Brixham Mission Community

We are part of the Brixham Mission Community

The other churches in the team are:

All Saints' Brixham

St Mary the Virgin, Churston Ferrers

Barn Chapel, Galmpton

                                             St Thomas of Canterbury, Kingswear


Introduction to St. Mary's, Higher Brixham

This building, the ancient Parish church of Brixham, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, is probably the third on the site.  The wooden Saxon church was succeeded by a Norman church 14 feet wide with walls 28 inches thick, the foundations of which are just within the columns of the North and South aisles of the present building.  This church, with its lofty nave, like those of Totnes and Tavistock, is an instance of the new church being built outside and over the earlier Norman edifice.  The actual date of the building of the present St. Mary’s is not recorded but the pillars are so close in design to those of Totnes Church (known to have been in the course of building in 1432) that experts think that the two churches had the same architect.  It is likely that St. Mary’s was commenced about 1435 in a slightly earlier style than Totnes Church. The sandstone of which St. Mary’s is built almost certainly came from the local Berry Head seams, and the stone for the arches and supporting piers from the quarries at Beer, in East Devon.

The main features of the interior of the building are the graceful pillars, the wagon roof of the nave and the fine stained glass windows given to the church by well known Brixham families.

There was formerly a gallery from the tower arch to the first pillar, right across the building, and an organ and choir gallery under the tower.  In the South aisle was the Quay Gallery, erected in 1792, with an outside staircase, for the use of the people of Brixham Quay when the town began to grow in that direction.

The West End

On the pillar just inside the South door remains of mediaeval painting can be seen. 

In the South corner is a small iron gate through which stairs can be seen which give access to the South aisle roof.  There are similar stairs on the North side. 

Beneath the arch, which separates the tower from the nave, is a modern smoked glass screen  given in memory of Dorothy Emsley who was for many years Matron of Brixham Hospital.

By the West wall on the north side is a coffin lid of Purbeck stone, thought to have covered the  remains of the widow of a knight who lost his life in the fourth crusade in 1227.

The font is one of the most interesting in Devon, having a Norman base and a fourteenth century bowl.  The lead lining was renewed in 1971.

The Tower

Under the tower is preserved the mechanism of the old clock made by W. Stumbles of Totnes in 1740.

The present clock with its four faces was erected in 1931.  Also under the tower in a display case are the remains of two pre-reformation copes, made into an altar frontal at the first Queen Elizabeth’s injunction – one of the few survivals of vestments of that date.

In the tower, which is 104 feet high, are ten bells, dating from 1767 to 1973.  In 1934 the fifth was re-cast, the peal tuned and two new bells added.  In 1965 two further bells were hung, the new treble being inscribed with the names of prominent parishioners and the second bell preserving the memory of Sir Winston Churchill.  In 1073 the tenor bell was re-cast, its weight being increased from about 15.5cwt to 17cwt. 

It is said that William of Orange, at sea in the channel, heard our bells ringing on the fifth of November 1688 and, thinking that they were being rung to welcome him, landed here.  They had however, been rung on that date since the discovery of the gunpowder plot in 1605 and the custom still survives.

The North Aisle

In this aisle are monuments to the Upton family, formerly owners of Lupton House and of particular note is the ornate monument to John Upton (1687).

By the Lady Chapel can be seen the rood stairs doorway which led to the rood screen which formerly spanned the church.  The rood screen was sometimes used as a minstrels’ gallery and the rood was illuminated at the great festivals.

The tracery of the window at the East end of the North aisle is the only remaining ancient window stonework in the church.

The altar tomb at the side of the Lady Chapel is that of Sir William Hille, perpetual vicar 1464-1487 who lived at ‘Hill’ House.

The North Transept

The North Transept was formerly Lord Churston’s family pew and the bottom of its screen is the only remaining part of he old Quay Gallery.  The armorials at the top of the screen are of Yarde, Buller and Yarde-Buller.  Mr Justice (or Sir Francis) Buller married the heiress of the Yarde family who lived at Churston Court.  His grandson, Sir John Yarde Buller, became the first Lord Churston on 1858.  The Yarde-Bullers were Lords of the Manor, the Manor being Upton House.

The coat of arms at the bottom of he screen is of the Yarde-Bullers.  The monument and hatchment on the walls also belong to the family.

The North transept window is the only one retaining the wooden tracery of the 18th century.

The piscina shows that this was originally a guild or side chapel, (there was a fraternity here in 1506).

The Chancel

The stained glass in the East window was given by the Hellyer family, well known as owners of fishing trawlers at Brixham and Hull, and contains a great deal of detail.  The altar was presented by a yeoman of the parish and the altar rails by his wife as a thank offering for his recovery after being gored by a bull.

The metal cross and crown of thorns were given in 1995 and are the work of a local craftsman.

The piscina has over it, on the right, the arms of Peter Courtenay, Bishop of Exeter 1479-88, and on the left those of Edmond Lacey, 1420-58.

Just outside the altar rail is the gravestone of Colonel George Brown, Master Gunner and Chief Bombardier of England and Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty’s artillery in Flanders and at sea (1702). 

Nearby are the remains of a beautiful tomb, partially restored by forming the front from the old ends; the Purbeck stone coffin lid on top is that of a woman, possibly a crusader’s widow.

The South Aisle

At the East end of this, the ‘Nethway Aisle’, are buried Thomas Fownes, Vicar 1755-1809, and others of his family, and on the wall are memorials to the Fownes and Luttrell families among others.  Also on the wall is an 18th century hatchment of the Upton family. 

The East window of this aisle is a memorial to those who died in two world wars; the banners  are those of the Brixham branch of the Royal British Legion and of the local Scout and Guide  Companies. 

The organ presented in 1910, occupies the South transept.

The South Porch

The fine vaulting of the porch roof has a representation of the Virgin Mary seated and crowned, being censed by two angels.  There is also a carving of the wolf and the lamb and the lion and the ox lying down together.  Over the door is a niche where, in 1937, the Sunday School children replaced the statue of the Virgin Mary.

The Exterior

During the restoration of the exterior in 1931, rendering was removed to reveal the red sandstone of the buttresses of the tower and of the relieving arches and corners of the church.

On the East side of the South doors are the remains of the old water stoup, in which in olden times was kept water which had been blessed.  In this, worshippers washed their hands before entering the church for the services.  There is also an old sundial on the exterior wall of the South transept.

Outside the West door are the remains of a stone coffin, and nearby is a stone base, probably that of the old pulpit