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