The Parish Church of St. Eustachius,
Tavistock Abbey was founded in 981 by Ordulf, on instruction by King Edgar. By 1318,
Abbot Robert Champeaux completed the reconstruction and enlargement of this church and it
was re-dedicated on 21/May, 1318. Most of the walls and the base of the tower of this
building (in the sea-green volcanic Hurdwick stone) still remain. Between 1425 and 1450 it
was again partly rebuilt in the present early perpendicular style, and the fourth aisle,
known as the Clothworkers Aisle, added by the gift of Constance, widow of
Maurice Bird. Externally the church has changed little since then.
Tour of the Church
The FONT is 15th century. Probably Sir Francis Drake was baptised
here, but our records begin only in 1614. The WAGON CHEST is 14th
century. The only other one known is in the Victoria and Albert museum. The PARISH
CHEST (with 3 locks) contained a number of ancient documents and churchwardens
rolls and accounts, the earliest being a bill of sale dated 1286. Above the Holy Water
Stoop is a carved relief of Saint Eustachius and on the right a PICTURE by DESCHWANDEN
given by the Reverend S. Baring-Gould, Vicar of the nearby village of Lew Trenchard,
composer of "Onward, Christian Soldiers".
The TOWER base dates from 1318, the higher parts from the 15th
century. The arches in the North and South walls formed the gateway to the Lay Cemetery
separating the parish church from the much longer and narrower Abbey church. This was one
of the four main entrances to the Abbey. The height of the tower is 28 metres to the top
of the battlements. On the North side of the door is an OPHICLEIDE used in the
church band before the removal of the gallery in 1845. In the floor beneath this
instrument are buried the bones of Ordulf, giant Earl of Devon, founder of the Abbey.
Interred in a vault close to Ordulf are the bones of later Abbots which were discovered in
Bedford Square during recent works by the water company, and re-interred in the church in
The tower contains TEN BELLS, eight of which were given by the 4th
Duke of Bedford in 1769. These were re-cast and re-hung in 1925. The third of these is
still called "the Poor Bell" after one of the five which the Dukes bells
replaced. The original had been given by an old lady to be tolled whenever a poor person
was buried because, until then, no bell was tolled for the poor "to hasten their
departure into Heaven". Two more bells were added for the millennium, partly with the
aid of a grant from the Millennium Commission.
The NORTH AISLE has a carved TRIPTYCH commemorating the men of Tavistock
who fell in the 19141918 war. Next to this is an oak board with the names of the
Abbots and Vicars of Tavistock with their dates. The PILLARS are of elvan, a
volcanic intrusion from nearby Roborough. Near the organ is a 14th century
tomb, an ogee arch with carved angels head (of an unknown person), partly restored.
The PULPIT dating from 18446 replaced an earlier one and is of Caen stone
much used in Victorian times for its decorativeness because of its whiteness and
because it could be easily carved and undercut. There is a carved snail climbing a vine at
the bottom of the second pillar from the entrance and oak leaves and acorns on the pillars
on either side of the entrance.
The ORGAN was built to specifications drawn up by Dr Samuel Wesley, then
organist and grandson of Charles Wesley. The organ was enlarged in 1952 and again in 1974
and again in 1989 with further pipes added in 1997. The oak screen was carved by local
craftsmen for the restoration of the interior of the church in 1845. It was completed and
the figures filled in in 1879. In 1845 the old pews of all heights and sizes were replaced
and their ends and the choir bench ends beautifully carved by local craftsmen, copying
those in neighbouring local churches, particularly the 11th century church at
East of the organ are rare EARLY 17TH CENTURY PEWTER FLAGONS in a
glass case blocking a 15th century doorway. The case also contains a copy of
the "Paraphrases" of the Greek Testament by the Dutch theologian, Erasmus, who
taught for a time at Cambridge. The book was purchased in 1561 for fifteen shillings.
Above, there is a BOSS with three rabbits ears, often used to denote the
Trinity in mediaeval times and the emblem of the tinners.
The FITZ MEMORIAL at the entrance to the ST. MARY MAGDALENE CHAPEL
commemorates John Fitz (15281585), a lawyer. In the corner of the chapel are some 15th
century bench ends. The east window commemorating John Hornbrook-Gill was designed by
Burne-Jones and William Morris (1876). Moriss sister married Hornbrook-Gills
son. To the right and below the window is an old doorway.
The EAST WINDOW (1949) is a memorial to Prebendary H.L. Bickersteth, former
much-loved Vicar for 28 years.
The LADY CHAPEL contains an altar of Dartmoor granite (1965) and also the GLANVILL
MONUMENT depicting Judge Glanvill, who died in 1600, his wife and children. The
monument is of Devon marble and alabaster.
The WINDOW to the right and above the sacristy door depicts the saints to whom
the Abbey was dedicated Saint Rumon, Bishop of Dumnonia (Exmoor to Lands
End), the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the right, Saint Eustachius, to whom the church is
The BRASS LECTERN at the West end of the choir stalls is a modern copy of the
mediaeval lectern in Southwell Minster. It was the gift of the 9th Duke of
Bedford in 1877.
ST. GEORGES CHAPEL and the CLOTHWORKERS AISLE. This 15th
century guild chapel is richer than the rest of the church this can be deduced from
the roof bosses, capitals and granite pillars. The ALTAR TABLE is late Elizabethan.
The PICTURE behind the altar is by local artist Arthur Read and is entitled
"The Dawn of the Third Millennium". The WINDOW above shows Saint George
and Saint Martin, patron saint of the clothworkers, cutting his military cloak in two to
give half to a shivering beggar by the roadside. (Hence presumably, his adoption as patron
saint of the clothworkers) Clothmaking, with the rather tough wool of the Dartmoor sheep,
was a very important industry in Tavistock. The recent READING DESK was finely
carved by local craftsmen. An eccentricity is the little white mouse in the third pew end
opposite possibly the signature of the carver.
The PILLARS in this aisle are of Dartmoor granite and sparkle in the light. The
capitals are decorated with a double leaf-sprig motif, the insignia of the clothworkers.
Adjacent to two of the pillars are happy and sad faces carved into tops of two bench ends.
The legend of Saint Eustachius is told in various places. The written description is
under the window to the left of the South door. The pulpit fall is a beautiful version in
tapestry. TILES from the floor of the old Abbey Church are in a glass case by the
South door. These date from the 14th century.
In the south porch, QUATREFOILS have been carved into the inside and outside of
the lintel. In the churchyard, the WALL between the North Cloister and the Abbey
Church is all that remains of this edifice. As may be inferred from two of the doorways of
the church and the outside traffic, in mediaeval times the floor level was much lower.