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The Architectural History of Lympstone Church in Devon, Part 1

The Exterior

On examining Lympstone Church from the outside, there is an immediate and noticeable difference between the stones of the main body of the church (the chancel and the aisles) and those of the tower. The stones at all of Breccia, in the tower from the new red sandstones of Devon of the Permian type. However, whereas the chancel and the aisles are made of well-dressed ashlar, of a more uniform light pink, the stones of the tower are weathered and although dressed, and some places random and even in size. They are also much darker red in the main church in their variety from great pink and darker red. This, independently of written evidence, leads to the conclusion that the church is of two separate dates, if not more. The tower is obviously the earliest. The stones at the bottom of the tower are much bigger than in the higher courses. This suggests building at different dates all seasons, and possibly the use of earlier foundations and stones from the Norman, even the Saxon periods, surmised in local histories. The builders of the 14th and very early 15th centuries (the dates are taken from historical documents) were no doubt very keen on retaining its reusable item from earlier times to cut costs. We can see, lastly, that there has been quite an amount of repair and replacement of stones over the centuries. Nevertheless, the upper tower appears to be mainly all one peace, in one particular style.

That style is perpendicular, as evidenced by rectilinear patterns, the square tower with battlements, with no spire, and also the type of windows. The battlements have mouldings all along the crenellations, not just at the crests, indicating that this part of the tower is of the 15th century; though of the very early 15th century, as we know from Bishop Stafford's register that this tower was finished and the church consecrated in 1409. The tower is divided into four sections, with four string courses. The topmost course under the battlements is ornamented with single small relief or flower motifs, and gargoyles appear at each corner -- two very much like sheep with woollen coats and two of medieval grotesques, possibly lions. The tower, unusually, has no pinnacles.

Immediately below this, on the south side, is the first of the tower windows. This is formed of two lights with ogee arches with a quatrefoil for tracery opening in the spandrel, and moulded pointed arches. It has louvres. It is of a golden/white stone, Beer stone. Beer stone was much used in medieval East Devon, as it could be brought by sea from the quarry -- much the cheapest method of transport. This was ideal for Lympstone with its little fishing port. This window is the largest of the tower windows, and is similar to one on the north side of the tower, where there are no others.

There then follows another stringcourse, and immediately below this a two light window with a square label of beer stone. Its fellow lies in the next section below. Both are glazed. These windows too and their labels could be perpendicular, but they could also be a later addition, particularly as there are no such windows on the north side. The clock, put up in 1883, partially obscures both windows.

While looking at the main tower, the buttresses are to be noted. These are the offset type, paired, set back from the angles. Altogether, the tower conforms to the wave of fashion in tower building sweeping the country in the 15th century.

Still looking at the south side, we now come to the tower staircase, the semi octagonal projection on the tower, enclosing an interior circular staircase. Here there are five different openings or windows, two quatrefoils, a two light window with trefoil cusping and square label in beer stone, and two small lancets windows, one near the battlements and one below the second string course.

On the West front, there are to windows and the West door. The upper window under the small motifs on the stringcourse has several mouldings over it, a quatrefoil supported by two ogee windows, which have trefoil cusping. The bigger, lower window, the most typically perpendicular here, has four lights under a red sandstone broad arch, with more complicated tracery patterns containing ogee arches and pierced reticulation. The tracery and mullions are all worked in beer stone. The West doorway is a simple construction, having several stone (beer stone?) roll mouldings under a broad red sandstone arch, the mouldings crumbling and much worn away. There is no decoration of the mouldings, nor a tympanum.

On the north aisle, the West door, which is surrounded by different red sandstone and therefore later, has two figures on the corbels of the window arch above the door; one of these appears possibly medieval, of a mason, while the right-hand figure is more modern.

Resting far up against the north wall on the north aisle of the church the author has found two beer stone angels which appear to be medieval. They have a medieval neckline on their tunics, which are pleated. They are much weathered, one is faceless and they have since been removed to the shelter of the church to prevent their destruction by the British weather. Presumably they came from the medieval church during the reconstruction in 1864.

Part 2: The Interior

The Lymstone Society

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