- A well-proportioned church just outside the village
- A lovely tower with well-preserved medieval statues
- A very fine porch
- Beautifully carved roof bosses of two distinct types
- A good Norman font
- Brilliant foliage carving on the pillar capitals
- An intricately worked 15th century rood screen, somewhat restored
- A good ceilure
- Fine stained glass
- A rare wood carved and coloured royal coat of arms
- An entrancing 17th century Renaissance memorial
Talaton Church of St James the Great
Talaton church is a mild stroll away from the main village, close enough to be part of it, far enough away to escape the hustle and bustle.
The best bet is that it started life as
A manorial chapel emphasised by its position by its position, set slightly away from Talaton Village near a farmhouse with a late medieval core and called ‘The Old Manor’…
Church and Landscape: Duncan Probert
But unlike a lot of chapels, it seems to have had the Right of Baptism very early on, with a Norman font making a strong case. Whether there was an earlier Saxon chapel here or not is open to question.
It is a delightful church, set in a very pretty churchyard, with a car park as well; for those of us who spend half our lives trying to park in these tiny Devon lanes that is manna from heaven.
The present church is mainly fifteenth century with a lot of restoration and rebuilding in the nineteenth.
Talaton Church tower
The tower is a sure fifteenth, with that stair rising a little higher than the main banana.
Squint a little and we can see the clock face half hidden by a buttress. That was placed in 1925 along with a new mechanism; the old clock from 1725 (cost £12, it did) had no dial and just told the time by chimes. That so makes good sense for a tower that the villagers cannot see.
It has a few fun gargoyles but more funner still are the statues in their niches, they are as original as the gargoyles, rarer and well worth a closer look.
The holy statues on the medieval tower
Here are just three of them, carefully conserved in 1995 and worth every penny.
The left hand statue is St Michael killing the dragon, Micky’s wings being clearly visible in the background, then the Virgin and Child with Mary as Queen of Heaven, then St Matthew with his angel tugging his scroll for attention like a little doggie.
Guess angels are not just for Christmas either.
Mary might have had a little restoration work there, but all in all they are in a marvellous state of preservation; more importantly they show how religious images did not so much permeate everyday life back in the Medieval but were everyday life. So many church towers, porches, walls had similar statues; sadly near most all of them have gone.
Weather, Puritans, lack of care, no money are amongst the suspects, and to be fair I can sympathise with all of them, but it is a joyfulness to find these bonnies still plugging away up the tower up on high.
Medieval roof bosses
Looking up in the nave are these marvellous medieval roof bosses, more recently coloured, with those oh so very pretty petals just to lighten up the main parts and make sure everyone know they are looking at foliage.
Some also have central pendants hanging down, which is mighty rare; bottom right probably the easiest to make out.
Why they have these is a question without a clear answer. My bet is fashion.
Bosses on stone vaulting from this era sometimes have these pendants; there are some in a chapel in Ottery St Mary Church just down the road, a little later than these babes.
So maybe trying out modern designs.
A possible earlier tradition is reflected in these bosses from the south aisle.
Earlier than the present church and reused? A lovely thought, and not totally ridiculous as these are not proper bosses; they do not clasp the joint, as bosses are meant to do, and seem to be just stuck on top.
Poor darlings, they seem most put out about not being proper bosses, all these years and still not accepted.
The Norman font
And here is that Norman font mentioned earlier, with an added bonus of some eejit photographer’s foot. Not a pretty sight, sadly.
The stone is Purbeck, from the Isle of Purbeck, about seventy miles away along the coast, probably brought already shaped or even fully carved by boat by sea then up the River Otter. Such a stone brought so far would have been quite a statement I venture, the Norman big boys really boasting about their new power.
The exterior columns and the lower half of the central are Victorian, though that block they stand on seems pretty old; likely enough the floor has been raised in one of the restorations and the font needed to be uplifted at that time.
Goodly stone carvings
That simply carved font meets its nemesis in these not so simply carved pillar capitals, and oh my Aunt Nellie, are they not the bees knees?
In truth, I reckon the average bee would buzz around these beauties for a fair old-time looking for pollen before realising they are stone, and shamefacedly slipping away pretending it knew this all along.
The stone seems to exhale this greenery, crossing the boundary between the living and the not-living, just as the Divine and the World mingle in the church; heaven mixing with the children of god, where souls heal and lives transform, revealing the beauty that we can carry with us in our daily work.
The Talaton Church rood screen
The fine fifteenth century rood screen does the same with wood, breathing herbage into our lives; branches soar off the central stems holding up the intricate foliage of the frieze, between them saplings flourish in the openings, rising to support leafage in the tracery, below plants sprout on the wainscoting from the bottom row of seeds.
It was painted white in 1849 by the Lord of the Manor…
We are compelled, however, to allude to the appropriation, by the Lord of the Manor of the whole of the south aisle east of the screen as a private room for family prayer.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 19/05/1849
Who also put in a fireplace with an exterior brick chimney, coloured glass in the ‘painter, plumber and glazier style’ and likely other comforts, all this for private prayer, apparently.
When everything was painted brown is not clear, but Bligh Bond in his Roodscreens and Roodlofts mentions a parish tradition that beneath this new colour lies the original paint; he was writing in the early twentieth century, quite possibly within the living memory of folk who saw that heavy goop ladled on, so there is a happy potential there.
