St Andrew's Church

Buckland Monachorum

General History & Information

Buckland Monachorum has had a church in the centre of the village for at least 700 years. The list of Rectors and Vicars begins in 1271, but the presence of a Saxon (or perhaps early Norman) font is good evidence of an earlier foundation. Records exist to indicate that in 1305 the Abbot of Buck land was ordered to build a house for the vicar at Lovecombe near the village, and to annexe 40 acres of land for his use.

The first church building, probably made of wood and dedicated to a Celtic Saint, has left no trace and would have been replaced by a stone construction at a later date. Very likely, this would have happened in the 14th century during the time of Bishop Grandison, a keen builder of churches in the Exeter diocese.

Masonry from that earlier stone church, which is thought to have been cruciform in shape, was used during erection of the present building about 1490. Pieces of stone from the ancient Thorverton quarries in East Devon are built into the Tower among the local stones. The Normans used Thorverton stone, but not their successors.

The church we see today, in architectural terms, is a Perpendicular building. One can recognise this style by the tall upright bars in the windows, reaching up to simple stone tracery. It is a style that dominated church building during the late 15th century, and more than a third of England's Parish Churches are Perpendicular in part or whole. Devon is a county where the style particularly dominates. When Buckland church was rebuilt, new walls were put up to enclose the Nave, as it now exists, and a new roof was provided. The old walls, probably with Early English Lancet windows, were pulled down and replaced by the arches we see today. The two eastern arches are significantly lower and of a different shape than the others. It has been suggested that their pillars have been raised up on a base to give all the capitals the same height, but a more recent study opines that it is the floor level that has been altered

The dedication of the church is to Saint Andrew, possibly the choice of the monks at the Abbey. Buckland Abbey and the village church existed in close relationship and the last Abbot, John Toker, became Vicar in 1557. (The dissolution of the Abbey took place in 1539). Reminders of Saint Andrew can be seen in different parts of the church, in the mosaic of the altar reredos, in the east window, and on the Church wardens' staffs of Office.

Apart from the base of the stone cross outside in the churchyard, the roughly made Font in the north-west corner of the church is by far the most ancient thing to be seen. In style it is called a 'Tub Font' and has always been regarded as Saxon or Norman. Discovered in the ground during repairs to the church in 1857, it was used in two other local churches before finally being returned to Buck land in 1936.

A study of the Font was made in 1977, comparing it with other fonts of similar age and design. This pointed out that it now looks more symetrical than is the case, due to being set on a modern stone base. Originally, it would have been sunk several inches into the floor to keep it firm, when the lopsidedness would have been more obvious. Roughly hewn from a single block of granite, the font's irregular shape may be either the result of unskilled workmanship or the shape of the original block. We can deduce from damage to the rim that it was once covered with a lid and staple, indicating that it was still in use by the 13th century when the then Archbishop of Canterbury ordered fonts to be locked to prevent holy water from being stolen. Baptism of infants became common practice in England from the 8th century, and Buck land's Font represents a transitional stage in design from a hollow tub, used for the immersion of adults, to a bowl raised on a stand, more suitable for babies. A glance inside will reveal that the working part is only about 12 inches deep. After the 15th century rebuilding, the font was considered too crude and old-fashioned for the improved building, but because it had been used for Holy Baptism, it was buried under the church to safeguard it from profane use. There is a second font close by the church entrance, octagonal, and of a date corresponding with the age of the present building. It shows traces of colouring, and what appears to be a capital letter T on the side facing the Nave. A glance round the back will reveal two faces carved with their tongues out; possibly to discourage evil spirits.

Looking East, an important feature of the church that attracts attention is the Chancel Arch which is remarkable for being lopsided. The supporting pillars do not correspond and there is undressed stone on the north side. There are competing suggestions as to the reason for all this, including the need to give a better view of the South (Drake) Chapel when the arch was raised, the Chancel extended, and the Chapel restored in Stuart times. The Chancel got its wagon roof at this time. The roof over the Nave, which is supported by five splendid arches on either side, is notable for its attractively carved oak figures of angels; a fascinating orchestra of sixteen figures, each playing a different musical instrument to the glory of God. Centrally placed is a boss depicting two special figures thought to be our Lord and His Mother, Mary, or perhaps a King and Queen? This curious carving was taken down for cleaning in 1959 and put on display during a period of extensive repairs and eradication of beetle attack to the roof timbers. All these figures may be seen more clearly by using the electric light time switch, which the visitor will find in the south-west of the church.

