Rock of Ages:  The Design of the Church.   A Technical Description

Rock of Ages: The Design of the Church. A Technical Description

The Church Building in General. The late 11th Century tower of the parish church, though much altered, is a relic of a priory of that date, which belonged to the Benedictine Abbey of Mont St. Michel, Normandy. The rest is a rebuild of 1870-1, done at the expense of Louisa, Lady Rolle, with Benjamin Ferrey, the Architect, Henry Burridge, the Builder, and carvings by Harry Hems of Exeter. It contains a 15th Century font. The tower is built of roughly coursed blocks of pale brown-coloured local conglomerate sandstone; the rest is built of coursed blocks of rock-faced Torquay limestone with yellow sandstone detail (tower also has contemporary detail). Interior is lined with Beerstone. Roof of red tiles including fishscale bands.
The original tiles of the church are believed to have come from the seam of clay running from Bridgwater to Yeovil.    That was worked out fifty years ago and the replacements for the 2017 repairs were made in Yorkshire from clay from the Humber basin which matches the originals. The tiles are somewhat larger and thicker than standard tiles so take more weeks to dry in the pre-kiln hot air blow-dryers, are of an unusual colour and texture and even the plain tiles have to be hand-made, all of which make their manufacture increasingly difficult to source.

The plan remains wholly that of 1870. Originally the tower was central. By the 19th Century, it was at the East end. Now it projects from the South side of the chancel. The rest is made up by nave and lower chancel with large North and South aisles.

There are North and South porches, a crypt, and the vestry, extended southwards in 1889, is the ground floor of the tower. The style of the decoration is Decorated Gothic and the tower was converted to the same style then. However, it also includes a few Transitional and Early English Gothic details in places. All the blocks are gable-ended with soffit-moulded coping and apex cross: Iona cross to the chancel, fleuree crosses elsewhere.

All the windows have pointed heads, they contain Decorated Gothic tracery and have hoodmoulds with carvings of medieval heads as labels (monks, jester, kings, etc.).

The two stage tower has a very low pyramidal spire surmounted by a brass weathercock, and fenced by a parapet carved with blind quatrefoil panels. A gargoyle water spout projects from each corner and there are two-light belfry windows. On the lower part of the southern side, there is the dripcourse of an original roof over a contemporary roundheaded arch with Beerstone voussoirs. The arch is now blocked by an 1889 shallow projection of the vestry which contains a three-light window in the gable end.

A 19th Century stair turret projects from the East side rising up to the belfry level with its stone roof pitched with rounded hip, a prominent finial and corbelled eaves cornice. The corners of the upper stage have broad chamfers whilst the lower stage is square. It has slit windows and an external door, the latter square-headed, with small columns with waterleaf capitals inset into the jambs and a band of natural leaf enrichment along the head.
The two aisles are the same size. The East end of the South aisle contains only a trefoil-headed lancet because the tower covers most of it, but the other ends contain four-light windows with ventilator slits in the gable. Each of the side walls is four bays containing a porch and three-light windows. There are buttresses with weathered offsets and steeply gabled heads between, and setback buttresses.

The South porch lies right of centre whilst the North porch is by the West end. They are identical. They are gable-ended with wrought iron apex crosses. The two centred outer arches have richly-chamfered heads but broad chamfers to the jambs. Double lancet windows in the side walls. On the East end, the nave projects very slightly from the aisles; it contains a five-light window, ventilator in the gable and an inscribed foundation stone near the ground. The chancel continues the same style; two-light windows on the sides and a three-light East window. Here, however, the side walls have a coved eaves cornice carved with acanthus leaves, and the East window is flanked by half engaged columns with stiff leaf capitals. Ground level the North side of the church is lower than that on the South. Because of this, the North porch and the priest’s door to the chancel are reached by flights of stone steps. Interior is basically that of the 1870-1 restoration. Both porches have open common rafter roofs and have chequer-pattern floors of red and black tiles. The North and South doorways are each a two-centred arch with moulded surround and contain plank doors with Decorated style strap hinges. Glass doors made by Nero Designs of Brixton and engraved by Tracey Shepperd of Winchester were installed in 2018.

