A Crumbling Church

churchexteriorOn the busy main road of Cowick Street in Exeter is St Thomas Parish Church. The original building was consecrated in 1412 on the site of a 13thC chapel, but was largely burnt down during the civil war, it’s tower crashing to the ground, and so a lot of what stands is from the rebuild between then and 1657.

I’m a fan of Churches, because I see them as small, free museums dotted about the country, often with works of art, carved rood screens and stone monuments that you would have to pay to see if they were in a Countryside mansion or gallery.

Churches are also often home to rather more gruesome histories: St Thomas once had the tarred body of a vicar, Robert Welshe, hanging from the tower for 4 years.
He was captured and hanged for treason as he had joined in the failed 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion and also for his part in the execution of a messenger on Exe Island who was travelling to Lord Russel’s King’s Army. His body was left until Mary succeeded her brother Edward VI in 1553, a grisly reminder for any member of the congregation who felt like opposing the crown.

The current Church is also in danger of falling apart, this time because of a leaking roof, crumbling rendering and the nature of the local sandstone used to build it. I didn’t realise any of this before walking in and seeing some boards about the fundraising that was going on, but even before then it was evident that the Church was in dire need of restoration.

stthomas1 stthomas4stthomas5stthomas6

In some places the smell of damp and mildew was so strong I couldn’t stand there for long, such as this corner with a statue of Mary.



Which also had this pile of IMG_0635
‘debris’ underneath.
More fell on me as I
stood taking photos!



There were however still some beautiful aspects, untouched by the decay surrounding them.
This monument was the work of John Bacon, for the vicar’s wife, who was also John’s daughter. The Chancel was remodelled in 1842 to accommodate it.

There was also this fantastic carved chair.
chair chair2

And a few more unusual features as well…
freaky gargoyle

In between my visit and writing this post the work has started, although fundraising continues.

Hopefully the repairs will mean that the congregation can use the Church safely again soon, and no further damage will be done to the historical interior.


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