History of The Parish Church

St. Mary’s Church stands in the ancient hamlet of “Tettburne”, which was itself at the centre of the scattered farms of the Parish. The Old School Room (now St. Mary’s Cottage) was originally in the Church grounds, and the house opposite used to be an Inn. After a “new” coaching road was routed between Exeter and Okehampton, the Kings Arms Inn was built in the 16th Century to serve its travellers, and gradually a larger settlement grew up along the new road, leaving the Church and hamlet rather isolated.


There has been a church building used for Christian Worship in Tedburn St Mary for over eight hundred years. The earliest part of the existing church building, dating from the 13th Century, is the Lady Chapel, where there appears to be an ancient tomb or monument, and a piscina ( a niche containing a basin used for cleansing the Communion Vessels ).


These words over the entrance door sum up the purpose of this Church, as being as place where we may meet God. The list of Rectors ( on the North wall, opposite the main door ) begins in 1264, and the Church is known to have been in use before that.


The Tower, constructed between the 13th and 14th centuries, contains a peal of six bells, rung on Sundays from the “ringer’s gallery” visible at the West end of the church. The bells themselves date from 1736 to 1837. During repairs to the Tower in 1996 a beam was exposed bearing the date 1668 and the initials HH and BH, presumably those of the builders responsible for earlier repairs.


The two main features of any Church are the font, where we become members of Christ in Baptism, and the Altar, where we remember vividly the last supper, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus and his presence in our midst.

The font in St Mary’s is placed near the entrance of the Church, with the Paschal Candle beside it, first lit on Easter Day, a symbol of resurrection and new life.

The Altar at the East end is up several steps, so as to be visible to all, and a focus of worship.

The embroidered design of the white altar frontal used at Festivals has an interesting history; it is copy of an ancient cope found early last century – being used as a cucumber frame cover in the Rectory Garden ! The original is now in the Kensington museum of the Royal School of Needlework, who made the copy.


Made in stone and on a “wineglass” stem, the four-sided Pulpit has three painted panels depicting evangelists. There is evidence of a former fourth one.


This was used for carrying coffins from outlying farms to the Cemetery. It is no longer used for this purpose, but forms a fascinating reminder of life in earlier times and is used to house displays and appeals.


The Brass memorial near the high altar was erected by the Rector Edward Gee (1596-1618) in memory of his wife. It has both a Latin inscription and an English translation ( the latter almost as difficult to read ). The engraving on the memorial is reproduced below.

Church Brass







When the Church was re-floored in 1868, nine large skeletons were found laid at no great depth. They were all some 6 feet in height and appear to have been buried at the same time. There is no clue to their identity. They have since been reburied at a greater depth.


There are a number of tapestry kneelers worked by members of the congregation, including one of a donkey, a reminder both of the importance of the donkey in the Christian story ( at Christmas and Easter ) and of the Donkey Sanctuary next door.


The oldest gravestones are to be found on the east side of the church, on the right as you go through the lych gate. More graves are to the west of the church, and we do have a rough burial plan of these. The churchyard is now full, although ashes can still be buried in an area near the west door. More recent burials, since about 1879, have taken place in the cemetery near the centre of the village, so it is worth looking there too if you are searching for your ancestors graves.


Please enter your name in the visitors’ book – it is interesting for us and others to see how many visitors we get and how far they have travelled to see our church.

Please pray for this Church that it may continue to witness to God’s love, as its congregations have done for over 800 years, and we will pray for you.

A Prayer for this Parish Church

God our heavenly father; make the door of our parish church

wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship and a Father’s care,

and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and lack of love;

here may the tempted find help, the sorrowing receive comfort,

the careless be awakened to repentance, and the penitent be assured of your mercy;

and here may all your children renew their strength

and go on their way in hope and joy.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord          


Below is a link to a description of the church as a listed building


This is included as a bit of fun – not an actual view of the church, it is an embroidery done by a member of the congregation to celebrate the character of Tedburn and its great community spirit!


4 thoughts on “History of The Parish Church

  1. Hi,my name is Mario Preston writing you from Canada.
    Six of my ancestors are born in Tedburn St Mary:John born in 1625,is son also John born in 1665,Robert born in 1693,Andrew born in 1725,one more John born in 1755,than my great great great grandfather Joshua born in 1787.
    Prior to Tedburn St Mary,and this is as far as Michael Preston a far away cousin could go,Crediton saw the birth of two of our ancestors:two John,one born in 1593 and one born in 1573.
    Then next after Tedburn St Mary is Exeter who saw the birth of my great great grandfather George who immigrated in Canada.Himself was born in 1815.
    Maybe you could tell me if there is anymore Preston in Tedburn St Mary.
    I would love one day to pay a visit to your area.

    • Hi Mario,
      Thanks for your comment. There is a lady in the village who may be able to help you. Her details are below:

      FAMILY TREE RESEARCH: If you are interested in finding out more about any of your ancestors who lived in Tedburn, please contact Jean Wise on +44 1647 61101 or you can email her on jeanw@wptsm.plus.com



  2. Hello to my Canadian cousin, Mario! I am also a descendant from Boston, MA, USA, of George Preston of Tedburn St Mary. I hope to visit your church one day.

  3. Hello, Richard Langdon from New Zealand here. My family had a long tenure at Tedburn living there for 140 years and yes they are all my relations in the churchyard. I visited Devon some years ago now and the history in England, well its amazing we have nothing like it here. The plaque on the wall bears all my family names although as yet we don’t know the significance of it. Are they the ones buried under the church as mentioned on this website? My family have a colourful history my aunty marrying the brewer Henry Meux, she became one of the wealthiest women in England after Henry died and has 2 paintings one was bought by Henry Frick and is in his gallery in Manhattan the other can be seen at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, both paintings were by Whistler. In 1884 she paid for her 2 brothers to sail to New Zealand where we still live.

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