Building » Tavistock – Our Lady of the Assumption

Tavistock – Our Lady of the Assumption

Callington Road, Tavistock, Devon

A major landmark in the town, built in 1865-7 by the eighth Duke of Bedford as an Anglican chapel-of-ease for workers in the nearby copper mines. In the early twentieth 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, 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 1865-7 as a chapel-of-ease for the western part of Tavistock. It was commissioned by William, eighth 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 at Woburn, built around the same time for the Duke.

After the decline of the copper industry in the early twentieth 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 had 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.

In 1992 the church roof was renewed with an English Heritage grant, and in 2012 work was completed on the replacement of the drains. In 2015, new glass doors, steps and an access ramp in granite and Hurdwick stone were provided at the north porch, making the church more welcoming and accessible. The remodelling of the old sacristy was completed in 2018. A major project, involving the construction of a meeting room, reconciliation room, parish office and accessible WC at the west end of the church was completed in 2019 (the new facilities were dedicated to St Joseph, commemorating the parish’s link with the chapel-of-ease of St Joseph, Gunnislake, now closed). This work required the relocation of the font to the nave. Finally, a £300,000 programme of repairs to the tower was completed in early 2022. Following this extended programme of grant-aided repairs and improvements, the church is warm and welcoming, and has a growing congregation.


See list description, below. This is accurate as far as it goes, but pre-dates more recent changes and 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.

The church is built of local Hurdwick stone. 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 is faced with ashlar, the wall surface articulated by neo-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. Giving off the south side of the chancel is a sacristy with central column and corner fireplace. 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 relocated font, circular and 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
  • Crucifix high on the east wall of the sanctuary, donated by the Bridgettine nuns of South Brent. It is believed to be of Portuguese provenance, c.1600
  • Gothic seating for the clergy and choir stalls
  • A wooden altar carved by Polish and Italian prisoners-of-war and brought here from St Joseph, Gunnislake
  • The plain, pine pews are presumably original
  • A set of large carved Stations of the Cross on the aisle walls, provenance not established

Entry amended by AHP 22.03.2024, with additional information and photos provided by the parish

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

Heritage Details

Architect: Henry Clutton

Original Date: 1867

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*