The interior is completely lined with Beerstone ashlar. All the roofs are pine and backed with pine boards. The nave has an open four-bay roof of hammer beam trusses each with moulded arch braces, octagonal kingpost with moulded cap, raking queen struts, and spaces above collar filled with open cusping. The hammer beams terminate with plain shields and the arch braces supporting them rest on shaped corbels. The wall plate is a board with crenellated head, pierced by small quatrefoils over dogtooth frieze.

The end trusses are scissor-braced with cusped infill. Each aisle has an open four-bay roof of arch-braced trusses with foliage carved in the spandrels. The arch braces rest on large Beerstone corbels carved as human heads under soffit-moulded caps. The purlins are moulded and the wall plate is a simpler version of that in the nave. The chancel has a five-bay boarded wagon roof with moulded ribs and carved (possibly oak) bosses. The two bays over the sanctuary are more elaborate having cusped frames around the panels. The truss between sanctuary and chancel is broader than the others and has a descending crest of open cusps. This truss also springs from vaulting shafts which comprises marble shafts resting on large corbels carved as angels.

The chancel arch is a large two-centred arch with a very richly moulded head and broad chamfered sides. The inner mouldings spring from vaulting shafts, marble shafts with Beerstone stiff leaf capitals, moulded bases on pedestals enriched with balls of coloured marble, and supported on large corbels carved as angels (one holding flowers, the other playing a lute). Each side of the nave there is a four-bay arcade; moulded Beerstone arches with hoodmoulds springing from corbels carved as various foliages. The piers are marble and circular in section with Beerstone caps carved with stiff leaf decoration and occasionally with human heads.
The tower arch is on the South side of the chancel. It is a relatively low two-centred arch with a double-chamfered arch ring, the inner ring springing from plain imposts and the outer carried down the jambs. Directly above the voussoirs of a probably 11th Century round headed arch are exposed. The chancel also has an internal coving frieze with acanthus leaf enrichment. The inner arches of the chancel windows have marble nook shafts with Beerstone stiff leaf capitals and hoodmoulds over springing from the abaci. Nave and aisle floors are a chequer pattern of red and black tiles. The chancel floor contains patterns of encaustic tiles, more densely employed in the sanctuary which is raised by marble steps.

The remainder of the building is the rebuild of 1870-1 which is of interest in that in essence the whole building is a Victorian creation rather than a complete mixture of styles. Although the church is listed Grade 11* Cherry and Pevsner say “Adorned with Ferry’s French looking gargoyles the tower is now above the South chapel, composing awkwardly with the proud, rather urban Dec church of grey limestone with Ham Hill dressings. Wide chilly nave with gross polished marble columns……….” W G Hoskins refers to the church as having been “turned into a suburban edifice.”
With its Grade 11* listing the church is clearly considered to be of moderate/high significance but the listing summary notes that “the craftsmanship is good but the architecture rises only to the dignified.” The church is incongruous within its village setting.

Nearly all the furniture and fittings are from the 1870-1 rebuild and done in a consistent Transitional-Early English Gothic style. The centrepiece of the ornate Beerstone reredos breaks forward from a blind arcade of trefoil-headed arches supported on slender marble shafts with Beerstone stiff leaf capitals, sunken cusped panels in the spandrels and a moulded cornice enriched with a band of trefoils, recessed to coloured marble, over ballflower frieze. The panels are painted, some geometric patterns, others the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. The centrepiece has a central blind trefoil-headed arch with crockets and a large poppyhead at the apex rising through the frieze. It too rests on small marble shafts with stiff leaf capitals and it frames a sunken quatrefoil containing the sacred monogram in mosaic. Either side are symbols of the Evangelists in small bas relief in square sunken panels.
Each corner of the sanctuary contains a Riddel post, a tall turned timber post surmounted by a gilded angel, put there in 1921. The oak altar rail is on a trefoil-headed arcade. The oak choir stalls in which frontals contain open early Decorated Gothic style tracery and benches have large poppyhead finials and brass candle holders here now converted to electric lights. The chancel also contains a wrought iron and brass corona iucis, also now converted to electric light.

