A short history of Paignton Parish Church
1. The Font
On entering the church by the West Door, you will see the old Norman Font of local red sandstone. Note the "honeysuckle" ornamentation. In the 15th Century, this font was replaced by a contemporary "Perpendicular" bowl, the original being buried in the churchyard as lumber. Rediscovered 400 years later, it was given away, and after many vicissitudes - including functioning as an ornamental garden vase and later being installed in the daughter church of S. Andrew - it was eventually restored to its ancient place in 1930. (The later font is now at S. Andrew's). By the South Door (14th century) note the memorial brass to Robert Gee. Vicar 1832-1861. When appointed, he was third on a 'short list', the living having first been offered to John Keble, hymn writer and leader of the Oxford Movement. Gee's son, Walter Mallock Gee, founded the Church Lads Brigade.
2. The North Door
THE NORTH DOOR (THE "WEDDING DOOR") (14th Century) Outside is the ancient holy water stoup. The little "door within a door" at the bottom of the door was for the purpose of ejecting unruly dogs! It must be remembered that in mediaeval times all manner of functions took place in church - dual purpose hall-churches are nothing new!
3. Arched Recess In North Isle
This was probably the grave of a founder or early benefactor of the church. The grave cover on it has no connection with this particular recess; it is said to have been discovered in Well Street where it was in use as a drain cover, although it is thought by some authorities to have originally been intended for the grave of a Crusader's widow. Nearby is a tablet to Thomas Willes, Surgeon. This is almost certainly a relic of the Napoleonic Wars, when Goodrington Hotel was used as a naval hospital.
4. The North Transept and Lady Chapel
(Symons or All Souls Chapel)
The North Transept or Symons Chapel - once known as the 'Eight Men's Aisle' - was, until 1870, separated from the nave by an oak screen. The "Eight Men" were in pre-Reformation times, the wardens of the property of the various parish guilds, which (inter alia) helped their members and their dependents when in trouble, and were thus an early form of "Social Security". The Transept was restored as a Chapel in 1949 in memory of the Symons family, who were, for many years, active workers for the church. The reredos and altar are the work of Sir Ninian Comper. The mosaic of S. John Baptist, the parish patron saint, in the N.W. corner, was made by Jane Burton, a well-known photographer of wildlife.
Note the memorials to members of the old Paignton family of Belfield. Said to have been of Lancashire origin (Belfield is a suburb of Rochdale), the family produced the famous "Madame Gould" of Lew Trenchard (nee Margaret Belfield), whose brother Samuel was Vicar here for 60 years (1732-92). Samuel's daughter was married in this church to Admiral Sir Thomas Louis, who saved Nelson's life at the Battle of the Nile and was later the only Englishman to be Governor of Rome. Sabine Baring-Gould, hymn writer and novelist, was Madame Gould's great-great-grandson. The Lady Chapel was refurnished as a Chapel in 1907.
5. The Pulpit
The much mutilated late 15th Century pulpit, of carved Beer stone, is of special interest - pre-Reformation pulpits are not very common in England.
6. The Chancel - High Altar - Sedilia
This may almost be said to provide a "thumbnail sketch" of English history. Underneath lie the remains of the old Saxon church, while the two side walls survive from the Norman Church. The perpendicular windows are the work of Edmund Lacy (Bishop of Exeter 1420-55), who attended the Battle of Agincourt as Chaplain to Henry V. 400 years later, another great churchman, Edward Bouverie Pusey, one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement (whose early adherents were nicknamed "Puseyites"), whilst on holiday in Paignton, caused the altar (there was then only one) to be restored and the chancel to be redecorated. An American association is recalled by the ORGAN* presented in 1889 by Paris Singer, of the Sewing Machine manufacturing family, who built and for three-quarters of a century resided at, Oldway. The choir now occupy the chancel (they are first mentioned - as "ye clerkes; of Payngton" - in 1539 in the churchwardens accounts of S. Saviour's Dartmouth). Sir Edwin Deller (1883 - 1935), Principal of London University, was a boy chorister here. Up to 1740 the choir occupied the rood loft on the mediaeval screen, this was removed and the choir relegated to the West Gallery. Further vandalism occurred in 1870 when the lower part of the screen was removed. The present screen, which reproduces the main features of the original, was executed by Herbert Read of Exeter and presented in 1906 by Mr. A. T Barton of Pembrook College, Oxford. The Rood was erected in 1923 in memory of the Paignton men who gave their lives in the first World War. An earlier and unsuccessful attempt, in 1880, to place one there sparked off controversy that aroused worldwide interest. Note the stair way to the old rood loft rising from the Lady Chapel. The sedilia (seats for the clergy) in the south wall of the sanctuary, was restored in 1870, being designed after an old pattern and constructed partly of ancient fragments.
