Building » Dawlish – St Agatha

Dawlish – St Agatha

Exeter Road, Dawlish, Devon

Early twentieth-century church in lancet Gothic style by Scoles &Raymond, who built widely in the Diocese of Plymouth. The church and presbytery form a good townscape group in the Dawlish conservation area, but the primary interest of the church lies in the quality and completeness of its early fittings. 

The site was purchased in November 1906 and the foundation stone laid on June 5 1907. The church was built as a memorial to John Henry Benbow from designs Scoles & Raymond, who built widely in the diocese. It was opened in July 1909. The parish is now served from Teignmouth.


The church is generally in the thirteenth-century Gothic manner favoured by Scoles, with windows either lancets or plate tracery. The building is faced with red rubble stone, with window tracery and detailing of Bath stone and roof coverings of modern red concrete tiles. The plan is complex and the external appearance of the building varied and restless: tall nave with apsidal sanctuary and steep ridged, roof; lower north aisle under separate ridged roof with shallow transept and projecting northwest porch; tall south chapel with tall thin octagonal tower and spirelet with shallow transept south of tower. A single-storey link joins the south aisle with the presbytery.

Interior has four-bay north aisle of tall pointed arches on purple marble columns with moulded capitals and bases; parquet floor and five-sided painted wooden ceiling. Three lancets in tall west end wall with canopied figure of Our Lord under central window; image niche at east end of north aisle with canopied figure of Our Lady; double-arched opening to intended organ chamber above sacristy door in south aisle. Tall arch to sanctuary, which retains its original altar rails, altar and reredos, as does the north aisle chapel.  Fittings include original octagonal stone font. Stone pulpit at east end of south aisle and carved Stations of the Cross, probably also original and linked by a painted text round the walls of the nave.  Altogether a little-altered interior, with most of its early or original fittings.

List description (the church, presbytery, gate piers and boundary walls were listed in 2014, following Taking Stock)


Summary: A Roman Catholic parish church, built 1907-9, designed by Scoles and Raymond; conjoined contemporary presbytery, and gatepiers and boundary walls.

Reasons for Designation: The Roman Catholic Church of St Agatha, a church of 1907-9 by Scoles and Raymond, its attached presbytery, and the boundary walls and gatepiers, are listed at Grade II, for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the exterior is a pleasing composition with interesting massing and good detailing, by a regionally-significant firm of ecclesiastical architects; * Interior: the interior is lofty and impressive in its height and detailing, which includes extensive naturalistic foliate carving, the use of variously-coloured marble and figurative work of very high quality; * Intactness: the church has been almost entirely unaltered since its completion, save for the slight forward movement of the altar to reflect changing liturgical practices; * Fittings: designed by the architects, they are not only of high quality in design and execution, but also form a remarkably complete suite of contemporary fittings; * Grouping: the church, attached presbytery and boundary wall and gatepiers are all designed as an ensemble, in complementary style, and form a coherent group of good quality, despite the later alterations to the windows of the presbytery.

History: The site for the church was purchased in November 1906, and the foundation stone laid on 5 June 1907. The building was endowed by Vernon Benbow, in memory of his parents, John Henry and Agatha Benbow; it was constructed to designs by Scoles and Raymond, architects of Basingstoke. The Very Reverend Canon Alexander Scoles (1844-1920) was the son of Joseph John Scoles, an established ecclesiastical architect, and carried on his architectural practice alongside his work as a parish priest. Geoffrey Raymond (1881-1972) was his junior partner, and from 1920, was his successor in the architectural practice. The firm worked quite extensively for the Diocese of Plymouth during a period of church building in the early C20. Construction was carried out by the firm of E P Bovey of Torquay. The painted decoration to the ceiling and sanctuary was executed by Vernon Benbow, the patron, himself. The adjoining presbytery was designed as an ensemble with the church by Scoles and Raymond, but funds for its building were raised by subscription, and although begun at the same time as the church, it was not completed until a little after the church was opened in July 1909. The church has remained almost completely unaltered since its completion, apart from the slight forward movement of the altar to conform to changing liturgical practice. The presbytery windows were largely replaced in uPVC in the early C21.

Details: A Roman Catholic parish church, built 1907-9, designed by Scoles and Raymond; conjoined contemporary presbytery, and gatepiers and boundary walls. MATERIALS: the church is of local red sandstone, roughly dressed, squared and coursed, with red concrete tile roofs and Bath stone dressings. PLAN: the church is orientated north-west south-east, with its east end facing Exeter Road. It comprises nave, sanctuary, north porch and north aisle; there are shallow transepts, and a sacristy to the south. A short link from the south side joins the church to the presbytery, which stands at the corner of Exeter Road and Elm Grove Road.

