A guide to the Interior of St Andrews Church
The earliest church on the site was of wooden construction and was likely to have been made from wood. A later church was built in stone on the same site and was likely to have been built in the C14th during the time of Bishop Grandison who built many churches within the Diocese. It was of cruciform shape.
Extensive remodelling of the church took place in 1490 using some of the stone from the 14thcentury building. The style of architecture adopted for the new building is Perpendicular. Many churches in Devon were restyle during the same period all using the Perpendicular style.
The Nave as we see it today would have been very different and would have had lancet widows. The arches to the nave were added later when the north and south aisles were added
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 nearby Cistercian Abbey took place in 1539).
Today the Saxon Font is to be found in the northern side of the transept crossing and is again used for infant baptisms and 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.
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 mirror table found at the West end of the Nave.
During the 19th Century many churches had become in a near ruinous state and St Andrews was remodeled within that period, Part of the remodelling was to the South Porch when the coffered ceiling was added.it was in this time that the encaustic tiling was placed on the floors and many of the pews were refashioned. A few old carved pre-Reformation bench ends survive –
one in the north aisle depicts 2 angels bearing heraldic shields – but for the most part they are C19 reproductions.
It is within this period of remodeling that the gallery, believed to be Georgian in origin and stood at the western end of the nave was removed. (The plan of interior can be seen at West End of Church)
‘Over the centuries the church at Sheepstor had undergone various stages of renovation, and during one of these projects the original rood screen which dated to the early 1500s was mercilessly torn out by a builder from Tavistock but completely restored to the original design again in 1914’, this is the point when Buckland may have acquired part of the former Victorian screen, which now stands between the main nave and the West Tower entrance. Beneath the tower arch is a wooden screen taken from Sheepstor Church. It retains its original Perpendicular tracery and vine leaf cornice but the paneling and cresting have been renewed.
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 latter 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.
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 on the south side of the transept crossing. The Pew, known as the Drakes Pew has a carving depicting a Tudor Rose and the Golden Hind
Within the chapel is a huge monument which is now considered 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 only used in an emergency.
The Church also 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.
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 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. The beautiful appearance 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. 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 sepulcher. The south transept has four Lights illustrating Abraham, Moses, Peter and Paul, together with two scenes from 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 wheat sheaf 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. A guide to the stained glass windows can be found at the West End of the Nave.
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 once stood on the village green, now occupied 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.