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.

Awliscombe, St Michael & All Angels

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

Abbotskerswell, Blessed Virgin Mary

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.

Kingskerswell, St May

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

Beaford, St George and All Saints

St George and All Saints, Beaford, has Norman origins, although much of the present structure is believed to date from the 15th century. The church was restored and re-glazed in the late 19th century. The tower was first rebuilt in 1802 and again in 1909-10.

The visible graffiti consists primarily of prominent marks on either side of the limestone south doorway, and a possible 19th century masons mark on a buttress.

On the west side of the doorway there is a pentangle with a cross beneath it. The pentangle is interesting as it has additional side strokes that look as if they were added later. These additions make the bottom part resemble what is known in graffiti terms as a butterfly symbol (a saltire cross between two bars).

On the east side of the doorway is a reversed (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 seen in Christian art.

Its meaning as graffiti is uncertain, but its position here on a doorway suggests that it may have been considered as apotropaic (protective).

Above the swastika is a symbol combining a V and an upturned V. It is possible that this has derived from the V’s, or even the letters AM, associated with Marian marks. Similar symbols have been found on cast iron firebacks, and may have been apotropaic. An identical V symbol exists at Huntshaw, where there is also a reversed swastika and two pentangles.

Beaford, St George and All Saints

Marldon, St John the Baptist

The earliest part of St John’s is believed to be the tower, which dates from about 1400. The remainder was rebuilt around 1450, including the construction of the north and south arcades. In c. 1520 the south aisle was extended eastward to form a chapel for the Gilbert family of Compton Castle.  In 1874 the chancel was restored and many of the windows were replaced.

There is a good deal of graffiti surviving in the church. Most of it is found around the doorways, especially the south door, on a number of the limestone piers, and on an effigy located in the chancel.

On the porch doorway are the letters AM. These may be initials, but these letters are also recognised as a Marian reference (Virgin Mary) – and possibly meaning Ave Maria. The compass drawn circles and notches/ladder on the south doorway are likely to have been seen as apotropaic (protective), as are the asterisk type symbols and saltire cross found within the church itself.

There are, unusually, images of birds, several of which survive only in part, having probably been eroded by cleaning/scraping during refurbishments. The birds are on a pier in the south aisle, close to the church door, with another (feet and part of body detectable) by the doorway of the room over the porch. From what can be seen, they all seem to be the same design. Their purpose and meaning are not known.

Marldon, St John the Baptist

Coffinswell, St Bartholomew

St Bartholomew’s was built in the 12th century and still has a fine decorated Norman font. The nave and tower are believed to be of 13th-century date and the north aisle was added in the 15th century. Traces of medieval wall paintings survive. The vestry is Victorian.

The earliest graffiti is found on one of the limestone piers of the north aisle, and on the top of the font. These include crosses, a circle,  a deep score mark, and a possible feint word or name. Several of these features are likely to have been made for apotropaic (protective) purposes, especially the saltire crosses on the font.  There is fairly modern graffiti on some of the bench bookrests.

Displayed on a wall are foot and hand outlines on lead, some with 18th and 19th century dates, which were cut out and saved when the tower roof was re-leaded.

It is not uncommon to find such outlines, together with other graffiti, on the lead of tower roofs. The hand outline is of particular interest as the detail of the line indicates that it has been made with a tool that we have not, so far, encountered anywhere else.

Coffinswell, St Bartholomew