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Drewsteignton Church

Drewsteignton Church

Having recently driven through Drewsteignton on the way to Fingle Woods I was reminded that I have not ever visited their church and so returned to see what I had been missing. If the age of the village is anything to go by then there should be plenty of interesting things about the church .If you would like to take a journey through the quintessential Dartmoor lanes and time you could do no worse than to begin at Spinster’s Rock and end at Drewsteignton church. This pilgrimage would take you to one of the earliest ritual monuments on Dartmoor and then through time to one of the much later ritual monuments in the form of the Holy Trinity church, the journey is around three and a half kilometres.

Drewsteignton Church

The first recorded evidence of a settlement there come from the Domesday Book of 1086 in which it appears as Taintona simply meaning ‘Farm (ton) on the river Teign (tain)’. However by 1275 the name had become Teyngton Drue the Drue referring to a family name of Drogo thus giving loosely ‘Drogo’s Farm on the river Teign’. Then in 1327 the place appeared in the Assize Rolls as Druisteynton which over the centuries gradually mutated into Drewsteignton, The Drogo turning to Drew, Glover et. al. p.431. There is some mention in folklore that the place-name refers to a place frequented by Druids but that is just fanciful thinking. Then again if you really want to get fanciful there was a local tradition that Noah and his sons built Spinster’s Rock so what with them and Druids it has to be a holy place?

What is not fanciful and is holy is the Holy Trinity Church which stands proudly in the village square with its imposing four pinnacled tower pointing to the heavens. This grand place of worship has served the ‘flock’ of Drewsteignton since the fifteenth century and still continues to do so today with its thriving congregation

Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church

Drewsteignton Church

The first recorded evidence of the church’s dedication comes from 1742 and that was simply ‘Trinity‘, sadly what the medieval dedication was remains mystery. Oddly enough Rowe does say that in Bishop Brantyngham’s (1370 -1394) Register the dedication of the church was to that of St. Peter?, p.441.

Since 1742 the parish feast day was held on Trinity, Orme, p.155.  Sunday this being the first Sunday after Pentecost which is inclusively fifty days after Easter Sunday.

Entering the sprawling churchyard (which on this occasion was carpeted with daffodils) the first thing first noticed is how from the village square at one end and houses at the other the church lies at the very heart of the community. If you follow the path up past the entrance and around to the eastern end of the churchyard a simple but modern looking memorial. This comprises of a low granite framed square with a neatly trimmed hedge on the northern and southern sides, inside is an equally well trimmed hedge in the form of a cross. This is the only grave of the founding family of Drewsteignton, namely the Drewes in the churchyard which seems a trifle odd. This memorial is dedicated to Julius Drewe and was designed by Edwin Lutyens who was the architect responsible for the nearby Castle Drogo, home of Julius Drewe. Although there is a veritable host of trees in the churchyard none is so resplendent than the cypress tree that stands at the northern end of the church. It is this magnificent specimen that greets everyone as they head northwards down the churchyard path as it stands sentinel over those resting in peace somewhat akin to ‘Guardian of the Graves’. Slumbering in the shadow of the church’s north wall are a collection of chest graves which belong to the members of the Ponsford family. Just beside the church porch are another collection of Ponsford chest tombs, these lie peacefully under the umbrella of a magnificent magnolia tree. These tombs are unique on Dartmoor as they are the only examples of chest tombs to be found in the various churchyards. Just above the chest tombs by the north wall are two ends set at the bottom of the window’s hood mould. It is quite possible that they represent male and female members of either the Carew or Courtenay families, Greener, p.3.

Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church

Drewsteignton Church

Turning the corner the splendid crenulated church porch greets all, sitting above the main door is a parvise or parvis which literally means ‘paradise’. The term originally referred to the atrium which stands in front of St. Peter’s church in Rome but in later years came to indicate the presence of a room above a church porch, Friar, p.337. In this case the small room would have served as the Parish Clerk’s office, a storage place and at one time the school room.

