cement-rendered (probably 19th century), the tower with earlier roughcast (spire also roughcast); granite dressings; purple natural slate 19th century roofs with crested ridge tiles (except chancel); cast-iron rainwater goods with Art Nouveau designs on the hoppers.
Plan: nave; chancel; west tower; north and south chancel chapels; north and south transepts, north used as organ chamber; four-bay lean-to aisles; south porch; vestry to centre north.
EXTERIOR: 19th century in texture and detail; most of the window mullions appear to have been renewed, several are variants on the uncusped design with round-headed sub-arches, possibly early 18th century in date (cf Kelly parish church). The chancel, lower roof than the nave, has a coped gable with a big 19th century foliated cross; three-light Early English style east window with pointed uncusped sub-arches; two small chamfered lancets to north and south sides. South side has a probably 13th century Early English hollow-chamfered doorway predating the chancel chapel with a probably 16th century plank and studded door with a central cover strap over the hinges. Three windows in the nave gable; three-light in the centre with uncusped sub-arches, flanked by roundels.
South chancel chapel has set-back buttresses with granite set-offs and an embattled parapet; east and south three-light Perpendicular style traceried windows. North chancel chapel with plain parapet rising as gable to the east. East and north windows similar to south chapel but north window with crude replaced mullions; octagonal 15th century rood loft stair turret abuts north chancel chapel on north side.
South transept has east and south three-light windows with round-headed uncusped lights. North transept has a square-headed two-light east window, probably 16th century in origin with cusped lights. High-set Georgian two-light arched timber north window with intersecting glazing bars, probably to light a former gallery. North aisle has two unusual four-light windows with depressed four-centred arched heads, uncusped round-headed lights and a small round-headed light in the apex.
North vestry has three-light east window with round-headed uncusped lights. South aisle has two three-light square-headed uncusped lights. South aisle has two three-light square-headed windows (heads renewed) with round-headed lights and rustic carving in the spandrels; west window of three plain round-headed lights.
Three-stage west tower with no string-courses or pinnacles. Shallow set-back buttresses and a plain corbelled parapet give an effect of vertical panels to each face. Five-sided north stair turret with an embattled parapet and slit windows. West face has a hollow-chamfered arched doorway with a 19th or 20th century west door; three-light Early English style west window with uncusped sub-arches. Two-light square-headed belfry windows to west and south faces with trefoil-headed lights; long slit window to south face. Somewhat irregular spire dating from Hayward's restoration.
South porch has plain arched outer doorway with approximately 1840s two-leaf door with flush panels below the middle rail and slats above. Inside, the porch has a two-bay 1844 roof matching the nave and chancel, stone benches and a double-chamfered medieval inner doorway with ribbed stops. Two-leaf late 18th/early 19th century panelled inner door.
INTERIOR: plastered walls. Arcades with octagonal piers with double hollow-chamfered arches and capitals; similar arches into chancel chapels from the aisles and chancel. Two of the north aisle piers are monoliths and may be 19th century. Very tall, narrow plain tower arch. Wide, double hollow-chamfered chancel arch on moulded granite corbels which do not match one another. Roofs of the 1840s by Hayward: eight-bay arch-braced nave roof with a ridgeboard and two tiers of windbraces; similar two-bay transept roofs; unceiled lean-to aisle roofs might post-date Hayward's work. Blocked 15th century doorway to rood loft stair. Plain arched sedilia; aumbry and piscina in the chancel, probably to Hayward's designs. Fittings: fine Norman font re-sited in the south transept with a carved freestone bowl with some remains of colouring on its original cylindrical stem with four added shafts. Probably late 18th century domed font cover. Late 19th century timber drum pulpit with blind tracery decoration. Fine set of box pews, mostly of 1844 with blind traceried doors, one painted with 'reserved for ringers'. The west end pews are probably earlier with panelled doors and are banked up to the west end. Chancel with 19th century brass communion rail with foliage decoration and 20th century choir stalls.
Memorials: two 17th century slate slabs set into the floor, one in the chancel and one in the south transept.
Stained glass: an interesting set, mostly by Beer of Exeter, the east window of the south chancel chapel probably by Beer and Driffield. Unfortunately the backgrounds of several of the windows have been removed, leaving the figures isolated. South window of the south transept by Powell & Son, designed HE Wooldridge (Pevsner).
An early medieval church. The 1844-45 restoration and the Beer stained glass represent an unusual combination of local architect and craftsman. The undated and unsigned architect's drawing in the porch shows the proposal to re-site the font in the south transept. Historical note: John Hayward of Exeter was the leading local Gothic Revival church architect in the Exeter diocese in the 1840s and 1850s (Pevsner). Other details: LBS No 392236.

