Teignmouth, St James

The church of St James was built in the mid 13th century. The medieval red sandstone tower, reputed to have once formed part of the town’s defences, survives. The nave was rebuilt in 1821, on an octagonal plan. It was re-ordered in the later 19th century and restored after being damaged during WWII.

Most of the graffiti in the church is found on the 19th century pews and panelling in the organ gallery. Amongst these are several images of boats or ships and a number of compass made circles. Such circles are often associated with an apotropaic (protective) significance. In this late context, however, and in conjunction with so many names and initials, it is possible that some at least are simply the result of idle doodling, but we cannot be certain.

There are a few earlier marks on the medieval tower ladder, including a possible cross, probable initials, and two distinct V type marks.

Teignmouth, St James

Topsham, St Margaret

There has been a church on this site since the 10th century, the original dedication being to St James. The oldest part of the present church is the red sandstone tower, which was built in the mid-15th century, possibly at the time the church was re-dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch. Much of the church was rebuilt following a fire in 1676, and again in 1874-6, giving its current form.  In addition to the medieval tower, a splendid Norman font survives.

The only graffiti found in the church is in the tower, most of it being cut into the soft limestone of the archways. The oldest probably includes a column of letters, possibly medieval, on the blocked western archway. It is not known if these are personal initials, or had another meaning, but they are carefully set out and there is a decorative horizontal band at one point. Other letters include several lone W’s, often referred to as Marian marks, from their original association with the Virgin Mary, but later commonly found as simple apotropaic (protective) symbols. The lone crossed letter I (an early from of J) is common as graffiti in churches and is believed to represent the name Jesus, as in IHC and IHS Christograms.

Built into the south doorway is a sundial, or mass dial, which must have been saved from the earlier church.  On an adjacent limestone block, remnants of a weathered inscription suggest that this stone too was originally outside. Interestingly, Woodbury church has a similar dial re-built into its south doorway.

Visible (with the aid of a torch) from the main body of the church, the graffiti on the tower’s north archway includes a rudimentary ship’s hull, the form of which suggests a medieval date. Curiously there is no mast or sails, but a downward pointing arrow where the mast would be. We don’t know if the arrow was made at the same time as the ship, or what it signifies, but arrows are not uncommon in early graffiti and appear to have been seen as protective. Perhaps it was made with the intention of protecting the ship. Graffiti ships have been found in a number of other Devon churches. Other graffiti on this archway includes very feint compass-made circles.

On the outside wall of the tower there are some letters and other marks (possibly initials) to the right of the doorway.

Topsham, St Margaret

Kingsteignton, St Michael

There has been a church in Kingsteignton since Saxon times. The present building was consecrated in 1318 and enlarged in the early 15th century, followed by the construction of the tower. Substantial rebuilding took place in the mid 19th century. The surviving medieval fabric includes the west tower and the arcades. The Fairwater, a mill leat of possible medieval origin, runs though the churchyard.

Outside the church, on a buttress to the left of the porch is a nicely carved I W 1776, the letters separated by a small saltire cross. The crossed letter I, as seen here, often represents a J and these are probably someone’s initials, but we don’t know what the date commemorates. To the right of the south doorway are curious pencil drawings of leaves.

Inside, graffiti on the piers includes the letters I P and a saltire cross, which still contain remnants of limewash – a reminder that the bare stone appearance we are familiar with in churches today was not the norm in the past.

The graffiti on the edge of the font is not very legible, but includes possible V’s and other marks. Graffiti on fonts is not uncommon and is likely to be apotropaic (protective). It is not known if the letters M ?H (unusually long crossbar) inside the font are someone’s initials or have another meaning.

On the tower roof are three foot or shoe outlines from an earlier casting of the lead, that fortunately were saved when the roof was re-leaded in 1973. The names have been made using letter stamps, which would not have been available to most people, and the foot outlines scored with a knife or other sharp tool. The outlines are dated 1825 and it is possible that they represent the church warden at that time, and her children, or the lead workers’ family.

Kingsteignton, St Michael

Bickington, St Mary the Virgin

St Mary the Virgin, Bickington dates from the 15th century, and has an early 16th century north aisle. In the 19th century the church was thoroughly restored, including some rebuilding. It is constructed of Devonian limestone, with medieval early granite detail and 19th century Ham Hill stone.

As with many churches which are predominantly granite or other hard stones, no graffiti has been found carved into the fabric of the building itself. However, on a modern low oak screen in the chapel there is a partial hexafoil, which was either never finished, or has been eroded.  It seems likely that this motif was on the original rood screen, parts of which were apparently saved from demolition in the early 19th century and incorporated into new furnishings, including the low screen. Hexafoils are quite common in churches (and other buildings) and were often used as protection marks.

There is a good deal of fairly modern graffiti on the Victorian pews and book rests, a sample of which was recorded. These include a simple sketch of a single propeller aeroplane, a date of 1953, and cartoon type figures.

On the side of the organ is a roughly scored date of Jan. 23rd 1944, which was a Sunday. It is not known if the letters above the date, ?LP, AT, are initials or have another meaning, but the wartime date is intriguing.

The recent dated lead plaque on the tower roof continues the tradition of lead workers (plumbers) leaving their ‘trade’ mark. In this case the letters have been formed with lead solder.

