THE DEDICATION of the church is
ascribed to St. Mary the Virgin, however, a church with such an old
foundation as this one may well have been dedicated to a Saint of
the British Church, especially as Brattonne or Bracton was in the
region of the British Church. For example the church in nearby
Bridestowe is dedicated to St Bridget.
Thesaurus Ecclesiaticus’ of 1782 records that during the
reign of Edward III (1327 - 1377), Thomas de Somerton held Brattonne,
Combe, Gonaescott and Bratton St. Mary, the latter may have been
where the church stands, hence the name of St Mary the Virgin
without an actual dedication.
THE DOORSTEP is probably the oldest
part of the church, it is an old menhim or memorial stone.
Originally the menhim would have stood erect; it has Roman
characters at one end. Normally these stones are much longer; this
one has been broken and may have been associated with the ancient
If an OLD CHURCH existed it was probably sited some 25 feet to the
south of the porch where there is a mound in the churchyard. Graves
have prevented further investigation.
THE NORMAN PERIOD - The history of the church can be seen in
the architecture. The bases of the columns are believed to be the
remains of a Norman Church, cut away and squared to support the
clustered columns. The unfinished levelling of the base at the north
west end of the arcade supports this view. It may have been the
intention to make the top of the square bases the floor level. Note
the difference in height between the north door (now blocked) and
the south door serving the present lower floor level of the original
chancel floor. The new floor level idea was probably dropped when
the plans to build a cruciform church were abandoned.
THE FONT AND THE TOWER both belong to a
Norman church, authorities vary in the dating of the tower, one says
it is Early English, another that it is wholly Norman. The latter is
more likely as there is a very strong Saxon influence in the tower
finish and the unique bases.
The font is Norman, made of Tintagel stone, square with masks at the
corners ornamented at each side with a sun enclosed in a circle
around which two dragons are clasped, their heads meeting at the
top. (A replica of the font may be seen at Jacobstowe in Cornwall).
There is one suggestion that the stone to make the font came from
Normandy - France. Further evidence of the Norman church may be seen
in the masks at the apexes of the windows on the north side both
inside and outside. The question has been posed: “were these saved
from the Norman church or are they 15th Century folk art?
CHANCEL & VESTRY note the lancet
windows. The chancel, vestry and possibly the north aisle are Early
English (1189 – 1272), these may have been added while the Norman
building was intact, and the vestry used as a chapel.
THE NAVE AND THE THEORY OF A LARGE CRUCIFORM
In the 14th Century the patronage of the church was in the hands of
Plympton Priory and probably in a state of poor repair. In 1335 the
patronage passed to the great builder of churches, Bishop Grandisson
of Exeter. It is probable that a large cruciform church was planned,
the present nave, with one more bay to form a choir and a
corresponding nave to the west of the tower. On the north side of
the tower it is possible to see an arch now built in.
The existence of
these three arches has led historians to believe that a fourth arch
with the appropriate wing was in the design, also note the make
shift buttresses at the face of the tower and the absence of a west
door. The Newel Turret at the southwest corner is also thought to
have been a part of that same plan, necessary for access to reach
the upper part of the tower. (Stairways like these give great
strength to large structures.)
The great plan was
never carried out and we are left with the beautiful church of today
with its original chancel. It may seem strange to have planned such
a large church in such a remote area of Devon; Bratton Clovelly was
on the main pack horse routes west to east and south to north, a
crossroads village of great importance. The number of chapels in the
parish also points to the importance of the community, in 1411
Stephen Anteswell, rector received a licence to celebrate in the
four chapels of St James at Bonsleghe (Boasley?), St Margaret at
Godescote,St Katherine and the chapel of St Anne & St Stephen at
Domons, the old rectory in the parish.
The nave is unusual
for a Devonshire church, the clustered columns of olyphant stone are
similar in design to those of Exeter Cathedral suggesting the
influence of the same builders, 1375. All but two of the bosses in
the nave were replaced in 1897.
Most of the screen was removed in 1820, the only part remaining is
to the right of the entrance to the chancel. The rood loft stairs
are still in place and a squint allows the congregation to see the
altar from the nave. A gallery was erected in 1820 and removed in
THE GLASS - The oldest glass is in the
church in the vestry. It was removed from the southeast window by
Rector Birdwood 1816 – 1846 and placed in the east window, moved
again in 1886 to the vestry. The glass bears the arms of Burnby, the
original position of the glass in the south east corner of the nave,
where there was a chapel (note the overhead canopy and piscina)
suggests that the Burnby’s had some share in the building. The
historian Risdon wrote, ‘Burnby hath been the dwelling place of
the Burnbey’s many generations a name extracted even from the line
of the English Saxon Nation and who are allied to the worshipful
families’. The choir Stalls hide a memorial slab to Thomas
Buneby and the lectern a stone to Richard Burnby 1603. The smaller
window in the vestry depicts the arms of Kelly. The modern glass in
the church is by Lavers and Westlake and was given by Mrs Elizabeth
Manning between 1883 – 1892.
MRS ELIZABETH MANNING was very generous
in her giving to the church. She gave, the glass in the chancel and
the nave, the alabaster Reredos, the Connemara marble paving, the
carved oak pews crafted by John Northcott of Ashwater, the font
cover 1875, the pulpit 1885, the church clock 1895 and paid for the
rehanging of the bells in 1900.
THE SOUTH PORCH dates from 1375, the
same date as the cluster columns and is Late Decorated or Early
Perpendicular in style. The roof, original, is open timbered with
carved beams and bosses. The porch was rebuilt in 1870 after falling
down. The old oak door and ancient lock are of unknown date.
THE NORTH DOOR was blocked in 1880. A list of clergy who have served
in the parish now hangs there. The Revd R S Hawkins of Morwenstowe
said that the north doors were opened at baptisms so that the Evil
One might depart, the door was then closed until the next baptism.
THE FLOOR OF THE CHURCH slopes
downwards from west to east and when the church history was
originally written older residents could remember the slope ending
in steps down to the altar. Sampford Courtney church had a similar
arrangement. The church slopes to the south when looked at from the
west, this may be interpreted as symbolic of the inclination of our
Lord’s head as he hung on the cross, or did the builders follow the
natural levels of the ground?
THE PARISH STOCKS are kept in the
church porch and are inscribed ‘Fear God, Honour the King’.
THE ALTAR PLATE which includes a very
fine flagon inscribed ‘Ex dono Dominae. Honoris Calmady Aclesiae
de Bratton Clovelly 1639’ is now kept in a local bank. There is
a silver chalice 1552 and paten 1704.
THE PARISH REGISTERS date from 1555
when it was made compulsory to keep them, the registers that are not
in use are kept in the Devon Records Office.
THE BELLS were cast in 1767 by
Penningtons, the peal of six are still on brass bearings in an oak
frame and were rehung in 1900, a chime was installed at the same