Building » Torquay – Our Lady Help of Christians and St Denis

Torquay – Our Lady Help of Christians and St Denis

Priory Road, Torquay, Devon

A splendid large church on a prominent site, designed by the distinguished Catholic architect Joseph Hansom, who also designed the adjacent convent school buildings. The church was built at the expense of a private donor (Mr Potts-Chatto) and is richly ornamented. It has retained virtually all of its elaborate original fittings.

In 1864 the Bishop of Plymouth invited Dominican nuns to open an orphanage called St Mary’s Priory; Southampton Villa in St Marychurch was purchased, and an orphanage building erected on the site. Mr Potts Chatto proposed to the nuns to build a church in the grounds of Southampton Villa in thanksgiving for the recovery of his son from a serious illness. Designed by Joseph Hansom, architect of the Cathedral, the partially completed church was opened in 1869. The tower and spire were erected on the site of the original Southampton Villa. A large convent was built adjoining the church and was opened in 1871; besides the accommodation for the nuns, it contained a high-class day school, and an elementary school for nearly 200 children. Mrs Potts-Chatto paid for the organ and the Lady Chapel.  The former convent has now been converted to an old people’s home.

The building is fully described in the list entry, below. One additional detail: in the southwest chapel is a large brass to William John Potts-Chatto, who paid for the church, and another to his son.

List description


Roman Catholic Church. 1865 by Joseph Hansom. Rock-faced local grey limestone rubble with ashlar quoins and freestone dressings; slate roof.

PLAN: Aligned north-east (ritual east) to south-west. Apsidal (ritual) east end; 3-bay chancel; 7-bay aisled nave with (ritual) west end and tower flanked by baptistery and Lady Chapel.

EXTERIOR: Show front is north-west side. Chancel partly concealed by adjoining presbytery with 3 gables above 3 rounded clerestorey windows. Nave with 13 spherical triangular traceried clerestorey windows above lean-to buttressed aisle with 2-light Decorated traceried windows with hoodmoulds. Gabled priest’s porch at east end of aisle with diagonal buttresses. Principal porch in sixth bay with diagonal buttresses and a moulded arched doorway with engaged columns. 3-stage tower with spire; set-back buttresses with statue niches and tall belfry windows. Grand west end composition with a richly-moulded gabled west end doorway, door recessed, with engaged Early English shafts with stiff-leaf capitals. Sexfoil window in tympanum over door. Statue niche in gable. 5-light Geometric Decorated west window with 4 gabled statue niches below the sill.

INTERIOR: Very complete. Arcades with piers which are quatrefoil on plan with naturalistic foliage-carved capitals and double-chamfered arches. Arch-braced nave roof on moulded corbels; lean-to aisle roof with moulded ribs and plastered panels. South arcade is shorter than north with a flat roof on timber brackets, windowed with paired lancets. Early English style triforium on south side only. Chancel with tall triple arcades to north and south leading to south chapel and north organ chamber. Timber vaulted roof on stone shafts. Base of tower supported on 4 columns with 2 rows of 3 subsidiary columns between, supporting stone vaulting.

FITTINGS: Very complete set of stone fittings, includes reredos with crocketed pinnacles and statuary to east end. Reredoses to Lady Chapel and subsidiary chapels. Stone drum pulpit; sexfoil marble font. Good metalwork includes brass candlesticks and altar rail. East and west windows by the Hardman Company.

A remarkably intact C19 Roman Catholic church, part of a good group and retaining lavish stone and other fittings internally.

(Buildings of England: Pevsner N: Devon: London: 1952-1989: P.851-2).

Listing NGR: SX9191265878

Heritage Details

Architect: Joseph Hansom

Original Date: 1869

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*