The ornate pulpit is made of Beerstone with marble enrichment. The drum is square with chamfered corners with blind arcade each side, two arches on the larger sides with a rosette in the tympanum and sunken quatrefoils in the spandrels, and the chamfered corners contain narrow trefoil-headed panels. There are slender marble stiff leaf capitals on each corner and on the broader sides. There is a carved stiff leaf cornice with natural leaf around the base. It is supported on a large central pier and corner piers all with stiff leaf capitals. It has stone steps with a brass handrail with twisted balusters.
The brass lectern has a twisted stem and scrolled enrichment.

The plain deal benches, most still with their original numbers on the bench ends have been removed from the area of the church now occupied by the organ and from the whole of the South aisle and current kitchen/store except for one lone bench. Some of the benches from the North aisle have also been removed; they are of low
significance. Some small children’s pews were located at the front of the north aisle. Several of these have been removed due to woodworm infestation and only three remain

The 15th Century Beerstone font with octagonal bowl, has sides containing quatrefoil panels alternately containing four-leaf motifs and shields with carved foliage around the base and a stem with trefoil-headed panels and moulded base. The flat oak cover is probably 17th Century.

Memorials The oldest and best is the Duke altar tomb now set in the tower. It is built of Beerstone, dated 1589, but has no inscription. Below the lid there is a frieze of interface with acanthus leaves which is supported by three flat pilasters. The panels between are decorated with strapwork patterns. Three Ionic columns stand on the lid carrying an entablature with modillion cornice. Behind the columns are two panels with strapwork panels around oval bosses. On top of the entablature, there is an uninscribed plaque flanked by flat pilasters and with a plain entablature. The shaped wings either side are also decorated with strapwork. Above is the date plaque and it is surmounted by the Duke arms. Some decorations have been lost to thieves.
The tower also contains rectangular black marble mural plaques, one in memory of Richard Crossing (died 1689), with his arms, another in memory of William Simmons (died 1782), and a third in memory of Henry Austin (died 1700). A 16th Century Beerstone grave slab is fixed to the wall in the South aisle; its black letter inscription records the death of Mr. John Courtenay in 1593. The chancel contains a marble plaque erected in 1905 in memory of the two members of the Venn family who were rectors in the 17th Century. There are other small late 19th Century and early 20th Century marble or brass plaques.

A painted board in the South aisle, dated 1745, records charity bequests. Below the West window a brass plaque records the “restoration” of the church at the expense of Lady Rolle. Alongside to the left several brass plates are fixed to the wall. They appear to be coffin plates salvaged from the demolition of the Duke vault in 1870. The oldest and most ornate are two dated 1641, one in memory of Richard Duke, the other in memory of Sarah Duke. In 1870 they were mounted in the tower around the altar tomb there but have since been moved here. In the South aisle an oak chest is inscribed IM and WB, 1762. A display box on top contains one of the 15th Century oak bosses removed in 1870 and a couple of old prints showing the church before it was rebuilt. Both East and West windows contain stained glass, the former by Warden Hughes, was given by the Hon. Mark Rolle.

If you look closely on the side of each pew, as well as the windows, you will notice a symbol that you will probably recognize but may never have thought about before. This is the trefoil symbol, a term in Gothic architecture given to the ornamental foliation or cusping introduced in the heads of window-lights, tracery, panellings, etc., in which the centre takes the form of a three-lobed leaf.The fourfold version of an architectural trefoil is a quatrefoil.
A simple trefoil shape in itself can be symbolic of the Trinity, while a trefoil combined with an equilateral triangle was also a moderately common symbol of the Christian Trinity during the late Middle Ages in some parts of Europe. Interestingly, variations of the trefoil symbol have emerged as popular warning and informational symbols. If a box containing hazardous material is moved around and shifted into different positions, it is still easy to recognize the symbol, while the distinctive trefoil design of the recycling symbol makes it easy for a consumer to notice and identify the packaging as recyclable.

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