HIGH BICKINGTON HIGH BICKINGTON
SS 59 20
14/95 Church of Saint Mary
Parish church. C12 nave and south tower and C14 chancel, nave altered and south
tower truncated in the C15. North aisle, south porch and west tower added in the
C15. Chancel probably altered in the early C16. Restored in 1876-91 at a cost of
£900. Coursed sandstone rubble (south tower and south wall of nave and chancel
cement rendered) with ashlar (mostly limestone but some granite) dressings. Gable-
ended Welsh-slate roofs, separately over nave and aisle. West tower of dressed
sandstone with ashlar dressings.
Plan and development: C12 nave and C12 transeptal south tower, formerly with C12
chancel too (see jamb of former chancel arch). Chancel rebuilt (and possibly
enlarged) in the C14. Nave remodelled in the C15, and south porch, 4-bay north aisle
and 2-bay north aisle chapel, and west tower added in the C15 (north aisle
incorporating reused C12 nave north doorway). The south tower was probably truncated
in the C15 when the west tower was added. The C15 north aisle extends the length of
the nave and chancel and probably replaced an earlier north-aisle chapel (see
probably C14 two-bay north arcade to chancel). Chancel probaby altered in the early
C16 (see south windows). The evidence (remains of chancel arch, blocked south window
to west of south doorway and former south tower) suggests that the C12 church was
large and that the present nave incorporates much C12 fabric in the south wall.
Exterior: Three-stage west tower has hollow-chamfered plinth, diagonal buttress with
offsets, offset string courses, parapet string and battlemented parapet with moulded
coping and square corner piers with crocketed pinnacles. Louvred square-headed
belfry openings of 2 cinquefoil-headed lights with panelled spandrels and returned
hoodmoulds. One-light trefoil-headed second-stage window to east has returned
cinquefoil-headed lights with panelled tracery, moulded reveals and returned
hoodmould with dressed-stone relieving arch. C15 west doorway has continuously
moulded archway (left-hand reveal rebuilt in the late C20) and pair of C20 plank
doors. Small rectangular windows lighting newel stair in north-west corner of tower
(in angle of buttress). Clock below belfry opening to east.
Nave has a pair of restored C15 south windows, each of 3 stepped cinquefoil-headed
lights with moulded reveals. Raking buttress at left-hand end of nave wall. C12
round-arched doorway between south windows, with chamfered jambs, chamfered impost
blocks, one order of shafts with carved foliate capitals and imposts breaking forward
above, round arch with beakhead, chevron and dogtooth ornament (including hoodmould),
rendered tympanum with painted trefoil, and late C19 door with 4 chamfered panels.
C12 carved corbel head to left of arch probably formerly a hoodmould stop (see space
for former stop to right too). Evidence of ancient colour on south doorway. C15
porch has pointed-arched entrance with pair of C19 or C20 plank doors, and chamfered
wooden jambs (note rings for the insertion of poles to keep out animals). Interior
of porch has a C15 barrel roof with chamfered ribs, carved bosses and chamfered wall
plates with carved shields. Rendered walls and C19 encaustic-tile floor. Small
wooden fixed seat in corner (with 2 fragments of old carved stone below at time of
survey - January 1988). C12 pillar piscina in porch (at time of survey) consisting
of circular pillar with cushion capital and C19 base.
Truncated south tower (present vestry) has C14 (or C17) hollow-chamfered 2-light
south window with curved Y-tracery and returned hoodmould and the east front has two
C12 chamfered round-arched lancets, the smaller one in the apex of the gable above
(probably formerly lighting the second stage of the C12 tower).
The chancel has a parapeted gable end with C19 coping and cross at apex. The south
side of chancel has a probably C16 square-headed window to the right of 2 cinquefoil-
headed lights with panelled spandrels and returned hoodmould with carved head stops,
and a C19 (or restored) square-headed window to the left of 3 cinquefoil-headed
lights with panelled spandrels and hoodmould with carved head stops. Central C14
continuously-chamfered arched south doorway with hoodmould and C19 plank door with
decorative strap hinges. Later (possibly C15 or C16) small buttresses flanking
doorway. Granite C15 east window (C20 limestone mullions) of 3 cinquefoil-headed
lights with panelled tracery and chamfered reveals and returned hoodmould.
The 4-bay north aisle has restored C15 windows of 3 cinquefoil-headed lights with
panelled tracery hollow-chamfered reveals and returned hoodmoulds. Blocked C12 north
doorway between second and third windows from west (opposite south door) with
chamfered imposts, chamfered round arch with inscribed lines, and solid tympanum.
Restored west window of 3 cinquefoil-headed lights with hollow-chamfered reveals,
returned hoodmould and dressed stone arch above. Two-bay north aisle chapel has
restored C15 north windows, each of 3 cinquefoil-headed lights with moulded reveals
and cusped panelled tracery with mullions running up into head. C15 east window
(restored) of 3 cinquefoil-headed lights with moulded reveals, panelled tracery and
returned hoodmould. Blocked former east doorway below with dressed-stone chamfered
Interior: Evidence of former C12 church includes the right-hand jamb of the former
chancel arch (in south wall between present nave and chancel) consisting of shaft
with leaf capital and lower voussoirs of former round arch. South doorway with C12
round rear arch and remains of probable former C12 south window to right (west) of
south doorway with dressed stone jamb and voussoirs of right-hand side of former
arch. C15 four-bay north aisle arcade consisting of Pevsner type-A piers with
capitals only to the main shafts and diamond baces, and 4-centred moulded arches.
