Bigbury Church – architectural appraisal

Incredibly, its been almost two months since my last update – and that page was about St Lawrence’s Church at Bigbury. At the end of that page I mentioned that a full history of the Church must exist somewhere… and like with buses, I found three in just one week!

This first post on the church’s history therefore is taken from some typescript notes from an unknown source, and alas, unknown date – but I expect them to be mid C20. The notes (which follow) provide some interesting insights into the Church.

St Lawrence’s Church, Bigbury, October 2016


St Lawrence: although this Church was almost entirely rebuilt in 1872-73 by the architect, J. D. Sedding, with the exception of the W tower and spire, which were restored in the process, the bulk of the fittings and some of the fabric of the earlier building were fortunately preserved, viz: –

  • a. the tower and spire, as already stated
  • b. the N nave arcade and the S transept arch
  • c. the S doorway to the nave
  • d. the font
  • e. the pulpit
  • f. the lectern
  • g. the wall-tomb in the N aisle
  • h. the Bigbury brass and the Pearse monument; and
  • i. the sedilia, piscina and squint

a. the tower is mainly of the C13, of 3 stages, with a slightly overhanging embattled parapet (stuccoed); lancet top windows; diagonal buttresses to the base of the top stage; a plain equilateral arch; slits N, S and W; and an octagonal stone spire, with lights in alternate faces.

b. the arcade is of 4 bays, and apparently of freestone, well-finished, with well moulded heads to the arches, and piers with round angle shafts, which have octagonal caps and high bases, and a curious wavy mould following the contour of the whole pier in each case above the shaft caps. The transept arch is of the same type, but depressed, and has rect. foliage ornaments between the shaft caps. C15 – early.

View from pulpit towards north aisle and arcade, (October 2016)

c. the S nave doorway is of unusual type, of freestone, with a 4-centred head, under a label with foliage stops; the architrave is embellished with a mould of interlaced vine stem, boldly carved in a hollow; and the jambs have semi-cushion shaped plinths. C15 – early.

d. the font, of granite, is rather curious, and probably dates from the C16; the octagonal bowl has large plain lozenge flowers in low relief, and the lower parts merges into a round 4-foil ornament at the SE and SW angles, the 4-foils enclosing shields, with a round flower on a star thereon at the SW and a Latin Cross at the SE. The others being plain (there is also one heraldic shield on the bowl, SW); between the angles below the bowl are panels with cusped heads; the stem is short and cylindrical, with four round shafts; and the base is square, with double rams-horn volutes at the angles, with angular cusps between.

e. the pulpit, octagonal, of wood, is of the C15, and came from Ashburton; its chief ornamentation consists of plain shields under crocketed and finialled loges heads, panelled in the spandrels, and with architraves of bezants; the cornice has square-flower mould and a crest of Tudoresque flowers; the whole rests on a slender wine glass foot, with a moulded octagonal centred knop.

f. the lectern also came from Ashburton, and is said to have been made by Thomas Prideaux as a present from Bishop Oldham of Exeter (1505-1519), which not only dates it, but probably accounts for the fact that the original head of the bird was an owl (rebus for Oldham: Owldam); the pulpit and the lectern are said to have been sold by the Ashburton Church authorities for II guineas, and the Bigbury authorities changed the owl’s head for that of an eagle; but whether the body remains that of an owl is perhaps a matter for ornithologists to decide! The lectern is coloured and gilt, and the claws of the bird grips a red ball.

g. the wall-tomb is round-headed, and appears to be of the late C14- early C15; it has four depressed ogee foliations at the apex, quarter-round arch moulds and a moulded label.

h. the brass is very interesting, though it has been mutilated and robbed; the monument is held to be that of two sisters, Elizabeth and Margaret Bigbury, daughters of Sir William de Bigbury; they are credited with the building of the N aisle and the transept in c1400; at present, the brass consists of two standing effigies, with an heraldic shield and four inscribed scrolls (two incomplete), mounted on wood, near the matrices which still remain against the E wall of the transept; thus there were originally two brasses; the matrices are two-thirds hidden by the wainscot; on them may be detected an heraldic shield, five inscribed scrolls, and parts of an inscribed surrounding fillet, besides traces of the indents of the figures themselves. Each matrix probably bore the effigy (of one of) the sisters and her husband: Margaret married John Champernowne of Bere Ferrers; and Elizabeth first married James Durnford of Stonehouse, and then Thomas Arundell of Ewall. The father of the ladies, the last of a long line of the name, was killed in a duel in Edward IIIs reign. Elizabeth wears a mitred headdress, variously described as a heart-shaped, or horned, with a cross hanging from a double chain from the neck; and at her feet is a dog, with collar and bells; Margaret is similarly attired. The scrolls are inscribed THU MERCY and LADY HELPE, and formerly sprinkled the field of the matrices. The fillet bears the following inscription, as far as can be seen: __ ET DOMINA ELIZABETH UXOR EJUS NUPER USOX THOME ARUNDELL DE COM__ (in Gothic lettering).

Bigbury Brass, (October 2016)

The Pearse monument on the W wall of the transept is interesting, as it somewhat resembles a brass in its treatment, with two incised figures and an heraldic shield; it is to John and Jane Burnamed Pearse, 1612 and 1589, with the following punning epitaph: ‘Thus Pearse being pierced by Death doth Peace obtain. Oh Happier Pierce since Peace if Pearces Gaine’.

i. the sedilia are good, of the early C14, to which period also belongs the piscina; the former are triple, with moulded ogee heads and jambs, under a continuous and well-moulded label; the piscina has a moulded corbelled bowl, an 8-foil head, and a label. The squint, SW to the transept, is rect. and ogee.

The piscina (l) and sedilia (r), October 2016

In addition to the above, there are also:

  1. a pair of stocks, with 6 holes, the two to the left smaller
  2. a cusped ogee-headed stoup in the transept, C14 also
  3. two pieces of old heraldic glass in the NW window of the aisle
  4. in the churchyard, S, a chest-tomb to Richard and Ann Coulton, 1791, 1814.

The roofs are new throughout; the chancel windows are in the Decorated style; Decorated and Perpendicular in the transept and Perpendicular to the nave and aisle.

NB – shield on brass: a cross quarter-pierced a fleur-de-lys on each arm impaling an eagle displayed.

Two further shorter histories of the St Lawrence’s Church will follow on separate pages:

© Graham Naylor