St Mary's, Atherington, Devon

St Mary's, Atherington, Devon

St Mary's, Atherington

Parish Church of St Mary's, Atherington
St Mary's, Atherington is a Grade II listed parish church consisting of nave, chancel, north aisle, south porch, and a west tower with diagonal buttresses. The chancel and nave date from the 15th century while the north aisle dates from the 16th. Although restored in 1883, the interior of St Mary's contains many 15th and 16th century elements including the only surviving rood loft in Devon. Some elements, such as the Champernowne and Willington effigies, were brought from the nearby Umberleigh Chapel when it was demolished in the early 19th century. An account of the reopening of the church following the 1883 restoration was published in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette.




The lych gate is a Grade II listed structure built in 1880, but retaining a long stone beir from an earlier gate. The home beside the lych gate is known as Lychgate Cottage. Lych is from the Old English word lich meaning corpse. When a person died, their shroud wrapped corpse would be brought to the lych gate and laid upon the lych stone. The priest would receive the corpse at the lych gate, and conduct the first part of the funeral service under its shelter.
To the west of the lychgate is this cast iron lamp.
One of St Mary's many interesting features is the large number of late medieval oak roof bosses that adorn the wagon roofs in the nave, chancel and north aisle. The carvings depict animals and men as well as mythological creatures, including this green man.
The octangonal font dates from the 15th century. Each face of the bowl is carved with a quatrefoil. Four of the faces also bear blank shields.
In 1561, during the reign of Elizabeth I, a royal order was made for the destruction of rood lofts in churches. It is therefore quite remarkable that Atherington's rood screen and loft have survived. This stunning example of 16th century woodwork is the only complete pre-Reformation rood loft remaining in Devon. Some sources state that the rood screen and loft were brought from the demolished chapel at Umberleigh in the early 19th century. There is, however, an 18th century reference to a roodloft and screen at St Mary's in the Dean Milles' Parochial Questionnaire.
Access to the roof loft is by a steep, narrow winding staircase.
The painted panels of the rood loft originally faced outwards and may have been decorated with religious figures. During the reign of Elizabeth I, however, any religious paintings were replaced with heraldic devices. Early 20th century photographs show the painted panels facing outwards, however, they have since been turned inwards in an attempt to conserve the paintings. This panel depicts the arms of Basset quartered with Beaumont and Willington. Another panel, now faded, was decorated with the Royal arms, while a third bore the the incription, "God save the Church, our Queen Elizabeth and Realm, and grant us pleace and truth in Christ. Amen."








The oak screen and rood loft are masterpieces of sixteenth-century carpentry. The carving on the west side of the screen is rich with vegetation, fruit, putti, male and female heads, green men, and beasts. The east side is considerably plainer. The screen and loft were carved between 1544 and 1547, at a cost of at least £14 7s 5d. Work on the screen was started by John Parrys of Northlew, but was completed by Roger Down and John Hill of Chittlehampton. Refusal of the parishioners to pay more than £10 resulted in a lawsuit heard at the Court of Chancery.


This window is dedicated to three members of the family of James Arthur (1797-1878), Rector of St Mary's from 1829 until his death. James Burnard Arthur, son of James Arthur and Mary Judd Brent Burnard (1796-1884), was baptised at North Huish, Devon on 21 Jun 1827, and buried at Atherington on 30 Oct 1834. His brother, John Brent Arthur, was baptised at Atherington on 8 Nov 1837, and was buried there on 13 Aug 1840. Mary Arthur, sister of James Arthur, was born in Pilton, Devon in 1794, died at Barnstaple on 25 Apr 1863, and was buried at Atherington on 30 Apr 1863.

The window displays the Arthur shield and crest. The shield is blazoned gules, a chevron between three rails, or, while the crest is blazoned a pelican in her piety sable, the nest or, her young also sable, vulning herself gules.


