History of the Church

History of the Church

The Church contains a large amount of 14th century work, with later modifications and is of more than usual interest.  The plan is cruciform which is typical for churches of this age.

The list of past serving vicars dates back to 1272 and the registers – now in the North Devon Records Office in Barnstaple -date back to 1583.

A tablet on the outside of the south chancel wall states that it was rebuilt in 1675.  lt bears the names of John Berry, Oliver Peard, John Roberts, John Penrose and Robert Penrose.

The church was restored in 1874, chancel walls were raised, new roofing, seating – all costing £1,785.

A silver chalice and paten dating from the reign of Elizabeth 1 are in regular use.

Nave & south transept

Some opinions estimate their origin as early as 1320 and of the “early decorated” period.  The south porch is a later addition the original entrance being on the north wall.  The south transept was no doubt used as a chapel and has a slanting arched opening or squint to allow those sitting there to see the altar.  On the west wall is an old coat of arms of unknown origin.

The font, made of stone, was found under the floor during a restoration and is undoubtedly Norman.

On the north wall can be seen an old monument to Francis Isaac, gent, and his wife, Grace.  Their hands are joined together, and above is the Roman Catholic emblem of the sacred heart.  The inscription details their descent from the Chichester family of Hall near Barnstaple.  In their life time they lived at the nearby Manor House.

The roof of the nave was raised in 1874.  There is evidence in several areas of a painted frieze or dado, probably dating from this time.

The North Transept

This transept is pure “late decorated” and was probably dedicated as a chantry chapel for Sir John Stowford or Sir John Le White, who was born at Stowford in this parish about 1290 and he was Justice of Common Pleas from 1342 to about 1372.  His oaken effigy is in a semi-elliptical arched recess.  It is life-size and depicts Sir John in the attitude of prayer and in the robes of a sergeant-at law.  The effigy of his wife has been lost through the years.  It probably surmounted an altar tomb, no longer existing.  The wall is very thick, allowing the depth necessary for the recess.  The window is a three light decorated window, its following tracery indicative of the later decorated period.  The roof in oak is not of the usual “cradle form”, the curved braces are brought together.

The Chancel

Rebuilt in 1675, probably made higher and slightly wider since the archway and eastern window are not quite in the centre. A chancel screen was removed during alterations in1815 and a doorway on the south side has been blocked up.  The piscina is now on the north wall – moved from the east wall of the south transept.  It is of the decorated period, cinque-foiled but was damaged in the removal.

There are some interesting old memorial tablets on the walls and floors, some dating from 1640. They are worn by age, but worth reading. Local families­ Coats and Parminter – are among those commemorated.

The Tower

The tower arch is semi-circular and constructed from large dressed stones.  Although taken down to its foundations in 1711 and rebuilt.  It is possible that it is a copy of an early arch and it and the tower may have been Norman.  The tower is 60 feet high, plain, sturdy in character, buttressed at the angles with a battlement parapet.  A tablet high on the south wall commemorates the rebuilding of the tower.

As at July 2015, we still have ongoing work on the tower repointing which will need about another £14,000.

The Clock

In 1712 the Clock was given to the Church by Sir Nicholas Hopper of Fullabrook.  It is thought to be one of the oldest working clocks in Devon and is diamond shaped, blue with gold roman numerals.  The weights are rounded boulders from the beach.  The clock was designed to have a single hand as many of the clocks of the period were.

In 2015 the PCC applied for and was given grants by the Fullabrook Community Interest Company (£4k) the Church Care (£3k) and the West Down Parish Council (£500) towards the restoration of the clock and its face.  The community and church has raised over £5,000 towards the restoration fund.

In July 2015 an engineer from Smith of Derby removed the clock mechanism and face and took it back to Derby for specialist renovation work.  The clock was returned fully restored in March 2016.  A service to dedicate the clock is being held on Sunday 24th July 2016.

The Windows

East Window- a triplet representing the Crucifixion.  By Mr W H Dixon in memory of Robert Hole Esq. the family owning Buttercombe until about 1920.  Chancel also by W H Dixon dedicated to the memory of Rev. H.J. Drury, vicar of West Down 1845-1870 depicts “The Presentation in the Temple” Chancel- Christ Blessing the little children commemorating John T Davy and his wife Elizabeth of Rose Ash, both well-known breeders of Devon Cattle.

West Window – given in 1886 by Mrs Ann Fitzmaurice in memory of her sister Grace, wife of James Bale.

South transept- memorial to Anne Anderton and her husband Edward Anderton JP of Trimstone who died in 1917 & 1923 respectively.

The Bells

Records show that there were three bells as long ago as 1553.  In 1794 a licence was granted to recast these bells into five while a sixth bell was added in 1879.

  1. Cast by T Bilbie of Cullompton “fecit 1795″ 27%inches diameter.
  2. As above but 29 inches
  3. As above but 30 inches and subscribed “God preserve the Church and King”
  4. Inscribed as Number 1. 33 inches
  5. Inscribed “I to the Church the living call and to the grave do summon all” 38 inches.
  6. Cast by Llewellins and James of Bristol.; A treble and given by Mr Anderton of Trimstone.

The ringers of West Down have become among the most successful in Devon.  They have been many times the County Champions and were invited to broadcast on May 15 1954 when Queen Elizabeth returned from her post coronation commonwealth tour.