Dartmoor Churches & Chapels – Community & Conservation

12th September 2009.

The Dartmoor Society 12th Annual Debate

Dartmoor Churches And Chapels – Community And Conservation

The Chapter House, Exeter Cathedral, 12th September 2009

Nearly sixty participants were welcomed to the Chapter House of Exeter Cathedral by Dr Tom Greeves, Chairman of The Dartmoor Society who said he was specially pleased that Dartmoor had been brought to Exeter in this 1100th year of the Diocese. He then introduced Peter Beacham OBE, President of the Society and Heritage Protection Director of English Heritage, as Chairman for the day, and as the first speaker.

His talk, given from an official English Heritage position, was titled ‘Listing: Bane or Blessing?’:

‘I welcome the Dartmoor Society’s initiative in promoting this debate.  My aim this morning is to stimulate such a debate by setting out English Heritage’s position on the future of our historic places of worship.

We need to understand what the system for protecting our heritage is – and is not.  It has an honourable history, stretching back to William Morris. The legislation originated in the late nineteenth century in the first Ancient Monuments Act as a reaction to the over-restoration and destruction of churches, cathedrals and monuments.  Scheduling of ancient monuments was invented as a mechanism for preserving something – a site, a ruin, sometimes an unoccupied building – that essentially was going to stay as it was, in stasis. Places of worship cannot be scheduled.  Listing of historic buildings is quite different in intention.  It is about managing change to ensure that the special interest of buildings, which is the reason for their listing, is safeguarded in the process of change.  Consent (introduced in 1968) has to be sought for any change that affects that special interest: it is a mark of the success of the system and its good health that 95% of all LBC (Listed Building Consent) applications are granted.

There are nearly 500,000 listed buildings, of which around 20,530 are listed places of worship.  This comprises 14,635 churches, the vast majority in Church of England ownership and management, and 5,895 non-conformist chapels, Roman Catholic churches, synagogues, and a few mosques and temples. There is a tension between the mission and the maintenance of buildings.

Six Christian denominations enjoy the ecclesiastical exemption, a dispensation from the need to obtain LBC provided that each denomination can demonstrate that it has mechanisms to maintain levels of control equivalent to the secular system.  The exemption is jealously guarded by the exempt denominations, but is opposed in principle by some who regard it as inadequate.  The exemption remains under perennial review.

The heritage protection system is currently being overhauled by government through a process called Heritage Protection Reform.  A Heritage Protection Bill which would merge the current listing, scheduling and registration regimes has been prepared but is currently stalled.  A new draft Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 15 is currently out for consultation and espouses the basic approach to reform set out in the draft Bill.  It too is based on the integrated approach to the historic environment and on assessment of the relative significance of historic assets, and especially an approach to their protection and management based on partnership.  Central to this concept is the establishment of Heritage Partnership Agreements (HPAs) that devolve management to owners and managers, subject to the provisions of the Agreement and a default mechanism to the statutory process.  Significantly, of the 30 or so pilot projects set out over England to test the HPA approach, three are based on ecclesiastical assets – in Canterbury and Rochester Cathedral precincts and in the Taunton Deanery of the Diocese of Bath and Wells.  These projects are aimed at streamlining processes – in the case of the Taunton project, the streamlining of the Faculty Jurisdiction process of the Church of England, with the active encouragement of the Chancellor of the Bath and Wells Diocese, Timothy Briden.

