Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: I

List Entry Number: 1170013

Date first listed: 18-Jun-1974

Date of most recent amendment: 19-Jul-2010



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

County: Devon

District: Exeter (District Authority)

National Grid Reference: SX 91568 92709


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

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Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.



I 1865-8 by Rhode Hawkins.

MATERIALS: Snecked ashlar local grey limestone with Ham stone dressings. Slate roofs with crested clay ridge tiles.

PLAN: Nave, chancel, N and S aisles, crossing tower and spire, N and S transepts, S vestry.

EXTERIOR: The church, built in the Geometrical Gothic style of the late 13th-/early 14th-century, is a highly imposing, splendid structure which forms a prominent landmark in the city with it 220ft-high steeple visible over long distances. It is inspired by the great 14th-century spire at Salisbury Cathedral. It sits over the crossing and has pairs of two-light belfry windows whose lower parts are filled with quatrefoil-pierced screenwork: the heads of the openings have cinquefoil-cusped circles. The tower is capped by a blind quatrefoil frieze above which rises the spire. This is of broach type but the broaches are largely obscured by octagonal, stone-capped pinnacles. Furthermore behind this rise further square, gabled pinnacles with stone cappings. There is a tier of lucarnes in the cardinal directions at the base of the spire, and two bands of saltire crosses running round the spire. The angles of the spire have ribs. In the angle between the aisle/nave and the S transept is a polygonal stair-turret which rises to the base of the belfry stage of the tower.

The nave and aisles are of six bays, each bay being demarcated by buttresses which rise across the slope of the narrow, lean-to aisles to run out near the top of the clerestory in gabled terminations. Each bay of the aisles has a single lancet window while the clerestory has large two light windows with a cinquefoiled circle in the head. The W bay of the building consists of an internal narthex, hence the door on the S side. The W elevation has a large, ornate W portal with a trumeau. This consists of a shaft with foliage capital and a shafts ring and which separates the two arched entrances. The superarch of the portal is moulded and richly decorated and has two orders of shafts in the jambs, also with foliage capitals and shaft rings, In the head of the portal is a large, figured roundel. Either side of the portal are two arches with glazed cinquefoiled circles in the heads and blind, trefoiled arched below with narrow slit windows. Above the portal is a band of blind trefoiled arcading spanning the width of the nave between its buttresses. Rising partly into the nave gable is a large circular window enclosing six foiled circles.

The transepts have two-light windows in their N and S faces with a circular cinquefoiled window over: the two-light windows have the unusual tracery detail of a small quasi-rectangular piece infilling the junction between the main trefoiled lights and the three cusped circles above. A similar design is repeated in the three windows of the chancel clerestory. The E window is of five lights with one large, and two small cusped circles in the head. The S vestry is placed under its own gable. The principal parts of the church are provided with low, parapets filled with quatrefoil decoration of the same kind in the frieze at the top of the tower.

INTERIOR: The interior is very tall and is plastered and whitened. Across the W end there is a W gallery which divides off the W bay of the nave to form a narthex. In its general character it mirrors quite closely the lower parts of the W front, ie with a double-entrance portal with a roundel which depicts St Michael defeating the Devil (below which are two arch heads with adoring angels). Flanking the portal are two arches of two lights with quatrefoils in the heads and openings at the level of the cusping below (below this the lights are blocked by masonry). Between the nave and passage aisles are five arches with circular piers and ornate foliage capitals (they are square in section with chamfered corners). The arches have two orders of sunk quadrant mouldings: Over the arches there is a continuous hood which has, in its valleys and terminations, very delicate and ornate foliage carving. The nave is covered by a steeply pitched roof with arch-braces to a collar. The stone wall-posts to the roof rise from corbels just below a string-course beneath the clerestory window sills. At the E end of the nave and rising almost to the collar of the roof is a tall pain arch. Beyond this there are two equally tall, similar arches to the transepts and to the chancel. The roofs in the transepts and chancel are also of arch-braced type. The floors are of read and black quarry tiles in the nave and aisles and encaustic and multi-coloured tiles in the chancel.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: The chancel is treated with exceptional richness. At the E end there is a reredos of 1899 by W D Caroe (then working at the mother church of St David's) with a large roundel depicting Christ in Glory with pink Devon marble shafts at its sides: the walls flanking this central element each have six square representations of the Apostles. In the NE corner of the chancel, in emulation of medieval precedents, is the founder's tomb under a broad arch: the effigy of William Gibbs (d 1882) in white marble was carved by the noted sculptor H H Armstead. In the SE part of the chancel are triple sedilia with Devon marble shafts and highly ornate trefoiled heads and straight-sided, crocketed canopies above. There is extensive chancel mural decoration on the E wall as a memorial to William Gibbs, executed by Frederick Drake. The stallwork, with poppy-headed ends and open iron frontals remains intact.

The pulpit, by A W Blomfield, 1885, is of timber, is large and has open sides each of which has three pierced sides with a pair of cinquefoiled circles above them. The font, probably of the 1860s, is muscular, square, and has fleurons on the bowl and roundels with the emblems of the Evangelists: beneath is a thick, squat Devon marble base with a spreading stiff-leaf capital and the base is square with foliage in the spurs. The 19th-century E and W windows are the work of the well-known London makers, Ward and Hughes.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: To the W of the church is a large and very fine complex of former almshouses.

HISTORY: This church was built as a chapel of ease to St David's in 1865-8 and was paid for by William Gibbs of Tyntesfield, Somerset, who, with his brother, George, had succeeded to his father's trading company business. The firm made much of its fortune out of the South American guano trade and so it was that William Gibbs became one of the richest men in England. He financed the construction of Tyntesfield, as a country home for his family. He was a deeply religious man of Tractarian persuasion who used his wealth to promote High Church Anglicanism, his greatest creation being Keble College, Oxford, where he funded building under William Butterfield. His work at St Michael's is another and very important example of his munificence in attempting to bring Tractarian Anglicanism and its mission to a poor urban area. The resulting building is a noble church which is a major landmark in Exeter, rising majestically above the surrounding district. The architect, Rhode Hawkins (1820 or 1821-1884), practised out of London. His works span the period 1848 to 1881 and include mainly churches but also the vast Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum in Wandsworth London, 1857-9.

SOURCES: Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Devon, 1989, p 393.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The church of St Michael and All Angels, Exeter, is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * It is of outstanding interest as a large and majestic Gothic Revival church, built in 1865-8 in the style of the late 13th-century. It is well-proportioned and has a soaring crossing steeple which forms an important landmark on the Exeter sky-line. * It is an excellent representative of the mid-Victorian tradition of building fine, large Tractarian churches to bring the Church and its mission to the poor. * It has a fine scheme of embellishment at the E end and a series of significant fixtures and fittings which date in part to the opening of the church but also, as was usual in major Victorian churches, added later as money and benefactions became available.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 89037

Legacy System: LBS

End of official listing