PLYMOUTH, Devon – St Peter.
Plans for the new church were drawn up by the Vicar’s second son. Mr. George Fellowes Prynne, F. R. I. B. A., who has since become famous in his profession, designing many churches and restoring others in London and the Provinces… The new church, at the date of its consecration, had cost about £12,000, and in it Mr. G. Fellowes Prynne has provided a dignified and beautiful addition to the churches of the Three Towns.
(George Rundle Prynne by A. Clifton Kelway. Longmans 1905.)
The tower, with its copper pyramid, is a feature not only of the church but of the Plymouth skyline, and shows how much the exterior appearance of the church is enhanced and brought into perspective by the completed tower. The splendid wrought iron gates remain, as do most of the original external features, despite the bomb which so severely damaged the interior in April 1941.
The appearance of the interior is radically different now. One can only begin to appreciate how it used to be from surviving contemporary photographs and documents. The dominant feature, clearly, was the great mural on the wall at the entrance to the chancel and sanctuary, described and illustrated below. This wall existed primarily because Fellowes Prynne built his nave on to an existing, much smaller scale, chancel and sanctuary designed by his mentor, George Edmund Street. Below it, at the entrance to the chancel, is an ironwork screen.
The Express and Echo of 23 December 1904 reported on the installation of this chancel screen.
A most elegant screen has been erected at St. Peter’s Church, Plymouth. It is of wrought iron on an alabaster base, designed by the architect of the new church. Mr. G. Fellowes Prynne, the son of the vicar. The ironwork is wrought from beginning to end, has a light and beautiful appearance [sic]. In the screen itself there are over 8,000 different pieces. In one of the gates alone there are 800 separate pieces, and the little collars which bind together the lower decorative part number altogether 3,000. A carved brass cornice sets off the top of the screen, and part of it will be picked out in gold and colour. The ironwork was wrought by Messrs. Ellis and Rice, of London, and it stands upon a low base wall of alabaster of a lovely vein, and beautifully worked by Mr. Harry Hems, of Exeter. Quatrefoils along the front are to be filled with angels on a gold ground holding scrolls, upon which will be the words, “We praise Thee,” “We bless Thee,” “We glorify Thee,” “Lord God Almighty.” The chancel has also been fitted with new choir stalls of old English oak, with both ends and front excellently carved by Mr. Webber, of Plymouth.
After George Fellowes Prynne’s death in 1927, the following was reported in the Western Morning News of 21 July that year:
A memorial fund has been started to commemorate the work of three members of the family of the first vicar of St. Peter’s Plymouth – Mr. George Prynne, the architect, Mr. Edward Prynne, the artist, and Miss Mary Prynne.
The memorial will take the form a new high altar as the centre of a scheme for renovating the sanctuary. A complete scheme would involve panelling the walls and covering the floor with marble or mosaic, and this would cost several hundred pounds.
It is proposed to do as much as the money given will allow, making the altar the first objective.
The website 1880 – Church of St. Peter, Plymouth, Devon – Archiseek – Irish Architecture has some more information, including two excellent illustrations of Fellowes Prynne’s architectural drawings for St Peter’s.
A massive mural, the memorial to the founder and long-term incumbent of St Peters, the Rev. George Rundle Prynne, was the work of Edward Prynne. The Rev. G. R. Prynne was, of course, father to both Edward and his brother George. The mural was situated at the entrance of the chancel and sanctuary of the church. This mural would seem to have been unique in Edward Prynne’s work, most probably owing to the unusual situation with the design of the building. The consequence of the chancel and nave being built on to a smaller, existing sanctuary was that there was a vast area of wall, to which the congregation would be facing, and it was this wall that Edward Prynne decorated.
The mural occupies the full space between the sanctuary arch and a set of three lancet windows high up within the curve of the barrel roof. Below the three windows Christ stands in majesty. He is attended by three seraphim on either side. Next to, and below, the figure of Christ are throngs of saints, some of whom would be easy to recognise by the symbols they carry. The crowd immediately to the left and right of Christ are in neat ranks; the throng below them are much more haphazardly arranged, and there seems to be a considerable amount of activity going on. A full and detailed description of this magnificent work of art, so tragically lost to us when the church was badly damaged in the Second World War, can be found as the appendix to A. Clifton Kelway’s book about George Rundle Prynne, cited above. This description was itself quoting from the Church Times on the occasion of the unveiling of the work on 2 November 1904. Extracts from this follow.
The subject chosen is the Church Triumphant – a decorative and symbolic treatment of the attitude of Christ and the angels and saints departed to the saints on earth. In the centre is represented Christ of the Resurrection…His right hand raised in blessing, and His left holding the banner of the Cross…
A vesica of glory with cherub angels surrounds the central figure, and the words from the Revelation, ‘Thanksgiving, power, riches, wisdom,’ etc., loom out in gold from the background. The Holy Innocents, as the first to suffer death for Christ, are grouped at His feet. At His right hand is seated the Blessed Virgin Mother, crowned as Queen, and close to her kneels St. Joseph holding the lily of purity. On the left kneels St. John the Baptist, who still points to the ‘Lamb of God;’ and next to him is the first great penitent, St. Mary Magdalene. Seated in clouds around the central group are the Twelve Apostles, St. Paul and St. Stephen. Above and behind is a long semicircle of Saints and Martyrs, conspicuous among whom are the Patron Saints of the various parish guilds.
The arts of poetry, painting, music, architecture, are dedicated to God’s service in the persons of Dante, Angelico, St. Cecilia, David and Solomon…
In the lower part of the composition is represented the Lower Dispensation. In the left spandril is depicted the three Magi, to represent the offering of the riches, wisdom and honour of the world; while in the opposite side the lame, halt, blind, and poor, and the slave, represent the offering of the sorrows and sufferings of humanity to the glory of God. Below these, the two archangels, Gabriel and Michael, gaze down on the Church Militant…
The ceremony of unveiling this beautiful memorial was at once most solemn and impressive…As the veil was slowly lowered, a cloud of incense rose from the censer immediately below, and the glowing colours of the great painted subject above were for a few moments enveloped in a floating mist…
The Middlesex and Surrey Express of 7 October 1904 reported on the new work:
One of the largest and most beautiful decorative pieces in England has recently been executed by Mr. E. A. Fellowes Prynne, R.B.A., of 1, Woodville-road, Ealing. It is a very marvellous work, of intense beauty; it is the outcome of deep knowledge, of loving sympathy with the subject, of much deep thought, and has been brilliantly and successfully accomplished. The dimensions are large, nearly thirty feet long and proportionately high, and it contains some hundreds of figures, emblems, etc., each one treated with the greatest care. The colours are harmonious, and the whole scheme most grateful to the eye…
Although a conventionally treated subject, the figures and draperies are not only natural, but graceful. It is a work that undoubtedly adds another laurel to Mr. Prynne’s wreath of fame.
Thanks to the high quality photographic lenses used in the early 20th Century, and the scanners we use now 100 years later, we are able to study this remarkable image in some detail. You can see the mixture of saints and angels portrayed. One portrayal which particularly caught my eye is of the slave with his wrist chains broken, taking his place in heaven among the saints. He is seen in the detail shown above below. At the base of the mural, each side of the arch, a winged sentinel stands guard. One of these angels is clearly shown in the same detail as the slave, and is comparable in style to Edward Prynne’s many other Pre-Raphaelite style angels illustrated elsewhere on this site (for example, East Grinstead, Manaton and Roehampton). There is a striking resemblance between the design of this mural, and the same artist’s design for the Great East Window at St. Peter, Staines.