Pevsner, N., 1952, The Buildings of England: South Devon, 69, 226 (Monograph). SDV336217.

Parish Church of Holy Trinity at Buckfastleigh. On a hill north of the town overlooking Buckfast Abbey. West tower is 13th century with a later spire, as are the west window and chancel windows. Nave and two aisles of 5 bays, with octagonal piers. North and south transepts. Font is Norman, circular, similar to Paignton. Box pews, early 19th century. Ruins of a 13th or 14th century chapel in the churchyard (see PRN 7786).

Hoskins, W. G., 1954, A New Survey of England: Devon, 355 (Monograph). SDV17562.

Church is 13th century building with 15th century nave. Suffered drastic restoration in 1845.

Masson Phillips, E. N. (ed) + Worth, R. H., 1979, Church geology, 169 (Article in Serial). SDV145424.

Permian red sandstone used in this church is from Roundham, Paignton.

Department of Environment, 1985, Images of listed buildings in Buckfastleigh, 15/07/1985 (Photograph). SDV359974.

Four images of the church before the fire took place.

Griffith, F. M., 1988, DAP/JP, 1-5 (Aerial Photograph). SDV292049.

The church is visible as an extant structure.

Griffith, F., 1988, Devon's Past. An Aerial View, 19 (Monograph). SDV64198.

Cherry, B. + Pevsner, N., 1989, The Buildings of England: Devon, 226 (Monograph). SDV325629.

Blaylock, S. R., 1991, Buckfastleigh chapel fabric survey 1990, 1 (Report - Survey). SDV292043.

Horner, B., 1992, DAP/VQ, 20-25 (Aerial Photograph). SDV292050.

The church is visible as a roofless structure, with hazard tape, scaffold and scorching visible.

Griffith, F. M., 1992, Untitled Source (Aerial Photograph). SDV292051.

Hopper, A., 1992, Untitled Source (Report - non-specific). SDV292033.

The following five objects were rescued from the gutted church and removed to Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter for assessment and treatment: norman font, slate memorial plaque to a previous vicar, 17th century Purbeck marble inscription, Victorian marble memorial stone, small area of painted wall plaster. Full details in parish file.

Dick, A. M., 1992, Untitled Source (Personal Comment). SDV347270.

Destroyed by fire in July 1992. There are plans to rebuild on a small scale within the ruins.

Keystone Historic Buildings Consultants, 1993, Church of Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh, Devon (Report - Assessment). SDV292035.

Recording of surviving remains of church after fire in July 1992, excluding chancel and tower, measured drawings produced of internal walls of chapel, transepts and aisles on both sides of church, and of elevations of nave faces of north and south arcades. Report also includes documentary history and descriptive analysis of church fabric, illustrated by photographs.

Fletcher, M. J., 1995, Archaeological recording of a burial vault at the church of the Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh (Report - Watching Brief). SDV292047.

The church, with the exception of the tower and its prominent spire, was gutted by fire in 1992. A comprehensive archaeological assessment of the ruins was undertaken by Architecton. Since then the roofless structure has been stabilised and cleaned; the tower and spire have been refurbished.
During the restoration work in 1995 a burial vault was exposed in the interior of the church. The vault had to be re-roofed and an archaeological excavation of the structure revealed three lead-lined coffins of probable 17th century date and fragments of a probable medieval tile. A radar probing survey has since been undertaken by Stratascan to establish the locations of other burial vaults and sub-surface features.

Barker, P., 1995, Geophysical survey at Holy Trinity church, Buckfastleigh (Report - Geophysical Survey). SDV292053.

A radar probing survey undertaken by Stratascan to establish the locations of other burial vaults and sub-surface features.

Horner, B., 2002, Holy Trinity Church excavations, 3-22 (Ground Photograph). SDV325651.

