Chudleigh Parish Church

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Heritage photos of Chudleigh courtesy of Alan Brunton (Chudleigh History Group) & Doug Hellier-Laing.

The Parish Church of St. Martin & St. Mary

In 1259 Walter Bronscombe (sometimes called Branscombe), Bishop of Exeter, 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.

St. Mary is the Mother of Jesus.

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 to the Precentor of Exeter, who, in 1282 was provided with a house at Ugbrooke.

Under the influence of the Precentors, the original church, which consisted of a nave and chancel, was replaced by a more impressive cruciform building. It was probably this church that was dedicated by Bishop Bronscombe.

Both the original and the second church were dressed with red sandstone. Between 1300 and 1350 a further rebuilding in the Perpendicular Style took place 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 with mullions and dressings of granite. 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 order to facilitate the “more convenient meeting of the parishioners” a vestry was built alongside the south porch in 1754.

An extensive restoration was carried out in the 1840s. The south porch and vestry were demolished and a new vestry was built at the east end of the south aisle. By 1870, due to wood rot and to the fact that the arcades were ten inches out of perpendicular, the roof was on the point of collapse. Another major restoration followed, putting the church into essentially good order right to the present day.

The Churchyard

Mary Jones writing in 1852 said ‘The churchyard is considerably elevated above the road, and, with the church and tower, presents a pleasing and conspicuous object. The trees which adorn the churchyard are of long standing and noble growth; and in them the rooks annually build their nests, their monotonous cawing well harmonising with the solemnity of the place. Some of the old inhabitants of the town remember the ancient lich gateway by which the churchyard was formerly entered, as well as another entrance by a steep flight of steps immediately opposite the tower. The principal entrance is now at the north-west corner of the yard. The expenses of these various improvements were considerable, and were defrayed by the benevolence of Mrs. Parker and the late John Williams, Esq. The trees to which she referred are sadly long gone, victims of Dutch Elm Disease.

The churchyard was used regularly for burials up until 1880 at which point the new cemetery on the Teignmouth road opened. Interrments could however still take place in certain limited circumstances and the most recent of these was in 1937. In recent times the churchyard has been declared closed by the local council and the area is now under the care of Teignbridge District Council.