OTTERTON CHURCH HILL, Otterton
7/122 Church of St Michael
Parish church. Late C11 tower, though much altered, is a relic of a priory of that
date which belonged to the Benedictine Abbey of Mont St Michel, Normandy. The rest
is a rebuild of 1870-1, done at the expense of Louisa, Lady Rolle, with Benjamin
Ferrey the architect, Henry Burridge the builder, and carvings by Harry Hems of
Exeter. It contains a C15 font. The tower is built of roughly coursed blocks of
pale brown-coloured local conglomerate sandstone; the rest is built of coursed
blocks of rock-faced Torquay limestone with yellow sandstone detail (tower also has
contemporary detail). Interior is lined with Beerstone. Roof of red tiles
including fishscale bands.
The plan is wholly that of 1870. Originally the tower was central. By the C19 it
was at the east end. Now it projects from the south side of the chancel. The rest
is made up by nave and lower chancel with large north and south aisles. There are
north and south porches, a crypt, and the vestry is the ground floor of the tower.
The style of the restoration is Decorated Gothic and the tower was converted to the
same style then. However it also includes a few Transitional and Early English
Gothic details in places. All the blocks are gable-ended with soffit-moulded coping
and apex cross: Iona cross to the chancel, fleuree crosses elsewhere. All the
windows have pointed heads, they contain Decorated Gothic tracery and have
hoodmoulds with carvings of medieval heads as labels (monks, jester, kings etc).
The 2-stage tower has a very low pyramidal spire surmounted by a brass weather cock
and fenced by a parapet carved with blind quatrefoil panels. A gargoyle waterspout
projects from each corner. 2-light belfry windows. On the lower part of the
southern side there is the dripcourse of an original roof over a contemporary round-
headed arch with Beerstone voussoirs. The arch is now blocked by a shallow
projection of the vestry which contains a 3-light window in the gable end. C19
stair turret projects from the east side rising up to belfry level with its stone
roof pitched with rounded hip, a prominent finial and corbelled eaves cornice. The
corners of the upper stage have broad chamfers whilst the lower stage is square. It
has slit windows and an external door, the latter square-headed with small columns
with waterleaf capitals inset into the jambs and a band of natural leaf enrichment
along the head.
Both of the aisles are the same size. The east end of the south aisle contains only
a trefoil-headed lancet because the tower covers most of it but the other ends
contain 4-light windows with ventilator slits in the gable. Each of the side walls
is 4 bays containing a porch and three 3-light windows. There are buttresses with
weathered offsets and steeply gabled heads between and setback buttresses. The
south porch lies right of centre whilst the north porch is by the west end. Both
are identical. They are gable-ended with wrought iron apex crosses. The 2-centred
outer arches have richly-chamfered heads but broad chamfers to the jambs. Double-
lancet windows in the side walls. On the east end, the nave projects very slightly
from the aisles; it contains a 5-light window, ventilator in the gable and an
inscribed foundation stone near the ground. The chancel continues the same style;
2-light windows on the sides and a 3-light east window. Here however the side walls
have a coved eaves cornice carved with acanthus leaves and the east window is
flanked by half engaged columns with stiff leaf capitals. Ground level the north
side of the church is lower than that on the south. Because of this the north porch
and the priests door to the chancel are reached by flights of stone steps.
Interior is basically that of the 1870-71 restoration. Both porches have open
common rafter roofs and have chequer-pattern floors of red and black tiles. The
north and south doorways are each a 2-centred arch with moulded surround and contain
plank doors with Decorated style strap hinges.
The interior is completely lined with Beerstone ashlar. All the roofs are pine and
backed with pine boards. The nave has an open 4-bay roof of hammer beam trusses,
each with moulded arch braces, octagonal king post with moulded cap, raking queen
struts and spaces above collar filled with open cusping. The hammer beams terminate
with plain shields and the arch braces supporting them rest on shaped corbels. The
wall plate is a board with crenellated head, pierced by small quatrefoils over
dogtooth frieze. The end trusses are scissor-braced with cusped infill. Each aisle
has an open 4-bay roof of arch-braced trusses with foliage carved in the spandrels.
The arch braces rest on large Beerstone corbels carved as human heads under soffit-
moulded caps. The purlins are moulded and the wall plate is a simpler version of
that in the nave. The chancel has a 5-bay boarded wagon roof with moulded ribs and
carved (possibly oak) bosses. The 2 bays over the sanctuary are more elaborate
having cusped frames around the panels. The truss between sanctuary and chancel is
broader than the others and has a descending crest of open cusps. This truss also
springs from vaulting shafts which comprises marble shafts resting on large corbels
carved as angels.
The chancel arch is a large 2-centred arch with a very richly moulded head and broad
chamfered sides. The inner mouldings spring from vaulting shafts; marble shafts
with beerstone stiff leaf capitals, moulded bases on pedestals enriched with balls
of coloured marble, and supported on large corbels carved as angels (one holding
flowers, the other playing a lute). Each side of the nave there is a 4-bay arcade;
moulded beerstone arches with hodmoulds springing from corbels carved as various
foliages. The piers are marble and circular in section with Beerstone caps carved
with stiff leaf decoration and occasionally with human heads. The tower arch is on
the south side of the chancel. It is a relatively low 2-centred arch with a double-
chamfered arch ring, the inner ring springing from plain imposts and the outer
carried down the jambs. Directly above the voussoirs of a probably Cll round-
headed arch are exposed. The chancel also has an internal coving frieze with
acanthus leaf enrichment. The inner arches of the chancel windows have marble nook
shafts with Beerstone stiff leaf capitals and hoodmoulds over springing from the
abaci. Nave and aisle floors are a chequer pattern of red and block tiles. The
chancel floor contains patterns of encaustic tiles, more densely employed in the
sanctuary which is raised by marble steps.