Nave south windows have splayed jambs and ovolo-moulded rear arches dying into jambs.
Pointed archway to vestry (former south tower). Pointed-arched piscina in south wall
of vestry, and restored or C19 waggon roof. There is said to be the remains of an
old spiral staircase in the truncated south tower but it was not noted at the time of
survey (January 1988). C14 two-bay north chapel arcade consisting of octagonal piers
with moulded capitals, and hollow-chamfered arches. East window with splayed jambs
and chamfered rear arch dying into jambs, south-east chancel window with splayed
jambs and chamfered Tudor-arched rear arch, and south-west chancel window with
splayed jambs and C19 chamfered stone lintel. South doorway with chamfered rear
arch. C14 triple sedilia consisting of hollow-chamfered ogee trefoil-headed arches
with broach stops and continuous chamfered stone seat. C14 hollow-chamfered ogee
cinquefoil-headed piscina with broach stops and projecting circular shelf with
quatrefoil bowl. C15 double-chamfered tower arch dying into jambs. C15 west window
with ovolo-moulded hoodmould. C15 waggon roof to nave with chamfered ribs and carved
bosses and wall plate with carved shields (supported on 4 stone corbels above vestry
archway). C15 waggon roof to chancel with moulded ribs, carved bosses and moulded
wall plates. C15 waggon roof to north aisle too with moulded ribs, carved bosses and
chamfered wall plate with brattishing. Rendered walls. C19 encaustic tiles to
chancel and north aisle.
Fittings: Elaborate late C19 carved wooden reredos incorporating reused old carved
panels (possibly lower panels from former C15 or C16 screen) and short sections of
reused vine trails. Early C17 Communion table with turned legs (front ones carved)
carved rails to front and sides, and C19 top. Late C19 wrought-iron altar rails.
Late C19 choir stalls incorporating late-Medieval and C16 bench ends (one at rear of
north side said to be C13). Frontals installed in 1905, carved with processions of
animals, in memory of Robert and Siddie Greenwood Penny. Late C19 octagonal wooden
pulpit (removed from Exeter in 1942) with well carved panels and ribs. Late C19
wooden eagle lectern, with brass plate inscribed in memory of Harriet Bending (d.19
December 1893). Very fine series (about 70) of mainly C15 and C16 (and some C19)
benches. Well-carved bench ends, the late-Medieval benches with traceried patterns,
heraldic devices and carved figures of saints etc., and the C16 benches with
Renaissance motifs including foliage and profiles in medallions etc... Benches with
moulded (and carved) tops, heavy book rests and chamfered supports to the seats.
Remains of C18 box pew at west end of nave with carved panel on door, with the
inscription : "R P" and an heraldic device. Pew now part of boxed-in angle between
arcade and tower. C12 stone font with square base, circular stem and rope-moulded
base, and bowl like a large block capital which has semi-circular faces with
inscribed wheels, rosettes and crosses. Old lead lining and C20 wooden cover. Late
C17 wooden railed enclosure on 2 sides (possibly former Communion rails) with turned
balusters and turned newels with finials. Old oak parish chest (probably C13 or C14)
with 3 locks. Later iron parish chest with superscribed lettering; "HIGH
BICKINGTON/W.P. STAWELL RECTOR/AD 1813". Two halves of probably C17 carved timber
(possibly front of former gallery, demolished in 1860), with carved dragons and
shield to centre (one half is reused as a bench end and one half stands at the west
end of the north aisle). Also at east end of north aisle at time of survey is a
well-carved bench end (or possibly part of a former screen) with 2 figures of saints
or kings. Late C19 or early C20 wooden screen to vestry (former tower) by H. Reade
of Exeter. Late C16 or C17 Communion table in vestry too (not inspected at time of
survey). Late C19 wooden screen to tower arch. Large late C19 organ at east end of
north aisle. Bells: 4 cast in 1753, one recast in 1827 and 3 in 1911.
Late C19 stained glass in east window and south-west window of chancel.
Monuments: Tablet to Joshua Tucker (d. 1705) on north wall of chancel (stone and
marble) consisting of central convex oval slate/marble inscribed panel with carved
spandrels, flanking pilasters and scrolls with fruit/flower drops, gadrooned base
with scrolled brackets below flanking a pair of winged cherubs' heads, and moulded
cornice with central painted shield above and much carved wheat, flowers, fruit etc..
Small piece missing on top (possibly one of the fragments at the east end of the
A grant was made for a priest at High Bickington in the C10.
Saint Mary's Church is particularly notable for its large collection of C15 and C16
carved bench ends.
Sources: N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, North Devon (Penguin), pp. 98-9;
Kelly's Directory of Devonshire and Cornwall (1914), p. 72; E.J. Winter, St Mary's
Church High Bickington, a brief history and guide (1984); Beatrix F. Cresswell, Notes
on Devon Churches, Deanery of Torrington (1925), pp. 27-46.
Listing NGR: SS5992420524