SALCOMBE REGIS CHURCH - A HIDDEN GEM IN AN IDYLLIC SETTING

PUBLISHED: 07:00 04 October 2017

A Norman column in the nave, viewed from the Norman font. Photo credit - Alastair Letty

A Norman column in the nave, viewed from the Norman font. Photo credit - Alastair Letty

Archant

People visiting Salcombe Regis church for the first time often say the same thing. That the whole scene is idyllic - Devon at its most quintessential. The beautiful little church and its peaceful churchyard sit at the top of a steep valley, with views down towards the sea, often with cattle or sheep grazing along the hillsides.

The late medieval/Tudor wall painting above the Chancel arch at  St Mary and St Peter's church, Salcombe Regis, which underwent conservation work in 2016.
 Photo by Tony CharnockThe late medieval/Tudor wall painting above the Chancel arch at St Mary and St Peter's church, Salcombe Regis, which underwent conservation work in 2016. Photo by Tony Charnock

There may possibly have been a wooden church near here in Saxon times but this building is Norman in origin, having been begun sometime around 1125.

Norman features still survive, most notably a massive column in the nave, and the font. Significant additions were then made in the 13th century, including the north arcade and south aisle, and the chancel arch that faces visitors as they enter.

In the 14th century, with the Black Death ravaging the parish, the church fell into disrepair. But during the 1400s, the next stage of development was undertaken, resulting in the building that survives today. The north and south aisles were widened, the roofs were raised and the tower added.

In 1450, the restored and enlarged church was rededicated to St Mary and St Peter. One of the bells in the tower dates from that time and still rings out over the valley today, more than 560 years later.

The church from the south. Photo credit - John RolfeThe church from the south. Photo credit - John Rolfe

Today’s task – and it is a daunting one – is to keep the building in a good and proper state of repair, consistent with its Grade II listed status and historical value. The challenge is being met with dedication and determination by the Parochial Church Council (PCC), chaired by the vicar, the Reverend David Caporn.

Realistically, however, church funds will always be constrained and the type of conservation works needed will always be expensive. And so in 2012, a local farmer, Sandy Macfadyen, proposed that a new voluntary group should be formed in the wider community to undertake fundraising and, where the PCC agrees, carry out projects. This was the origin of the Friends of Salcombe Regis Church, which has Sheelagh Michelmore MBE as its patron and Philip Atkinson, a retired Sidmouth GP, as its chairman.

Sheelagh is keen to point out that the group has no religious dimension and is concerned solely with the survival of this ancient building for future generations to enjoy. Accordingly, membership is open to those of all faiths and none.

Sheelagh said: “Seeing this little church is always a delight. For many, it provides a welcome sense of continuity with the past or just a charming place to visit. And a quiet stroll inside provides some fascinating glimpses into centuries of local history. “This heritage is invaluable and by working together we can help to preserve it.”

View across the churchyard in Salcombe Regis to the sea. Photo credit - John Rolfe.View across the churchyard in Salcombe Regis to the sea. Photo credit - John Rolfe.

The group has already made an impact by funding and supporting a number of important projects, with more planned for the future. For example, funds have been used to repair and renew stonework in the tower and west door, with generous matched support from the Keith Owen Fund.

Externally, the dilapidated roof of the old lych gate, the entrance into the churchyard, has been repaired and re-slated, again with generous funding from the Keith Owen Fund.

And most recently, in 2016, the late medieval/Tudor wall painting above the chancel arch underwent conservation work in order to stabilise it. The painting was too incomplete and damaged to restore, but it was possible to arrest further decline, ensuring that future generations will have the chance to see what remains of this rare piece of heritage.

A project is currently under way to improve the lighting of the altar triptych, a stunning modern creation of engraved glass designed by Sir Laurence Whistler and engraved by his son, Simon. It sits within a high Victorian reredos, a large pillored surround of blue, red and gold, a gift to the church.

The Altar Triptych, designed by Sir Laurence Whistler, within the High Victorian reredos. Photo credit - John RolfeThe Altar Triptych, designed by Sir Laurence Whistler, within the High Victorian reredos. Photo credit - John Rolfe

The triptych was also a gift and is recognised to be of national significance, attracting visitors in its own right. Given its importance, advice has been sought from engraved glass experts at the Victorian and Albert Museum in London on how best to improve the lighting.

But keeping the building weather-tight will always be of the very highest priority. The Friends group has therefore decided to earmark significant funds for the replacement of old and deteriorated lead on the roof of the tower, subject to approval by the PCC.

Reflecting on the group’s achievements to date, Philip Atkinson said: “I hope what we are doing 
will inspire more people to come forward from around Sidmouth and East Devon and join us as members. They will be very welcome. Membership costs only £10 a year 
and we have a general meeting in 
the church every year to update the membership and discuss ideas for future projects.” n

The membership secretary for the Friends of Salcombe Regis Church, Linda Harris, can be contacted at friends@salcomberegischurch.org or by post at Ovoca, Fortescue Road, Sidmouth, EX10 9QB.

Sheelagh Michelmore MBE  and Dr Philip Atkinson beside the lych gate of St Mary and St Peter's church, Salcombe Regis.
 Photo by Tony CharnockSheelagh Michelmore MBE and Dr Philip Atkinson beside the lych gate of St Mary and St Peter's church, Salcombe Regis. Photo by Tony Charnock

The Friends of Salcombe Regis Church is holding a fundraising event in Sidmouth’s All Saints Church on Saturday, October 21.

The Close Shaves Barbershop Group, all former members of the Bach Choir, will give a performance at 7.30pm.

Tickets (£15 to include drinks and canapés) will be available in advance at Paragon Books in High Street, or on the door.

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