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Ordnance survey map of PARISH CHURCH OF ST MARY
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SW 47528 30027



II* By Charles Hutchens, 1832-5.

Materials: West Penwith granite, slate roofs.

Plan: Five-bay nave, full-length aisles with an additional west bay for gallery stairs overlapping the west tower. Very shallow chancel projection. Big three-sided gallery.

Exterior: The style is Gothic, and perhaps because of the granite, more solid appearance convincing than many Commissioners¿ churches. A slim tower dominates the cottages and warehouses which crowd the headland here. It has an embattled parapet with tall pinnacles. Offset buttresses die into the belfry stage with more attached pinnacles. Above the west door is a tall three-light window with transom, and above that the date MDCCCXXXII (1832) in gothic script. Then a clock face, and twinned belfry lights with louvred openings. The main west door is flanked by subsidiary doors giving access to the aisles at the west, and corresponding ones at the east end for the gallery stairs. The aisles have full gables at the west and east, and continuous embattled parapets continuing over the gables. The side walls have six bays divided by slim buttresses rising to pinnacles over the parapets, and long two-light windows with transoms at each bay. Five south windows were replaced in 1920-1 (architects Franklin & Deacon), with tracery including upper quatrefoils; simpler original tracery survives in the north aisle. The triple-gabled east facade looms impressively above Quay Street. The east window stonework was replaced 1986-7, with a large untraceried circle above five lancet lights.

Interior: The entrance porch has a well executed plaster fan vault. In its centre is a plaster portcullis, indicating the involvement of the Church Commissioners in the rebuilding. The traceried head of the inner doorway carries the Lamb and Flag against a cross, taken from the seal of Penzance. The space beneath the west gallery, partitioned off as an inner lobby with metal and glass screens in 1986-7, also has a plaster rib vault, designed like a fan-vault laid out on a flat ground, with a plaster wreath at the centre. This space serves as a meeting room in the absence of a church hall. The nave is light and spacious. Nave and aisles have separate roofs, each of four-centred arched section, with slim ribs forming square panels. The nave ceiling has a large M in a rose at the centre. Five-bay arcades of four-centred arches, on slim piers rising through the gallery fronts. The piers have four shafts and four hollows, with moulded capitals to the shafts only. The gallery front has a decorative frieze below blind arcaded panelling; it turns the west end with canted angles. The openings below the gallery have cambered arches, possibly of cast iron, with traceried spandrels. Transverse beams of cambered section act as ties to the outer walls. The westernmost bay of the north aisle has been screened off as a chapel accessed from the inner lobby, 1986-7. Wood-block floors, 1986-7.

Principal Fixtures: From the former chapel of St Mary is an alms box dated 1612, and a stoup (reportedly the former font). The present pulpit is the prayer desk or pulpit of 1835, in cut-down form: white-painted timber, with gilded mouldings, a foliate carved panel to the book rest, and polygonal shafts at the corners. Matching communion rails with Gothic piercings. The reredos and sanctuary furnishings are otherwise c. 1987, of pale oak with slightly cambered arched panels. The north-west chapel has a Gothic communion table, probably of 1835. Octagonal font, 1874, of fine red and green serpentine with quatrefoil panels. Font cover c. 1959, a delicate swept spire form topped by a gilded dove. Gothic three-seater mayoral chair, with pinnacled top; c. 1835. The oak nave pews are of 1986-7. The seating in the north and south galleries is of 1835, stepped up with swept curves to the top rails, simple panelled sides, probably originally with doors. The organ in the west gallery came from the church of St Mary, Oxford in 1986. The pipework and ornamental case incorporate parts from an instrument by 'Father' Smith (1676), with Gothic rebuilding by Thomas Plowman, 1827. Striking and colourful east window by Alfred Fisher, 1986-7. The aisles have many minor tablets, mostly early 19th century, in the Greek Revival taste. In the sanctuary is a Baroque tablet to John Tremenheere, d. 1701, with Doric columns, broken segmental pediment and a winged skull at the base.

Subsidiary Features: High granite churchyard walls on the north and east (towards Chapel Street and Under Chapel Yard), including re-used stone from the old church and a datestone (1672). The churchyard walls are separately listed.

History: A chantry chapel to the parish of Madron is mentioned in 1321, almost certainly St Mary. It is named in a curacy license of 1379. The chapel was spared in the Spanish raid of 1595 because the Spanish knew that 'Mass had been celebrated in it previously'. The chapel was repaired and enlarged c. 1662-72, and again in 1782, but by 1824 was severely overcrowded. By then serving a parish of c. 7,000, it was still a chapel of ease to Madron, c. 2 miles inland. A separate parish was created in 1871. The Rev. Thomas Vyvyan began the replacement of the old church in 1832. The architect was Charles Hutchens (c. 1781-1834), of Torpoint near Plymouth; the clerk of works was John Pope Vibert. Plans were dated May 29th 1832, and by August of that year the old church was largely demolished for the rebuilding on the same site. A temporary wooden building nearby served until the new church was opened on November 15th, 1835. Funded partly by the Church Commissioners and the Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS), it provided 2,047 seats. Hutchens explained in detail on the plans how he adhered to design precedents of existing Commissioners' churches in Cornwall, especially a design for this site approved by the ICBS 'five or six years since' but not acted upon, and his own plans for Millbrook chapel, Maker (c. 1828); cf. the canted west end of the gallery. The chancel was reordered in 1861, 1885 and 1896. A dramatic Art Deco reredos by Ernest Proctor (1934) was destroyed by arson in 1985. Interior repairs by George Vaughan Ellis, 1986-7.

Sources: Mound, P., Pen Sans, The Holy Headland (1998). Pevsner, N. and Radcliffe, E., The Buildings of England, Cornwall (1970). Lambeth Palace Library Incorporated Church Building Society archive, files 01429 and 11409 (

Reasons for Designation: The church of St Mary, Penzance, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * A large and well-sited granite church, dominating the headland at the old centre of Penzance * It is a significant example of the design of Commissioners' churches in Cornwall. Surviving features of 1832-5, e.g. the galleries and their seating, are of exceptional note. * The spacious interior has ribbed ceilings and high Perp-style arcades. The plaster fan-vaulted porch shows careful observation of 16th century originals. * Good organ case with some carved work of 1676, from St Mary's church, Oxford. * An unusual three-seater Mayoral chair c. 1835.


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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 04 Feb 2007
Reference: IOE01/16308/06
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Ivor Corkell. Source Historic England Archive
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