  • May I suggest, against that background, the issues which may come to the fore during our debate today:
  • Are there too many churches and chapels listed?  Probably not on balance, but some refinements may be helpful.  We undertook a study of Cornish Methodist chapels in the late 1990s and found that we needed to review the list to remove certain chapels, re-grade others, and add new chapels.
  • Can English Heritage be more helpful to owners and managers of churches and chapels in distinguishing what matters and what doesn’t?  Certainly we can, and we should.  By adopting the PPS approach to assessing relative significance, revised list descriptions could much more readily distinguish between what matters in a Grade I building from what does not: it is not all of equal merit.  There is much more flexibility than is often assumed.  For example, there are historic pews that matter and pews that do not.
  • My belief is that history is, as ever, instructive.  Most of our medieval churches, often occupying sites that display a continuity of occupation of a sacred place from pre-Christian times, have seen vast amounts of change in their hundreds of years of existence – changes to the fabric of huge extent, sometimes many times over, but also changes of use.  Most of our historic churches were once used as the principal meeting places of the parish, even for markets, alongside their principal function for worship.  So our contemporary idea of re-introducing post-offices, doctor’s surgeries, or markets, into them is nothing new.  Nor is physical change, like the re-introduction of major features such as a gallery as has been so brilliantly achieved in St Michael’s, Chagford (by Allen Van der Steen).  I see the wider community reclaiming the parish church as its valued meeting place as the way forward all over England.
  • We need to be aware of different ecclesiologies.  The Roman Catholic church regards sacred space as just that, and exclusively so and not to be used for other purposes.  At the other pole, Methodism has more of the “tabernacle in the wilderness” or “tent in the desert” approach that is ready to accept that the life of a chapel may be transient, and when the need for it is gone, so can the building. An example of this approach has recently involved a chapel at Luckett in Cornwall.  And in the middle ground, sits the Church of England, where different uses are increasingly being accepted as compatible with the retention and safe-guarding of sacred space. Notions of a ‘place of pilgrimage’ and of a ‘quiet place’ are very important.

We must ensure consistency of approach.  English Heritage has an important role in setting and maintaining consistent policies for adapting and extending historic places of worship, both by its own casework advice and in its training of local authority staff and other practitioners.’

Peter then opened the debate to participants.

Richard Knights queried the exemption system for LBC – PB responded by saying that when properly used it was a gold standard and that mostly it works very well. A review of the system was under way, and he is keen to make it more flexible. He believed that we should trust architects more.

Paul Cooper asked about examples of listing, to which PB replied that pews generated a great deal of interesting debate. It was a ‘nonsense’ that all pewed chapels should be retained, as many of them were acquired out of catalogues. PB felt that the listing descriptions needed to be improved.

Mike Hedges asked if there was enough money available to achieve what was necessary. PB replied that there wasn’t enough funding and that 20% cuts were expected – this made it all the more imperative that sensible use is made of churches.

Quentin Morgan-Edwards asked if people below Peter Beacham shared his ideas about change. PB said it was his role to make sure that they did! He strongly believed that there was not enough consistency in the whole process. He felt that amenity groups could be very influential.

Christopher Meathrel asked about the Images of England Project. In PB’s view it ‘brings life to the list.’

Peter Beacham then introduced the Venerable John Rawlings, Archdeacon of Totnes, whose talk was titled ‘Current Pastoral Care and the Future Presence of the Church in the Dartmoor Parishes’:

‘Dartmoor – land of mist and mystery; of tors and tourists; of murderers and monks; of tinners and warreners; of fertile valley and barren waste; of pony and pilgrim; of grand house and homely cottage; of people and problem; of priest and parish. Dartmoor’s history and significance is far better known to all of you than me, although it has been a significant part of my life since my marriage in 1969; through my time as chaplain of the Naval College at Dartmouth when regular visits tried to bring encouragement to cadets who were being tried for their leadership qualities and ‘stickability’ in difficult circumstances. And then as parish priest on the edge of its massive life, in Tavistock, over which it loomed alternately as friend and foe. Now, as Archdeacon whose area covers nearly all of the Moor (my colleague of Plymouth has some parts on the edge within his jurisdiction) I travel its roads and meet its people day by day. As a driver, usually needing to get somewhere on a tight time-scale, it brings its frustrations, but even then I am forced to admire its beauty, grandeur and awesomeness and to ponder its reflection of the God whose life impregnates every inch of its being. When I was appointed to this post the former Bishop of Plymouth, John Garton, wrote to me and said I had one of the most beautiful and enchanting archdeaconries in England, encompassing countryside, coastline and above all the Moor. He was right and I believe my task is the envy of many of my colleagues in the more urban areas of our land.

