In 2019 we met at St Michael Penkivel to hear the most enlightening talk by John Allan, who is the Exeter Cathedral archaeologist. John had us riveted for over an hour as he explained how during the Decorated period c.1250-1350 work down in this part of Cornwall was as elaborate in design assome of the work undertaken at Exeter and Wells, the leading Gothic-style in Europe at the time. Although not on the same scale the use of ‘S’ shaped tracery and elaborate curvilinear designs can be found in many of Cornwall’s parish churches such as St Michael Penkivel and also agroup in South East Cornwall centred on St Germans, St Ive and Sheviock. Nick Jeans also made a short presentation about St Michael Penkivel church, pointing out the face of William Morris planted on the little devil figure in the bottom left corner of the East window – a jest by the artist who did not credit Morris with the respect he enjoyed at the time.
Notes from the talk
CORNISH CHURCHES IN THE DECORATED STYLE, c. 1260–1350
Although most Cornish churches are mainly or entirely in the Perpendicular style, there is more Dec work in Cornwall than is often appreciated, & any judgment of the achievements of this period needs to bear in mind the fundamental point that the most important work has been destroyed.
Monastic sites with important building programmes in this period
The two most ambitious works of the period were those at Launceston Priory and Glasney College, Penryn. Both have been demolished and are known only from excavated remains, including their architectural fragments.
Glasney was closely related to the Exeter Cathedral, both in design and building stones, including work closely related to two major national figures: THOMAS WITNEY and WILLIAM JOY.
Launceston Priory shows more mixed connections. The rib profiles are close to work at Bristol, the likely source of architect, since this was a house of the Augustinian Canons, but the choir screen and floor-tiles are Exeter works, and Exeter was surely the source of its remarkably complex tracery.
Parish churches with stylistic links to Exeter Cathedral
St Ive Closest and perhaps the most important survival, probably resulting from the connections of Bartholomew de Castro, the ‘right-hand-man’ of Bishop Grandisson.
Related to this, a group of works, mainly in south-east Cornwall with closely related features of c. 1325–50: South Hill, Sheviock, Tywardreath St Germans and St Michael Penkevil. Also linked to this group: the ?shrine arch at St Neot;
St Columb Major – surprisingly ambitious, the caps very similar to those at Exeter Cathedral .
Other parish churches with ambitious work
Lostwithiel, now the most impressive example of the Dec style in Cornwall.
Bodmin ?charnel chapel
Other more modest works, rather overlooked, include Saltash
Spires – St Enodoc, Cubert, Rame, St Minver, Gerrans, etc.
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Street, G.E. 1853 ‘On the distinctive features of the Middle Pointed Churches of Cornwall’, Transactions of the Exeter Diocesan Architectural Society (1853), ser.1, vol.4, 86–102.
Window tracery. (a) Exeter Cathedral, west window; (b–d) St Ive; (e–g) Sheviock; (h) South Hill; (i) St Germans; (j) Tywardreath; (k–l) St Michael Penkevil.