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HER Number:MDV372
Name:St. Marys, High Bickington


The church is reputed to have been founded by King Athelstan in the 10th century. Nothing visible from this period remains, however, and the earliest surviving fabric is 12th century. The chancel was rebuilt in the 14th century and the nave altered and the south tower truncated in the 15th century when the west tower was added. The similarity of the nave and porch bosses suggest that the latter is also 15th century in date. The chancel was further altered in the 16th century. The church was restored in 1876-91. The ceilings of the wagon roofs are considered to be 18th or 19th century insertions.


Grid Reference:SS 599 205
Map Sheet:SS52SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishHigh Bickington
Ecclesiastical ParishHIGH BICKINGTON

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Church of England HER: 5211
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS52SE/6
  • Old Listed Building Ref (I)

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • PARISH CHURCH (Early Medieval to XVI - 1066 AD to 1600 AD (Between))

Full description

NMR, SS52SE16 (National Monuments Record Database). SDV5406.

Anonymous, 1902-1903, Font at High Bickington., 145-7, Plate (Article in Serial). SDV5415.

Font in parish church. Cushion bowl of second type, the four hemispherical faces meeting at the corners, so that the bowl is square at rim. Each face is covered with ornament. Damaged and repaired. Chevrons, incised diagonal lines and raised bands with deep hollows between are cut at random as background to the crosses. Two crosses, maltese, with the ends of the arms rounded. West: similar to north but crosses only roughed out. No ornamentation of hollows. Chevrons and lines less determinate. Unfinished look. South: two wheels of eight spokes, each enclosed in a circle of pearls, with chevrons in the interspaces. At top edge is a band of raised zigzags and crosses, 63mm deep. East: much restored. Two large four-leaved flowers about 254mm in diam, the leaves projecting beyond a circle of pellets. Chevron in the interspaces, and a band at the edge of scallops and pellets. About 76mm of the shaft is cut in same block as the bowl. At foot of shaft is a cable. Cream-coloured stone, rather crumbling. Repaired and restored in 1902. Said to have been in 45 pieces. Article on the restoration of the font in 1902.

Clarke, K. M., 1919, The Baptismal Fonts of Devon. Part 6, 214-5, plate 51 (Article in Serial). SDV56166.

Hoskins, W. G., 1954, A New Survey of England: Devon, 334 (Monograph). SDV17562.

St. Mary's parish church. 12th century building, somewhat enlarged and altered in early 14th century. Two aisles and west tower built late 15th or early 16th cent. Wagon roof in nave chancel and north aisle. Magnificent series of seventy carved bench ends of two types (i) late Gothic with window tracery, (ii) Renaissance with figure heads etc. All 1500-1530 in date.

Griffith, F. M., 1989, DAP/NK 13-15, NK 13-15 (Aerial Photograph). SDV5408.

Department of Environment, 1989, High Bickington, 74 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV5403.

Cherry, B. + Pevsner, N., 1989, The Buildings of England: Devon, 480 (Monograph). SDV325629.

Parker, R. W., 2013, Historic Building Recording of Roof Structures at St Mary's Church, High Bickington, Devon (Report - Survey). SDV354577.

