HOLCOMBE BURNELL HOLCOMBE BURNELL
SX 89 SE
4/76 Church of St John the Baptist
Parish church. Part of south doorway C12, arcade probably late Clslearly C16 tower
probably late C15, substantial rebuilding and enlargement of 1843 by John Hayward.
Stone rubble including Heavitree and volcanic stone with granite and freestone
dressings, tower rough cast on east west and south faces, north face with old render,
West tower, nave -and chancel with no external division, 4-bay north aisle, north east
vestry, south west porch. Late Perpendicular style. The extent and character of the
1843 work makes it difficult to establish a dating sequence for the medieval period.
Of the C12 church a rounded arched doorway survives; the tower is probably late
Perpendicular. The granite piers of the north arcade could be C14 Decorated but are
more likely to be late Perpendicular, the rounded double chamfered arches of the
arcade have been described as "restored", but are similar to those at Exminster and
Dunchideock. The 1843 work involved extending the chancel to the east, re-roofing,
replacing window tracery (mostly in original embrasures) and largely rebuilding the
north aisle which was described as "ruinous" in 1843 (Davidson). The vestry was
added, the chancel was refurbished, and the church reseated, it has been reseated
subsequently in the C20.
The east wall of the chancel with a coped gable and diagonal buttresses is entirely
1843 although the 3-light east window with Perpendicular frees tone tracery and a
hood-mould preserves the granite sill and jambs of the medieval east window. On the
south side the nave is flush with the chancel, the south wall has two 1843 buttresses
with set-offs and 4 square-headed 2-light windows with hood-moulds and cusped lights
in original embrasures with granite sills and jambs. The 4 bay north aisle has two
1843 buttresses with set-offs and 3-light Perpendicular style traceried windows at
the east and west ends, medieval sills and jambs intact. Three 3-light square-headed
windows with trefoil-headed lights flush with the north wall are entirely of 1843.
The north east vestry is gabled to the north with a stone gable end stack, plain
chamfered doorway on the west wall, 1-light chamfered window on the east wall. The
battlemented 2-stage west tower has diagonal west buttresses and single angle east
buttresses with a battlemented polygonal north east stair turret rising above the
tower battlementing, no pinnacles. A low shallow-moulded west doorway with a rounded
arch below a 3-light Perpendicular style window with traceried lights and a hood-
mould. The north and south faces have slit windows at bellringer's stage; the south
window glazed, the north window shuttered. 2-light chamfered belfry openings on all
4 faces, the north face opening shuttered. The south west porch has a coped gable
and shallow-moulded outer doorway with a rounded arch. The porch interior has a
plain plastered roof and timber benches. The inner doorway is a rounded red
sandstone arch, probably 1843, below a C12 Beerstone arch with carved heads at either
end and a carved head keystone. Between the heads the arch is decorated with carved
Interior Plastered walls, no internal nave/chancel division except for an additional
rib in the roof and change in wall plate; unmoulded 2-centred tower arch springing
from chamfered imposts; 1843 unceiled waggon roofs with moulded ribs and carved
bosses (those in the nave recently painted). 4-bay north arcade, the easternmost bay
narrower and lower with low octagonal granite monolith piers with chamfered capitals
and rounded double-chamfered arches. The chancel has an interesting set of fittings:
a crested stone screen of 1843 with blind trefoil-headed arcading on the east wall.
In the centre, immediately above the altar, a stone panel is painted with an
illuminated gilded text in Gothic script - an unusual survival of an early Gothic
Revival feature. On either side of the east window the creed and commandments in
panels with arched stone frames with gilded illuminated borders. The altar, said to
be an adapted Elizabethan chest from Culver House (qv) has high quality panels of
blind tracery under ogee arches between applied buttresses.
On the north wall of the chancel there is a remarkable tomb. Both Pevsner and
Cresswell describe it as an Easter sepulchre and tomb and there is some debate about
its date and evolution. An ogee arched crocketted recess above a chest carved with 4
shields, flanked by tall buttresses, with a cornice above, and above the cornice a
frieze of Renaissance arabesques of high quality with similar arabesques and putti in
the spandrels above the ogee arch. On the rear wall, under the recess, a panel of
carving in high relief represents the Resurrection and on either side of the panel
shallower Renaissance carving of mermen and arabesques. Pevsner implies that the
whole design is mid C16,Crewswell argues that the Renaissance detail was applied to
an earlier Gothic design in the C16, when the Easter sepulchre was adapted as a
memorial to the Dennis family. The buttresses flanking the tomb have clearly lost
their pinnacles, the resurrection carving is probably not of English origin, and an
account of the church in 1843, prior to the restoration, refers to 2 kneeling women
on the chest.
On the south side of the chancel a crested stone screen divided into 2 arched cusped
panels by buttresses with pinnacles commemorates relations of Richard Stephens, died
1844, stone lettering in relief. 2 sections of the wainscot of a late medieval rood
screen have been reused as a chancel screen, the wainscot panels have unusually good
paintings of saints for the county, apparently by 2 different hands. The font is a
late C15 10-sided bowl with quatrefoils carved in panels on a thick stem with
trefoil-headed arcading. Ancient colour survives on the conical timber font cover.
The pulpit, choir stalls and nave pews are all mid to late C20. Various C17 tomb
slabs are incorporated in the paving of the church. In the north aisle an unsigned
wall monument to Richard Stephens died 1831, is notable. On a large grey marble
background a white marble inscription tablet with cornice, flanked by inverted
torches, is crowned by a draped broken column. Fixed to a window sill in the north
aisle is a small headless alabaster saint Peter with ancient colour; the quality of
the carving is high and the date probably C14.
The east window contains fragments of late medieval glass including a complete
kneeling figure with a scroll "IHS fili david miserere mei". Border fragments also
survive and 2 coats of arms, 1 is Dennis (qv Holcombe Burnell Barton) impaling a coat
probably meant for Godolphin, the second is argent a chevron between 3 bulls' heads
sable, countercharged. The pictorial glass can be attributed to the Doddiscombsleigh
The Hayward work of 1843 in a sympathetic Perpendicular style is substantial and the
chancel fittings, glass and font are of- especial interest.
Pevsner, South Devon (1952).
Beatrix Cresswell, Notes on the churches of the Deanery of Kenn (1912).
Davidson, MS notes on the churches of South Devon, West Country Studies Library.
Devon Nineteenth Century Churches Project.
Listing NGR: SX8587491600