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).
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.
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.]