Nearly all the furniture and fittings are from the 1870-71 rebuild and done in a
consistent Transitional-Early English Gothic style. Ornate Beerstone reredos. The
centrepiece breaks forward from a blind arcade of trefoil-headed arches supported on
slender marble shafts with Beerstone stiff leaf capitals, sunken cusped panels in
the spandrels and a moulded cornice enriched with a band of trefoils, recessed to
coloured marble, over ballflower frieze. The panels are painted, some geometric
patterns, others prayers and commandments. The centrepiece has a central blind
trefoil-headed arch with crockets and a large poppyhead at the apex rising through
the frieze. It too rests on small marble shafts with stiff leaf capitals and it
frames a sunken quatrefoil containing the scared monogram in mosaic. Either side
are symbols of the Evangelists in bas relief in square sunken panels. Each corner
of the sanctuary contains a Riddel post, a tall turned timber post surmounted by a
gilded angel, put there in 1921. Oak altar rail on a trefoil-headed arcade. Oak
stalls in which frontals contain open early Decorated Gothic style tracery and
benches have large poppyhead finials. Brass candle holders here now converted to
electric lights. Chancel also contains a wrought iron and brass corona lucis also
now converted to electric light.
Ornate Beerstone pulpit with marble enrichment. The drum is square with chamfered
corners with blind arcade each side; 2 arches on the larger sides with a rosette
in the tympanum and sunken quatrefoils in the spandrels, and the chamfered corners
contain narrow trefoil-headed panels. There are slender marble stiff leaf capitals
on each corner and on the broader sides. Carved stiff leaf cornice and natural leaf
around base. It is supported on a large central pier and corner piers, all with
stiff leaf capitals. It has stone steps with a brass handrail with twisted
balusters. Brass lectern with twisted stem and scrolled enrichment. Plain deal
benches still with their original numbers on the bench ends. C15 Beerstone font;
octagonal bowl, its sides containing quatrefoil panels alternately containing 4-leaf
motifs and shields, carved foliage around the base, stem has trefoil-headed panels
and moulded base. The flat oak cover is probably C17.
Memorials. The oldest and the best is the Duke altar tomb now set in the tower.
It is built of Beerstone, dated 1859 but has no inscription. Below the lid there is
a frieze of interlace with acanthus leaves which is supported by 3 flat pilasters.
The panels between are decorated with strapwork patterns. 3 Ionic columns stand on
the lid carrying on entablature with modillion cornice. Behind the columns are 2
panels with strapwork panels around oval bosses. On top of the entablature there is
an uniscribed plaque flanked by flat pilasters and with a plain entablature. The
shaped wings either side are also decorated with strapwork. Above is the date
plaque and it is surmounted by the Duke arms. The tower also contains rectangular
black marble mural plaques, 1 in memory of Richard Crossing (died 1689) with his
arms, another in memory of William Simmons (died 1782), and a third in memory of
Henry Austin (died 1700). A C16 Beerstone graveslab is fixed to the wall in the
south aisle; its black letter inscription records the death of Mr John Courtenay in
1593. The chancel contains a marble plaque erected in 1905 in memory of the two
members of the Venn family who were rectors in the C17. Other small late C19 and
early C20 marble or brass plaques.
A painted board in the south aisle dated 1745 records charity bequests. Below the
west window a brass plaque records the 'restoration' of the church at the expense of
Lady Rolle. Alongside to the left several brass plates are fixed to the wall. They
appear to be coffin plates salvaged from the demolition of the Duke vault in 1870.
The oldest and most ornate are 2 dated 1641, one in memory of Richard Duke, the
other in memory of Sarah Duke. In 1870 they were mounted in the tower around the
altar tomb there but have since been moved here. In the south aisle an oak chest is
inscribed IM and WB, 1762. A display box on top contains one of the C15 oak bosses
removed in 1870 and a couple of old prints showing the Church before it was rebuilt.
Both east and west windows contain stained glass, the former by Warden Hughes, was
given by the Hon.Mark Rolle.
The Church of St Michael is mostly the result of Ferrey's rebuild of 1870-71. Even
the tower, the only survival from the earlier church, was massively restored and
shows only little evidence of its C11 origins. The C15 font was retained. Ferrey
provided a light and spacious church which still contains furniture and fittings of
that date. The craftsmanship is good but the architecture rises only to the
dignified. The best feature in the church is the Duke altar tomb of 1589.
Sources. Church guide. (This includes a reproduction of a drawing of the church
in 1842 by W J Spreat). A description of the church before its restoration is
included in Beatrix Cresswell, Notes on Devon Churches, The Deanery of Aylesbeare.
Listing NGR: SY0799385165