St Mary, Devizes, Wiltshire

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Feature Sets (3)


The church of St Mary was built at the edge of the outer bailey of the castle, and was clearly designed to serve the expanding town.

The 12thc chancel, built in ashlar, has survived later rebuilding campaigns. It is two bays long, vaulted, and was originally decorated on the interior with an intersecting blind arcade, most of which has now been removed. On the exterior, there are pilaster buttresses and the remains of a corbel table, but the 12thc windows have been replaced, probably twice in the case of the E window. 

The S porch of the 15thc nave includes an external arch with a series of reset 12thc stones, possibly from the chancel arch which was replaced in the 15thc when the nave was rebuilt.

The roof line of the earlier nave, probably 12thc, can be seen on the E wall of the W tower. The W tower also belongs to the 15thc. The chancel was restored in 1852.


The history of the church of St Mary is closely linked to that of St John the Baptist, the church that was built in the inner bailey of the castle, perhaps originally to serve as the garrison chapel, while St Mary's served the town. In 1194-95 the churches are described together as ecclesie, but by 1226-28 they are called capelle. In 1268 John, chaplain of the king's chapel, held both churches. However, there is evidence only for St Mary's holding plots of land in the medieval period (VCH 1975, 285-314).

The date of the present nave is suggested by an inscription in the roof which attributes the work to money provided by William Smythe who died in 1436.


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration

Corbel tables, corbels

N chancel wall

Both sides of the chancel have corbel tables, but almost all of the corbels were replaced in the 19thc.  There are 20 corbels along the N chancel wall. 

N1. Head with large eyes and prominent cheeks – possibly old.
N2-5. Moulded, rolled.
N6. Moulded with spiralling, horizontal roll.
N7. Moulded with recessed rectangles in each face.
N8-10. Moulded, rolled.
N11. Moulded, vertical rolls.S7. A strange moulded form.
N12-19. Moulded, rolled.
N20. Westernmost corbel - moulded, rolled.

S chancel wall

The corbel table on the S chancel wall has 20 corbels. Like those on the N chancel wall most of these were replaced in the 19thc.  

S1. Westernmost corbel - geometric.
S2. Moulded with a quarter roll.
S3. A simplified beak head form with two chevrons gripping a short section of roll moulding.
S4. Moulded, rolled.
S5. Crude head with flattened chin and mouth, bulbous eyes.
S6. Moulded, rolled.
S7. A strange moulded form.
S8. A stud which is almost pyramidical shape.
S9. Crude head with plump cheeks, large protruding eyes.
S10-12. Moulded, rolled.
S13. A horizontal roll with a band around it.
S14. A cubic head with flattened lower part of head, plump cheeks and large eyes.
S15-20. Moulded, rolled.


S porch outer arch

The outer arch of the S porch is a wide pointed arch of a later date, but several of its voussoirs and the lable with W label stop are reused from a Romanesque arch

The 1st order is moulded and belongs to the later date. The 2nd order has two rows of frontal-to-the-face chevron (0.33 m wide), as does the 3rd order. The label (projecting 0.08 m and  0.11 m wide) is decorated with lateral-to-the-face chevron with a roll and a hollow. On the W side the label stop survives; it consists of an elongated dragon's head with pointed ears.  

Interior Features


Blind arcade

Most of the blind arcading from the original design has been removed, but part of it survives in the S wall, to the W of the central respond. This shows that it had a single row of frontal chevron.

Vaulting/Roof Supports


Chancel vault

The chancel has two bays of rib vaulting with large, semicircular diagonal ribs and transverse ribs with two fat rolls.

N Wall of Chancel:

W vault shaft: the shaft has been removed but the scalloped capital remains, 0.17 m high with 0.04 m necking, with narrow rolls between the scallops and a groove around the shields. A band of zigzag decorates the impost. 

Central respond: four coursed shafts, one for each of the diagonal ribs of the E and W bays of the chancel (0.19 m diameter) and two wider half-columns for the transverse rib, each 0.26-0.27 m wide. Attic bases sit on square plinths. The capitals are 0.17 m high with 0.05 m neckings. The W capital is a volute capital with a central trunk on each face from which the volutes sprout. Its abacus is chamfered and the impost moulded and beaded. The central pair of capitals have hypenated scallops, with a row of beading around the shields and multi-lobed leaves between the scallops. There is cable moulding on the necking; the abacus is chamfered. The upright of the impost is decorated with a row of scallops; on the upper edge is a band of vegetal ornament with pairs of small leaves curling downwards. The E capital is a simple scallop with a moulded impost. Its western section dates from the 12thc but the main part was replaced in the 19thc. 

E vault shaft: a single shaft (0.19 m diameter) with the remains of a simple, scalloped capital and a moulded impost. The capital is 0.19 m high, the necking 0.03 m high. It has a modern base.

S Wall of Chancel:

W vault shaft: like its counterpart on the N side of the chancel, the shaft has been removed. The capital is scalloped with a moulded impost. The capital is 0.19 m high and the necking 0.03 m high.

Central respond: four coursed shafts, one for each of the diagonal ribs of the E and W bays of the chancel (0.19 m diameter) and two wider half-columns for the transverse rib (0.28 m wide). The W capital is scalloped with a moulded impost. The capitals on the central pair of shafts have double cable moulding on their neckings and a shared impost decorated with intersecting arches. The scalloped capitals have wedges between the scallops; a foliate scroll runs above and fills the shields. The E and W angles of the capitals have masks. The E capital has scallops with narrow wedges and a plain chamfered abacus and moulded impost. The capitals are 0.23 m high with 0.04 m neckings.

Vault shaft: this is a single shaft with a scalloped capital, a plain chamfered abacus, and an impost decorated with an embattled motif. The capital is 0.20 m high, the neck 0.04 m high and the abacus 0.16 m high. Most of the impost has been replaced but part survives from the original design.


Surviving 12thc chancel: some authors believe that this church predates the more accomplished nearby chancel of St John the Baptist but St Mary’s seems to be a less skilful, and therefore possibly a cheaper reflection of the chapel. St Mary’s follows, in form and detail, the lead of St John the Baptist but inexpertly. An example of this is the asymmetrically placed upper window/ventilator which is an obvious borrowing from its larger neighbour, but the failure to place it centrally demonstrates that the direction of the project was less accomplished. (Fieldworkers)

As the chancel arch was replaced in the 15thc, the fragments from the original arch could have been available for reuse in the porch. The form of the label with the dragon's head, is also found in buildings derived from Old Sarum and Malmesbury. (Fieldworkers)


  • E. Bradby, The Book of Devizes, Buckingham 1985.

  • Historic England listing: no. 1251640.

  • N. Pevsner and B. Cherry, The Buildings of England: Wiltshire, New Haven and London 2008, 207-208.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Wiltshire, Harmondsworth 1975, 205-206.

  • Victoria County History: Wiltshire, London 1975, 285-314. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol10/pp285-314 [accessed 4 February 2018]

  • J. Waylen, Chronicles of the Devizes: being a history of the castle, parks, and borough of that name, London 1839, 309-320.

Church from SE
Exterior, chancel, E wall
Exterior, chancel, S wall
S porch
Interior, view to W
View from W
Nave, view to W
DEVIZES, ground plan of St Mary's


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SU 006 616 
now: Wiltshire
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Wiltshire
now: Salisbury
medieval: Old Sarum
now: St Mary
medieval: St Mary
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Allan Brodie, John Wand 
Visit Date
23 May 1991