Chudleigh Parish Church History

Chudleigh Parish Church, Devon, History

“We are seeking to preserve the heritage of the past and at the same time to ensure that our building serves the contemporary needs of the church family and the local community.”

St. Martin & St. Mary, Chudleigh, Devon: dedicated in 1259

The 750th anniversary of the dedication of the Church took place in 2009

In 1259 Bishop Bronscombe (sometimes called Branscombe) set off on a trip round the churches under his care, dedicating them to their patron saints. On 6th November he dedicated Chudleigh Church to the Saints of St. Martin and St. Mary.

St. Martin is Martin of Tours, a 4th century soldier who famously gave half his cloak to a beggar and then dreamed that he saw Jesus wearing the half-cloak.

For further details of St Martin, click the link below.

St. Mary is the Mother of Jesus.

Early History

There has been a place of Christian worship here since before the Norman Conquest. At this time the Bishops of Exeter were rich and powerful and in 1080 Bishop Osborne selected Chudleigh as the site for a rural palace, the fragmentary remains of which may be seen in an orchard adjacent to Rock Road. In 1225 Bishop Brewer granted the church and advowson[1] to the Precentor[2] of Exeter, who, in 1282 was provided with a house at Ugbrooke.

(1) Right to nominate to the Benefice, including the income

(2) Clergyman i/c cathedral music

Architectural Development

The origins of the church are not known and there are no indicators of early dateable material within the fabric of the present building. The base of the font – which may date from the 13th century – is the earliest identifiable feature. in 1225. Bishop Brewer granted the church and advowson of Chudleigh to the Precentor of Exeter. Under the influence of the Precentors the building comprised a nave and chancel. It was replaced by an impressive cruciform building which was dedicated to St Martin and St Mary by Bishop Bronscombe, the Lord Bishop of Exeter, on 6th November 1259.

The present plan of the church.

Both the original and the second church were dressed with red sandstone.  A rebuilding in the Perpendicular Style took place between 1300 and 1350 and this time dressings of Beer stone were used.  The sturdy tower is thought to date from this period.  The shape of the church was further changed in about 1560 when the south transept was replaced by a south aisle. This has an impressive arcade with granite pillars; the windows have granite mullions.  In 1574 a south door and porch chamber were added at the west end of the south aisle and it was from this chamber in 1608 that ‘Beaton Bucketmaker and her companie were to be removed before the next visitation of my Lord Bishop’.   In 1754, in order to facilitate the ‘more convenient meeting of the parishioner’s’ a vestry was built alongside the south porch.

An extensive re-ordering of the interior of the church was undertaken in 1846/7. The Medieval fixtures, the fittings along with the Georgian box pews were removed to be replaced by the present pews and internal furnishings. Additionally, the south porch and vestry were demolished and a new vestry was built at the east end of the south aisle. The architect was David Mackintosh. In 1868-70 Henry Woodyer was appointed the architect for a second major restoration when he introduced the High Victorian style to the chancel. He solved the problem of the south arcade which had become ten inches out of perpendicular by inserting the two relieving arches visible high in the south aisle. The roof which was then on the point of collapse due to wood rot was replaced by the present impressive timber structure.

Internal Features

The most prominent feature within the building is undoubtedly the rood screen which dates from the 15th century.  It has been much restored since that time.  Twenty painted panels depict apostles and prophets, each accompanied by a Latin inscription that is either a statement from the Apostles Creed or an associated scripture verse. Paintings accompanied by Latin inscriptions are a very rare combination which are found in only a few churches.

The Prophets stand on desert ground holding scrolls, they wear fur hats which were associated with Jews. The Apostles wear haloes and stand on grass holding books. The two concluding statements of the creed are missing; presumably these featured on an additional section of the screen which once extended to the south wall.  A large external buttress at this point marks the presence of a former stairway to the rood loft.  Access to the loft from the other end was probably through the low arch behind the pulpit that has since been filled with a memorial tablet

The translated inscriptions are:

  1. Peter. I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
    2. Jeremiah. Ye shall call me my Father, who made heaven and earth.
    3. Andrew. And in Jesus Christ, his only son.
    4. David. God has said unto me, thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.
    5. James the Great. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.
    6. Isaiah. Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.
    7. John the Evangelist. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.
    8. Zechariah. They shall look on Him whom they have crucified.
    9. Thomas. He descended into hell, and the third day he shall rise again.
    10. Hosea. O death I will be thy plague, O grave I will be thy destruction.
    11. James the Less. He ascended into Heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God.
    12. Amos. Who builds his ascent in Heaven.
    13. Philip. Who shall judge the quick and the dead.
    14. Malachi. I will come to you in judgement and be a saviour to you.
    15. Bartholomew. I believe in the Holy Ghost.
    16. Joel. I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.
    17. Matthew. The Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints.
    18. Zephaniah. They shall call upon and serve him.
    19. Simon. The remission of sins.
    20. Micah. The Lord shall take away all your iniquities.

The missing four would have depicted Paul, Jude, Daniel and Ezekiel.

In 2007 the platform in front of the Rood screen was added, replacing a smaller construction.  At the same time moveable covers were introduced on the East wall to enable the wall mounted Minton tiles to be seen on request.

The present pulpit and part of the font both date from the 1847 re-ordering. The pulpit is made from Ogwen limestone from Snowdonia and is a fine example of its kind. It would be interesting to know what became of their earlier counterparts, both of which are referred to in the church records.

The large east window is of decorated style and the glass was inserted in 1847 in memory of Reverend Gilbert Burrington who was vicar from 1785 to 1841.  He had succeeded his father who had been vicar from 1752, so between them father and son served the parish for 88 years.  The donor of the window, Mr John Williams, had been abandoned on the vicarage doorstep when a small baby, and was brought up and educated by the kind-hearted Mr Burrington.  The other stained-glass windows were presented between 1840 and 1870.

John Williams became a very rich man and was a great benefactor of the church and the poor. More of his generous acts are recorded on the wall mounted stone tablets in the Fellowship Room and west entrance.

In the early 19th century there were three galleries within the church; these were constructed ‘in consequence of the increased and increasing population of the town’ They were respectively located against the south, the west and the north walls. The gallery at the west end of the church was erected in 1752 and it was completely replaced in 1847 to be extended in 1975.  It is not known when the south gallery was removed.  The north gallery which had been constructed by 1843 was removed in 1959; its outline is visible on the walls.  The Hunt family crest is incorporated within the east wall adjacent to memorial stones which commemorate members of the family. The north transept has been variously known as The Lady chapel, The Jesus Aisle, the Hunt Chapel, the Memorial Chapel and the Side Chapel. It was refurbished in 1959 to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the dedication of the church; a piscina was exposed in the east wall during this work.

In 1975 the need to provide a more informal space within the church was met by the creation of the fellowship area beneath the extended west gallery.  Additionally, a new south door was created and kitchen and toilet facilities provided.  These were modernised in 2005 and the west door porch area was remodelled to give an open and welcoming entrance to the building and to provide disabled.

In 2016 the front two rows of pews in the nave were removed and replaced by chairs; the nave platform was once again extended. A kitchen servery was added to the rear of the nave at this date.

The most prominent memorial on the north wall of the chancel is to Sir Piers Courtenay and his wife Elizabeth. The names of their seven children are recorded and it should be noted that their daughter Anne married Anthony Clifford, the squire of Kingsteignton. On his death in 1552, Sir Piers left Ugbrooke Park to his daughter Anne and thus began the long association of the Clifford family with Ugbrooke that has continued to this day.

There are many interesting ledger stones incorporated within the aisles and also memorial wall tablets that reflect the life and times of those they commemorate.

The first reference to a musical instrument in the church was in 1562 when four pence was “paid for corde for the orgons”.  The present two manual organ was built and installed in the West Gallery by Foster and Andrews of Hull in 1872.  It was rebuilt in 1967 by Osmonds of Taunton, at which time the action was converted from tracker to electric, enabling the introduction of a detached console.  In 1990 the organ was moved to its present position at the east end of the south aisle.

Bishop Grandisson bequeathed to the parish church “two large BELLS of my chapel at Chudleigh”. in his will dated 1368.  The chapel referred to was at the nearby Bishop’s Palace.  The records show that in 1553 there were “IIII belles yn the tower heire”.  A treble bell was added in 1752 and in 1783 the five bells were taken to Penningtons of Exeter and recast into six.  In 1923 two additional bells were presented and all eight bells were rehung on a new steel frame.

