Book review. Some Old Devon Churches: A Tribute to John Stabb

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Author(s): Bhanji. Sadru; Year published: 2010; Origin: DA Transactions; Pages: 424–425
Topic(s): churches; Location(s): 

C. B. Newham, Some Old Devon Churches: A Tribute to John Stabb Volume I (DAE Publishing, 2009), ii + 155 pages, profusely illustrated with colour photographs; one map. Hardback. ISBN 9781906265014. £60.

Between 1908 and 1916 Torquay’s John Stabb published a three-volume work, Some Old Devon Churches: Their Rood Screens, Pulpits, Fonts Etc. In all, some 264 churches were described and 400 photographic illustrations provided. He published a further 138 photographs in Devon Church Antiquities in 1909, but his death in 1917 prevented his completing a second volume. Stabb’s works are still highly regarded, many considering them classic accounts. The publication under review, the first of six volumes, arose out of Newham’s determination to photograph all of England’s rural parish churches and their contents. So far he has visited some sixty percent of these. The reader may be pleased to note that Devon is now the author’s most highly recommended county for church-visiting.

Stabb arranged each volume of Old Devon Churches, rather than the whole series, in alphabetical order of parish. Here, the whole set, with the possible exception of Volume VI, is to be in alphabetical order. The first volume covers forty-six parishes from Abbots Bickington to Butterleigh visited by the author, sometimes on more than one occasion, between March 2007 and April 2008. In keeping with the sub-title, the account of each church begins with Stabb’s original words, with editorial elaboration where appropriate. The reader is then brought up to date by the author’s own comments and photographs. The last are all in colour with usually several of each church. The book ends with three appendices, the first two of which could be of considerable value to the visiting, or indeed the Devonian, church enthusiast. An outline map of Devon, not only shows the locations of the churches, but adds information on, for example, whether the services of a keyholder are required. There is advice also on how easy or otherwise it is to then find him or her. Fortunately, many of the churches seem to be ‘open’. The second appendix lists the churches according to their features of special or outstanding interest. Finally, the reviewer was pleased to find an index.

This is a well-presented book. The text is clear and the illustrations are outstanding. Although Stabb’s contribution to our records of Devon’s ecclesiastic architecture deserves commemorating, in this reviewer’s opinion the author’s endeavours could well stand in their own right. As to subsequent volumes, the publications of volumes II and III may well have preceded that of this review. Volume VI, due in 2011 will include churches not recorded by Stabb, his biography, and a comparison of the author’s and Stabb’s photographs where major changes have taken place. All in all, a venture well worth supporting.

Sadru Bhanji
(First published in Transactions 2010)