Photographs of the excavations at Holy Trinity church at Buckfastleigh in 2002 showing the extent of the trenches and the burials on the north side of the church.

Brown, S., 2003, Buckfast Abbey: Archaeological Evaluation of the Area to the west of North Gate, 1 (Report - Evaluation). SDV292055.

The Society for Medieval Archaeology Newsletter, 2003, Excavations at Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh, Spring 2002 (Article in Serial). SDV360535.

Summarised details of the 2002 excavations and finds which confirm that Holy Trinity Church was the focus for the early medieval monastic community before a move to the present site of Buckfast Abbey in the north in the 12th century.

Reynolds, A., 2003, Excavations at Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh, Spring 2002, 1-2 (Article in Serial). SDV325652.

Evaluation excavation undertaken in 2002 at Holy Trinity confirmed that the church was the centre of the monastic community before the medieval abbey was built.
The excavations revealed the presence of an apse-like feature and the northwest corner of the early masonry church overlying an even earlier structure. A human burial was excavated below the earliest feature suggesting an early Christian origin for the site. A trench on the north side of the church exposed a medieval graveyard soil with up to three generations of burials. A destruction layer contained traces of a high status monumental tomb with rare inscribed tiles.
Five well preserved Anglo Saxon graves of varying elaboration were excavated with wooden coffins and iron nails. One of these graves lay within a plaster lined chamber. Osteological analysis reflected a rich diet common in monastic contexts. An exposed east to west wall was provisionally interpreted as the north wall of an Anglo-Saxon 'porticus' with a line of stake holes marking a division between the nave and north porticus of the early church. Post-medieval maps suggest the outline of a possible monastic enclosure preserved in the field boundaries. A mid-18th century document provided evidence of a possible additional dedication to St Peter.

National Monument Record, 2007, NMR 24677, NMR 24677/14 08-AUG-2007 (Aerial Photograph). SDV361889.

The interior of the structure is visible. Some columns appear to have been removed since 1992.

Ordnance Survey, 2011, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV346129.

National Monuments Record, 2011, SX76NW33, 444857 + 602527 + 90747 (National Monuments Record Database). SDV292048.

Hegarty, C., Knight, S. and Sims, R., 2018-2019, The South Devon Coast to Dartmoor Aerial Investigation and Mapping Survey. Area 1, Haldon Ridge to Dart Valley (AI&M) (Interpretation). SDV361305.