7. The South Transept - Kirkham Chantry
(S. Michael's Chapel)
This is separated from the nave by a stone screen bi-sected by an entrance doorway. The recumbent figures probably represent Nicholas Kirkham (1434-1516) of Blagdon, his wife Jane, and his parents Robert and Elizabeth Kirkham. The screen is covered with images, those on the outside being male figures. Mutilation has made certain identification impossible in many cases, but those around the door are obviously the Twelve Apostles, with S. Paul (not S. Matthias) replacing Judas Iscariot. Various other saints appear, as do also twelve mourners in contemporary costume. Twelve female mourners occupy corresponding positions inside, while twelve female saints correspond to the Apostles. The flat sculptured panels at the head and feet of the effigies are particularly interesting. The western most depicts the Visitation, while facing it is a panel of the "Holy Family" showing Our Lord's earthly relatives and also the Holy Trinity subjects, according to one writer (M. D. Anderson in 'History by the Highway') rarely, if ever, depicted in chantries. The eastern tomb contains panels of S. Roche and S. Anthony of Egypt, popular in the 15th century as protectors against untimely death. Facing it is the panel of the "Mass of S. Gregory" showing our Lord appearing to the Saint as he was celebrating the Holy Communion, thereby converting a person who doubted Christ's Presence in the Sacrament.
8. The Recess in the South Aisle Wall
This contains a "Cadaver" monument showing a decaying corpse. It is thought to be of a 15th century Irish Bishop who also acted as a Suffragan Bishop of Exeter and died in Paignton. It probably once occupied its own chantry chapel, now swept away. The recess, like its fellow opposite, leads to a vault below.
9. The Organ
The first organ in the Parish Church was built c. 1830 by a parishioner named Waycott, who was subsequently the first organist at the Church, the music having previously been supplied by the church band. Its replacement was built in 1858 by Waycott's son who, unfortunately, drowned just before the opening ceremony. In April 1877 Henry Speechly of London completed a new two-manual organ for the Church, the 1858 Waycoft instrument being moved to Broadhempston Church.
In 1889, to celebrate his coming of age, Paris Singer donated funds for a new three-manual organ which was built under the tower by Charles Martin of Oxford. It cost £2,020 which included a gas engine, fixed in the ringing chamber, to provide the bellows with wind. The magnificent case was designed by Mardon Mowbray, and built by Messrs. Thompson of Peterborough. A picture of the case may be seen on the photographs page of this website. The Speechly organ went into storage, and was later erected in the newly-built daughter church of St. Andrew. In 1896, the organ was moved to its present position in the south aisle chapel, necessitating alteration to the case, and the pneumatic action was renewed. In 1906 the organ was rebuilt by Forster & Andrews of Hull, and in 1930 by Hele & Co. of Plymouth. In 1967, the overhaul by Henry Willis IV brought the tonal scheme more into line with contemporary fashion. George Osmond & Co. of Taunton converted the key and pedal action to electro-pneumatic in 1980 and made some other alterations, and further alterations were carried out in 1985 by the Deane Organ Builders of Taunton. In 1998, the organ was fully renovated and improved by Deane Organ Builders. The instrument consists of three manuals and pedals with 54 speaking stops, 17 couplers, 2 tremulants, and a full complement of registration aids which includes a 64 level piston capture system. The organ has approximately 2,500 pipes and is one of the West Country's finest parish church organs, capable of supporting all the demands of service work, and the performance of organ works from all periods and schools.
Gareth L. Perkins, M.A., F.R.S.M., F.T.C.L.., F.L.C.M., A.R.C.M. Organist & Choirmaster 1997- 2010
10. The Tower
The lower half was built by Bishop Grandisson (c. 1327) and the top part by Bishop Lacy (probably 1438 et seq.), causing the Paignton landscape to be dominated ever since by a noble memorial to two of the great names in the story of the church in Devon. Note the West Doorway (removed from an earlier building) and the slots in the portals, thought to be intended to support beams for a stage for "Miracle Plays" or public proclamations.
11. The Churchyard Cross
The base is mediaeval, the head and arms being a modern replica erected in 1895, from a fund subscribed by local children, after the original had been damaged.
12. The South Porch (14 Cent)
It may contain remains (pillar and capitals supporting roof vaulting) of a Sedilia once in the church.
13. The Sacristy and Choir Vestries
Presented by Sir Mortimer Singer in 1914.
14. The Coverdale Tower and Bishops Palace
Paignton's "Manor House", though never so described. From Saxon times until 1549 Paignton was an Episcopal manor, i.e. it belonged to the Bishops of Exeter. The Palace has disappeared, but its outer fortifications remain; the Vicarage (1910) and parish hall (1951) are in the grounds. The name 'Coverdale Tower' recalls an erroneous tradition that Miles Coverdale, Bishop of Exeter 1551-3, translated the Bible in it, but his translation was published 16 years before he became Bishop.
15. North Chancel Door
Note scratches around this door, said to have been made by archers (who practiced in Coverdale Tower the churchyard) sharpening their arrows. Thanks are due to Professor M. D. Anderson for permission to quote comments from "History by the Highway".
16. The Bells
Were last tuned and rehung by John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough in 1963.
The Parish Registers commence in 1559 and are complete; they are now at the Devon Record Office in Exeter, as are also the Churchwardens Accounts (1699-1874). The monument inscriptions have been recorded by the local branch of the Devonshire Association, and copies of the record (indexed) may be consulted at the Paignton Public Library, Courtland Road, Paignton, or at Torquay Public Library, Lymington Road, Torquay. A copy has also been deposited with the Society of Genealogists in London. Photo-stat copies of the first volume of the Parish Registers (1559-1730), of the Vestry Minute Book (1870-1982), the Church School Minute Book (1866-1950) and of a church expenses account book (1862-1924) are also at Torquay Public Library.