The Chapter would have wanted to proceed from its meeting room to the high altar robed, so a robing area at ground level was an essential – it would have been impossible for priests to negotiate stairs in mass vestments – and this would certainly have been separated from the chapel by a wall.
Thomas Barton (d 1416), whose will is quoted in Bishop Stafford’s Register, left a large sum in gold (£20) to be kept in “the Archives of Crediton Church” together with an iron-bound chest and a coffer for its storage. Archives are also mentioned in Bishop Lacy’s Register (1443). Logistically, the Chapter House, which was essentially the “administration block” of the church, would have been the obvious natural home for any archive, and three chests, possibly including Barton’s (together with a lamp and candlesticks) are recorded as being in “the high vestry” in an inventory of 1548. A mass of papers and money and gold left to fund the saying of masses together with other church funds and of course the church plate – much of which is listed in inventories of 1524 and 1548 – had to be safely stored. Robbery was commonplace in medieval times and during the sixteenth century (the Churchwardens’ Accounts for Morebath, near Tiverton, record three robberies between 1520 and 1560), and gold and coin, church plate and precious documents would be a great deal safer at first floor than ground floor level, so it seems likely that the upper vestry (separated from the study area by a partition) served both as a treasury and archives and possibly a library as well. There are records of many books being left to the Chapter over the years.
The present library, over the south-west porch, was in the parish part of the medieval church, and was no doubt used exclusively for parish records until the Reformation. During the rebuilding of the church in the C15th, it seems likely that the arches of the northern boundary of the chapel were blocked-in to form the present solid wall of the south choir aisle. We can reasonably guess that the chapel extended northwards to these arches, southwards to the wall of the present sink and water heater, eastwards to the limit of the present vestry, and westwards to the walls of the medieval vestry. The chapel almost certainly had a vaulted ceiling, and with the masonry and woodwork necessary for this, there would only have been space for a single floor above it. This can be confirmed by looking at the present windows and the outlines of their predecessors on the outside of the south wall.
The Upper Room
The upper room was the Chapter House itself, the room where the chapter of the Collegiate Church met and studied. At its busiest there were 36 canons and vicars (with ancillary staff in the form of clerks, annuellars and choir members) serving the church, but we know that many of these had up to half-a-dozen posts in a variety of churches and cathedrals around the West Country, and that as they were frequently absent, the population at any one time could have been accommodated comfortably in the room. Knowing that the timbers of the floor of its upper room were inserted in the middle years of the C15th, we can now safely assume that the re-arrangement of the interior of the Chapter House began well after the choir and the nave of the church had been reconstructed in Perpendicular Gothic style (this work was started between 1410 and 1420 and was probably finished by mid-century). Part of this work was the blocking-in of the arches between the south choir aisle and the Chapter House Chapel. Deep grooves flank the blocked-in arches, the purpose of which is obscure. It has been suggested that these might have held screens when the chapel was open to the aisle. Altars and chapels were very important to pre-Reformation clerics and to lose one of their eight altars and a substantial area of worship designated for the Chapter would have been a considerable blow to the prestige of the church. It seems almost certain, therefore, to the writer that the now four-walled chapel (together with its vault) must have survived until the Reformation, and that the present lower floors with their interior walling were created sometime in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. A careful examination of the Governors’ records would probably tell us exactly when this happened.