871/15/1203 TOPSHAM ROAD
18-JUN-74 (Southwest side)
CHURCH OF ST LEONARD
Chancel 1873 by S Robinson. Remainder 1883 by R M Fulford. SE vestry 1902 by C Cole. Church centre on SW 1993-4 by John Taylor.
MATERIALS: Grey Devon limestone with Bath stone dressings. Slate roofs.
PLAN: Nave, chancel, narrow N and S aisles, SW steeple, N chapel, S organ chamber, SE vestry, small NE porch.
EXTERIOR: The church has an imposing setting on raised ground above and set back from the Topsham Road. The E end, with its three-sided apse and SE vestry, faces the road. The Geometrical Gothic Revival style of the building derives from architecture of c1300. The most prominent feature, and a landmark in southern Exeter, is the steeple, sited at the W end of the S aisle. It has three stages, large diagonal buttresses which are capped by pinnacles which rise above the level of the tower. In the ground stage there is a W doorway under a broad crocketed straight-gabled hood: the arch is shafted and there are two orders of squat, engaged shafts with fillets. The belfry windows are of two lights with Y-tracery. The spire is of the broach type. It has tall broaches, partly obscured by the tower pinnacles, two tiers of spire-lights in the cardinal directions and two bands of ornament with scaly detailing. There is a stair turret rising in the angle between the nave and tower. At the W end of the nave is a large five-light window with rich tracery in the head. The nave and aisles are of four bays, each bay having a pair of windows. Those in the aisles have two-lights, moulded surrounds and a cusped mandorla in the heads. The clerestory windows are more inventive, being square with elaborate cusping. Round the chancel there are single-light windows, each with a trefoil in the head. The SE vestry has a flat roof, parapets and one-, two, and three-light square-headed Perpendicular windows. The transeptal N chapel has a three-light Geometrical window. Over the second bay from the E the nave has an attractive ventilator turret. Attached to the SW part of the church is a large L-shaped church centre with restrained detailing and square-headed windows.
INTERIOR: The nave is wide and the aisles quite narrow: they are of four bays and between them are arcades with alternating circular polished granite piers and octagonal veined stone ones, all with moulded capitals and water-holding bases. The arches are of two orders with a moulded outer order and a chamfered inner one. At the W end of the nave is a tall, broad arch beyond which is a short bay in the SW corner of which is the projecting entrance to the tower stair: it has a sloping stone covering over it. The rere-arches of the windows of the aisles are unusual in having cusping. There is a broad arch to the chancel with a large angel bust in each respond and with clustered shafting above. There is a further, plainer arch to the sanctuary. The space under the tower has stone vaulting. The roof over the nave is canted and its main trusses rise from slender stone wall shafts which stretch down into the valleys between the arcade arches. The floors are carpeted.
PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: A fire in 1989 was followed by a major reordering which led to removal of nearly all the Victorian fixtures. The Gothic stalls of 1914-15 have been repositioned at the W end. The body of the church is now seated with upholstered chairs. A good deal of stained glass remains, however. A few minor monuments were resited from the previous church, the best being an urn to Thomas Collins (d 1761). A large wall-mounted brass to William Miles (d 1881) under a Gothic stone canopy is placed under the tower. There is at the W end a marble tablet with a coat of arms to the Barings of Larkbeare and Mount Radford (date 1913).
HISTORY: The medieval church of the small rural parish outside the town was replaced by a small classical building of 1831 by Andrew Patey (d 1834) of Exeter for what was, by then, a growing suburb. This in turn was replaced by a large church of 1876-86: the chancel is of 1876 by S Robinson (foundation stone 18 August 1876), and the rest is from 1883 by R M Fulford. Robert Medley Fulford (1845 or '46-1910) was articled to the Exeter architects, Hayward and Son and commenced practice in the city around 1868. He developed a very extensive church-building and restoration practice in Devon.
The church is built in a quite conservative Geometrical Gothic style but nonetheless makes an impression due to its raised site, size and the landmark steeple. Very little remains of the fittings from before the fire of 1989 after which the opportunity was taken to carry through a comprehensive reordering.
Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner. The Buildings of England: Devon, 1989, pp 390-1.
John Skinner, The Night the Church Burnt: Trial by Fire, 2006.
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION:
The church of St Leonard, Topsham Road, Exeter, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* It is of special interest as a large town of the later Victorian years, built in a Geometrical Gothic Revival style that was very popular at the time.
* It makes an impressive display on its raised site facing a main road in and out of Exeter.
* Internally its historic value has been much reduced by an extensive 1990s reordering but it still retains monuments and stained glass of some interest.