Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Date first listed:
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Exeter (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SX 91222 91818



GV I Medieval origins with a consecration in 1412 which is perhaps the date of the arcades. Much rebuilt by 1657, including the W tower, after a fire in 1645. N aisle much rebuilt 1821. Major E end additions by Andrew Patey in the 1828-9. Internal refitting 1842. Restoration by John Hayward 1871. SW vestry (by 1909).

MATERIALS: Sandstone rubble with some volcanic stone, limestone dressings. Buttresses in E parts rendered. W walls of E parts slate-hung. Slate roofs.

PLAN: Nave, chancel, N and S aisles, W Tower, N porch, N and S transepts, S chapel, N organ chamber, SW vestry.

EXTERIOR: The church presents its N elevation to the main road. The dominant features are the W tower and the N transept which are from the two key building campaigns, in the mid 17th century and 1828-9 respectively, both quite unusual dates in English church-building. The tower is rectangular (longer N-S). It is slender, tall and has diagonal buttresses and a demi-octagonal stair-turret at the NE. It is of two quite plain, unequal stages (the top taller). The W window is of three lights with standard Perpendicular tracery. The upper stage has small, two-light square-headed belfry windows. There is an embattled parapet and crocketed corner pinnacles. The S aisle was much rebuilt in the 17th century: it has no parapets. Its windows are of three lights and are square headed and have simple cusping, renewed at Hayward's restoration. The N aisle and porch are largely the work of 1821; its three large pointed windows have three-light Perpendicular tracery and were designed by Hayward: a fourth window to the E is small and has grid-like mullions and a transom which looks like a simple 17th-century design yet is not shown on a pre-1820s picture of the church. Most or all of the aisle windows were renewed by Hayward. The rudimentary N aisle parapet of 1821 rises without any articulation from the wall. The inner doorway on the N has 14th-century moulding and is perhaps reused.

The E parts of the church are tall and contrast with the rest of the building: their three, slate-hung gables abutting the nave and aisles appear as though the intention was to continue the work further W at a later date. The transepts are impressive examples of pre-Victorian Gothic. The N and S elevations have three-light Perpendicular windows above which is a large circular window with ornate, richly cusped tracery which is based on four circles with triangles in their centres. At the sides are rendered diagonal buttresses which rise to pinnacles between which is an embattled parapet. The rest of the E end also is embattled and the angles of the components are marked by diagonal buttresses - rendered like those on the transepts. The windows are Perpendicular apart from the E window which is of five lights and contains Geometrical tracery.

INTERIOR: The walls are plastered and whitened. The nave and aisles are of five bays and the arcades are probably medieval survivals. They consist of plain double-chamfered arches, octagonal piers and capitals. The nave is covered with a ceiled roof of keel shape, divided into large square panels by ribs. The S aisle ceiling is semi-circular and is divided into rectangular panels. The transepts are tall which is accounted for by the fact that they were designed to accommodate galleries. There are two tall arches with moulded heads and clustered column piers on either side of the chancel. The chancel ceiling is pointed but flatter than that in the nave and is divided into rectangular panels.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: At the E end is a reredos with delicate Gothic canopies and pinnacles and which, like the stone altar with traceried front beneath, dates from 1842. To the N is a late medieval-style canopied table tomb to Christina Medley (d 1845), wife of the first vicar, John Medley, and who is depicted as a recumbent figure with her hands clasped: it was designed and executed by the London sculptor John Bacon Jnr. Also from the 1840s is the font (1842), a very richly treated piece in Beer stone and similar to the font installed by Medley at St Andrew's, Exwick: it is octagonal and has ornate ogee arches on the bowl and much crocketing, quatrefoil work and an inscription round the top. The wooden lectern is an important medieval piece dating from the 14th century and was brought here from the cathedral about 1840 and is of great importance as the earliest surviving cathedral lectern. It is much restored but its three-sided stand is original, has nodding ogee arches and, at the base, three dogs. A large eagle stands on the support, its neck outstretched. In the N aisle is a family pew of 1838 for the Graves-Sawle family: it has a wooden vault with elaborate heraldic decoration. The main, open bench seating is of much interest, dating from the 1842 campaign and is a very early example of this type of Victorian seating. Some of the seats bear the names of the occupants (Franklyn and Cleve families), something that survives very rarely. The royal arms at the W end date from 1682. The pulpit (c1903) is a traceried wooden piece and stands on a marble base: it probably dates from the 1870s restoration. The church has many wall monuments. The largest is to Sir Thomas Northmore (d 1713) with a circular inscription flanked by two columns: it has two standing allegorical figures and two more (winged) reclining on a broken pediment. A similar monument is located over the N doorway (1740 illegible inscription).

