Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

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

Exeter (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 91828 92533


871/2/9 MARY ARCHES STREET 29-JAN-53 (North side) St Mary Arches Church (Formerly listed as: MARY ARCHES STREET Church of St Mary Arches)

I C12 arcades. C15 aisle-widening and fenestration. Shortened at both east and west ends perhaps also in the C15 or shortly after. North wall rebuilt 1814. Much repair work by Stephen Dykes-Bower following 1942 bomb damage (completed 1950).

MATERIALS: Red sandstone with limestone dressings. Partly refaced with imitation stone after 1942. Slate roofs.

PLAN: Nave and chancel in one, north and south aisles, west tower, north-east office.

EXTERIOR: The church has no churchyard. Its nave and aisles are under their own gables and at the west end a small tower sits between and is flush with the west ends of the aisles. The south elevation is the most prominent and is visible from the High Street. The aisle has pinkish artificial facing in its west parts and bare sandstone in the eastern. It has two three-light Perpendicular windows with typical panel tracery. Similar windows occur in the north aisle. The tower is small and has a west doorway which includes Norman remnants. Above is a three-light Perpendicular window with panel tracery. The belfry stage has two-light mullioned, square-headed windows with uncusped lights. On the north side is a segmental-section stair turret with small rectangular apertures for lighting. The tower has a plain parapet with balls at the corners. The west ends of the aisles have three-light, square-headed windows above which, in the gables, are three-light pointed windows with panel tracery. The east end has three, high-set Perpendicular windows in each of the component parts, all of three lights with the chancel window being the tallest. The south doorway has small gabled canopy over it which protects a plaster royal arms of the period 1603-1707.

INTERIOR: The walls are plastered and whitened. The dominant feature is the C12 arcading. This is of four bays including what is now the chancel area. The piers are circular with their bases obscured in the floor; they have multi-scalloped capitals and are linked by arches with double chamfering. At the west end are the remains of the jambs of the arch to the previous medieval tower. The building is covered by plastered ceilings which were installed to replace those destroyed in the Second World War: there is a dormer window on either side of the nave.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: The reredos dates from c.1700 and was made by John Legg. It was repaired during Dykes-Bower's restoration and has Corinthian pilasters, carved foliage around oval, rectangular and arched panels: sadly the Commandments etc have been painted over. Beside the font is an ornate wrought-iron bracket for the font cover made up of former mace and sword rests. Near the south door is a Georgian royal arms. There is a fine collection of monuments from the C16 and C17 centuries. At the east end of the south aisle is that to Thomas Andrew (d 1518), twice mayor of Exeter, a recumbent effigy on a tomb-chest under an ogee-headed canopy, and with four angels holding shields on the base. In the west part of the south aisle Robert walker (d 1602, three times mayor: an upright oval between Corinthian columns and an open pediment above. John Davy (d 1611: centre of south aisle) has strapwork and naked putti. The monument to Thomas Walker (d 1628) and wife (d 1622) shows life-size kneeling figures facing one another. In the north aisle Maria (d 1659) and Christopher Lethbridge (d 1670) with an architectural surround with painted grey marbling and other original colours. Five other wall-monuments of this Exeter type with a variety of sober but inventive architectural frames (1666, 1673 and three of 1682).

HISTORY: St Mary Arches is the least hemmed in of all the Exeter's medieval central city churches. It was a church of some importance with, at three acres, a relatively large parish and which was a prosperous one. The Norman arcade shows there was an imposing church here at an early date. This arcading is unique among Devon churches and perhaps gives rise to 'Arches' in the name of the building. The structural history of the building is complex and unusual, and it seems to have expanded north and south in the late Middle Ages but was also shortened to the east and west. War damage led to some rebuilding, refacing and the insertion of new ceilings. In the late C20 the seating was removed and was replaced by chairs and the floor carpeted. The office on the north is now used by a non-denominational evangelical group.

SOURCES: Anon, St Mary Arches: History and Architecture, 2005 (leaflet) Cherry, B, and Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Devon, (1989) 391-2

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The church of St Mary Arches, Exeter, is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * It is of outstanding interest as an important church surviving from medieval Exeter and is particularly noteworthy for its C12 arcades which are unique among Devon churches. The building has a complex and unusual structural history * It has a number of fixtures of considerable interest, especially two sets of royal arms, and a fine collection of monuments * It clearly show the impact of several distinct phases of building, and its post-Blitz repair has been carried out with great sensitivity


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

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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: 23 Sep 2002
Reference: IOE01/08767/14
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Terence Harper. Source Historic England Archive
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