Some dates12th century Chancel built
15th century Remainder of the church rebuilt
16th century Altars and organs changed
17th century South porch repairs
1854 Major restorations in 1854 by Carpenter & Slater
1897-8 and 1923-4 further restorations under Sir Harold Brakspear

StatisticsNave 20m x 6.5m
Chancel 9.5m x 5.9m
The tower is 27m high
The registers date from 1569

Origins

The church was built in the 12th century to serve the new borough of Devizes, outside the castle area.

It has sometimes been thought that the first church, from which only the chancel survives, was built by Bishop Roger of Sarum (1107-42), but others consider that the style of the church belongs to a later date in the 12th century.

Nothing of the original nave remains, but it may have been rebuilt in the 13th or 14th centuries, as the south wall of the porch retains some 13th-century work and the inner order of the porch doorway is of this date, the other four orders being reset 12th-century work.

The footings of the east wall of the south aisle are thicker than those of the remainder of the nave aisles, and may also be 13th-century.

There seem to be re-used 12th-century ashlar blocks in the 14th-century construction of the aisle walls. From this period the church owned many plots of land in the town which provided a regular income.

Rebuilding of tower costs a life

st-marys-interior-arch

There were radical alterations to the church structure in the 15th century when the walls were heightened, the south porch increased to two storeys with a stair turret and windows, buttresses and roofs replaced and renewed while the west tower was built against the nave.

An inscription on the east part of the nave roof records that during the work William Smith was killed on 1 June 1436. The work begun with the south aisle followed by the nave arcades and clerestory, then the refurbishment of both aisles with new windows, buttresses and roofs, together with the insertion of new windows into the chancel and the enlargement of the chancel arch, and finally the construction of the west tower.

During the Civil War lead was taken from the roof to manufacture bullets.

Ever changing interior

An exceptional surviving run of churchwardens' accounts provides much information about the 16th-century changes. In 1550-1 the altars were pulled down, the Ten Commandments and scriptural texts were inscribed on the walls and the organs and rood loft were removed.

In 1553-6 the high altar, a side altar and the organs were re-erected and the mural inscriptions were defaced. Two more altars were built in 1578. These restorations were again swept away under Elizabeth - the loft in 1561-2 and the organ and candlesticks in the next year. In 1575-6 the Commandments were re-inscribed.

Further restoration

The church remained largely unchanged until the restoration of the east chancel wall in 1852, with replica arcading in the lower part and a new window in the upper. Wall paintings revealed at this time were becoming invisible by 1878 and have now all but disappeared.

In 1854 there was a major restoration by Carpenter & Slater, when the north vestry was also added, and in 1875-6 another restoration included the removal of a west gallery and the lowering and repaving of the chancel floor. In 1897-8 the tower was underpinned, some of its battlements, pinnacles and gargoyles were removed and the chancel was re-roofed.

In 1923-4 the nave and tower roofs were repaired under the direction of Harold Brakspear, the builders being F. Rendell & Sons.

The Future

The Parochial Church Council is planning to revitalise St Mary's role for the parish and the wider community with proposals for a new cloister to the north of the church.

The new building will provide catering and office facilities whilst the nave will become a flexible space seating for a wide range of activities from conferences and exhibitions to music and drama performances accommodating audiences of up to 250 with the added benefit of raked seating. The chancel will be retained for regular worship.

The development has drawn wide public support both from those attending public meetings called to discuss the proposal as well as those prospective users contacted for advice and feedback.

Archaeological investigations are due to start in the churchyard before the end of 2011, which is necessary prior to any planning application. Three trenches will be opened to the north of the Church to identify the state of the ground and establish what lies underground. Any bones disturbed during the trenching will be re-interred.

For more information on St Mary Devizes Trust click here.