The Parish Church of Bideford

There has been worship on the site of St Mary’s for well over a thousand years.  The present church was built in 1865 to replace a Norman church built in 1260 which in turn replaced a Saxon church built of cob and wattles which was standing at the time of the Conquest.

If you would like a full description of the church in a leaflet form please click here.

1.  On the right hand side of the north door – the normal entrance – is a HOLY WATER STOOP, which is very old but we have no certain date for it.  On the left are copies of the records of the first Red Indian to be brought to England.

2.  ALL SAINTS’ CHAPEL allows for quiet prayer and a glimpse of the interior when the church is locked.  The chapel occupies an area previously reserved for the Mayor and Corporation.  The Votive Stand was commissioned by the Mothers’ Union and dedicated in 1999.  Made from wrought iron in the shape of the font, it also resembles a signal beacon.  There is a Memorial Book on the altar, started in 2006.

3.  The FONT is on the east side of the north door the circular bowl is carved from a massive piece of granite and there are eight panels, only three of which are carved.  The font itself is decorated with cables, possibly indicating the transitional period between Saxon and Norman.  It is dated by experts as 1080, but the stem is of later date.  According to legend, Oliver Cromwell’s troops threw the Font out during the Civil War and used it as a cattle trough!

4.  The GLASS SCREEN behind the font separates All Saints’ Chapel from the main body of the church.  The chapel and screen were dedicated on Easter Day 1982.  the first three panels of the screen show Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist, watched by the disciples – John with the book, James with the shell and Peter with the keys.  The remaining panels show Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Archbishop Luwum of Uganda, and St Boniface;  St Anne the mother of Mary; and a Bideford fisherman with a Knight.

5.  The ORGAN is a ‘Father Willis' three-manual instrument.  Built in 1868 at a cost of 500 guineas (£525), it was refurbished in 1971 at a cost of £5,000!

6.  The CHAINED BOOK in the glass case was published in 1567.  Queen Elizabeth I commissioned Bishop Jewell of Salisbury to write an ‘Apologia for the English Church’ setting out the principles of the Protestant faith.  Copies had to be chained to desks in all churches and be read each Sunday.  Bishop Jewel, born at Berrynarbor, was educated in Barnstaple.

Church Plan

8.  On the right of the altar is the TOMB of SIR THOMAS GRANTVILLE (Grenville) who died in 1513.  The Grenvilles were patrons of the living for several centuries.  The tomb and the tracery surrounding it are in approximately the same position as they were in the Norman church.  Sir Thomas’s great grandson was captain of the ‘Mary Rose’ which sank off Portsmouth in 1545.  His great great grandson was Sir Richard of the Revenge who became a famous Elizabethan sailor, coloniser and administrator.  He died in a very uneven sea battle against the Spaniards in 1591. See also the two brass memorial plates on either side of the east window.

9.  At the foot of the chancel steps is a good place to pause and examine the STAINED GLASS windows.  Take a step or two into the choir and look to your left at the window on the north wall at the side of the organ.  All windows are late 19th century but this one was made by painting on the glass and then firing, whereas the other windows are brightly coloured mosaics of glass.

10.  The BUST of JOHN STRANGE, who was a local merchant and a great benefactor of the church and town.  He was Mayor three times and died in 1646 of the plague which he contracted whilst helping other victims.  His obituary at the foot of the monument bears testimony that he was a gentleman in every meaning of the word (it also contains three anagrams)

11.  Between the south door and the vestry is the LIST OF RECTORS, Bishops and Patrons since 1261.  the most famous was Queen Elizabeth I.

12.  The  SCREEN at the base of the tower was made up of bench ends which were salvaged when the Norman church was pulled down.  There is a good selection of Tudor carving and the COAT OF ARMS of the Grenville family is well represented.

13.  The TOWER dates from 1260 and as can be seen was solidly built.  There is a peal of eight bells, the heaviest of which is 17cwt.  Five of the bells were originally cast in 1722 and three in 1876.  On the right hand side of the tower is the town’s War Memorial showing the names of those who died in the two World Wars.

14.  In recent years alterations have been made to the back of the church to provide a FELLOWSHIP AREA.  There is a kitchen behind the oak screen at the base of the tower and a toilet block to the left.

The PRESENT CHURCH was built in 1865 to replace a Norman church built in 1260 which replaced a Saxon church built of cob and wattles which was standing at the time of the Conquest.

The RECORDS go back to 1561 but only those in current use are held locally.  The remainder are housed in the Devon Record Office.

The colourful KNEELERS were worked by members of the congregation in the 1980s.