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Churches of the British Isles

Gallery: Churches of Devon

by Peter Kessler, 3 May 2009. Updated 4 October 2019

East Devon Part 46: Churches of Axminster, Seaton & Beer

St Mary the Virgin, Axminster, Devon

The Minster and Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin is at the north-east corner of West Street and Church Street in Axminster. The town is famous for its carpet-making heritage, but long before that began in 1755, Anglo-Saxon Christianity was focused on a 'minster' or monastic community in AD 786 which provided the means of local worship. The years after the Norman conquest of 1066 saw large tracts of local land granted to the powerful de Mohun family.

Axminster parish church, Devon

It was the de Mohun family who funded the building of the current church. It was erected near the de Mohun castle (which was more of a fortified house than a castle). The location of the previous, Saxon, church is unknown, but it was presumably on the same site. The region's loyalty to the crown saw its people brutalised during the English Civil War, and the minster tower was damaged. That thirteenth century tower is now the oldest part of the church.

The Parish Church of St Gregory the Martyr, Seaton, Devon

The Parish Church of St Gregory the Martyr is in Seaton, around eight kilometres south-west of Axminster. The first church on this site was a wooden building, but as with many wooden Saxon churches, this one was replaced by a stone building, although the date is uncertain. The first mention of Seaton was in a Papal Bull by Pope Eugenius in 1146. Before that date it was the medieval town of Fleet, founded by a Saxon Charter of AD 1005.

St Gregory's Anglican Church, Seaton, Devon

At the time of Domesday Book both Fleet and Beer belonged to the Priory of Horton, which later became a part of Sherborne Abbey. The stone church was erected in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century and is now a Grade I listed building. For many years it was also the parish church for Beer, with Beer's current church serving as a chapel-of-ease. The churchyard is the resting place of Jack Rattenbury, the famous smuggler, born in Beer and buried here in 1844.

Church of St Michael, Beer, Devon

The Church of St Michael in the village of Beer faces out from a very narrow plot on Fore Street. On the site where the church currently stands, there was a chapel from at least 1600 until 1876, which was probably built by the Walrond family, the lords of the local manor. According to White's Devonshire Directory of about 1850, the village itself was formerly notorious for smuggling, and was the birthplace of celebrated smuggler, Jack Rattenbury, the 'Rob Roy of the West'.

Church of St Michael, Beer, Devon

The Devonshire Directory also sates that, 'great quantities of fish are caught at Beer, and many of the women and girls are employed in making lace'. The present church was consecrated just twenty-eight years after that passage was written, in 1878. The cost of the building was borne by the Honourable Mark Rolle, who was lord of the manor. It was originally built with a spire, but this was removed in 1964 for safety reasons, and replaced with the current tower.

One photo on this page by P L Kessler, two kindly contributed by M Kessler, and two originally published on Lynne's 'Echoes of the Past' blog and reproduced here with permission.



Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original feature for the History Files.