EXTERIOR: the church is generally in the C13 Gothic manner favoured by Scoles, with windows either lancets or plate tracery. There are buttresses with offsets, those to angles diagonally-set. Gables have high coped verges and moulded kneelers, and cross finials. There are moulded eaves brackets around the building. A continuous drip mould runs over the heads of the windows and between them in each element of the north side. The complex plan means that the external appearance of the building is varied. The tall nave has an apsidal sanctuary and steep-ridged roof. The lower north aisle is under a separate ridged roof with a shallow transept and a projecting north-west porch, which houses the plain timber entrance doors. These are set in an opening with slender flanking shafts from which springs a pointed arch of a single order of moulding. In the tympanum is a carving of The Annunciation, much eroded, above a carved inscription which reads: AVE MARIA GRATIA PLENA. ST LUKE ….8. The high south chapel has a tall, slender octagonal tower and spirelet, with a shallow transept south of the tower. A single-storey link joins the south side with the presbytery.

INTERIOR: the interior has a four-bay north aisle of tall pointed arches on polygonal, purple marble columns with moulded capitals and bases; the nave has a parquet floor and five-sided painted wooden ceiling, with floral motifs in the interstices. The arcade and high south windows have drip moulds with carved foliate and floral stops. There are three lancets in the high west wall, with a life-sized marble figure of Our Lord beneath the central window; the statue is set on a base of clustered columns and is under an elaborate canopy with crocketed gables carried on coloured marble columns. The north transept houses a chapel to St Agatha, with a statue on a high base of clustered marble columns under a gabled canopy with crocketed pinnacles. At the east end of the north aisle is the Lady Chapel, with an altar of stone and coloured marble with an image niche above, with a figure of Our Lady under a canopy with gables and crocketting. Altar rails are similar to those to the sanctuary. In the south wall is a double-arched opening to the organ chamber, which has a balustrade pierced with quatrefoils above the sacristy door in the south aisle. There is a high, pointed arch to the sanctuary, whose wall surfaces are articulated by attached slender half-columns running up through the cill band, and from whose moulded capitals spring mouldings which run continuously over the lancet windows. A painted inscription runs under the cill band. The sanctuary is divided from the nave by altar rails in the form of a stone and coloured marble balustrade, with cusped arcading and carved alabaster details; the painted wrought-iron gates have applied foliate details. The sanctuary is set higher than the nave, and is reached by a single step of black marble, which continues into the floor of the sanctuary; the remainder has coloured terracotta tiles. There are painted roundels depicting angels to either side. A doorway to the vestry in the south side is set in an opening with a Carnarvon-arched top. The altar is high and elaborate; the altar table, which has been moved slightly forward of its original position, matches the altar rails in its use of a marble balustrade. Behind, a pair of alabaster angels carved in Arts and Crafts style, and the reredos includes an image niche set under a gabled canopy with a crocketed pinnacle above, with a wealth of carved decoration.

PRINCIPAL FITTINGS: the fixtures and fittings were all designed by the architects, and manufactured by B A Wall of Cheltenham. The fittings include the FONT, an octagonal bowl set on clustered marble columns with a marble rim, the sides of the bowl with carved roundels. The PULPIT is set at the end of the south aisle, and forms a continuation of the altar rails, with similar cusped arcading and marble balusters. The STATIONS OF THE CROSS are carved in stone and set into the walls of the nave, linked by a painted text. The figurative STAINED GLASS to the chapels and sanctuary is by Hardman and Powell of Birmingham.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the church has, to its south side, an attached PRESBYTERY, designed as part of the same complex and built slightly later. The building, of roughly-dressed coursed red standstone to the main elevations and red brick to the rear wing and stacks, has Bath stone dressings and is designed to match the style of the church. The stone window openings have Carnarvon arches; the gables have moulded kneelers and there are high, coped verges. The windows have been replaced with uPVC examples set in the original openings. The interior of the presbytery was not accessible at the time of inspection. The presbytery is joined to the south aisle of the church by a single-storey link which houses an office. The plot is bounded to the east and south by a BOUNDARY WALL of roughly squared and coursed granite, with alternating horizontal and vertical capping. At the main entrances to the church and presbytery on Exeter Road are gateways, each with a pair of GATEPIERS, of coursed sandstone with gabled hamstone caps, carved with trefoils.


Books and journals: Pevsner, N, Cherry, B, The Buildings of England: Devon, (1989); Woodhead, S , Illustrated Guide to the Catholic Churches of the Diocese of Plymouth, (1992)

Websites: The Tablet, 6th March 1909, page36: News from the Dioceses, accessed from

Other: Architectural History Practice, Churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Plymouth, An Architectural and Historical Review for English Heritage and the Diocese of Plymouth: St Agatha, Dawlish, 2008.

Heritage Details

Architect: Scoles & Raymond

Original Date: 1909

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II