But today I must focus on those who have been part of its life, and shaped that life over many centuries and those who continue to do so – people. People who have joys and sorrows, faith and doubt, problems and pains, who live in communities and isolation, who are inspired by their surroundings or sometimes fearful of them, but who nevertheless find the Moor captivating as well as demanding. Since England was divided into parishes over a thousand years ago every inch of the Moor has an identity with a community based on a parish church – whether regular worshippers or not. The Moor boasts the largest parish in England in terms of size. The parochial system means that everyone has a claim to the ministry of a priest and the use of their parish church. The Establishment of the Church of England is often now challenged – and nowadays understandably, although it is not a new challenge by any means, but its great claim is that of responsibility for all, rather than status or privilege, and that everyone within its boundaries has rights under law which they can expect to be fulfilled. All are included unless they choose to opt out. It may be a concept which is no longer fashionable and many question, but I believe it still has a great deal to say about the nature of the God who welcomes and offers wholeness and newness of life to all who seek it. Every parish church on the Moor bears witness to this and many have done for a tremendous length of time. Centuries which have seen the great moments of people’s lives acknowledged in their church – birth, marriage and death – as well as a regular round of worship and prayer which has sustained many in their journey of life.

The Moor itself has bred a certain kind of spirituality. To live amongst nature in its beauty and its fear has given people a respect for seasons and the vagaries of constantly changing weather patterns. The soil, the rock, the demands of scraping a living against the odds, contribute to a respect for nature as displayed in moorland life. To farm on the Moor is a challenge but has been in the generations of many who have lived to meet the demands. Shepherd and farmer have developed a spirituality of their own and one of the priests I serve, who has some of the parishes in the high moorland, speaks of a depth of engagement with nature, the land and the climate at a level which does not find expression in the liturgical language of Church services or the superficial understanding of the Christian faith. There is a depth of perception which only comes from long years of facing the elements and rearing sheep and cattle in harsh circumstances. Time to listen is vital, and silence is often more important than words.

There are still many communities on the Moor. Many very small. Some made up of those who have lived all their lives in the place and their forebears before them. Others which contain incomers who have bought houses for holiday and recreation – re-creation; an engagement with nature at its most glorious and demanding. In some cases the new people want to play a full part in their community and long to belong. In other cases they are happy to buy their weekend shopping in Harrods and travel to the Moor in their 4X4s and live in isolation from the indigenous population. Their presence and available money have driven out many of the younger people who can no longer afford to buy property and carry on living where their roots are and where they have been brought up. This is not only true of the Moor but many other parts of Devon, not least the coastal parts. In many places the population of communities has become very small. Most of the work available on the Moor requires less manpower with the increase of modern technology – a single tractor can now do the work of a great number of men; quad bikes can cover more ground more quickly than a single shepherd. Farmers are isolated; which brings all sorts of consequences – as was demonstrated in the Foot and Mouth crisis earlier this decade. Tourism now occupies the lives of many farmers as they diversify to sustain their farms and livings. The Moor now needs the huge number of tourists who range its roads season after season.

And those who come to the Moor to seek its solitude and grandeur visit the churches and chapels which mark the landscape. Those churches which are open for visitors during the day – and most are – have very interesting stories to tell of people from far and wide, from the UK and much further afield, who have left comments in the visitors’ book.

But all this makes very heavy demands on the people of the Church Community and those surrounding it. Most of the buildings are ancient and this brings constant headaches regarding maintenance and survival. For small communities to maintain a building which is centuries old is a formidable task. When they were erected these houses of worship and centres of community were not expected to have a life as long as we have given them. There are many accounts of mediaeval churches serving a period of time and then falling into disrepair, after which the people would allow it to crumble and then build a new one. Conservation was not a part of their vocabulary – nor was it thought necessary. What had served its purpose was replaced to serve a new generation. We now have a different attitude which brings with it new demands of expense and vision. Never before has such money been spent or raised for the preservation of these buildings. This would seem strange to many in what has been called a very secular age, but communities have been galvanised into action to secure the structure of its church building not necessarily as a place of worship but as a symbol of its identity and history. People will often give very generously to keep their church in good order because of what it represents, even if their attendance at its worship is infrequent or never. The church building itself says something about the community and can still be a focal point of that. Other familiar points of community have long since disappeared – the Post Office, sometimes the pub, the school and the shop. But the church remains – and not only the building but the community it represents.

