St James

St James is built on ‘holy ground where the saints of old worshipped untold centuries ago’.

About this church

The tower with its lead broached spire has been dated to about 1310. It is one of only three in Devon. The church was rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries and contains exceptional features. They include a carved screen described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘glorious’ and a carved font, both from the renaissance period.

A chapel was established at Swimbridge in the late Saxon period, and is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. However, it was not until 1866 that it became a parish church.

The first vicar was Reverend John Russell, better known as 'Jack'. His passion for sporting pursuits led to his favourite breed of terrier being named 'Jack Russell'. Russell died in 1883 and was buried in the churchyard, with over 1000 people attending the service. Just outside the churchyard is the Jack Russell pub.

The nave is considered to be from 1460. One of St James's great treasures is an ornate wooden font cover encasing the lead basin. It has 8 panels, decorated with carved heads in Renaissance style, fashionable in the reign of Henry VIII. Two holes in the casing were, according to tradition, caused during the Civil War by musket balls fired by Parliamentary troops at an enemy suspected to be hiding inside. The stone pulpit early Tudor, about 1490. Traces of the original paint and gilding can still be seen and the five figures represent St Paul, St Peter, St Augustine, St Ambrose, and St Jerome.

The real highlight of the church is the rood screen, which spans the width of the church and stands 10 feet high. The quality of the ornately detailed carving is stunning. It is richly carved with fan vaulting and copious tracery in the Gothic style, featuring corbels with angel heads and a mass of intricately rendered vine leaves and grapes. It is arguably the finest medieval rood screen in Devon.

The pews are modern but several incorporate pieces of medieval carved bench ends.

St Bridget's chapel was built by the Mules family of Irishborough. The roof is decorated with carved bosses, including one striking boss showing St Dunstan holding the Devil's nose with a pair of blacksmith tongs.

Key Features

  • Glorious furnishings
  • Social heritage stories
  • National heritage here

Visitors information

  • Level access to the main areas
  • Car park at church
  • Accessible toilets in church

Other nearby churches


St Peter

St Peter’s is an unusually large church for Devon, and is sometimes known as the little Cathedral of Devon.

St Mary Magdalene

St Mary Magdalene is the parish of South Molton. Visit for a service, for some quiet personal reflection, or to have a look around.

St John the Baptist

One of the highest churches on the North Devon coast, a landmark yet hidden from marauders; great views of Bideford Bay from the churchyard which is probably celtic in origin.

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