An archaeological survey of the roof structures of the church undertaken as part of a larger programme of repairs.
The church is reputed to have been founded by King Athelstan in the 10th century. Nothing, however, of this date remains visible, the fabric preserving the remains of a 12th century building much altered by later additions. Examination of the roofs established that the structural development of the church is more complex than initially presumed with more phases of roofing, all conforming to the wagon-roof type but with considerable variation in detail and quite possibily a date range extending from the 14th to 16th centuries. There is a strong possibility that elements of a 14th century roof may survive in the chancel. It is also suggests that the evidence of the roof structures of the aisle reflects the existence of a hitherto unknown northern transept, part of the original Romanesque plan but now almost wholly replaced and obscured by later fabric. No conclusive evidence for the original roof coverings was found but wooden shingles and slates were found on the wall tops and in the central valleys. However, the church appears also to have been at least partially thatched. The churchwardens accounts for 1837-9 record payments to William Jerman 'for reed and thatching the church'.
The earliest surviving roofs are those of the nave and chancel. These are separate structures at different heights and on slightly different alignments. Both are wagon roofs, ceiled within and divided into bays and panels by moulded transverse and longitudinal ribs. It is suggested that these ceiling are in fact 18th or 19th century insertions and that the roofs were not originally intended to be ceiled. The two roof structures were formerly separated by the thickness of the masonry wall over the chancel arch. The roofs must, therefore, predate the demolition of the chancel arch. This area is now occupied by a narrower ceiled bay which has been ceiling and decorated to match the nave ceiling.
The chancel roof comprises a series of 17 closely spaced trusses, about 30 centimetres apart. Of these there are five main trusses framing four bays and 12 subsidiary trusses, three in each bay. Each truss consists of a pair of rafters tenoned and pegged at the apex. Each has a collar and braced with pairs of upper and lower arch braces, those of the main trusses being moulded which show below the ceiling as an ornamental rib. The arch braces form an arched roof structure which is now ceiled within with lath and plaster. There is no ridge tree. Moulded longitudinal ribs link the trusses on each side of the roof secured at the joints of the upper and lower arch braces with a third rib below the collar at the centre of the roof. The intersections are marked, not by bosses but with leaf ornaments. The roof could not be dated either with any certainty, except that it must predate the addition of the chancel aisle and removal of the chancel arch.
The nave roof is also a typical wagon roof but with some unconventional features. There are 11 main trusses with 29 subsidiary trusses, three in each bay. The construction of the trusses is similar to that of the chancel roof but an unusual feature of the main trusses is the thickening of the principal rafters just below the collar. At the intersections of the arch brasses and longitudinal ribs are unconventional bosses. These are carved from a flat piece of timber about 41 centimetres square and secured to the ribs with iron spikes. The porch roof has similar bosses and may, therefore, be contemporary with the nave roof. As with the chancel the dating of the nave roof could not be established with any certainty, although since it respects the tower it must be contemporary or later than it. This together with the character of the foliate sprays on the bosses may suggest a date in the 15th century.
The roofs of the chancel and nave aisles are also a wagon roofs of similar construction and clearly later than the nave and chancel roofs. A small flue was exposed during clearance of the debris on the top of the east wall of the chancel aisle in the north-eastern corner. This may have once been connected with a fireplace, or small stove or oven. The nave aisle roof has a distinct system of carpenters marks, with those on the north side being plain Roman numerals cut with a chisel while those on the south side have been cut with a curved gouge.
The southern transept of the church was formerly a tower. At present it has a gabled roof, parallel with and slightly higher than the nave roof. It is likely that the tower was cut down to its present height after the building of the new western tower in the 15th century. The character of the present timber construction of the transept roof is consistent with a date in the 18th or early 19th century.

English Heritage, 2014, National Heritage List for England (National Heritage List for England). SDV355683.