This window is dedicated to Amy Chichester who died on 26 Jun 1863. Amy, the daughter of the Reverend Robert Chichester (1752-1841) and Sarah CAWSEY (1758-1825), was baptised at Atherington on 22 Jul 1782 and was buried there on 2 Jul 1863. The window displays the Chichester shield, emblazoned chequy or and gules, a chief vair.
This cross commemorates the seven Atherington men who died during the First World War.
One unusual feature of St Mary's, Atherington is the seven pairs of carved and crocketed pew ends.
Two chest tombs and three effigies are located in the north aisle and on the north side of the chancel of St Mary's, Atherington. The effigies were moved to St Mary's from the nearby Umberleigh Chapel when the chapel was demolished in the early 19th century. The Chapel of the Holy Trinity at Umberleigh was founded in the late 13th century by Lady Joan Willington, nee Champernowne, who inherited the manor of Umberleigh from her father.

This Lady Joan Champernowne was married to a Knight of Gloucestershire, called Sir Ralph Willington, by whom she had many sons ; which lady still retained her own name, and in all her charters and grants is still stiled the Lady Joan Champernowne, and all her sons left the arms of Willington,
This badly damaged 13th century effigy was moved from Umberleigh Chapel to St Mary's in the early 19th century. The effigy, carved from Purbeck marble with a band of foliage around the base, is believed to represent Sir William Champernowne, the father of Lady Joan Willington. The effigy has had its legs broken off below the knees and is missing it's right arm, however, the legs are crossed signifying a crusader.






This high chest tomb surmounted by the effigies of a knight and his lady likely dates from the mid-14th century effigy and was moved from Umberleigh Chapel to St Mary's in the early 19th century.The tomb has quatrefoil decorations enclosing shields which at one time were painted. The effigies are thought to represent Sir Ralph Willington (d. 1349) and his wife Lady Eleanor Mohun.

In his 1632 Survey of of the County of Devon, Tristram Risdon writes:
In Trinity Chapel, which still stands, many of these [the Willingtons] were interred, this being their principal dwelling, where they had fair sepulchres, on whose tombs some of their proportions were curiously cut; but Tempus edax rerum. Now only two of them remain, upon one of which is the effigies of a knight and his lady with their armories, and other noble families, their allies, richly gilded, whereon the Conrtenays, Grandisons, Wellingtons, Whalshborowes did not long since appear. On the other was a proportion, completely armed, lying crosslegged, after the manner of such, as in elder ages went to war as in the Holy Land, but none of them have any inscription left to testify who they were."
Two days before his accidental death at Bere Ferrers, antiquarian draughtsman Charles Alfred Stoddard (1821) made a detailed drawing of the effigy.








The slab of this chest tomp is adorned with brasses depicted a bare-headed knight in full armour with sword, flanked by his two wives in fur-trimmed gowns and headresses.The brasses commemorate Sir John Basset (1462-1528) and his two wives, Anne Denys and Honor Grenville (1493-1566). Below are two groups of children: Anne Denys's five children (three males, four females), and Honor Grenville's seven (three males, four females). Beneath are shields of arms showing Basset with quarterings of of Beaumont and Willington impaling Denys, and Basset with quarterings of Beaumont and Willington impaling Grenville. A third shield of arms is missing above the figure but a fourth shows Basset alone quartered with Beaumont and Willington. Also missing is the inscription referred to in a letter from Honor Grenville to George Rolle. The impaled shields are also reproduced in stone on the north side of the tomb.

Anne Denys was the daughter of John Denys of Orleigh and Eleanor Giffard. Honor Granville was the daughter of Sir Thomas Granville (?-1513) of Bideford and Isabella Gilbert. Honor married Sir John Basset in 1515. Honor later married Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Vicount Lisle, illegitimate son of Edward IV. A great deal of correspondence written to and from Honor Granville survives in The Lisle Letters.

John Basset was the eldest son of Sir John Basset (1441-1485) and Elizabeth Buckockshyde. He was created Knight of the Bath by King Henry VII in November 1501, was Sheriff of Cornwall in 1497, 1517 and 1522, and was Sheriff of Devon in 1524. He died on 31 Jan 1528 and was buried at the Umberleigh Chapel in Atherington. In the early 19th century his tomb was moved to St Mary's.

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