East Budleigh, All Saints

There has been a church in East Budleigh since Saxon times. The present building originated in the 13th century, was rebuilt in the early 15th century and restored in 1884. It is built of sandstone, with original Beer stone, and Victorian Bath stone, detail. The font is 15th century and there is a remarkable set of early 16th century carved bench ends, all with secular imagery.

The piers in the church have been scoured clean, probably during the Victorian restoration, but graffiti survives on one close to the south door. Marks include some letters, tiny circles, and a number of deliberately made conical holes. Such holes are fairly common in churches and could possibly result from the removal of stone for its perceived curative or protective qualities – a practice that continues today in some places. There is also graffiti on the doorway to the tower, including a ladder type motif, and letters and other marks on the porch benches. Outside the church there are intriguing multiple marks on the SW corner – possibly including initials and dates, but difficult to decipher.

East Budleigh, All Saints

North Bovey, St John the Baptist

The chancel of St John the Baptist church is of 13th century date and the remaining parts are 15th century, including the screen, although this has been much added to from screens elsewhere. In the 19th and early 20th century the building underwent a number of restorations.

The fabric of the church is granite with volcanic stone and granite detail; the piers are granite. Given the hard nature of the stone it is not surprising that graffiti is only found on the woodwork of the screens and benches.

Items include Marian-type marks  (W) and other lettering, including probable initials. There are a number of examples of notches cut into the edges of bench bookrests and also some on a screen. It is possible these are just the result of idle whittling, but there are many examples of such graduated lines and notches in the stonework of churches too, and it seems likely that at least some had a serious, perhaps spiritual, meaning or function.

North Bovey, St John the Baptist

Berry Pomeroy, St Mary

The medieval church of St Mary was associated with the Pomeroy family, who were granted the manor of ‘Berri’ in the 11th century by William the Conqueror. The range of buildings with Berry names immediately north of the church may have been the site of the original manor house.

In the 15th century the church was rebuilt, possibly by Sir Richard de Pomeroy. The tower still has a 13th/14th century west doorway. The church was restored in the late 17th century and the late 19th century.

The older graffiti is found mainly on the limestone piers and doorways, the tower stairs, and the rood screen. The arrows on the south doorway are unusual, and probably apotropaic. There are some fairly modern names and initials on the benches. In the room above the porch an inscription has been cut into the plaster above the window. The letters above the 1720 date are presumably initials, but it is not clear what the inscription  commemorates.  

Berry Pomeroy, St Mary

Ringmore, St Nicholas

St Nicholas’ church is of 13th century origin, although the survival of a Saxon or Norman font suggests an earlier building existed. The church was largely rebuilt in 1622, remodelled by 1790, and underwent later alterations and refurbishment. In 1903 following the construction of a new parish church (St Peter’s) in Shaldon, St Nicholas’ was re-designated as a chapel of ease.

Given the past rebuilding and refurbishments  it is not surprising that little graffiti survives. These include though an interesting but feint small cross on the outside north-east corner, which has been underlined by a deep score mark – perhaps to draw attention to it. It seems possible that this is a re-dedication cross, related to one of the rebuilding episodes.

The other graffiti is on the top of the font, where scored marks in the lead include a possible apotropaic or protective mark in the form of a letter W.

Ringmore, St Nicholas

Ashcombe, St Nectan

St Nectan’s church is probably largely 13th century in date, with the north aisle being added in the 15th century. There was restoration and some rebuilding in the 1820’s, and the interior was refurbished in 1885.

No graffiti was found on the stonework of the church, but there are a number of marks on the benches. Most are probably initials, although one or two of the lone W’s or V’s could possibly be apotropaic (protective) marks.

Ashcombe, St Nectan

Lustleigh, St John the Baptist

The earliest part of the church of St John the Baptist is the 13th century chancel, with the remaining parts dating to the 15th or early 16th centuries. The Norman font survives but has been built into a later surround.

The sub-circular shape of the churchyard and the presence of an inscribed memorial stone of c. 6th century date (Datuidoc’s stone) strongly suggest that this is an early religious site.

The church is built of granite and the graffiti is found mainly on two of the medieval limestone effigies, and on the parclose screen. The graffiiti on the effigy in the south transept includes what appears to be a strange creature (?heraldic).

Oddly, there are several examples of the letter N, and something resembling it but with the strokes detached – looking more like I V and V I. There are also what appear to be tally marks and remains of feint large letters on the parclose screen. On a bench at the back of the north aisle there is a deeply carved W followed by a cross – perhaps reserving that seat for a particular person (?the Warden).

Lustleigh, St John the Baptist

Teignmouth, St Michael the Archangel

The present East Teignmouth church of St Michael the Archangel was built in 1821, in Norman style, reflecting the former Saxon/Norman building it replaced; the earlier church was mentioned in a charter of 1044. A restored Norman arch is incorporated into the south doorway. The tower was added in 1887-9, and the south Lady Chapel in 1923.

The graffiti in the church consists mainly of names, initials, dates and a few examples of Roman numerals, scored into the bookrests of the 19th century seating. On the choir stalls are two sets of initials accompanied by the dates 1962-7, and a name with the dates 1964-69. Do these perhaps represent the five year school attendance dates for local secondary school children who sang in the choir?

In the tower clock chamber there are scored references to the points of the compass, which presumably help with identification of parts of the mechanism during clock maintenance.

Teignmouth, St Michael the Archangel

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