On entering the church the tiny doorway to the parvis can be seen and to me standing at six foot two certainly puts into context how much taller we are today. Above this two keys are displayed in a frame with the simple message that they were in use up until December 1997. Just to the left of the this door and hanging over the entrance is a well preserved and recently restored (2011) board showing the Royal Coats of Arms of Queen Elizabeth I. Against the north wall sits the tiny font which consists of a Norman pedestal and a replacement bowl, the original being damaged when in the 1700s the roof fell in. What fragments remained were moved to the rectory garden and later vanished, Greener, p.1.

The tower screen serves as a memorial to local men who lost their lives in the First World War, this along with a memorial book and wooden plaque for those who died in the Second World War demonstrate the gratitude of today’s parishioners. Along the top of the screen are various heraldic designs and yet again one of these belong to the Drewe family and is the only memorial to them inside the church. The family, considering their local importance are distinctly lacking in their presence both inside and outside of the church.

Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church

Drewsteignton Church

There are various memorials dotted around the walls of the church but of note is that large Ponsford plaque in memory of William and Mary along with one for William Trevenen, one time rector of the parish. Walking around the church one cannot help seeing the various, time-worn ledgers embedded in the floor. In total there are nine which in comparison to other Dartmoor churches is a large collection. Ledger stones came into fashion during the seventeen century and are basically capping stones of burial shafts. As with any internment inside a church these tombs generally belong to the more affluent families as there was a cost to be paid for the privilege. The example below belongs to one Andrew Battishill who died in 1644.

On the balcony of the screen is a replica board which sets forth the ‘Rules of the belfry’,

Drewsteignton Church

In 1553 an iventory of the Church Goods Commissioners recorded that four bells were hanging in Drewsteignton and at some later date a fifth was added. In 1784 these original bells were taken down and recast and at the same time the opportunity was taken to increase the peal to six bells. Writing in 1872 The Rev. H. T. Ellacombe notes that there was a peal of six bells hanging in the tower their inscriptions were; bell 1WILLIAM PETT OF NETHERTON – I. P. C. P. 1784, bells 2, 3, and 4I. P. C. P. 1784, bell 5 Wm PONSFORD DREWSTON CHURCH WARDEN RICHD LAMBERT SIDESMAN I.P. C. P. 1784 and finally bell 6REVN THOMAS FOTHERGILL HATH THE PERPETUAL ADVOWSON : BRYAN ROBERTS RECTOR I.P. C.P. 1784. Ellacombe also adds a note; “good bells.”. p115. Incidentally the initials I. P. C. P. refer to the Penning family of Exeter who were bell founders that cast many of the church bells still hanging in the towers of Dartmoor. There is a unique piece of history attached to those who once rang the bells in the form of a list of rules for the bell ringers and belfry behaviour which hung in the church. They read:

Back in 1869 Elias Tozer wrote many articles on Devonshire country life under the penname of ‘Tickler’. On a visit to Drewsteignton he heard a peal of bells and a rather disgruntled local man told him the following:

They be often ringing sir,” observed an old man to me and he continued: “The ringers be vurry fond of the bells, and zometimes they ring vor vurry little. Tother day Varmer Dadd killed a peg, and gied the ‘natlins’ to the poor of the parish. Darned if tha ringers didden ring vor a whole howr, as they zed, to cillebrate the hayvent.”, p.82

There are three stained glass windows in the church, the oldest being the one that is now obstructed by the organ in the north aisle. This one commemorates Elizabeth and James Pitts who died in 1831 and 1832.  In 1830

The east window which is above the altar was gifted by the Reverend William Ponsford in 1863 in memory of his parents and sister. Sophie Dixon writes that the window over the altar is; “of painted glass by Muss, representing the figure of Christ; the colours are very brilliant...”. She also goes on to say that the window was installed in 1823 at a cost of £190. Of this sum the Rev. E. Treverron (sic. should read Trevenen)donated £1000 and the remaining £90 came from the parish, p.6. This most likely was the predecessor to the present window which suffered badly at the hands of the Dartmoor weather and actually blew in which being located in the eastern side would be no surprise. The window in the Lady Chapel is to the memory of William Ponsford who left this world in 1931, Greener, p.3.

