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English Church Architecture -



DARTINGTON, St. Mary (SX 785 627)   (March 2013)

(Bedrock:  Middle Devonian, Torbay Group)


On first appearance, this church of 1878-80 (shown left, from the southeast), erected on a new site by John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97), scarcely looks Victorian at all, for it is constructed in the Gothic Revivalists’ despised Perpendicular style and parts of the stonework are evidently old.  Matters become clear when one discovers that Pearson brought some of the masonry from the mediaeval building that now consists of a tower only, standing a mile to the east in the middle of Dartington Estate.  Pearson’s new church, which adopts the “exact same ground plan” (leaflet in the church) was nearer to the main centre of population in the parish although, viewed from outside, it is rather a grim uninviting structure - its character determined by the dark grey Devonian limestone from nearby Shinner’s Bridge, which the dressings and window traceries in Box Ground stone from the Middle Jurassic Series in Wiltshire do little to alleviate.


In fact, Pearson re-used the window traceries from the old church for the chapels and sanctuary and designed windows to match in the nave aisles and lower stage of the tower.  It is unfortunate he did not also do so in the bell-stage of the tower for the three-light bell-openings with Decorated reticulated tracery are distinctly incongruous.  The nave aisle windows and tower W. window present an inventive set of variations on supermullioned tracery.  (See the three N. aisle windows illustrated below.)  The mediaeval E. window to the S. chapel, with three lights and curvilinear tracery, is clearly the earliest surviving feature from the original building, while the re-set, Perpendicular E. window to the chancel, raised very high in its new position, has five lights with outer lights subarcuated in pairs, strong mullions either side of the central light, two tiers of subreticulation units above the springing, and a statuette of a Madonna and Child in a niche over the apex.



St. Mary’s consists of a W. tower and an aisled nave and chancel, with a porch to the south and projecting turrets for the rood stair to the north and the south, topped by crocketed pyramidal roofs behind battlements. The tower is unbuttressed and rises in three stages to stepped battlements with large pinnacles at the angles and smaller ones at the wall mid-points, and there are prominent statuettes of the Evangelists in niches in the outer faces of the latter and a  projecting stair turret in the re-entrant between the tower and the N. aisle.   The porch is two-storeyed and has its stair turret rising to the northwest.  The tierceron vault to the lower storey has been brought from the earlier church, together with the battlements round the chancel and chapels, with merlons decorated with encircled quatrefoils above an arcade of continuous blank arches.  Pearson's tower battlements are similar and there are two tiers of blank arches on the square sections of the corner pinnacles.




Inside the church, one should notice how the tall piers to the arcades are constructed of two materials -  Beer Stone for the main shafts and Portland Stone for the bases – corresponding with Pearson’s re-use of the piers from the mediaeval church on the one hand and the additional lift he has chosen to give them to fit the dimensions of his new building on the other.  (See the interior view of the church from the west, above, in which the different colours of the two stones are clearly visible.)  The arcades consist of four bays alongside the nave with a fifth beside the chancel, forming chapels.  There is no chancel arch and there are no transverse arches between the nave aisles and chapels, which are demarcated only in being slightly wider and by the intervening rood screen running across the full width of the church.  The arches themselves are formed of three orders bearing a combination of sunk mouldings and rolls, while the piers are composed of four major and four minor semicircular shafts separated by hollows.  There is no clerestory.  The tower arch carries a series of hollows and wave mouldings on its two outer orders, which run down the jambs without intervening capitals, and there is a further hollow and wave moulding on the innermost order, which is supported on semicircular responds with capitals and fillets.  The nave and chancel roof runs the full length of the church without displaying structural division.


Furnishings in the church include the thirteenth century(?) font with its plain octagonal granite bowl, bevelled beneath and supported on an octagonal stem decorated with trefoiled arches.  The rood screen (below left) is mediaeval in its central section but only of 1913 elsewhere (The Buildings of England - Devon).  Rather more interesting is the “wine-glass” pulpit, which “records of accounts imply…  was under construction in 1499” (notes in the church), for this is almost identical to the one in St. Mary & St. Gabriel’s, Stoke Gabriel, suggesting they are by the same hand.  Both have prominent semicircular mouldings running up the angles of the drum, deeply carved with vine leaves and bunches of grapes, and in between, blank panels where formerly there were statuettes but which now only display sections of carved foliage above. The tiling patterns on the chancel floor (seen below right, looking west) are suitably elaborate.  All these features are easy to view, even on a dull day, for the interior of the church is beautifully light due to a very welcome absence of any heavy stained glass.