The Three Hares in Devon, England

We know of seventeen parish churches in Devon which contain at least one roof boss depicting the three hares. The bosses are crafted to cover the intersection of interior roof timbers. Twenty-nine bosses from Devon are known in total, of which nineteen are medieval and of wood. Broadclyst in East Devon has nine but, with the possible exception of a painted example in the nave roof, which may be medieval, the others are all copies of the early 19th century. Kelly has two bosses, but one is a modern copy. Chagford, Sampford Courtenay and Spreyton each have two medieval examples.

The bosses are widely spread throughout the county, from Ashreigney in the north to Paignton in the south, and from Broadclyst in the east to Kelly in the west. The north-eastern and eastern fringe of Dartmoor has a notable concentration.

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Photographing the Three Hares Roof Boss, South Tawton, Devon 2001

Three Hares, South Tawton.

One of the two bosses in Spreyton church is dated by association with the chancel roof which was built in 1451.

The following points seem noteworthy:
  • the designs show a great variety of style, implying that they were created in different workshops.
  • the bosses are given prominence within the churches, as on a central rib of the chancel roof, or on a central rib of the nave.
  • several adjoin a boss depicting a Green Man.

Church of St Andrew, South Tawton, Devon

Examples of the design also appear in Devon in post-medieval (16th/17th century) plaster ceilings in private houses. A beautiful modern representation is to be found in stained glass in the Castle Inn, Lydford, crafted in 1974 by James Paterson.


All images and content: © Copyright Chris Chapman / The Three Hares Project 2022