History of St Mary's

Located in the centre of the village, there has probably been a church in what we now call Whimple since Saxon times. St. Mary's was massively rebuilt and extended with a new south aisle in 1845 by Charles Force, an Exeter builder, to the designs of John Hayward, the leading local church architect in the diocese at that date. In amongst what was new in 1845 some of the fabric from earlier versions of the church, from the 15th and 16th centuries, still survives. A list of Rectors going back to 1528 is on the wall of the north aisle.


The north arcade is largely late 15th century; it was extended in 1825 and the pier at the E end dates from that time. Three of its piers were taken down and rebuilt in 1845. The north aisle windows are late medieval, repaired in 1845. The S aisle includes three 15th century windows taken down, repaired and re-set in new walling when the church was rebuilt. The E window was similarly repaired and re-set at that time. There is a date of 1571, apparently re-cut, above the W door of the tower but there are differences of opinion as to whether this is indicative of the age of the fabric of the tower. Much of the rest of the church: the sanctuary, the roofs, the S arcade and the S wall, dates from the 1845 restoration, re-using old fabric, whether stone or timber, where possible and where new stone was required, this was sourced from the local quarries at Killerton and Beerstone. The fittings are a mixture of dates, but the congregational seating combines new 1845 seats and others made from largely recycled material from earlier seating, some parts of which date back to the 16th century. The chancel, including the choir stalls, is largely a creation of 1902, designed by the local architectural practice of Tait and Harvey. The church is ecclesiastically listed graded II*, not grade I, reflecting the extent of the 1845 rebuilding.


When the church was rebuilt in 1845, several painted panels, perhaps from an earlier chancel screen, were found to have been used, upside down, as steps for the pulpit. They were rescued and are now incorporated into the tower screen which was erected in 1955. They include depictions of: St. Appollonia holding a tooth in a pair of pincers, St. John the Baptist with a lamb, and St. Sebastian pierced with many arrows. These panels were restored in 2014.


The rationale for the rebuilding in 1845 seems to have been simply to provide more seating, and free seating, for the congregation. Prior to that date pew rents were charged. After that date, while pew rents were still charged for a time for the new and more comfortable box pews in the side aisles, the pews in the nave which had narrower seats, low backs and less leg room were free. Some of these 'free seats' were newly constructed in 1845 whilst others were made from timber recycled from earlier pews. 30 of the current carved pew ends probably date from the 16th century. These are situated mainly in the two western blocks of pews (to the rear of the church) with some also at the outer ends of front blocks. The remaining pew ends are 19th century replicas.


Since 1845 there have been a few significant changes. A gallery at the W end housing the organ and several seats was removed probably around 1860 and the organ was then moved to its present position at the E end of the N aisle. The current organ dates from 1952 and was a gift from the Whiteway family. The panelled dados from the box pews were removed pre-1900 due to dry rot, which has been an unfortunate common theme in several of the significant major repairs over the years, particularly to the floor. Also several pews have been removed at various times to make more flexible use of the space in various areas of the church. The chancel was completely redesigned and updated in 1902 and at various times since then there have been repairs and maintenance carried out to the stonework and roof; some of these repairs being quite extensive.



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