Tavistock - Our Lady of the Assumption

Callington Road, Tavistock, Devon

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A major landmark in the town, built in 1865-67 by the 8th Duke of Bedford as an Anglican chapel of ease for workers in the nearby copper mines. In the early 20th century the church declined along with the local copper industry, and was acquired after the Second World War by the Catholic church through the generosity of a local benefactor, Mrs Clare Rye (who also paid for the building of Giles Gilbert Scott’s 1961 church of Christ the King in Plymouth). The architect was Henry Clutton, who built widely for the Duke of Bedford both here and at Woburn, and was also a Catholic convert who built many churches for his adopted Church.  The interior is lofty and impressive, with some furnishings of note.

The church was built in 1865-67 as a chapel of ease for the western part of Tavistock. It was commissioned by William, 8th Duke of Bedford to provide a place of Anglican worship for miners during the expansion of the town that followed the growth of the local copper industry. The architect was Henry Clutton, and the transitional French Romanesque/Gothic design has similarities with that of the church built around the same time for the Duke atWoburn. Clutton was a Catholic convert who also built widely for his adopted Church.

 

After the decline of the copper industry in the early 20th century the church fell into disuse, and was not used for public worship between 1918 and 1936. After that it briefly reopened, but closed again in 1947. It was then acquired by the Catholic Diocese of Plymouth through the generosity of Mrs Clare Rye, in memory of her husband Reginald, who died in 1945 (she died in 1978 and there is a plaque in the entrance area).  The church, with a new dedication to Our Lady of the Assumption, was opened by Bishop Grimshaw on 23 March 1952. Mrs Rye later also paid for the building of the church of Christ the King in Armada Way, Plymouth (q.v.)

 

In 1992 the roof was renewed with an English Heritage grant, but since then lack of maintenance and the general burden of maintaining a large and costly historic problem, coupled with some pastoral problems, led to a move towards closure of the church. In 2008 English Heritage grant aided the preparation of a condition survey and options appraisal by Simon Cartlidge, architect ofBristol, the conclusions of which are awaited at the time of writing.  

See list description, below. This is accurate so far as it goes, but is rather perfunctory for a building of such significance. It makes no reference to the stately stone-vaulted Duke’s entrance on the south side (photo top right).

 

Inside, the nave and aisle walls were originally plastered, but the plaster above the nave arcades has been removed for safety reasons, exposing the rubble construction. By contrast, the chancel (photo bottom left) is faced with Hurdwick ashlar, the wall surface articulated by Romanesque arcading. An organ chamber gives off to the south (organ removed). The timber roof of the chancel is somewhat obscured by modern closely-spaced rafters, introduced for structural reasons and cutting across a window in the east gable. Over the nave is an open collar rafter roof, while the soffits of the aisle roofs are boarded.  The principle furnishings are:

  • the prominent stone pulpit, carried by a polished marble pedestal column and approached from the north aisle by a flight of stone steps
  • The font, approached by steps from the north aisle, and located between one of two arches opening onto the low baptistery/entrance area which links the tower and the church; circular, supported on stubby columns of polished marble with foliated capitals
  • A handsome dark oak carved reredos of Jacobean character, running the full width of the east chancel wall
  • High altar with inlaid polychromatic front
  • Gothic seating for the clergy and choir stalls

 

Giving off the south side of the chancel is a sacristy with central column and corner fireplace. There is a further modern sacristy in a lightweight structure built at the west end of the nave. The pews are plain and of pine, presumably original.  There is a set of large carved Stations of the Cross on the aisle walls, provenance not established.    

LIST DESCRIPTION:

Roman Catholic Church. Designed by Henry Clutton 1865 and the gift of the Duke of Bedford. Large Neo-Transitional Style building of Hurdwick stone with slate roofs. Nave with lower chancel. Clerestorey, transepts and almost isolated South-West tower with spire and crockets and porch below with iron gate of intersecting circles. Plain interior. Nave has 5 round-headed arches. Stone circular lectern with pattern of intersecting circles. Important hillside position.

 

Listing NGR: SX4746873929

Diocese: Plymouth

Architect: Henry Clutton

Original Date: 1867

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*