852/1/1 CHURCH OF ST MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS
(Formerly listed as:
CHURCH OF ST MICHAEL)
East end and eastern half of the nave largely Perp (15th or early 16th century), the base of the south transept reportedly with some fabric as early as the 13th century. Much repaired and the western end rebuilt 1646-51. Tower, 1828, by W.B. Cock. Chancel lengthened and general restoration c. 1861, by William White. Internal reordering beneath the tower, by Michael Willis, 2008.
Materials: Mixed local rubble stones, limestone dressings. Slate roofs.
Plan: Four-bay nave with aisles, two-bay chancel with flanking vestries. Big north and south transepts at the third bay of the aisles. South-west porch, west tower.
Exterior: The west tower has grey ashlar facing, of three stages with battlements and pinnacles, then a slim spire rising from within the parapet. Angle buttresses, two-light bell openings, a lozenge panel in the second stage for a clock face, and large west window above a door. The aisle walls are part medieval, part 17th century, with rebuilding c. 1861. There are parapets to the tower and south vestry only. All window tracery to the nave, aisles and chancel is Geometric, by William White c. 1861, replacing plain 17th or 18th century mullions. South-west porch, also by White, in Early English style. On the west face of the south transept is a plaque inscribed "THIS CHURCH WAS BLOWEN UP WITH POWDER FEBR. YE 16th ANO. 1645 AND REBUILT Ao. 1651". Another on its east wall says "THIS CHURCH WAS RE-ERECTED ANO. DOMINI 1651". In the return between chancel and south aisle is a fine early 16th century vestry with square-headed windows (cusped ogee lights with cusped roundels in the spandrels). Exaggerated battlements deeply carved with two tiers of quatrefoils containing shields. It may originally have served as a private chapel. The chancel projects strongly between the aisles; it was lengthened by one bay during the restoration c. 1861.
Interior: The eastern piers of the nave arcades are Perp, of lozenge plan with four shafts and wave mouldings in the diagonals (Pevsner's `type B' standard Devon pier). The frieze-like capitals have big leafy bands, and in one or two cases, more delicate vine carving. The arches continue the moulding pattern of the piers. Two south arcade piers (eastern respond and the next pier west) have between them three Perp statuary niches, probably associated with medieval altars, and defaced at the Reformation. At the west end of the nave are three coarse square piers with chamfered angles. Some have on their east and west faces block- or cushion-shaped corbels outlined with roll mouldings (probably 17th century), from which rise double-chamfered arches. Their positions correspond with the projected direction of blast from the former tower base. The roofs are of wagon-vault form with big square panels and bosses, possibly c. 1646-50 with repairs. The chancel floors are of patterned tiles (probably Minton) c. 1861; the nave and aisles have boarding beneath the benches, and stone flagged walkways with tiled borders. A west gallery with kitchen and toilets were created beneath the tower in 2008; architect Michael Willis.
Principal Fixtures: Exceptionally refined pulpit of oak, c. 1670-90, with paired Corinthian colonnettes at the angles, a moulded arched panel to each face, and dentil cornice above a frieze of richly gilded carved scroll work with lion masks and cherubs¿ heads. Matching tester with similar gilded frieze (ejected from the church c. 1861, acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum, and loaned back in 1960.) Stone and marble reredos, 1878, including relief of the Last Supper; sculptor Harry Hems. Octagonal font, 1914 of red-veined marble with richly carved quatrefoil panels. Font cover of oak, in open swept spire form. Hanging rood 1920, installed here in 2002 from St Oswald, Small Heath, Birmingham. Willis Organ (1864) from Sherwell Congregational church, Plymouth, installed here c. 1989. In a very big and elaborate Gothic case with pinnacles and crocketed gable. Oak tower screen by Herbert Reed, dedicated 1928, incorporated in the gallery of 2008. South transept chapel refitted 1938, with 17th century communion table, Neo-Perp oak reredos, and a 19th century oil painting by Catherine Doe copying Caravaggio's Ecce Homo. Monuments: chancel north; Sarah Gooding, d. 1698; elaborate, somewhat provincial Baroque tablet with busty caryatids. South chapel; Judith Hancock d. 1676; a more refined design with oval plaque in a leafy frame, Corinthian columns and segmental pediment. Pine benches c. 1861. Stained glass: Thirteen windows in all, mainly late 19th century. Four by Lavers & Barraud, probably including the big five-light east window and one beneath the tower. Later glass (e.g. a four-light Crucifixion c. 1893) typical of that date.
Subsidiary Features: Set immediately north of the town centre, an alley leads from the High Street into the south-east corner of a big densely-planted churchyard, lined on the south side with cottages like a village green. Paths attractively paved with local pebbles and dated "1813 WBC". South-east of the church is a big cobbled mound, reputedly the burial place of those killed in the explosion of 1646.
History: The first recorded rector was in 1259, though a dispute occurred over the advowson in 1194, and the Saxon settlement doubtless had its parish church. The destroyed south tower and broach spire were probably 14th century, and there must have been significant renewal in the 15th century. In February 1646, the church suffered one of the English Civil War,. Fairfax's Parliamentary forces, driving the Royalists into Cornwall, captured Torrington in a night assult from Hopton's Royalists. About 200 men - mainly Parliamentarian troops who had been captured - were killed when the Royalist gunpowder store was sest alight. Fairfax narrowly escaped death. This marked the end of the First Civil War in the west. The resulting explosion and fire left the church ruinous until repaired in 1651. The question of how much fabric survived has been a vexed one. Hussell believed the Perp piers and capitals to be 17th century copying. Pevsner saw the western piers as shapeless 17th century rebuildings; others suggest they are 13th or early 14th century, presumably because of the double-chamfered arches which were fashionable at that time. That the piers and arcades eastward of the explosion site survived and were repaired is borne out by the pre-Reformation niches and vestry at the south-east. William White's restoration of c. 1861 overlaid much new detail.
Cherry, B and Pevsner, N., Buildings of England; Devon (1989), 460-1
Creswell, B.F., Some Notes on the History of the Parish Church of Great Torrington (1929).
Hussell, A.T., North Devon Churches (1909)
Reasons for Designation: The church of St Michael and All Angels, Great Torrington, is designated at grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* A large medieval parish church, with evidence that considerable parts (much greater than some accounts imply) survived the explosion of 1646.
* Attractive nave arcades, probably 15th century Perp.
* Excellent early 16th century vestry with decorative panelled parapets.
* The pulpit exhibits unusually refined Classicism for provincial West Country work c. 1670-90; it may have come from a good regional or London maker.
* The tragic explosion of the tower in February 1646 was a notable incident in the English Civil War, and the prompt re-building in a contextual style reflects attitudes to worship and building in mid-C17 Devon.