The Church of Our Lady was consecrated by Bishop Grandisson on September 26th 1328. There is evidence that a church existed in Upton Pyne long before this date but it is not certain exactly where this was located. Over the years, the church, which is built primarily of local volcanic rock, has undergone alterations and restoration. Extensive alterations were made in both the 15th and 19th centuries.
The bell tower stands at the western end of the church, it was built in about 1380. At the corners of the tower are niches which contain the figures of the four evangelists; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and a figure of Christ in Benediction is on its west face.
The oldest parts of today’s church are the chancel arch and the piscine and drain. A delightful little ‘priest’s door’ on the south side of the church leads directly into the chancel. The windows in the chancel are of the early English style the shallow archways are indicative of their age. Over the years the glass in these windows will have been replaced. The glass in the Ruth and Rebekah window is likely to be Victorian. The altar piece is a painting of the Last Supper by an unknown artist, brought from Italy by one of the Northcotes in the early 18th century. The altar-piece is mounted in a fine rerodos which was erected as a memorial to the late Earl of Iddesleigh by the Dowager Countess.
Throughout its history the church and its living have been supported by gifts and contributions from the lords of the manor and indeed by the people of the village.
The south aisle was added early in the 15th century. The aisle has a series of pillars made of Beer stone. The arches and pillars are decorated with floral carvings. On the eastern and western pillars there are engraved angels holding shields with the armorial bearings (charges) of both the Pyne and Larder families. The Pyne charge bears a chevron and three pine cones. The Larder charge has three piles (wedges). The window over the altar in the south aisle, in memory of Cecilia Frances 1st Countess of Iddesleigh, was restored in 1910 by her sons and daughters.
During the reign of Henry I (1100 – 1135) Henry de Pine took over the land and hence took possession of the manor. The Pyne family gave their name to the village and held the land for ten generations until Nicholas Pyne died in 1521. The Pyne family also gave their name to the villages of Culm Pyne and Washford Pyne. At Nicholas’ death the heir to the estate was his daughter Constance, she married William Larder at the end of the 15th century. The Larders then held the manor for five generations. The Larder family were patrons of the living, this meant that they had the right to appoint the church officials, crucially this included the rector.
In the wall of the south aisle of The Church of Our Lady are two raised and canopied tombs dating back to the 17th century. One of these, dated 1611, bears the inscription ORATE PRO AIA EDMUNDI LARDER AR(MIGER) – pray for the soul of Edmund Larder Esquire. Edmund was the son of Constance and William Larder, he was a former owner of Pynes. The tomb bears the figure of a young man, in armour, lying with his head resting on his helmet, a dog at his feet and his sword beside him. The other, smaller tomb is that Edmund’s grandson Humphrey (died 23rd April 1588) and his wife Margaret (died 8th December 1604).
At the death of Humphrey Larder the manor passed to his grand-daughter. Five descents later we find the manor owned, through marriage, by the Copplestone family. Hugh Stafford purchased the manor from John Copplestone. Sir Hugh Stafford probably built the present Pynes House, a typical Queen Anne house, originally built from designs by Inigo Jones, and much enlarged in 1851. At that time the Stafford family also owned much of the village of Iddesleigh. Hugh’s eldest daughter Bridget married Sir Henry Northcote (5th baronet of Hayne) and took the manor to him. In 1797 Sir Henry Northcote became patron of the living. Through the history of rectors of The Church of Our Lady there have been five members of the Northcote family.
Manganese was first found in Devon at Upton Pyne, about 1770. This mine, with two smaller mines in the same lode in Newton St. Cyres, supplied the whole country for many years. Manganese was used at first in the manufacture of Egyptian ware in the Potteries, and in purifying glass. Its later use in bleaching led to a considerable increase in output, some 2,000 – 3,000 tons being shipped annually from Exeter in the early years of the 19th century. The Upton Pyne mine closed in 1823. There is still evidence of Upton Pyne’s mining past: the remains of the mine, known locally as ‘black pit’ are close to the church. The mine was active from 1788 – 1823. Nicholas Williams, a manganese merchant, made a charitable donation to the church this is recorded on a commemorative tablet which can be found in the ringing chamber.
Within the belfry hang six bells; five of which were cast in 1755 by Thomas Bilbie of Collumpton. The sixth, a treble, cast in 1881 by Taylor of Loughborough, was the gift of the Reverend J Stafford Northcote and the Upton Pyne Ringing Society.
Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, 8th baronet, is probably the most famous member of the Northcote family. Born in 1818 he had a distinguished political career. He entered Parliament in 1885 as MP for Dudley. He represented North Devon from 1866 until his retirement in 1885. It is said that when his elevation to the peerage was under discussion Queen Victoria declared he should become an earl (rather than a viscount the more usual rank in such circumstances) ‘because he had such beautiful manners’. At his elevation to the lords in 1885 Sir Stafford Henry Northcote took the title Earl of iddesleigh and Viscount St Cyres. He died in 1887 at number 10 Downing Street.
In the 19th century there was extensive restoration and rebuilding. In 1833 the north aisle was added, the church was thoroughly restored, reroofed, reseated. In 1874 the organ aisle was added. A substantial contribution from the Northcote family enabled these works to be completed. The total cost of these works was recorded as £1920. The organ itself was installed in 1896 at a cost of £100. The organ was installed in memory of the late Noah England, who had for 40 years been school master of Upton Pyne. The main window in the organ aisle is dedicated to Henry Stafford Northcote Esq. of Pyne born March 18 1792 died February 22nd 1850. The large stained glass window in the north aisle was designed by Pugin and is dedicated to Sir Stafford Northcote, Bart.
John Walker, author of The Sufferings of the Clergy, was rector in Upton Pyne 1720-47, and is buried in the organ aisle. John Walker had previously been canon of Exeter Cathedral. ‘The Sufferings of the Clergy’ is regarded by church historians as a valuable work of reference.
The lych-gate at the entrance of the churchyard was a gift from Lady Northcote in 1875. Over the grave of the 1st Earl of Iddesleigh is a memorial which was erected in 1890.
The Upton Pyne Club, was established in 1875 by the Rev. the Hon. J. Stafford Northcote, rector from 1881-9 for the benefit of the working men of the village, the members pay a yearly subscription.
Throughout the church there are numerous tablets to the Pyne, Stafford and Northcote families.