Parish church. C12 nave and south tower and C14 chancel, nave altered and south tower truncated in the C15. North aisle, south porch and west tower added in the C15. Chancel probably altered in the early C16. Restored in 1876-91 at a cost of £900. Coursed sandstone rubble (south tower and south wall of nave and chancel cement rendered) with ashlar (mostly limestone but some granite) dressings. Gable- ended Welsh-slate roofs, separately over nave and aisle. West tower of dressed sandstone with ashlar dressings. Plan and development: C12 nave and C12 transeptal south tower, formerly with C12 chancel too (see jamb of former chancel arch). Chancel rebuilt (and possibly enlarged) in the C14. Nave remodelled in the C15, and south porch, 4-bay north aisle and 2-bay north aisle chapel, and west tower added in the C15 (north aisle incorporating reused C12 nave north doorway). The south tower was probably truncated in the C15 when the west tower was added. The C15 north aisle extends the length of the nave and chancel and probably replaced an earlier north-aisle chapel (see probably C14 two-bay north arcade to chancel). Chancel probaby altered in the early C16 (see south windows). The evidence (remains of chancel arch, blocked south window to west of south doorway and former south tower) suggests that the C12 church was large and that the present nave incorporates much C12 fabric in the south wall. Exterior: Three-stage west tower has hollow-chamfered plinth, diagonal buttress with offsets, offset string courses, parapet string and battlemented parapet with moulded coping and square corner piers with crocketed pinnacles. Louvred square-headed belfry openings of 2 cinquefoil-headed lights with panelled spandrels and returned hoodmoulds. One-light trefoil-headed second-stage window to east has returned cinquefoil-headed lights with panelled tracery, moulded reveals and returned hoodmould with dressed-stone relieving arch. C15 west doorway has continuously moulded archway (left-hand reveal rebuilt in the late C20) and pair of C20 plank doors. Small rectangular windows lighting newel stair in north-west corner of tower (in angle of buttress). Clock below belfry opening to east. Nave has a pair of restored C15 south windows, each of 3 stepped cinquefoil-headed lights with moulded reveals. Raking buttress at left-hand end of nave wall. C12 round-arched doorway between south windows, with chamfered jambs, chamfered impost blocks, one order of shafts with carved foliate capitals and imposts breaking forward above, round arch with beakhead, chevron and dogtooth ornament (including hoodmould), rendered tympanum with painted trefoil, and late C19 door with 4 chamfered panels. C12 carved corbel head to left of arch probably formerly a hoodmould stop (see space for former stop to right too). Evidence of ancient colour on south doorway. C15 porch has pointed-arched entrance with pair of C19 or C20 plank doors, and chamfered wooden jambs (note rings for the insertion of poles to keep out animals). Interior of porch has a C15 barrel roof with chamfered ribs, carved bosses and chamfered wall plates with carved shields. Rendered walls and C19 encaustic-tile floor. Small wooden fixed seat in corner (with 2 fragments of old carved stone below at time of survey - January 1988). C12 pillar piscina in porch (at time of survey) consisting of circular pillar with cushion capital and C19 base. Truncated south tower (present vestry) has C14 (or C17) hollow-chamfered 2-light south window with curved Y-tracery and returned hoodmould and the east front has two C12 chamfered round-arched lancets, the smaller one in the apex of the gable above (probably formerly lighting the second stage of the C12 tower). The chancel has a parapeted gable end with C19 coping and cross at apex. The south side of chancel has a probably C16 square-headed window to the right of 2 cinquefoil- headed lights with panelled spandrels and returned hoodmould with carved head stops, and a C19 (or restored) square-headed window to the left of 3 cinquefoil-headed lights with panelled spandrels and hoodmould with carved head stops. Central C14 continuously-chamfered arched south doorway with hoodmould and C19 plank door with decorative strap hinges. Later (possibly C15 or C16) small buttresses flanking doorway. Granite C15 east window (C20 limestone mullions) of 3 cinquefoil-headed lights with panelled tracery and chamfered reveals and returned hoodmould. The 4-bay north aisle has restored C15 windows of 3 cinquefoil-headed lights with panelled tracery hollow-chamfered reveals and returned hoodmoulds. Blocked C12 north doorway between second and third windows from west (opposite south door) with chamfered imposts, chamfered round arch with inscribed lines, and solid tympanum. Restored west window of 3 cinquefoil-headed lights with hollow-chamfered reveals, returned hoodmould and dressed stone arch above. Two-bay north aisle chapel has restored C15 north windows, each of 3 cinquefoil-headed lights with moulded reveals and cusped panelled tracery with mullions running up into head. C15 east window (restored) of 3 cinquefoil-headed lights with moulded reveals, panelled tracery and returned hoodmould. Blocked former east doorway below with dressed-stone chamfered segmental-pointed arch. Interior: Evidence of former C12 church includes the right-hand jamb of the former chancel arch (in south wall between present nave and chancel) consisting of shaft with leaf capital and lower voussoirs of former round arch. South doorway with C12 round rear arch and remains of probable former C12 south window to right (west) of south doorway with dressed stone jamb and voussoirs of right-hand side of former arch. C15 four-bay north aisle arcade consisting of Pevsner type-A piers with capitals only to the main shafts and diamond baces, and 4-centred moulded arches. Nave south windows have splayed jambs and ovolo-moulded rear arches dying into jambs. Pointed archway to vestry (former south tower). Pointed-arched piscina in south wall of vestry, and restored or C19 waggon roof. There is said to be the remains of an old spiral staircase in the truncated south tower but it was not noted at the time of survey (January 1988). C14 two-bay north