Excerpt from The Blackmore Country by F.J. Snell

Excerpt from The Blackmore Country[1] by F.J. Snell

Tawstock Court, a long castellated building, and Tawstock Church, which has been called the "Westminster Abbey of the West," encompassed with old woods, and so closely linked that they may almost be regarded as one, are near neighbours of Bishop's Tawton, the home of the romantic vicar. Their unity of interest may be illustrated by an ancient custom depicted in a print belonging to Sir Bourchier Wrey, and a much valued heirloom. In the churchyard are two ivy-covered pillars, the remains of a gateway through which the family at the mansion walked on their way to church, while behind them, in solemn procession, marched their servants and retainers.

A full account of the contents of this most sumptuous church is beside my purpose, but attention may be drawn to some of its more important features. In the north transept is a square wainscoted seat, which has a canopy adorned with coloured bosses, and on the cornice are Bourchier knots. The latter circumstance suggests that it was the state pew of the Bourchiers, Earls of Bath, though the opinion has been hazarded that it was a confessional box. The late Sir Gilbert Scott thought the best piece of carving in the building the little gallery leading into the belfry, the principal adornment being the vignette or running decoration of leaves and tendrils. The benchends also, with their alto-rilievo of rose, pomegranate, and royal arms, are excellent specimens of wood-carving.

The beautiful screen was erected by John Bourchier, second earl, whose arms and quarterings, impaling those of his countess, the Lady Elinor, are to be seen on the outside of the church over the priest's door.

The monuments are of almost unparalleled splendour. The "goodliest of all," as Risdon has it, is that erected to the memory of William Bourchier, third earl, and his wife, Lady Elisabeth Russell, daughter of Francis, Earl of Bedford, whose armorial bearings are fully blazoned. The recumbent figures of the earl and countess are life-size, and the colouring: of their crimson robes, lined with ermine, is still perfect. The fifth and last earl, Henry, was honoured with a large sarcophagus, which is surmounted by "an elegant black urn," supported by four griffins. Beside it stands the marble statue of his wife, the Lady Rachel Fane, daughter of Francis, Earl of Westmorland. The work of Bernini, a famous Florentine sculptor,[2] it is mounted on a decorated pedestal of circular form. A square canopy, built in memory of Lady Fitzwarren and her babes in 1586, adorns the south wall, and under an arch in the north wall of the chancel is the recumbent figure of a lady, temp. Edward III, carved in wood.[3]

An ancient chest in a small room, to which access is gained by a flight of old oak stairs, preserves the remains of a collection of armour of the style worn by musketeers in the reign of Charles I., and till 1832 "as good as new." In that year a visitor requested permission to purchase it, but was informed that he was just too late — it had been sold to a Taunton man as old iron. And so nearly the whole of the morions, gorgets, back and breast-plates, wheel-lock guns and bandoliers, which were deposited in this chamber until comparatively recently, have been irrecoverably lost.

[1] Snell, Frederick John. The Blackmore Country. 2nd ed. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1911. Print.

[2] In his 1954 work Devon, W.G. Hoskins states that the statue is by Balthazar Burman and is a replica of a 1672 statue by Burman's father of the Countess of Shrewsbury at St John's College, Cambridge.

[3] Moved to The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, Barnstaple, Devon.