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English Church Architecture.


DARTINGTON, St. Mary  (SX 785 627),


(Bedrock:  Middle Devonian, Torbay Group.)


A church by one of the foremost Victorian church architects,

John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97). 


Born in Brussels but raised from a young age in Durham, John Loughborough Pearson was the tenth and last child of Ann and William Pearson, a painter of landscapes who regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy and who probably ensured his young son was exposed to the visual arts as he grew up, even if, as it appears, the younger Pearson's formal education was very limited (Anthony Quiney, John Loughborough Pearson, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 1979, p. 5).  By the age of fourteen, it was certainly clear he could draw however, and his father obtained a pupillage for him with Ignatius Bonomi (1787-1870), a well-respected architect of Italian origins, practising in the city, who, over the next ten years, ensured Pearson acquired a thorough training in all aspects of the profession, until September 1841, when Bonomi announced he was going to form a partnership with a young man of his acquaintance, and Pearson promptly left, probably feeling he had been unfairly passed over.  A hiatus then ensued in Pearson's career, followed by a year or thereabouts, during which he worked,  in turn, for Anthony Salvin and Philip Hardwick in London.  But Pearson was able to build up his own individual clients and commissions during that time, and a point was soon reached where he had a viable church building practice of his own. (Quiney, pp. 7-18).

Pearson was a devout churchman throughout his entire life, but although he joined the trenchant Ecclesiological Society, there is little evidence that he shared that Society's dogmatic Anglo-Catholic views, being, in all likelihood, of a latitudinarian persuasion.  His architecture is less intense than that of his High Church confrères and with a few conspicuous exceptions, his buildings are not notable for the structural polychromy that was all the rage in the third quarter of the nineteenth century especially, but rather for an ingenious use of internal space, which was his supreme accomplishment.  Pearson could design a vault for almost any space, however awkward, and largely as a result, many of his churches are distinguished by their interesting internal perspectives.  His generally relaxed manner and churchmanship did not suit everybody, however, and sometimes he was replaced, after having been appointed to a job initially, by a more thrusting competitor - most notably Street.



On first appearance, this church, raised on a new site by Pearson in 1878-80, scarcely looks Victorian at all, for it is built in the Gothic Revivalists’ despised Perpendicular style and parts of the stonework are quite ecidently old.   The explanation however is that Pearson brought some of the masonry from the mediaeval building that now comprises a tower only and stands 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 erected nearer to the main centre of population in the parish although, viewed from outside, it is a somewhat uninviting structure - its character determined by the dark grey Devonian limestone from nearby Shinner’s Bridge from which the main walling is constructed and 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 wherever he could and designed windows to match in the nave aisles and lower stage of the tower, and it is unfortunate he did not do so in the bell-stage also for the three-light bell-openings with Decorated reticulated tracery are distinctly incongruous.  The nave aisle windows and tower W. window, in contrast, present an inventive set of variations on supermullioned tracery.  (See the photographs and explanation below.)  The three-light mediaeval E. window to the S. chapel, with curvilinear tracery, is the earliest surviving feature from the original church, while the re-set, five-light Perpendicular E. window to the chancel, raised very high in its new position, has more fine tracery and a statuette of a Madonna and Child in a niche over the apex.


The windows shown here, although largely due to Pearson, can be used to illustrate some of the complex features encounteed in windows in the Perpendicular style, which was the dominant architectural style in Britain for more than one hundred and fifty years from c. 1350 to the time of the Reformation.  In the terminology introduced by Dr. John Harvey in his seminal book, The Perpendicular Style (London, Batsford, 1978, pp. 56-74 and especially p. 71) and which is needed if it is to be possible to describe these windows in text:  (i)  all three of the windows above have four cusped lights (main divisions), which are ogee-pointed in the case of the first two windows but not the last;   (ii) the first and last windows but not the middle one, are subarcuated in pairs (i.e. they have sub-arches over the first and second pair of lights in turn);  but (iii), only the last window has through-reticulation, as defined by the presence of supermullions that appear to cut through the subarches above, where supermullions are short mullions that form part of the tracery and stand on the heads of the lights  immediately beneath.  Thus the last two windows but not the first,  have supermullions, but only the first window has a supertransom (in this case, above lights 2b & 3a), defined as a short transom that forms part of the window tracery.   The suffix super, in this context, can be used to denote any window feature occurring above the springing level of the main window arch.


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 was brought here from the earlier church, together with the battlements round the chancel and chapels, featuring merlons (up-steps) 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 chose to give them to fit the dimensions of his new building on the other.  The arcades comprise four bays alongside the nave, together 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 that runs 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, supported on semicircular responds with capitals and fillets.  The nave and chancel roof runs the full length of the church without 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 (seen below left) is mediaeval in its central section but dates from 1913 only in the sections to the left and right (Nikolaus Pevsner & Bridget Cherry in the 'Devon' volume of The Buildings of England, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 1991, p. 308).  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 at 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 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 the welcome absence of heavy stained glass.


[Other churches by Pearson featured on this web-site are Landscove in Devon, Broomfleet, North Ferriby, Scorborough and South Dalton in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Daylesford in Gloucestershire, Appleton-le-Noors in North Yorkshire, and Wentworth in Rotherham Metropolitan Borough.]