chapel arcade consisting of octagonal piers with moulded capitals, and hollow-chamfered arches. East window with splayed jambs and chamfered rear arch dying into jambs, south-east chancel window with splayed jambs and chamfered Tudor-arched rear arch, and south-west chancel window with splayed jambs and C19 chamfered stone lintel. South doorway with chamfered rear arch. C14 triple sedilia consisting of hollow-chamfered ogee trefoil-headed arches with broach stops and continuous chamfered stone seat. C14 hollow-chamfered ogee cinquefoil-headed piscina with broach stops and projecting circular shelf with quatrefoil bowl. C15 double-chamfered tower arch dying into jambs. C15 west window with ovolo-moulded hoodmould. C15 waggon roof to nave with chamfered ribs and carved bosses and wall plate with carved shields (supported on 4 stone corbels above vestry archway). C15 waggon roof to chancel with moulded ribs, carved bosses and moulded wall plates. C15 waggon roof to north aisle too with moulded ribs, carved bosses and chamfered wall plate with brattishing. Rendered walls. C19 encaustic tiles to chancel and north aisle. Fittings: Elaborate late C19 carved wooden reredos incorporating reused old carved panels (possibly lower panels from former C15 or C16 screen) and short sections of reused vine trails. Early C17 Communion table with turned legs (front ones carved) carved rails to front and sides, and C19 top. Late C19 wrought-iron altar rails. Late C19 choir stalls incorporating late-Medieval and C16 bench ends (one at rear of north side said to be C13). Frontals installed in 1905, carved with processions of animals, in memory of Robert and Siddie Greenwood Penny. Late C19 octagonal wooden pulpit (removed from Exeter in 1942) with well carved panels and ribs. Late C19 wooden eagle lectern, with brass plate inscribed in memory of Harriet Bending (d.19 December 1893). Very fine series (about 70) of mainly C15 and C16 (and some C19) benches. Well-carved bench ends, the late-Medieval benches with traceried patterns, heraldic devices and carved figures of saints etc., and the C16 benches with Renaissance motifs including foliage and profiles in medallions etc... Benches with moulded (and carved) tops, heavy book rests and chamfered supports to the seats. Remains of C18 box pew at west end of nave with carved panel on door, with the inscription : "R P" and an heraldic device. Pew now part of boxed-in angle between arcade and tower. C12 stone font with square base, circular stem and rope-moulded base, and bowl like a large block capital which has semi-circular faces with inscribed wheels, rosettes and crosses. Old lead lining and C20 wooden cover. Late C17 wooden railed enclosure on 2 sides (possibly former Communion rails) with turned balusters and turned newels with finials. Old oak parish chest (probably C13 or C14) with 3 locks. Later iron parish chest with superscribed lettering; "HIGH BICKINGTON/W.P. STAWELL RECTOR/AD 1813". Two halves of probably C17 carved timber (possibly front of former gallery, demolished in 1860), with carved dragons and shield to centre (one half is reused as a bench end and one half stands at the west end of the north aisle). Also at east end of north aisle at time of survey is a well-carved bench end (or possibly part of a former screen) with 2 figures of saints or kings. Late C19 or early C20 wooden screen to vestry (former tower) by H. Reade of Exeter. Late C16 or C17 Communion table in vestry too (not inspected at time of survey). Late C19 wooden screen to tower arch. Large late C19 organ at east end of north aisle. Bells: 4 cast in 1753, one recast in 1827 and 3 in 1911. Late C19 stained glass in east window and south-west window of chancel. Monuments: Tablet to Joshua Tucker (d. 1705) on north wall of chancel (stone and marble) consisting of central convex oval slate/marble inscribed panel with carved spandrels, flanking pilasters and scrolls with fruit/flower drops, gadrooned base with scrolled brackets below flanking a pair of winged cherubs' heads, and moulded cornice with central painted shield above and much carved wheat, flowers, fruit etc.. Small piece missing on top (possibly one of the fragments at the east end of the north aisle). A grant was made for a priest at High Bickington in the C10. Saint Mary's Church is particularly notable for its large collection of C15 and C16 carved bench ends. Sources: N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, North Devon (Penguin), pp. 98-9; Kelly's Directory of Devonshire and Cornwall (1914), p. 72; E.J. Winter, St Mary's Church High Bickington, a brief history and guide (1984); Beatrix F. Cresswell, Notes on Devon Churches, Deanery of Torrington (1925), pp. 27-46.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV17562Monograph: Hoskins, W. G.. 1954. A New Survey of England: Devon. A New Survey of England: Devon. A5 Hardback. 334.
SDV325629Monograph: Cherry, B. + Pevsner, N.. 1989. The Buildings of England: Devon. The Buildings of England: Devon. Hardback Volume. 480.
SDV354577Report - Survey: Parker, R. W.. 2013. Historic Building Recording of Roof Structures at St Mary's Church, High Bickington, Devon. 2013.04. HC + Digital.
SDV355683National Heritage List for England: English Heritage. 2014. National Heritage List for England. Historic Houses Register. Website.
SDV5403List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1989. High Bickington. Historic Houses Register. A4 Spiral Bound. 74.
SDV5406National Monuments Record Database: NMR. SS52SE16.
SDV5408Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1989. DAP/NK 13-15. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). NK 13-15.
SDV5415Article in Serial: Anonymous. 1902-1903. Font at High Bickington.. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 2.1. 145-7, Plate.
SDV56166Article in Serial: Clarke, K. M.. 1919. The Baptismal Fonts of Devon. Part 6. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 51. Unknown. 214-5, plate 51.

Associated Monuments: none recorded

Associated Finds

  • FDV5548 - BALL (GAME) (Undated)
  • FDV5549 - VESSEL (Undated)

Associated Events

  • EDV6323 - Historic Building Recording of Roof Structures at St Mary's Church

Date Last Edited:Dec 8 2017 11:16AM