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ST MICHAEL & ALL ANGELS CHURCH
Sowton Village Church
 
 
HISTORY & DESIGN OF ST MICHAEL & ALL ANGELS CHURCH
 
 
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HISTORY & DESIGN OF ST MICHAEL & ALL ANGELS CHURCH

The Church is Grade 1 listed. The first vicar was recorded in 1278 but this is believed to be the fourth church on the site. The current building was rebuilt in 1844-45 to a design by John Hayward, an Exeter Architect who was at the forefront of the ecclesiastical revival of the C19. It was financed by John Garratt of Bishops Court. Garratt was a leader of the High Church Revival, a tea merchant and a former Lord Mayor of London, but it was Garratt’s son (John Garratt junior) who specified the strong ecclesiological design, having been influenced by the Tractarians at Oxford in the 01830s. Intact examples of the Tractarian design are rare, so this church building is of considerable significance.  Hayward retained the C16 Beer stone late Perpendicular arcade with its unusual capitals. One depicts the symbols of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, a pomegranate and Tudor Rose wheel probably commemorating their marriage. The north windows were retained in part, as indicated by the carved ends of the drip moulds.
The remainder of the building was rebuilt, including the tower, and a new chancel was extended eastwards from the original nave. The north aisle and nave occupy an area of 14m x 8.5m, and the chancel measures 6.7m x 3.4m. A late C14 style was adopted for the tower, but the remainder is C19 Gothic. The interior is particularly important with its wagon roofs and bosses to the nave and north aisle. A painted roof and walls with stencilled designs in the sanctuary are all in keeping with the style.   
  The wooden altar is remarkable in design with diapered and painted gilded panels. Commandment Boards on the east wall have illuminated porcelain panels and there are richly patterned tiles below the east window. The communion rails are of brass and wrought iron to a high standard, made at the Clydach iron foundry in Wales. Caen stone was used for the unusually-high pulpit, a polygonal drum which features the four evangelists and St Paul in canopied recesses.  It was carved by John Thomas who was also in charge of figure carving at the Houses of Parliament. The stone font, in Devon Perpendicular style, with an octagonal bowl and stem, has excellently carved open-work tracery in oak, designed by Hayward.
Stained glass of the same period as the rebuilding is by Thomas Willement and forms an integral part of the overall design. The east window in the sanctuary shows the Crucifixion of Jesus and covers three lights. It also depicts the three Marys.  The wording “My Flesh is Meat indeed My Blood is Drink indeed” on the front of the altar below the window links the Crucifixion with the communion that takes place in this area. Lancets of Moses and Aaron, who led the Israelites while they were being sustained by manna, flank the sanctuary and underline this link. The colourful pictorial glass (which restricts the amount of light and changes its tone) in the chancel is in contrast to the comparatively plain glass in the nave. Thus, the congregation look towards a dim and ‘mystical’ sanctuary from a comparatively well-lit nave.
The west window above the tower doorway depicts the three archangels, St Michael, St Raphael and St Gabriel with a text referring to the Last Judgement. This is an extract from the collect for St Michael’s Day (Michaelmas), taken from St Mathew’s gospel, and describes the two possible fates of souls on Judgement Day. The symbols and images used in this window merge the physical exit from the building with the exit of souls from earth to Heaven. 
 
Unlike the three other large windows in the building, the one at the west end of the north aisle was made by Ward and Nixon and preserved from the old church in the 1845 rebuilding work. This window focuses on baptism. It depicts the Baptism of Jesus in the central scene and is flanked by two further scenes from his life.  Below, small scenes depict Old Testament types of baptism and a New Testament baptism. The relevant quotation form the litany underlies the High-Church emphasis on the sacrament – ‘By thy Baptism Good Lord deliver us’.
 
The east window in the aisle is in memory of John Garratt’s second wife, Frances Foster Garratt, who died in 1843. It separately depicts St John (with cup), St Peter (with key), and Christ (holding a lamb).  The inscription below the figure of Christ reads “Pasce agnos meos” – “Feed my lambs”. The windows of the nave and aisles have a running text of the Creed.      
 
The oak bench ends are particularly well-carved with tracery patterns and symbols of the Passion. At the east end of the aisle an area for the Garratt family was created. Here the bench ends are decorated with the family crest and have taller fleur-de-lis tops. Interestingly, the 1845 seating plan shows that, out of a total of 186 places, 98 were reserved for the Garratt family and their servants - leaving only 88 “free” seats. The tall wooden lectern is surmounted by an eagle, with lion carvings on the three supporting base elements. 
 
Within the church, there are monuments or other items dedicated to local families. As well as the Garratts, these include Revd George Barnes (Archdeacon of Barnstaple), Revd George Moore, Victor Walrond, and the Beavis family of Clist House (now Bishops Court). Some victims of World War I are commemorated, but none of World War II.
 
The outside walls of the church are coursed, red Heavitree sandstone with Beer & Caen stone dressings. There is a fishscale slate roof laid in an unusual diapered pattern, with heavy copings to the gable walls. The tower has three stages and a plinth. It is battlemented with corner pinnacles (now partially dismantled), and a stringcourse with gargoyles below the parapet. The south-west angle staircase has a half-pyramidal roof, is buttressed, and is lit by small quatrefoil panels. There are trefoil headed lancets to light the sides of the bell-ringing chamber. The eight-bell peel was recast in 1845 and further work was done in 1992. A canopied statue of St Michael (carved by Thomas) sits in a niche on the south face of the tower below the clock. The clock is unusual in that the mechanism is remote from the single face and operates the hands through a shaft and system of gearing. It was converted to electrically operated winding in 2003. The vestry on the north-east is separately roofed with a prominent chimney stack.  Below the vestry, an oil-fired central heating boiler is accessed by external steps.
 
The lychgate is of Salcombe Regis stone, bonded into the coursed Heavitree churchyard wall, and has a gabled-end roof of heavy Salcombe Regis slabs. The roof comes well down, almost to the level of the churchyard wall coping, and is surmounted by an axial Celtic cross. There are double gates, in timber, open at the top with trefoil headed arches, boarded and railed beneath, and having a series of ironwork fleur-de-lis crests. The structure was erected in memory of Sarah Garratt, John’s third wife, who died in 1852. It is Grade II listed.
 
Within the churchyard, Grade II listed status has also been assigned to four chest tombs and two upright headstones. The headstones are both of slate, not common in this part of Devon, dating from the C18. Two large yew trees (Taxus baccata) are growing in the northern part of the churchyard. Rare orchids (Autumn Lady’s-tresses) sometimes bloom in the front part of the churchyard and in the grass area on the road side of the lychgate. The north-west corner of the churchyard is reserved for members of the Garratt family, or the burial of others by their permission.
 
 
 


Plan of the church taken from the 1844 rebuilding faculty application - Scale: 1in to 20ft (1/240)

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