Bickington, St Mary the Virgin

Manaton, St Winifred

St Winifred’s was built in the 15th century, with the nave and chancel being built first and the tower and aisles added later. Two of the bells date to the 1440s. An outstanding feature of the church is the late 15th century carved and painted screen. The chancel was rebuilt following its destruction by lightning in 1779. There were major restorations of the building in 1865 and further works in the 1920s.

The church is mainly granite, including the piers, so it is perhaps not surprising that the only graffiti found is on the timber screens. This includes two identical motifs which could be read as I X Christograms (the Greek letters for Jesus Christ), although we can’t be sure that the maker would have known this symbolism. The motifs are, however, carefully executed and clearly had some significance and purpose. It is interesting that they both have the central vertical stroke offset to the right.

The remaining graffiti comprises marks commonly associated with an apotropaic (protective) function, namely irregular grids and scored lines, lone letter W’s and V’s and a ladder (or tally marks).

Manaton, St Winifred

Awliscombe, St Michael & All Angels

St Michael and All Angels  is mostly late 15th century, an enlarging of an earlier building (of which the chancel is a likely remnant), and reworked in 1846. The church comprises chancel, nave, north aisle, south transept, west tower and vestry. The elaborate embattled porch and the large projecting tower stair turret are unusual features.

The exterior SW porch buttress has a hand and forearm graffito with the date 1708. Local tradition has it that brides place their hand against this to improve fecundity!  There are initials and other letters on the porch doorway.

Inside the church the earliest surviving graffiti may be that in the tower and includes probable Marian marks (commonly a lone W or V V), a possible Christogram, and other interesting but unidentified marks. There are early 20th century names (possibly of bell ringers) in the bell chamber and a few 19th/20th century names on the roof.

A repeat inscription on one of the aisle piers is also interesting. These were made by the same person, (or commemorating the same person, J.G. Benfield), in successive years between 1847 and 1850.

Awliscombe, St Michael & All Angels

Abbotskerswell, Blessed Virgin Mary

There has probably been a church on this site since the 10th century. The chancel is the oldest part of the present church and appears to date from the 13th century. In the 15th century the nave was rebuilt and the north aisle and chapel, and the tower, were added. The church was heavily restored in 1881-3 and the south porch was rebuilt, including the removal of its upper storey.

On the right side of the porch are the well carved letters I A, with I R X below. It is possible that this represents a Christogram.

On the left of the porch is a fairly modern inscription, possibly dating from the 1880’s restoration. It is apparently a quotation from the Bible –  ‘The stone that the builders refused has become the head . . ‘.

Inside the church, most of the early graffiti is on the screens. This includes possible initials, although there are several interesting examples of letters with probable apotropaic (protective) significance, especially the W’s and M’s – Marian marks. The repeated I A on the parclose screen may also have some special meaning. There is much 19th/20th century graffiti (mainly names & initials) on the benches.

Abbotskerswell, Blessed Virgin Mary

Kingskerswell, St Mary

The present church appears to date from the 14th century and was originally cruciform in plan. It once served as a chapel to the adjacent manor house, which survives as a ruin, and is documented in 1301. In the north aisle are three effigies, reputed to be Sir John Dinham (Lord of the manor) and his wives. The south aisle and tower were built in the 15th century and the north aisle in the late 15th or early 16th century, together with the north porch. There were a number of restorations in the 19th century.

There is a good deal of graffiti around the north doorway and that of the north porch, and on the stone benches. This includes crosses, names/initials and probable Marian type marks (typically a lone letter W or M).  There are further marks on the tower doorway and a small number on the south doorway.

Inside the church there is much graffiti on the stone effigies and some on piers of the north aisle, including a face. There is modern graffiti, mainly names and initials, on the benches.

A number of dated 18th and 19th century shoe outlines were cut out and saved when the tower roof was re-leaded, and these are displayed in the church. Such outlines are fairly common, although the Kingskerswell examples include an outline of a foot with toes, which we have not seen anywhere else so far.

Kingskerswell, St Mary

Huntshaw, St Mary Magdalene

The church of St Mary Magdalen, Huntshaw, is believed to have been built in the early 14th century. The chancel is now the earliest part of the church, with a window of c. 1300. The building was much reconstructed in the 15th century, possibly in and after 1439, when Bishop Lacy granted an indulgence in aid of rebuilding. It was substantially restored in 1862. It is built of coursed slatestone rubble with ashlar dressings.

With the exception of a cross on the south doorway, the graffiti found is in the nave. Some of the piers have image niches, and there is graffiti associated with some of these. On the Christ image niche there is a small cross on the left and a pentangle on the right. And on the right side of the St John image niche there is a cross and a puzzling motif that looks rather like an acorn.

The graffiti on the piers includes a hexagram, a pentangle, an interlocking V/upturned V, and a reversed or anti-clockwise swastika type symbol. The swastika (from the Sanskrit svastika – associated with wellbeing) is an ancient symbol used by many cultures around the world, and is seen in medieval and later Christian art.

It is possible that the V/upturned V is derived from the V’s, or even the letters AM, associated with Marian marks. Similar symbols have been found on cast iron firebacks, where they are likely to have been considered as apotropaic.

An identical reversed swastika, interlocking V/upturned V, and a pentangle are also found at St George’s church, Beaford.

Huntshaw, St Mary Magdalene