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History of St Mary's Church

St Mary’s is a Grade I-listed building of considerable historical interest, its carved stone screen being the most imposing architectural feature. Completed in 1450, it is at least the second church on this site, its predecessor being dedicated in 1259. There have probably been churches on the same site for more than a thousand years.


The Priory attached to the church was dissolved in the 16th century and was a cell of a Benedictine Abbey in Angers, France. Sadly there is no longer any trace of the priory which stood to the northeast of St Mary’s and which was a cell of the Benedictine Priory at Angers in France and was founded by Judhael, a knight of William I.

Of particular interest to visitors are the magnificent 15th century stone screen; the Kempe stained glass window; the Willis organ built in 1861; the restored oak wagon roof; the fine brass candelabrum in the nave; the Blackhall monument and the memorial plaque to Walter Venning (1781-1821), Russian prison reformer.

In 1867 the Victorians began work on the restoration and reordering of the church under the architect Sir George Scott. The north aisle was extended, a new improved gallery was added and the corporation seats, which had been sited at the front of the church, were moved to the back.

St Mary’s Church at that time was adapted to be fit for purpose for the next hundred years or so. Now, once again, the challenge is upon us to restore and renew this significant historic building at the heart of the town in order that it can serve the people of Totnes and all who will visit her throughout and beyond the 21st century.


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