BUCKLAND-IN-THE-MOOR, Devon – St Peter. 

Restoration 1907-8

Buckland-in-the-Moor is situated within the Dartmoor National Park and St Peter’s church is a solid stone Devon church, built to withstand the worst of the moorland weather. Fairly typically, the publicity material draws attention to the features dating from mostly the 12th to the 16th centuries. These include the south wall of the nave, the font, the chancel, the original parts of the screen, part of the tiled floor, the 16th century chalice and, additionally, the 20th century clock

The restoration work done in 1907-8 was under Fellowes Prynne’s direction, although his is not the only restoration to have been done, and it is necessary to identify what happened and when. The visitor is helped by a photo displayed on the wall of the church showing what it looked like prior to restoration. A window on the south side is now of different design and dimension from the original. The reredos, once depicting the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, is now of wood, and the wood panelling has been extended and made taller in the sanctuary. A chimney has been removed, and a door takes its place. Pews are now smaller, and the roof has been planked in. The screen has been extended and moved a little to the west. How much of this is Fellowes Prynne’s work? A combination of observation and documentary evidence should help.

Many typical old west country churches have a rounded barrel roof structure, though often with ribs on the outside and bosses at their intersection. It is a style of roof especially favoured by Fellowes Prynne in his original designs, though usually without ribs and bosses on the larger buildings. Buckland church’s roof is of this type, but complete with ribs and bosses – in keeping with the local tradition. The sanctuary roof is particularly interesting, using extra criss-cross ribs to emphasise the importance of this part of the building. Observation indicates that some of the roof bosses are old, some new – suggesting that whatever was in good enough condition to be retained was retained.

Panelling in the sanctuary, another feature favoured by Fellowes Prynne, was present prior to his input; it reached the height of the old box pews and continued around into the chancel. With the smaller pews (note not chairs – see Thurlestone church concerning this issue) the panelling could be made to feature more prominently. Furthermore, the height is raised in the sanctuary in keeping with the raised level of this part of the building. The panelling is unfussy and somewhat eighteenth century in its style. It is, in fact very much akin to what was already there, though it is not known by the author from what date the earlier panelling dated.

The replacement window on the south side was necessitated by the existence previously of a rather incongruous-looking structure, the apex of which broke the line of the roof-edge on the outside. More will be said of this below. Internally, the effect is achieved of illuminating the chancel wonderfully and, in particular, the screen. No doubt this was the intention of the designer of the earlier window, but Fellowes Prynne’s window does at least look in keeping, as well as providing the required light. It has a small amount of cuspate decoration at the tops of the lights, taking up a similar idea in the east window.

The reredos is clearly an example of the architect’s wanting “his style” to be manifest. He originally replaced the Commandment stones with a simple dossal curtain, but subsequently his carved design was installed. The firm of Herbert Read of Exeter carved the reredos, and it is one of two Read-carved reredoses known to be of Fellowes Prynne’s design. The other is at Thurlestone church. The reredos at Buckland shows features not seen anywhere else in Fellowes Prynne’s designs, in particular the use of subtle relief carving backing the central crucifix.  See illustrations.

By far the most important aspect of Fellowes Prynne’s restoration at Buckland is the work he did with the great screen. The original dates from the fourteenth century, and it is typical of Devon churches for such a screen to be present. Whatever one may think of the treatment by Fellowes Prynne of the reredos, from a historical point of view, one can only be admiring of his restoration of the screen, for this is exactly what he did. He resisted the temptation to tear the old one down and start again, though he was well capable of designing as brand new, fully compatible screen if he had thought fit. (See St. Nicholas, Rattlesden.)

Observation of the screen reveals much of the original fourteenth century carved and painted wood: the painted panels are located along the base of the screen, but they have each been framed by newly-placed carved wood, giving a unified effect. The paintings are to be found on the gates of the screen also. The main uprights are a mixture of original and replacement wood, though the tracery is all new. The fan vaulting supporting the top of the screen (which would have been accessed by a small stairway) is also new. The horizontal decoration, full of rich carving, is an amazing jigsaw of the old and new. Between new undecorated parallels can be seen intricate carvings of leaves, fruit and flowers. Parts of these are in the original painted wood, and parts are new, carved to exactly the same designs, and carefully placed among the original pieces to fit together as one. No attempt has been made to “age” the replacement wood, nor to paint over all of it to make it look the same. Clearly the screen does not look exactly as it did when first it was built; Fellowes Prynne has added two top layers of decoration, as well as the plain horizontal members, which are possibly as much for structural rigidity as anything. What the screen does look like is a thing of beauty, in its correct context, which has been painstakingly saved from oblivion in the hands of a restorer and his craftspeople who patently cared for it.

There is evidence to suggest that the carving of the new pieces was carried out by Ethel Pinwill.  See Helen Wilson’s excellent and detailed website, in particular Buckland-in-the-Moor – The Remarkable Pinwill Sisters

Fellowes Prynne did not give the back of the screen such painstaking treatment – he completely renewed it. Whether this was on grounds of cost, or because this side of the screen was beyond repair is not known. He used different patterns from those on the front, and thus impressed a little more of his own originality on this magnificent artefact.

The overall impression created by the interior of Buckland church is of an old church which retains its sense of the past, but with generally suitable and sensitive repairs and replacement.

As regards the exterior, see the postcards illustrated below for “before” and “after” images of the window described above. Gone is the protrusion into the eaves, with the new window in keeping with, if a bit larger than, the rest of the windows. A new buttress has been put in place to the east of the new window, and next to it, a small chimney has been removed and a door to the chancel added. On the north side, the roof stretches low over the side aisle, giving the impression of intimacy rather than loftiness.

A brass plaque in the chancel records the restoration and names Fellowes Prynne, along with the incumbent, the Rev. Richard James Bond, B.D. who was the architect’s brother-in-law.

The black and white postcard (undated) shows the “sketch model” for a panel of the reredos. The middle photo shows the same scene, as carved, and the final image shows the screen, with the reredos behind it.




The  postcard (1905) reproduced is of the exterior prior to restoration.  The photo is of the same elevation today, and the alterations are clear.