The present clock with Chard chimes was installed in 1948, replacing an earlier timepiece made by a local blacksmith.  The clockface was completely refurbished in 2007.

There are a number of interesting guides which can be consulted in the Fellowship room. These include a guide to the ledger stones, a Stained-Glass Window trail as well as a list of the graves within the churchyard.

The church registers date from the first year of the reign of Elizabeth I.  Chudleigh also possesses a fine set of Parochial Records and Accounts that date from 1581.  All these valuable records are in the care of the Devon Record Office in Exeter.

We very much hope that you will enjoy visiting to our historic church.  We are seeking to preserve the heritage of the past and at the same time to ensure that our building serves the contemporary needs of the church family and the local community.  Please join us in praying for our witness and service in Chudleigh.

 “Come and let yourselves be built as living stones, into a spiritual temple; become a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”   1 Peter 2:5 (NEB)




The church regularly receives enquiries from relatives seeking their ancestors, and we also have a number of interesting gravestones, some of which are listed monuments. The graves were surveyed in 1970, but only the name and year of death was recorded. In 2008 a team of volunteers started recording the full inscriptions and this has now been put onto a searchable spreadsheet, with an accompanying map. With careful cleaning of the stones we were able to read some inscriptions that were recorded as ‘undecipherable’ in 1970. Conversely, some details recorded then have been lost in the intervening 38 years.

Your Chudleigh ancestor may not be in the Anglican churchyard. Burials may have taken place in;

  •  The Church itself, marked by a memorial or floor stone.
  •  Overseas, but marked by a memorial.
  •  The Baptist graveyard (now a private garden).
  •  The Free Church graveyard (previously Congregationalist and U.R.C., and now the site of a playgroup)
  •  After 1880 most burials took place in the cemetery.
  •  There is some doubt about where Catholics were buried prior to 1880, although some are in Chudleigh churchyard.
  • The Methodist church did not have a graveyard and its members were buried in the Anglican churchyard.

We have attempted to record the burials for all these sites, surveying the remaining gravestones and researching burial registers and church records. We are especially indebted to Roger Brandon and Steve Coombs of the Chudleigh History Group for so much of this work. We hope that the links below will enable you to find your ancestor. Chudleigh Church and Chudleigh History Group are happy to search their records for you.

Please feel free to contact us at:

To access the CHUDLEIGH CHURCH GRAVEYARD survey click GRAVES SPREADSHEET (public) This is a searchable spreadsheet – please read the Instructions tab before proceeding. If you cannot visit we can often supply a photograph.


For an index of personal and place names for INTERIOR MEMORIALS AND STAINED GLASS WINDOWS please click here This is the index to the Stained Glass Window and Memorial Trail which is available at the back of the church, and duplicates some of the information in the Memorial spreadsheet above.

For the BAPTIST AND FREE CHURCH GRAVES & MEMORIALS the following links will take you to the relevant section on the History Group website – or  This website contains a wealth of information about the town and its inhabitants, – use the ‘Articles‘ button at the top of the page.

For enquiries about burials in THE CEMETERY (after 1880) contact the Town Clerk’s office via the Town Council website: or e-mail

If you find your relative but are unable to visit the cemetery we may be able to photograph the grave for you. Please feel free to contact us at:

Good luck with your search. Even if you don’t need our help we would like to hear how you got on

Latest Graves Information

Now that we have most of the graves on a spreadsheet, we can search the data in various ways. One is to list the deceased by age. There is a span of all ages, from infants up to Richard Stamp who died at 98. The information does not reflect trends in Chudleigh as the poorest, and therefore the shortest lived, rarely had headstones. It is clear, however, that the middle classes in the town were far from immune to infant and child death.

Typical is the stone of the Latham family. Thomas died in 1828 aged 12, and his brothers and sisters James, Mary and June died in infancy. The stone also records three other Latham females (without ages), but it is not clear whether they were siblings. The devastation that befell this family is only too common and other stones tell more harrowing tales.

Mary Wright was wife of William, part of a dynasty of respected maltsters in Chudleigh. She died at the age of 37 in 1815. The gravestone simply records that nearby are buried five of their children, but we have not located the graves.

The Ellis tomb is a fine granite cross on a square base. Each side records a child’s death; Alice died in 1859 aged 3 weeks, Agnes died in 1870 aged 7 months followed twelve day