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English Church Architecture -



LANDSCOVE, St. Matthew (SX 774 664)     (March 2013)

(Bedrock:  Middle Devonian, Torbay Group)


Today this appears a surprisingly large church for such an out-of-the-way spot – an early creation of John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97), erected in 1849-51 at a cost of around £3,000 at the expense of Mrs. Champernowne, the former owner of Dartington Hall (notes in the church).  (See the photograph, left, showing the church from the southwest.) Nikolaus Pevsner described the design as “Not at all Devonian” in the Devon volume of The Buildings of England (Penguin, 1952), which is true in respect of some of its individual features (most notably, perhaps, the broach spire) but hardly acknowledges the building’s vernacular construction materials, consisting in large part of attractive Middle Devonian, grey-green Penn Recca slate, dug less than a mile away at Thornecroft and laid here at random, with squared blocks tumbled in around the window heads, and with cleaved slabs for the roofs.  Indeed, it was for the very workers of this slate quarry, which finally closed in 1908 (Staverton village website), that the church was commissioned.


St. Matthew’s consists of a nave and chancel with an independently-gabled S. aisle communicating with a S. porch and a tower to the east.  Windows throughout are mostly two-light (as in the photograph, below centre), with trefoil cusping and various geometrical shapes (trefoils, quatrefoils and sexfoils) encircled in the heads.  However, the tower S. window is three-light, with trilobes above the outer lights and a wheel of three encircled trefoils in the apex, and the chancel east window (far right) is five-light, with outer lights subarcuated in pairs above quatrefoils in circles and a wheel containing three encircled sexfoils in the head.  The tower rises in two stages to bell-openings with trefoiled lights separated by shafts with fillets.  The spire is lit by three tiers of gabled lucarnes and there is a projecting stair turret in  the re-entrant between the tower and the chancel, which rises to the bell-stage.


The interior of pale limestone seems relatively plain.  The arcade (seen left, from the southwest) is formed of three double-flat-chamfered arches springing from responds and piers alternately octagonal and circular, the double-flat-chamfered arch between the aisle and the tower is supported on semi-octagonal corbel shafts, and the chancel arch carries an outer chamfer continuing uninterrupted down the jambs and an inner chamfer rising from semi-octagonal responds with prominent capitals.  The only individual item of note among the church’s furnishings, is the font (left), with an unremarkable bowl decorated with blank quatrefoils in circles on its eight faces, supported on a lavishly complex stem with a group of three shafts at each angle, the central one of each, apparently of polished marble.


Woodwork in the building is notable only for the nave and chancel roofs, the former with purlins at the one-third and two-third stages and arched braces each rising in a continuous arc from the wall-plate to the collars, and the latter, similar but with a single pair of purlins only, halfway up the pitch.  The pulpit and the reredos are both constructed in wood but make little claim to attention.


Finally, one curious point to notice is the fact that the church is aligned almost due north - a disorientating experience on a sunny day until one begins consciously to make allowances for it.