St Swithun's church, Sandford
St Swithun's church, Sandford
The church of St Swithun's stands on a rise of ground a stone's throw from the village square and attractive pub in this quiet village north of Crediton. The hillside location seems at odds with the original meaning of the village name, which translates from the Saxon words for a sandy ford. The ford is at the bottom of the hill, but the village is very much near the top!
There was a church here in the Saxon period, and traces of that structure can be found in the lowest stage of the tower and the base of the current walls. Apart from that the church dates mainly to the 13th and 14th centuries. The building is fairly small, built in the Gothic style, with of a chancel, nave, two aisles, south porch and an embattled western tower. Sandford was associated with the Saxon monastery at Crediton that grew up following the death of St Boniface, a native of the town.

After 1050 St Swithun's was a chapel of ease under the control of Holy Cross church in Crediton, and it was not until 1928 that it became independent. There was an amusing incident in 1437, when the Swithun's was again closed, this time because so many local people were making the trip to Holy Cross rather than worshipping in their own church. The church license was withdrawn, though it was allowed to hold 'celebration of Devine worship ... on particular occasions.' It was not until 1523 that the church reopened for regular worship.
17th century Dowrich brass
17th century Dowrich brass
One of the most interesting interior features is a finely carved west gallery, dated to 1657 and used to seat children from the local poorhouse. The gallery stands on Corinthian columns, and is beautifully carved and painted.In the south aisle is a painted board commemorating a gift of money to 'six poore husbandmen of this p'ish' by John Davie in 1675. In the chancel is a 17th century wall memorial of marble to the Davie family of Creedy Park. In the north aisle is another Davie memorial, in the form of a marble plaque to Julia Davie (d. 1627).

Murder in the Church

On the north wall is a fascinating 17th century brass plaque to members of the Dowrich family. On a nave pillar capital is a humorous carving of two naked figures tearing each others hair. One wonders what story lies behind this carving? Well, we do have a clue in an account by a 17th century rector, Rev. John Hopkins, chaplain of Sandford in 1651. Hopkins writes that around 1127 an argument broke out between 2 men during a service. The fight escalated and one man was killed. As a result of the murder, the church was closed, and no services allowed to be held for 11 years, until an appeal to King John around 1137. The king ordered services to resume.

For more see our extended article on the History of St Swithun's church.
17th century west gallery
17th century west gallery
The best feature of St Swithun's is its wonderful array of 16th century carved bench ends. The subject of the carvings is wonderfully varied and includes foliage, heads of men and women, a likeness of a king said to be Henry VIII, another of Queen Katherine of Aragon. Some are obviously civilians, others are in military garb. Some of the most fascinating carvings show what appear to be native Americans and people with Aztec features.
Here are some of my favourite images from the 16th century bench ends. The variety of the carving is quite fantastic!

THE BENCH ENDS
Foliage pattern
Foliage pattern
Green Man?
A Green Man?
A figure in armour
A figure in armour
Foliage and carved head
A carved head
Carved head amid foliage
Another carved head
An Aztec figure?
An Aztec figure?
A native American?
A native American?
Another unique head
Another unique head
MORE PHOTOS
Pulling hair carving
Pulling hair - a 12th c murder?
Beautifully carved nave capital
Beautifully carved nave capital
John Davie memorial
John Davie memorial
John Davie bequest, 1675
John Davie bequest, 1675

About Sandford
Address: Church Street, Sandford, Devon, England, EX17 4NE
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: In the centre of Sandford village, 2 miles north of Crediton. On street parking. Usually open daylight hours.
Website: Sandford
Location map
OS: SS828025
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS

Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest

Upton Hellions, St Mary's Church - 1 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Crediton, Holy Cross Church - 1.5 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Shobrooke Park - 1.7 miles (Garden) Heritage Rating

Newton St Cyres, St Cyr and St Julitta's Church - 4.2 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Morchard Bishop, st Mary's Church - 4.6 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Puddington, St Thomas' Church - 5 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Cadbury, St Michael's Church - 5.3 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Cadbury Castle Hillfort - 5.5 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating



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Exeter
Visitor Information & Tickets
Civic Centre
Dix's Field
Exeter
Devon
England
EX1 1GF
Tel: 01392 665 700
Fax: 01392 665 260
Web: http://www.visitexeter.com
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