You may notice the 11th century tower does not match the rest of the church’s design, and this is because it is the only remaining part of the old priory church. The village church was knocked down in 1870, when Lady Rolle ordered the construction of a new, much larger church at a cost of £12,000. This came as somewhat of a surprise, and records on the decision to rebuild are few. But it is known that there was considerable resentment locally at the imperious decision.
It is true that by the beginning of the 19th century, the church had become sadly neglected and shabby. Over the next forty years however, improvements were being made to the church to suit the growing population, and thus congregation, of the village. Records show that a team of 50 workmen were sent by Lord Rolle to demolish a part of the north side of the Church and a transept was erected with 21 pews to seat the village school children at a cost of £300. The Rural Dean also ordered the immediate repair of the dilapidated roof in 1827, and by 1841 it is recorded in the Rural Dean’s visitation that ‘the church is now being enlarged and improved’. We can only assume that these changes were satisfactory for the next thirty years, as all that follows this is a short note claiming the church is being rebuilt from the Rural Dean in 1870, at the expense of Lady Rolle herself. Benjamin Ferrey was the Architect, Henry Burrage the Builder, and Harry Hems carved.
The layout of the old church. The 1870 church (the Vestry was 1889).
From the Devon Record Office.
The rebuilding of the church was a massive operation. A part of the manor house, and a barn of the Barton were torn down and construction began in 1871. Richard Hollett’s carpentry business, which he set up in the early 18th century, had been working for the vestry since 1743, and they were called in to help. You may notice some of the family’s other work around the village, as they even built the block of cottages facing the Green. A total of 15 masons, 10 painters, a plasterer, a brick maker, 2 joiners, a glazier, 8 carpenters and 4 thatchers were working on the church project. 7 of these masons lived in the village, but 22 workers had to find temporary lodging in the village.
The stone of the old church was used to build a barn at the Barton farm, adjacent, overlooking the river and river meadows; the barn is now known as Phoenix Barn. The original two hens, or griffins, on the roofs must have adorned the old church too! They were duplicated by the developers
Details continued to be added after the rebuilding, such as a new organ installed in 1879, the vestry in 1889, and another stained glass window inserted in 1907 to commemorate the Hon. Mark Rolle’s life. In 1921 the side altar was erected in the north transept by Lady Clinton.
Electric light was installed in 1939. The organ was moved to the west end in 1956 and back to the chancel in 2014. The kitchen and toilet block was erected as part of the thorough roof repair project in 2017, which renovated the gutters, lead flashings and valley leadwork. Villagers’ tiles were laid in the north valley carrying names and pictures on the lower surfaces (see the web site!).