HORRABRIDGE, Devon – St John the Baptist.
This is probably the finest example of a smaller scale church designed by George Fellowes Prynne.
Sir Massey Lopes of Maristow, who had donated £2,000 anonymously towards the new building, laid the foundation stone in September 1892. The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 20 September that year recorded the event, and described the proposed building.
The Church, which is much needed, will be cruciform in shape, having its principal or west entrance facing the Horrabridge-road, with two other entrances at the west end of the north and south aisles. The sum at the disposal of the builders not being large, the church will be of simple design, but of bold character, the order of architecture being of the Perpendicular period. The most interesting exterior feature will be the fleche at the junction of the nave and chancel. The building will accommodate 300 persons, and the cost is estimated at about £2,300. Sir Massey Lopes has kindly allowed the free use of building and facing stone from his quarries, and the whole of the church will be faced internally and externally with local stone. It will consist of nave and chancel, north and south aisles, and transepts.
The walls are of local stone, and the roof is of pitch pine. The roof reaches low over the south transepts, and much of the wall area is occupied by windows. These two factors combine to give the overall impression of balance, and help make the exterior attractive, avoiding the starkness sometimes seen in Fellowes Prynne’s church exteriors. The outside has changed a little since the postcard (seen below) was published; the fleche now has a clock set into its base, and the west end has a porch, as designed by Fellowes Prynne, but built later, as can be seen in the modern photograph below.
Inside, the church contains many of his usual design features, but the most noticeable thing is the feeling of intimacy. There are wide arches at the chancel and along the nave. The width of these arches has the effect of diverting attention from the loftiness of the building. The arches are faced in Bath stone, which is also the stone from which the pillars are constructed. Unusually, there is no chancel wall or screen, but instead a decorated Rood beam housing an elaborate painted cross. The roof is of the architect’s usual wooden barrel roof construction, and it is decorated at the entrance to the chancel, above the Rood beam. Like all the arches, the roof traces a much flatter curve in cross-section than Fellowes Prynne’s larger churches, making the roof actually lower than would otherwise be expected.
The Furniture is to Fellowes Prynne’s design, with the exception of the post-war reredos and riddels. The Exeter firm of Harry Hems was responsible for carving the font and the Rood beam, and Northcott’s of Ashwater carved the altar rails, choir stalls and vestry screen. The seating is, perhaps surprisingly given his views on the subject, pews rather than chairs, but it has to be said that these are attractive and eminently suitable for a church of this scale.
The pulpit is of wrought iron topped with brass and wood. It is extremely delicate in its style, with not only intricate ironwork top and bottom, but, unusually, spaces where there is no ironwork. Most of Fellowes Prynne’s designs in this field give the impression that unfilled space is an aberration; Horrabridge church pulpit shows otherwise, and to great effect. The plinth is simplicity itself, a round, thick, single pillar with notched edging at the top, bevelling beneath that, and a hint of vaulting to provide support. The lack of extravagance here again adds to the overall sense of a village church.
A booklet about the village and area – Horrabridge and District – Part 3, edited by Amy M. Mobbs (1981) includes information about St. John’s church. As well as the architect, we are told that the builder was H. B. Fuge and the Clerk of Works C. E. Perkins. The carving was executed by the firm of Harry Hems and Sons of Exeter.
The church was completed in 1893 and consecrated on 30th November. Sir Massey Lopes gave the pulpit and lectern, as well as the carved oak rood beam and cross. Lady Lopez gave the font. The money ran out before the porch could be built, but this was added in 1914.
We are told in the Church Review (7 December 1893) that, at lunch after the consecration
…the architect…was deservedly praised for the beautiful building he had designed, and in reply said his aim was always to do work to the Glory of God.
The postcard (dated 1907) shows the external view of Horrabridge. The photograph beside it is of the church as it is now. The other photographs show different aspects of the interior.