Friends of Devon's Archives Logo

Eighteenth Century Visitations
About the Documents
Research Areas
Editorial Method

Index to Documents
Parish Index

Background Material
1744 Visitation Questionnaire
1779 Visitation Questionnaire


Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Heritage Lottery Fund logo


By Simon Dixon

Visitations were the means through which Anglican bishops could gather information about their diocese and monitor the performance of the parish clergy. Canon law decreed that episcopal visitations were to be carried out every three years,1 and at Exeter the exercise involved months of planning before the bishop embarked on a tour of his diocese.2 He would stop at a series of central locations, each attended by the parochial clergy from the surrounding deaneries. The laity were also involved in the process: chuchwardens were expected to attend and make presentments of local malefactors while the young people of the diocese would crowd into the visitation centre for confirmation. During the eighteenth century the practice emerged for bishops to circulate a series of printed questions among the clergy in advance of their visitation. These dealt with a variety of issues relating to the level of pastoral care in the diocese. The replies to these articles of enquiry are a valuable source for local and ecclesiastical history with three near-complete sets surviving for the diocese of Exeter during the eighteenth century. A fourth set of returns for 1798 is complete for the three archdeaconries in the county of Devon.3 These web pages contain transcripts of replies to queries dating from 1744 and 1779 for Devon parishes. The 1744 replies are the earliest of such documents to survive for the diocese of Exeter, and have been selected for this reason. However, returns have not survived for all parishes in the diocese. The 1779 replies were selected to provide near-comprehensive geographical coverage, and to allow comparison of the state of the Church in Devon between the two dates.

Continue to next section

  1. John Beckett, Margery Tranter and Wendy Bateman (eds), Visitation Returns from the Archdeaconry of Derby 1718-1824, Derbyshire Record Society, vol. xxix (2003), xiii. [back]
  2. There is evidence in the diocesan archives that visitations were carried out in the following years (names of Bishops given in brackets). 1706 (Jonathan Trelawney); 1709, 1712 (Offspring Blackall); 1718, 1724 (Lancelot Blackburne); 1726-28 (Stephen Weston); 1744-45 (Nicholas Clagett); 1748-49, 1753-54, 1757 (George Lavington); 1764-65, 1768, 1771, 1774 (Frederick Keppel); 1779, 1782, 1785-86 (John Ross); 1793-94 (William Buller); 1799 (Henry Reginald Courtenay). Dates of visitations based on DRO, Chanter, 220-236; Principal Registry, C/1/2,4-5; 342-349. Episcopal visitations were in addition to annual archdeacon's and rural dean's visitations. [back]
  3. The earliest published returns for the diocese of Exeter are those for 1821: Michael Cook (ed.), The Diocese of Exeter in 1821: Bishop Carey's Replies to Queries before Visitation, 2 vols, Devon & Cornwall Record Society Publications, ns, 3-4 (Torquay, 1959-60 for 1957-8). [back]