St Mary the Virgin

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The Church

Denbury church stands in the very midst of the inhabitants of the village, the entrance to the churchyard being through a narrow roofed gateway. Just inside is to be seen the huge, rough-hewn socket stone of the mediaeval market cross, the site of which was originally where now stands the conduit at the village cross-roads; on the east side of the stone lies a fragment of the shaft of the cross. Another small portion of this sacred symbol of our Catholic religion has been degraded to form a sort of finial to the conduit, erected in 1771, accurately described by Mr. Worthy as "a cumbrous mass of masonry." The present cross on the old socket stone was set up by the parishioners of Denbury in the lifetime of their rector, the Rev. J. H. Reibey, in token of their esteem for him, and also bears an inscription in his memory. The church is a cruciform, aisleless edifice, roughcast, in form long and narrow rather than of opposite dimensions, and is almost entirely in the Decorated style of the first quarter of the 14th century, but without ornamentation. It consists of a chancel, nave, south porch, and west tower.

The tower is of two stages, solidly built, but without either buttresses or staircase turret, and of sufficient height to over-top the village, being of 62 feet. It is severely plain in style and yet venerable in appearance, and standing, as it were, fortress-like for the villagers against piratical attacks. The west doorway is arched semi-circularly, or rather, perhaps, with an equilateral arch, and over it a plain but good three-light pointed Decorated window with lozenge shaped lights in the head. On the north face of the tower are three square-headed slits, one above another, to light the inner belfry spiral stone staircase of 34 steps; in the north-west corner of the tower, only one slit on the south and west sides. The north, south, and west belfry windows are of two lights with semicircular arches, and thus resemble double Norman windows. The east window is also of two lights, but under a pointed arch, and also like the three-light west window of the tower in having no tracery. Here is an embattlement, but there are no pinnacles; the low "pack-saddle" roof is topped with a weather vane.

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The Gallery

Across the west end of the nave and over the tower screen, of stone and pierced with three acute pointed arched doorways, is the old-fashioned
musicians' gallery, lighted by a dormer in the south roof of the church. It now holds the modern organ and seats the modern choir of village boys and girls and young women. Back in the tower, and hidden by the organ are still to be seen the derelict benches - rather a pathetic sight - of the instrumentalists and vocalists who composed Denbury choir in bygone days. In a contribution to Devon and Cornwall "Notes and Queries" (Vol. XIX.), on "Church Bands," by Mr. R. Pearse Chope (reference to Gordon Anderson's two articles in "Musical News," July 19th, 1913), we are told that the numbers of instruments were commonly three - violin, clarionet and bass viol; sometimes a flute or a bassoon in place of violin. These bands survived (in some places) to within living memory, and there was one at Denbury: "Here the church retains the old west gallery in which the 'singers and minstrels' used to sit. The music was in the hands of a family named Rowe. 'Old Rowe' played the bass viol, while his three sons performed on a flute and two fiddles." The old man, he said, was still living at East Ogwell, and Mr. Anderson believed that he had still got his bass viol. But he has long since been out of this world, and two of his sons have also died, while the surviving one now lives in Newton Abbot, an old man. Before the old bandmaster died he did a strange thing - he burnt his bass viol and all his orchestral music.

NB.  Much of this material has been taken from local sources.  See



The Bells

The tower now contains five bells, one more than in the inventory of seventh Edward VI 1553. "Denbery iiij belles in the tower their" (Ellacombe, "Church Bells of Devon," Appendix B). One of these bells is mediaeval; it is the tenor, or heaviest bell, now used only for tolling at funerals. The legend on the Denbury mediaeval bell is among the six mentioned by Ellacombe, which occur most frequently on ancient Devonshire bellsó

"Voce mea viva depello cuncta nociva."

It has reference, in particular to the ancient belief, and which still survives in some countries, that there is a virtue in the sound of church bells to drive away storms. The legend on the bell is preceded by an initial cross of beautiful design (Ibid, cut 7). As many as 22 of these legends remain in Devon. They are generally known by the name of "Leonine," ascribed by Dueagne to Leo, a 12th century poet, but by others as much earlier, and even traced to the third century, A.D. In 1829 Denbury church came into possession of a new bell, cast by William Hambling, of Blackawton, described by Ellacombe as "an ingenious blacksmith," from whose foundry issued twelve bells for different churches in the vicinity of Blackawton from 1823 to 1845. We are told that he was much patronised by Archdeacon Froude, and was the last of our Devonshire bell founders. The inscription on this bell is:

"I to the church the living call and to the grave do summon all; 1829; Revd. R.H. Froude, Rector; Mr. Simmons and Goodley, Wardens; Prosperity to this parish; Hambling fecit Blackawton. Peace to the ringers of Denbury."
Dove's reference to the bells:

Denbury, Devon, S Mary V (GF), 5, 8cwt in A. 


Map reference  :  SX823688

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This site has been constructed by, and remains the copyright of, its authors,
Edwin and Sheila Macadam,

Shelwin, 30, Eynsham Road, Botley,
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