Intricate rood screen bosses
He also calls these beautifully crafted miniature bosses on the screen vaulting:
… excellent – those at the main intersection with their six sprays branching hexagonally like a snow-crystal have a singularly beautiful effect
Roodscreens and Roodlofts
Which is a very perceptive I am thinking, with my normal degree of bias, because they truly are such delicate snowflake jewels preserved for all to see.
On top of that, the amount of time and skill to make each one of these, every one different, is astounding, especially considering all the other artistry going into the creation of the whole of this loveliness.
And while we are chatting about artistry, skill, delicacy, and beauty then the frieze really wants to have a conversation with us, because it is all those and more.
The sheer intricacy of the carving, the detailed delineation of each and every leaf, the five rows going on and on, this is just fantastic work.
Then to realise that most of the ornate woodwork of the destroyed rood loft is no longer with us, and this is just the remnant… Mind blowing, totally so.
A medieval ceilure
Above the rood screen is the original ceilure, a canopy if you will, to go over the rood, or crucifixion scene, that would have been hanging above the screen and rood loft (or supported by it, depending on the vagaries of each church).
Another piece of fine carving, with those lovely roof bosses, the present colour scheme is later. Originally there would likely have been plenty of gilding but also, at the minimum, stars and more on the boarding with a sky background, night or day.
The purpose would have been to give a glimpse of heaven above the crucified Christ, a reminder that his sacrifice united heaven and earth.
Talaton Church Sanctuary
The muted colours of the sanctuary take a bow through the rood screen, a very pleasant combination of shaded colours.
The curtain behind the altar, called a dossal, is unique; it is made from part of ‘the drapings in Westminster Abbey at the coronation of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’. Singular indeed.
The East Window
Topped off by a delightful 1859 East Window, full of colour, movement and feeling.
More beautiful stained glass in Talaton Church
Though not as busy as this smasher from another window down nave, where we are so back to golden intricacy and dancing Gothic. I love it.
I read the news today
There also these cuties, for all the world like young country lads reading the morning newspapers; knowing Devon, the cattle auction pages or the local village news, though where they have put their pints I have no idea.
Wonder if they know how adorable they are?
The Butterfly Window
Another goodly window in a very different style is this elegance by the AK Nicholson studio, angels with wings to die for and Christ in his glory blessing the world.
The parishioners call it the ‘butterfly window’ because there are half a dozen butterflies flitting around Christ, a lovely touch that.
Christ the Sower
Nicholson did like to put little scenes under the main picture, and here is Christ and an angel acting out the Parable of the Sower. The landscape is realistic, the colours suffused with beautiful, Christ’s hat rocks, the angel wings are dead flouncy… What else is needed?
A George III Coat of Arms
Talking of colours and flounciness, this George III of coat of arms joins the party.
For one thing it is splendidly lively and playful, far more than most which often have a touch of pomposity or at the least grandiosity; none the worse for that, but this is so not in the ‘look at the big great king’ vein.
It is quite an oddity too, carved wood to be clear where most of these type of arms are plaster.
McNeilage Conservation worked on it in 2014 and found that it was created between 1801 to 1816, and has been painted a total of seven times.
The first three times it was painted stone colour all over, about the same shade as the background to the present piece. Other colours only started in the mid nineteenth century.
So why did the parish folk want it to look like stone? And if they wanted something that looked like stone why did they not make it out of stone?
Speculations only, though. Was it lack of the old dinheiro? That might explain the wood, but even then royal coat of arms on boards were painted brightly.
No clear answer, moi, but I must say I do love the design and the present colours, royally good they are.
Remembering, Renaissance style
But the ultimate carvery prize surely goes to this absolute stunner, a 1613 memorial to John Leach, sometime rector of this parish and a canon of Exeter Cathedral.
Carved from Beer stone by John Deymond of Exeter, the inscription is an acrostic, the first letter of each line spells out John Leach, which is a mild conceit, and really who is going to make the lettering the first stop when there are those gorgeous creations surrounding it.
Where did it come from? Well…
The monuments form part of a west country school of carving that have appears to have adapted designs from Jan Vredeman de Vries’ architectural pattern-books and included a substantial amount of joinery.
Church Monuments and Commemoration in Devon c1530-c1640, Christine Faunch, 1998
And an example of Jan’s piccies can be found here, which does make a very good point.
A Renaissance lion
Apart from anything else, it is a crackerjack piece of carving, just look at the details on this lion, totally tickety-boo.
It has fruit, putti (the angelic lads), sphinx, strapwork, all the ingredients of a grand party, no wonder the style was called ‘antic’ when it reached England in the mid sixteenth century.
Not everybody was a fan though, Mr Henry Peacham reckoned
The forme of it is a genrall and (as I may say) an unnaturall or unorderly composition for delight sake, of men, beasts, fishes, flowres & c. Without (as we say) Rime or reason…
Henry Peacham, The Gentlemans Exercise, 1612
No party invite for Mr Stick-In-The-Mud Peacham, it seems.
The piece is in the tower, so hopefully the tower screen door is open.
A simple country carving
It is a wonderful church is Talaton church, full of treasures big and small, not the least of them is this rustic nineteenth table.
Simple vernacular, the kind of art is so easily ignored but is so valuable with its beauty and touch of real history, local craftsfolk carving their personal vision into the future for the likes of us to greet with eyes full of wonder.
Plus, of course, that regular patterning containing near-constant variation, that is better than alright that is.
A little country enchantment, just right for a little country enchantment like Talaton Church.