The aerial imagery illustrates the changing fortunes of the church; it is intact in 1988, then it is possible to see the impact of the fire in 1992 when it is roofless and hazard tape, scaffold and scorching are visible, then by 2007 some of the columns appear to have been removed.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV145424Article in Serial: Masson Phillips, E. N. (ed) + Worth, R. H.. 1979. Church geology. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 111. A5 Paperback. 169.
SDV145498Article in Serial: Clarke, K. M.. 1916. The Baptismal Fonts of Devon. Part 4. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 48. Unknown. 314.
SDV15387Article in Serial: Thompson, A. H.. 1913. Church Architecture in Devon. Archaeological Journal. 70. Unknown.
SDV17562Monograph: Hoskins, W. G.. 1954. A New Survey of England: Devon. A New Survey of England: Devon. A5 Hardback. 355.
SDV292033Report - non-specific: Hopper, A.. 1992. Royal Albert Memorial Museum.
SDV292035Report - Assessment: Keystone Historic Buildings Consultants. 1993. Church of Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh, Devon. Keystone Historic Buildings Consultants. K408/3. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV292043Report - Survey: Blaylock, S. R.. 1991. Buckfastleigh chapel fabric survey 1990. Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report. 91.13. 1.
SDV292047Report - Watching Brief: Fletcher, M. J.. 1995. Archaeological recording of a burial vault at the church of the Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh. Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments in England. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV292048National Monuments Record Database: National Monuments Record. 2011. SX76NW33. National Monuments Record Database. Digital. 444857 + 602527 + 90747.
SDV292049Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1988. DAP/JP. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 1-5.
SDV292050Aerial Photograph: Horner, B.. 1992. DAP/VQ. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 20-25.
SDV292051Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1992. Slide.
SDV292053Report - Geophysical Survey: Barker, P.. 1995. Geophysical survey at Holy Trinity church, Buckfastleigh. Stratascan Report. Unknown.
SDV292055Report - Evaluation: Brown, S.. 2003. Buckfast Abbey: Archaeological Evaluation of the Area to the west of North Gate. Stewart Brown Associates Report. A4 stapled + Digital. 1.
SDV325629Monograph: Cherry, B. + Pevsner, N.. 1989. The Buildings of England: Devon. The Buildings of England: Devon. Hardback Volume. 226.
SDV325651Ground Photograph: Horner, B.. 2002. Holy Trinity Church excavations. 3-22.
SDV325652Article in Serial: Reynolds, A.. 2003. Excavations at Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh, Spring 2002. Devon Archaeological Society Newsletter. 85. A4 Stapled. 1-2.
SDV325654List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1951. Buckfastleigh. Historic Houses Register. A4 Stapled.
SDV336182Article in Serial: Adams, M. et al. 1913. 5th report of the church plate committee. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 45. 100-101.
SDV336217Monograph: Pevsner, N.. 1952. The Buildings of England: South Devon. The Buildings of England: South Devon. Paperback Volume. 69, 226.
SDV346129Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2011. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital). [Mapped feature: #81424 ]
SDV347270Personal Comment: Dick, A. M.. 1992.
SDV359974Photograph: Department of Environment. 1985. Images of listed buildings in Buckfastleigh. Photograph (Paper). 15/07/1985.
SDV360535Article in Serial: The Society for Medieval Archaeology Newsletter. 2003. Excavations at Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh, Spring 2002. Council for British Archaeology South West Newsletter. No. 11 Summer AD 2003. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV361305Interpretation: Hegarty, C., Knight, S. and Sims, R.. 2018-2019. The South Devon Coast to Dartmoor Aerial Investigation and Mapping Survey. Area 1, Haldon Ridge to Dart Valley (AI&M). Historic England Research Report. Digital.
Linked documents:1
SDV361889Aerial Photograph: National Monument Record. 2007. NMR 24677. National Monument Record Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). NMR 24677/14 08-AUG-2007.
SDV64198Monograph: Griffith, F.. 1988. Devon's Past. An Aerial View. Devon's Past. An Aerial View. Paperback Volume. 19.

Associated Monuments

MDV58125Parent of: BURIAL in the Parish of Buckfastleigh (Monument)
MDV58124Parent of: Burial Vault in Holy Trinity Church, Buckfastleigh (Monument)
MDV58126Parent of: COMMEMORATIVE STONE in the Parish of Buckfastleigh (Monument)
MDV7808Related to: Buckfast Abbey (Building)
MDV103113Related to: Buckfastleigh War Memorial (Monument)
MDV22904Related to: Cabell tomb in churchyard south of Holy Trinity Church (Monument)
MDV7786Related to: Chapel to the east of Holy Trinity Parish Church in Buckfastleigh (Building)
MDV7787Related to: Holy Trinity Parish Church Cross, Buckfastleigh (Monument)
MDV69507Related to: SLAG in the Parish of Buckfastleigh (Monument)
MDV7821Related to: St. Luke's Church (new), Buckfastleigh (Building)
MDV7820Related to: St. Luke's Church (old), Buckfastleigh (Building)
MDV80091Related to: Steps to Holy Trinity church, Buckfastleigh (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV3788 - Buckfastleigh chapel fabric survey
  • EDV3789 - Photographic record of Holy Trinity Church
  • EDV3790 - Removal of artefacts from Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh
  • EDV3791 - Archaeological recording at Holy Trinity church
  • EDV3794 - Geophysical survey of the Church of Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh
  • EDV3797 - Buckfastleigh Chapel fabric survey 1990
  • EDV5070 - Evaluation at Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh (Ref: K408/3)
  • EDV7462 - 2002 Excavation at Holy Trinity Church, Buckfastleigh
  • EDV7515 - The South Devon Coast to Dartmoor Aerial Investigation and Mapping (formerly NMP) Survey: Haldon Ridge to Dart Valley (Ref: ACD1748)
  • EDV3798 - Photographs taken of Holy Trinity Church during excavations

Date Last Edited:Jan 16 2023 4:28PM