There are an exquisite collection of carvings on the ends of the pews that represent some of the local wildlife, the example below rather fittingly depicts Dartmoor Ponies. Other animals depicted are the hare, fox, woodcock, salmon, deer along with various coats of arms. These were installed in 1936 in memory of Julius Drewe.

Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church

Drewsteignton Church

Holy Trinity church can boast two altars, the main one is a replica of one that resides in Tokio Cathedral, Greener, p.2. But the altar which stands in the Lady Chapel, although very modern in looks has a great deal of local heritage attached to it. The altar was  consecrated in 1970 to the memory of Fred Scott who resided at nearby Bowden Farm. The actual stone was once part of the mill leat which belonged to Fingle Mill, and weights 25cwt (1,270kg). The two accompanying candlesticks, cross and wooden shields were fashioned from a five hundred year old bell frame.

Finally to end with the Lych Gate, which I suppose is where many people have ended their journey. Just inside is a plaque announcing that the attached Church Cottage was once the home of the church caretaker. It was built by public subscription in memory of William Ponsford, J. P., onetime church warden.

Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church

Drewsteignton Church

I have not included the various architectural features of the church apart from the plan below, however should you want to know the more technical details they can be found on the website of British Listed Buildings – HERE

Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church Drewsteignton Church

Drewsteignton Church


Drewsteignton Church

Dixon, S. 1830. A Journal of Ten Days Excursion on the Western and Northern Borders of Dartmoor. Plymouth: J. Williams

Rev. H. T. Ellacombe 1872 The Church Bells of Devon. Exeter: H. T. Ellacombe.

Friar, S. 1996. A Companion to the English Church. Stroud: Sutton Publishing.

Greener, P. 2014. Church & Parish Guide. Drewsteignton Parochial Church Council.

Orme, N. 1996. English Church Dedication with a Survey of Cornwall and Devon. Exeter: Exeter University Press.

1830. Report of the Commissioners Concerning Charities – County of Devon Vol. 3. Exeter: T. Besley Jun.

Rowe, S. 1985. A Perambulation of Dartmoor. Exeter: Devon Books.

Tozer, E. (Tickler) 1869. Devonshire Sketches – Dartmoor and Its Borders. Exeter; Tozer & Spicer


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor


  1. Douglas Young

    A slight misconception in your wonderful article (and website). You say: ‘ This is the only grave of the founding family of Drewsteignton, namely the Drewes in the churchyard which seems a trifle odd.’ However the Drewe family of Castle Drogo are total newcomers. They settled in Drewsteignton in the the early C20 with some very tenuous (to the point of non-existence) to the original line. So they have nothing to do with the village’s namesake.

    What happened to the original Dru or Drogo line is anybody’s guess, except we know that they wouldn’t have lived in the Castle Drogo area. In truth, the area on the ridge that the castle is on (that overlooks the Teign) is called Piddledown Common (I grin. Such a lovely name) so used to be a common. Maybe an enclosure took it away?

    The square at Drewsteignton is also interesting. Such a perfect enclosed space screams ‘medieval market’ and ‘planned space’ but nobody has looked for any evidence for this. Interestingly, Drewsteignton is said to have stood on the old Exeter – Okehampton road, which went through Dunsford and along the top (?) of the Teign gorge and so to Whiddon Down. This was before the late C18 when the old A30 was built for wheeled traffic, so packhorses, mules, riders and feet.

    I’ve seen this claim for the route of the old Exeter-Okehampton road a few times, but never seen it actually pinned down so can’t be 100% sure.

    • I expect there were two roads out of Exeter to OKEHAMPTON and this west to Cornwall. One, as now, starts as now, on the OKEHAMPTON Street in E être thence via Whitestone and Tedburn St Mary … again a high route less rutted in the wet maybe.

      I concur about the Drewes but happily I believe that Dr Crhristopher Drewe still lives on the common!

  2. Leo Commelard Brown

    One thing worth mentioning is that the “mighty yew” in the churchyard is not actually a yew, rather a mexican cypress tree. It is evident that Drewsteignton was favoured by the Druids and it shows in the name ‘Druisteynton’

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