Building » Barnstaple – St Mary

Barnstaple – St Mary

Higher Church Street, Barnstaple, Devon

A modern church adjoining and replacing a neo-Norman church of the 1840s. The new church has good dalle de verre glass by Dom Charles Norris.

The first church on this site was built in 1844, largely at the expense of Sir Bourchier Wrey of Tavistock Court in memory of his wife, a member of the Weld family. The design has been attributed to A.W.N. Pugin, but this seems unlikely on stylistic grounds, and is discounted by Rosemary Hill, Pugin’s biographer. The list description states that ‘the church was probably designed by Gideon Boyce of Tiverton’ and a contemporary account in The Tablet (19 October 1844) also names Boyce, adding that the church (then under construction) would be ‘a neat edifice, in the Norman style, and underneath are catacombs to contain 250 bodies’.

A new and larger church was built alongside the old one in the 1980s (architect John Cooper of Friend, Kelly & Friend). In the early 2020s, the old church (which is listed Grade II) was restored by the diocese with Historic England grant aid, to serve community uses (including worship).


The replacement church is a low and spreading building under a single wide low-pitched roof with a square timber lantern and fibreglass fleche at the eastern end and a lower forebuilding at the western end. The exterior is faced with local red brick and the roof covering is Welsh slate. The interior is a wide unobstructed space with a carpeted floor, brown brick walls and the laminated timbers of the roof exposed with timber boarding between them. Rectangular windows in the low north wall and in the east and west gable ends; the north and west windows are clear glazed, those at the east end have dalle de verre glass by Dom. Charles Norris of Buckfast Abbey, most conspicuously a figure of the Risen Christ in the main east window. The altar, ambo and pulpit are all of brick with Doulting stone tops. The Stations of the Cross were made by Nancy Kelly, a local artist.

Entry amended by AHP 24.02.2024

List description (old church)


Roman Catholic church; disused. 1844; opened 1855; probably by Gideon Boyce of Tiverton and completed by R.D. Gould of Barnstaple. Funded by Sir Bourchier Palk Wrey of Tawstock Court; contractor, Norman. Random rubble with ashlar dressings; slate roof with coped gables; cast-iron rainwater goods. Romanesque style. Once part of a complex including a priest’s house (demolished). Aisleless church with apsidal chancel and 3-bay nave.

EXTERIOR: round-headed windows with moulded architraves and cushion capitals to the shafts; moulded string at cill level. Bays defined externally as recessed panels with pilaster buttresses and corbelled dentil cornice. Apse has similar surface treatment but with chalice and other carved symbols in the cornice and a single window to each facet (windows blocked at time of survey); nave windows arranged as one triplet to each bay. W end has a coped gable with a toothed string parallel to the verges. Wheel window and 2 tall blind statue niches with engaged shafts and cushion capitals; gabled porch with segmental-headed doorway with decayed tooth moulding; 2-leaf door with diagonal boards and ornamental strap hinges.

INTERIOR: Simple arched-brace roof springing from scalloped corbels. Semicircular chancel arch springs from carved shafts, the arch with 3 orders of moulding; plaster-vaulted chancel springing from attached shafts; coloured floor tiles to chancel. Simple Romanesque font with circular stem and scalloped shaft. Late Cl9 Romanesque circular pulpit with semicircular niches with symbols of the Evangelists on the drum on a polychromatic marble stem. Timber W gallery on timber posts with Romanesque capitals.

NOTE: The church was probably designed by Gideon Boyce of Tiverton. According to ‘The Tablet’ in 1846 Boyce was named as the architect, but when the church was opened in 1855 ‘The North Devon Journal’ referred to “the late Mr Pugin” as having been the architect, and the architect R.D. Gould as having been responsible for its completion.

SOURCES: [1] Buildings of England: Pevsner N. & Cherry B.: Devon: PP.15I-2. [2] North Devon Journal, 1.11.55: Barnstaple. [3] The Tablet, 19.10.46).

Heritage Details

Architect: Friend, Kelly & Friend

Original Date: 1984

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed