The history of the Church of St. Peter the Apostle

The Revd Richard Marsh Marsh-Dunn was inducted as Vicar of the Parish of St. Nicholas, S. Devon, in February 1890. St. Nicholas, Ringmore was then the Parish Church. By that time the population of Shaldon village greatly outnumbered that of Ringmore which had been the nucleus of the Parish since before Domesday. The Vicar thought this justified moving the Parish Church to Shaldon. So he bought for £200 the house and part of the garden of Gowrie House, which had been the home of Col. Melk since 1850.

The architect appointed was Edmund Sedding, a member of a highly regarded family of church architects. His design was for a building 106ft long, 50ft wide and the Nave to be 25ft wide. The 50ft width coincided with the north and south walls of Gowrie House, and it was hoped to incorporate these as the lower courses of the church walls. However, the house was very much shorter than the church and the resulting appearance was incongruous, so the idea was not adopted. The design comprised Chancel, Nave, north and south Aisles, and a Lady Chapel on the south-east. As we now see it, the above dimensions are maintained, but with the addition of an apsidal end on the east of the Chancel and a westward extension of some 15ft. It was designed to hold 450 people.

A tower was to be have been erected on the north (river) side but it was omitted, as it might have resulted in foundation troubles. Although it was undoubtedly a wise decision, it was unfortunate for a tower would have relieved the over-massive external appearance of the building. Stone was brought from the Ness and from Babbacombe, and some came from the demolition of Gowrie House. The courses of greenish stone in the external walls and corner quoins are of Polyphant from Cornwall. The clerestory walls have alternating courses of Polyphant and Portland Stone. The buttresses are of Ham Hill limestone. Inside also, Polyphant is freely used, as for example on the columns supporting the arcade of arches.

The Screen, dividing Chancel from Nave, consists of beautiful tracery in Polyphant and marble with wrought ironwork. Throughout the church the tracery echoes the theme of the Crown of Thorns. The horizontal top of the Screen, over the full width of the Chancel, carries five statuary figures, facing the Nave. In the centre is St. Peter, the patron saint. On his right is the Blessed Virgin Mary and on his left is St. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. On the right of the BVM is St. Nicholas, to whom the original Parish Church was dedicated. On St. John’s left is the figure of St. Paul. They are underlined by a Latin inscription which reads ‘Dignus est Agnus qui occisus est accipere virtutem’. This is a paraphrase of verse 12 of chapter 5 of Revelations and may be translated roughly as ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive honour’. Over the figure of St. Peter is the Rood, or Crucifix, so this is truly a ‘Rood Screen'.

The apsidal Sanctuary walls are pierced by lancet windows fitted with stained glass, and with niches bearing stone statuary. The Choir Stalls are of oak and the Communion Rail of marble. In fact, marble of many varieties is freely used in the Chancel, giving a most beautiful effect. This is surpassed, however, by the Pulpit. The octagonal base is of black marble, supporting eight salmon-coloured round columns which in turn support the pedestal on which the Pulpit stands (see photographs towards the bottom of the St.Peter's Church Building page. This pedestal is of a blue-grey marble tinged with pink. Beer stone, ornately carved, is used to form columns round the Pulpit, with panels of greenish grey marble between these columns.

The Font is a figure, in white marble, of St. John the Baptist bearing a clamshell to hold the water. It is a memorial with an inscription, now badly scuffed, which reads ‘To the Glory of God in Pious Memory of Ellen Boden, born September 3rd 1837, died August 31st 1899’. The Lady Chapel is also beautifully decorated with Bath Stone and coloured marble. In fact it is assumed, by specialists in this kind of sculpture, that all the marble work in St. Peter’s is by Henry Wilson who collaborated with the Sedding architects, among others. Examples of his superb creations are to be found in churches throughout the country. The barrel vaulting in the roof was inspired by some which the Vicar had seen in Italy. It is composed of stone slabs. The first ones were rather heavy and have been replaced by much thinner ones. Some of the originals may still be seen in the village as garden paths.

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