On the wall of the south aisle is a list of known incumbents, three of whom held the Living for over 60 years. Perhaps the most remarkable of these was Joseph Rowe who, between 1646 and 1708, served during the later part of the Civil War, the Commonwealth and then continued, like the Vicar of Bray, throughout the reigns of Charles II James II, William & Mary, and on into that of Queen Anne. His slate tombstone on the church porch wall gives his age at death as 98, but other sources suggest it was 90.

Compulsory retirement was unheard of in the 18th century, and Rowe's ministry was by any standards, an astonishing achievement of unbroken service and longevity. During times of great national and religious upheavals, Rowe kept his flock together and successfully held onto his Living when others were dispossessed. He must have been a tough, shrewd, and resilient person.

Reference has already been made to the Drake Chapel on the south side of the Nave. It gets its name from the family called Drake, descended from Thomas, brother of Sir Francis Drake, the famous Elizabethan seaman whose two marriages produced no children. Sir Francis bought Buckland Abbey in 1581 and when at home he must have visited the church. An embroidered reproduction of his Coat of Arms can be seen on the wall and a large pew bearing a carving of the Golden Hind, (which used to stand in the chapel) now occupies a place near the older Font.

Behind the chapel altar and now rather difficult to see, is a huge monument once despised, but now recognised as an outstanding example of the work of John Bacon, the 18th century artist whose monuments also appear in Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral. The subject of this particular monument is General Elliott, who successfully defended Gibraltar during the long siege by Spain, from 1779 to 1783. As Baron Heathfield, he is buried at Heathfield in Sussex. He had married Lady Anne Drake, and their son inherited the Buckland Abbey estates when the last surviving male of the Drakes died childless.

The monument to Francis August Elliott, second Baron Heathfield, which was designed by John Bacon Junior, can be seen on the wall next to that of Francis Henry Drake, whose estates he inherited. At a time when this country's fortunes were at a very low ebb, General Elliott's defence of Gibraltar became a symbol of steadiness, courage and endurance. The amazing details depicted on his memorial well repay careful scrutiny. In order to position the memorial, a door and a window of the chapel had to be blocked up and their outline can be seen from outside. The faculty was granted on condition that a new door on the south wall was made. This little door is still there but not used nowadays.

On the north side of the chancel was another chapel, but this is now filled with the organ and its pipes. By tradition, this chapel was known as the Crymes (or Crapstone) Chapel. These names are used by virtue of the family of Crymes who held the Patronage of the church from 1646 until the 18th century. Their house, called Crapstone Barton, (now a farm) stands higher up the village.

To the east of the organ lies the vestry, a much older part of the building. Above the entrance door, in a recess (once a window), are the Royal Arms of Charles II, commemorating his return from exile in 1660.

The first organ was installed in 1849. Previously, according to an inventory of 1805, a violin, cello, flute and bassoon had provided music. It seems astonishing that a small village could have produced enough people to play the various instruments, but evidently it did. Church bands of this kind are said to have had a stimulating effect on musical life in the countryside. They made up in vigour and enthusiasm for what they may have lacked in skill and polish. In 1848, the last bill for strings was paid, but a new era was beginning. The following year, Sir Trayton Fuller Drake provided the first organ. It was built by the Exeter firm, R Dicker, (sadly no longer existing) to the design of Dr. L.G. Hayne, brother of the then Vicar (one of the other two long serving incumbents). Dr. Hayne can also lay claim to recognition as the composer of the very familiar tune set to the hymn 'Loving Shepherd of Thy Sheep' (A&M 444). The melody is known as 'Buckland'. The organ was renovated in 1876, and again in 1922, by Heles of Plymouth. A second manual was added in 1936, the 15th Stop was replaced in 1951, and the instrument was completely rebuilt in 1966, when a redesigned casework was provided.

Buckland Church contains examples of the work of three distinguished late 18th century and early 19th century sculptors, the two Bacons (already mentioned) and the younger Westmacott who designed the tablet to Dame Eleanor Drake on the south wall of the Sanctuary.

