Building » Exeter – Sacred Heart

Exeter – Sacred Heart

South Street, Exeter, Devon

The church has considerable architectural interest as the earliest surviving work by the architect Leonard Stokes. The building has a handsome interior with a rich collection of late nineteenth century furnishings.

Mass was said in Exeter from the mid-eighteenth century in a series of rooms in secular premises. The present church of the Sacred Heart is built on the site of the Bear Tavern, the former town house of the abbots of Tavistock, which became an inn after the Dissolution. The church is the first known design by Leonard Stokes, when he was in partnership with C. E. Ware and before his mature style developed. The tower was only completed in 1926.


See also list entry, below. The principal building stone is a delicate purplish colour rather than red, as stated in the list entry. The tall gabled west front to the street has a low porch or narthex with a pair of three-light pointed widows with elaborate tracery flanked by two entrance doors. There is a further entrance in the base of the tower and above it a two-light window with a quatrefoil in plate tracery, with a similar window on the north face. Above the lowest stage the tower rises sheer to the bell-stage which has pairs of two-light traceried windows on each face and a plain parapet. The north aisle fronting Bear Street has pairs of two light traceried windows like those in the tower while the nave clerestory has triplets of plain lancets with a continuous hood mould. The clerestory is continued on the transept side walls. The gable wall of the north transept has three tall lancets with a large traceried rose window above.

The interior has a low vaulted narthex and a tall broad nave with five-bay arcades of chamfered and moulded arches carried on octagonal polished stone columns with moulded stone capitals and bases and a handsome open timber roof. The north aisle is wider than the south. Both the south aisle windows and those of the clerestory have inner arcades. Beyond the crossing, the tall pointed sanctuary arch is flanked by narrower bays with pointed openings at lower levels with canopied images and pairs of canopied images above under a blind pointed arch. In the east walls of the transepts are pointed arches opening to side chapels. Both the chapels and the sanctuary itself have elaborate tiled floors.

The church is richly fitted out; the fittings include elaborate reredoses to the high and side altars designed by Scoles, a north transept altar with a similar reredos set against a mural painting of West Country saints by Bernard Collier (1894), marble sanctuary rails with enamel panels to the railings and gates, a wrought iron rood screen in the tympanum of the sanctuary arch, much stained glass and an organ in a gallery in the south transept.

List description


1883-4. Leonard Stokes. Gothic. Built of red sandstone with yellow stone dressings.North west tower, west porch, nave, north and south passage aisles, apsed chancel, north and south chapel. Geometric window tracery. Interior of nave has octagonal piers, a clerestory of three lancets set behind freestanding tracery, and a seven-sided roof with arched braces.

Heritage Details

Architect: Leonard Stokes

Original Date: 1884

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II