History of St Brannocks Church

The present church dates from the 13th century although there were earlier churches on the site from the time of St Brannock and as a priest is recorded here in 857 AD. Some authorities believe that there was also possibly an abbey but there are no traces or evidence to substantiate this. Little is known about the very early history until the Norman Conquest and the ordering of the compilation of The Doomsday Book which lists nine churches in Devon. Four were in Exeter. St Brannocks is one of the other five which is probably indicative that it was at that time a church of some importance. It had close connections with the Cathedral Church of St Peter in Exeter. Until the late nineteenth century the Dean of Exeter was also the titular Vicar of the Parish who appointed a resident priest in his absence. Of the four coats of arms on the screen in the Church one depicts the sword and crossed keys of Exeter Cathedral. It is also interesting to note that St Brannock’s Church was founded earlier than the Collegiate Church of the Holy Cross at Crediton, the former seat of the Bishop of Crediton

The Church owes its foundation to Brannock, a missionary who came across the Bristol Channel from Wales (some authorities claim he came from Ireland) to bring Christianity and improved agriculture to the area. According to legend he attempted to build a church on a hill above the settlement but it kept falling down. He then had a vision and was told to build his church at a spot where he would find a sow and piglets. This legend is commemorated on a highly coloured roof boss immediately above the font. A similar boss can also be found in Exeter cathedral.


The present Church serves, together with its unconsecrated Chapel of Ease of St Anne’s at Saunton, a very large parish. From an architectural point of view it is unusual. It is unlike any other church in North Devon.  It is one of only three churches in the area which has a broach-spire, the other two being St Peters Parish Church in Barnstaple & St James Parish Church in Swimbridge. It is mainly Early English with Perpendicular detail. At one time it had galleries at the western end of the nave & above the screen. The tower is large and probably pre-dates the rest of the church and is almost certainly Norman. The spire was repaired and re-leaded in 2002 when it was discovered that the timber came from trees planted before 1066. This makes the spire the oldest in the Westcountry and possibly one of the oldest in the country. One of the two slit windows at the base of the tower features a Saxon stone lintel. The nave spans 34 feet and is 75 feet long. It contains no pillars or aisles. The wagon or cradle roof, which is estimated to weigh 200 tons, was repaired in 1850 and again in 1887 but unfortunately suffered some damage in a major fire in 2003. The pews are a numbered set with carpenters' marks and are very similar to those at Mortehoe. These were installed between 1500 and 1600 but mainly between 1560 and 1593. Until 2003 it had always been assumed that they were of chestnut but it was confirmed that they are actually oak. The chandeliers are Jacobean and are very similar to those in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The font is Norman and dates from c.1300. It is on a more modern pedestal and was originally cased in oak. The 17th century pulpit was originally situated high on the southern wall above the arch leading to the tower. The sounding board is now the plinth of the current pulpit. The reading desk in the chancel is dated 1636, The screen is unusual and completely different from most screens found in Devon. The lectern was made from one of the pillars supporting the original pulpit. The large west window originally depicted the life of St Brannock but was destroyed by the Puritans and the present window installed in 1909. The Snow Gallery, which now contains the organ and its frontal, was a private gallery destroyed by fire in 2003. It was dated 1619. The Lady Chapel was a later addition to the church possibly built some hundred years after the main church. Until removed it once contained the organ and early in the 1920's it was dedicated to Our Lady and became a memorial chapel for those men from Braunton killed in the First World War. It contains a Portuguese (or Armada) chest which was given to the church by Dr Slade King in 1909. It is believed to be a marriage chest but how it came to North Devon is yet to be discovered. The chapel also contains a palimpsest affixed to the wall by the exit door of the Chapel. It originally came from the tomb of Lady Elizabeth Bowcer, the daughter of the Earl of Bath, who married Edward Chestester (Chichester). The monuments are mostly connected with local families. The most interesting one is on the south wall in the southwest corner which was removed from the chapel at Ash Barton, one of the original manor houses within the Parish. The nave windows depict the great seasons of the church - the Nativity, the Resurrection, Ascension & Pentecost and are comparatively modern.  

Further information about the church and its history can be found in two booklets. -

“The Church of St Brannock Braunton” (20pp) by Rev J.F Chanter (a well known church and local historian) – originally published in the spring of 1909 at the price of 6d, reprinted from the “Exeter Diocesan Gazette”by James Townsend & Sons Exeter in 1934 and more recently reprinted by St Brannocks Church in the autumn of 2009.

The second booklet is “St Brannocks Church Braunton” (32pp) by the Rev’d Prebendary T R Owen, Vicar of Braunton from 1952 to 1967.

Both are on sale in the church or can be ordered by post from The Administrator, St Brannocks Parish Office, St Brannocks Rooms, Church Street, Braunton EX33 2EP (Tel: 01271 813367 or 01271 814082 email : stbrannocko[email protected]). The cost is £2.50 each plus postage