HISTORY: A chapel was founded in the 13th century on the W side of the Exe bridge by Cowick Priory and later rebuilt on this site (consecration 1412) to serve the important settlement which grew up on the side of the river away from the city. The church was burnt in 1645 in the Civil War and much rebuilt by 1657. The church also underwent a major remodelling in the 1820s, and this included rebuilding the eastern parts on an ambitious scale. Mid-17th-century and 1820s work on the scale of St Thomas¿s is quite unusual in English churches and thus this gives the building special importance. The 17th-century work was altered in the 19th century but the tower is essentially intact and is an important example of Gothic survival into the post-Reformation period.

The late 1820s work at the E end under Patey is unusually lavish for a parish church at this time. The light spaciousness of the chancel contrasts with the low, long nave and aisles as might be expected from the external appearance of the building. The refitting campaign under the Rev. John Medley in 1842 is also very significant. Medley was secretary of the newly-formed (1841) Exeter Diocesan Architectural Society (EDAS). EDAS was to do much to encourage the type of church architecture and fittings that were being vigorously promoted by A W N Pugin and the immensely influential Cambridge Camden Society (CCS). It was the first such society founded outside Oxbridge. Medley was also behind the building of the daughter church of St Andrew, Exwick, which the CCS's influential journal, The Ecclesiologist, pronounced to be `the best specimen of a modern church we have yet seen.' The fittings at St Thomas's are thus important precursors of the type of what would become mainstream work underpinning the furnishing of churches during the Victorian Gothic Revival.

The architects: nothing is known of the medieval or 17th-century builders. Andrew Patey (d 1834) is said to have begun as a mason in Yorkshire before establishing himself as an architect in Exeter. His best work was the Fire Assurance Office in the High Street (1833, bombed 1942). He also rebuilt Dawlish church, 1824, and St Leonard, Exeter (the latter demolished). John Hayward (1808-91) was a leading church architect in Devon in the mid-19th century and was at the forefront of the ecclesiological revival as promoted by EDAS. His practice was based in High Street, Exeter. He also designed the Royal Albert Museum in Exeter, built in 1865-6.

SOURCES: Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner. The Buildings of England: Devon, 1989, p 396. Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, 1995, p 741. Antonia Brodie et al., Directory of British Architects 1834-1900, 2001, pp 874-5.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The church of St Thomas the Apostle, Cowick Street, Exeter, is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * It is of outstanding interest as a church of medieval origins which was remodelled in a series of important campaigns in the 17th and 19th centuries. * The 17th-century work is an important example of Gothic survival, using the architecture of the Middle Ages in the post-Civil War rebuilding campaign. * The 1820s work at the E end is unusually lavish for its time. It is generously scaled and gives the building an imposing E end. * The refitting - reredos, altar, font and seating - in the early 1840s is a pioneering example of its kind. * Of older fittings, the lectern is of great importance as the earliest surviving cathedral lectern in the country. There is also a series of wall monuments, two of which have considerable distinction.


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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 05 Jul 2006
Reference: IOE01/14812/20
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Sid Ellott. Source Historic England Archive
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