Dame Eleanor was the wife of Sir Trayton who gave the organ. An interesting and agreeably worded 18th century monument to Amos Crymes Vicar, is fixed opposite on the north wall. Visitors will notice that the Transepts are of different widths. There would have been chapels in the small, pre-15 century cruciform building. The south transept contains signs of an altar and there is part of a piscine (a niche once intended for Holy water in which the priest could wash his fingers), plus an aumbry (a small recess in which the Eucharistic vessels could be kept.

The church Tower is 70 feet high and contains eight bells. Its design led to a long running problem which began when the first bells were installed. Many Devon towers of a similar slender design have pinnacles surmounting them. These are sometimes quite large and at Buckland the style reached its limit of practicability. From a structural point of view it sacrificed strength for elegance. At first there were four bells, but when in 1723, another two were added, it was asking for trouble. Repeated ringing weakened the tower and in 1735, major repairs became necessary. The church wardens involved at the time were Joseph Wills and Thomas Reed. Their initials are visible at the top of a lead rainwater pipe outside the west wall of the nave.

In 1858, it was discovered that the wooden bell cage had rotted and that someone had misguidedly driven wedges between the timbers and the walls of the tower. This had caused fractures in the tower as a result of incessant vibration. Not until 1905 were the bells re-hung in a new wood frame, and a tablet in the church commemorates the event. In 1947 the bells were re-cast and re-hung in an iron and steel frame and two treble bells added making a ring of eight. A ringers' gallery was provided in 1961. Church bell ringers have always practised their art and skill with enthusiasm, but records reveal that in 1815, their fervour overcame their judgement and good sense. It seems that although forbidden to have the key to the belfry door by Mark Tucker, Clerk and Schoolmaster, they managed to enter the church late one evening and rang throughout the night. Understandably the village was not pleased, and for their "mutinous and riotous behaviour" they were dismissed.

The beautiful appearance of of the church tower today is the result of extensive renovation and structural repair carried out in 1980, using traditional methods and materials. For 500 years despite inherent weakness, it has stood as an important landmark and its bells rung by today's dedicated team of men and women continue to call the faithful to worship every Sunday.

The stained glass of this church is modern, apart from some small figures and monograms in the tracery of the east window. Some old books state that the east window contains scenes from the life of Saint Andrew, but if this is so,there must have been an earlier window than the present one, in which we see only a small figure of Andrew in the tracery. The Chief Lights depict the four Evangelists with their symbols and Our Lord as the Good Shepherd, centrally placed. The design of this window is said to have been influenced by William Morris and Burne Jones. On the south side of the sanctuary is a triple display showing Christ on the Cross flanked on either side by the Holy Family and the women at the sepulchre. The south transept has four Lights illustrating Abraham, Moses, Peter and Paul, together with two scenesfrom the life of each, whilst in the north transept there is a group of British missionaries, including Saint Boniface who was born in Devon. Finally, at the west end is a window showing four Old Testament characters associated with the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. Note the tiny wheatsheaf in one of the lower corners the mark of Charles Kempe, the Victorian artist. He and Tower are credited with this window (date, 1907) and also the south transept window (date, 1901). Kempe alone designed the north transept window in 1880.

Outside, near the entrance gate to the churchyard, is the restored cross commemorating Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The visitor's eye is naturally directed first to the shaft with its simple cross, but of far more significance is the three stepped base on which it stands. The stones of this are very old indeed. they are part of the original Preaching (or perhaps Market) Cross that onec stood on the village green, now occuppied by cottages. When it was decided to restore the cross, not much of the original was left. The restored version, with the same base blocks forming the pedestal, was removed to its present position. The name Victoria, and the dates, 1837-1897, were cut in a conspicuous place so that the great antiquity of the base is often overlooked. today the shaft has a very simple surmounting cross, placed there in recent times, but some old photographs show it to have once had an impressive, four sided, canopied head. This, according to records, contained the figures of Saint Andrew, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian Order of monks to which the Abbey belonged, and two coats of arms. It seems that this was taken down during repairs, and removed for safekeeping. Sadly it has not been seen since and its whereabouts remains unknown at present.

The church plate of Buckland Monachorum contains some late 17th century and early 18th century pieces, which are on view in Buckland Abbey. The church records begin in 1538 and are kept in the Devon County Record Office,Plymouth.

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