The Church always has to face the realities of life. That is a Gospel imperative. Its faith is not about hiding from reality but facing it boldly and with vision and inspiration. Ten years ago people could rightly say that the rural communities were diminishing, congregations were falling and there was no hope of redressing this. We could withdraw and concentrate on the main centres of population. But that is not what a Church, built on faith in an immanent, incarnate God and loving service to all in his name, is about. It is vital that the presence of the Church is seen and felt in every community. This led to the Diocese of Exeter producing a report in 2003 called Moving on in Mission and Ministry. After much consultation and deliberation the report recommended that there should be a representative worshipping and witnessing group of people in every place – even the smallest village. This was in the light of the fact that the number of stipendiary clergy would reduce over the next decade and that cover of parishes for pastoral care and worship would be severely challenged. The number of paid clergy has been diminishing and will continue to do so for some years to come. There cannot be a paid priest for every parish – but that has been so for many decades and all are familiar with the amalgamation of parishes with one Rector or Vicar to care for them. This is not new, especially in moorland terms as there are numerous places where there is a priest room above the south porch or somewhere else for a visiting priest to stay overnight before presiding at the services the following day. I have always loved looking at the thatched house in the churchyard at Buckland-in-the-Moor, now used as a vestry and store for lawnmowers, but which once provided a place for the priest to stay and a stable for his horse. Plurality of parishes is no new thing. The Victorian idyll of a priest for every parish was never a reality and certainly not in remote rural settings.

When asked to produce the report Moving on in Mission and Ministry the Archdeacon of Plymouth and his group looked at how the diocese could be served by 150 paid priests and about 150 self-supporting ones. The number of stipendiary clergy each diocese is allocated each year is worked out by a formula which seeks to be fair to all dioceses, both rural and urban, and we have to balance the needs of parishes with the number of clergy available. But the important thing about this report was that it asked all the faithful to examine where their ministry as baptized Christians called them to be. All have a part to play in the life of the Church and not just the ordained clergy. This has borne fruit in many places where lay people have explored the possibilities of their ministries and are offering their time and abilities as worship leaders, pastoral assistants, musicians and in many other ways which enhance the life of the Church. Teams of such people have already been acknowledged and commended for their work in Okehampton and Chagford.  There has also been a new initiative as part of the process in appointing what we are calling Mission Priests, whose task is not parochial or pastoral in the usual sense, but in creating new opportunities of outreach across a wider area.  One such is an appointment to the Okehampton Deanery of a priest living at South Tawton, who is specifically working with families, schools and young people which is proving a very positive addition to the work already being done in the parishes of the Deanery.

Parishes were asked to think carefully and prayerfully about where their natural neighbours were and where links were natural. Thus parishes could be mutually supportive and form what we are calling ‘Mission Communities’. Their task is to form alliances which can help make the mission of the Church effective in even the smallest of hamlets as well as established villages. A priest overseeing nine or ten villages cannot be in every place all the time but the presence of the Church Community is still there. The priest shares his/her ministry and enables all the lay people to exercise their own ministry fully. Thus the Church is present and carrying on its work. This is now beginning to become a reality even though there is sometimes an uphill struggle to change the mindset that the only representative of the Church is an ordained priest.

It is of paramount importance that the Church still offers its pastoral care and opportunities for worship in every community. One of the things which helps this has been the new Diocese Pastoral and Mission Measure – the latest edict from the General Synod – which seeks to allow new ways of working and encourages vision in each parish according to their circumstances. For instance, the use of church buildings.  However costly their maintenance and the drain this is on communities as well as congregations, there is now the possibility of using churches for other activities as well as regular worship. Some have already welcomed the setting up of post offices and doctors’ surgeries in their buildings. As many local amenities diminish or disappear the church building often remains the only public place in the village. The new rules not only allow but encourage imaginative use of the space available. After all the times in which many of our churches were built saw them used for the local market, courtroom and social gathering place. We are in some ways returning to that – even though there are many small communities which have their own village hall.

Another consideration is the ecumenical dimension. Other Christian traditions have often left their places of worship and sold them off, concentrating on the more populated areas where the response is naturally greater or the outreach can be more fully recognised. The Church of England is deeply committed to being part of every community, however difficult that becomes in terms of resources and buildings. Often the Church is the only place left in a community – and that needs to be vibrant and visionary in order to make the best use of its plant and the people’s ministries it can offer. When the only place left is the parish church people of all traditions and none gravitate to its services and social activity. People from all denominations can be found in congregations, not just because their own has no place nearby but because being together as a community is important in identifying with the people and place where you live.

I have come across Methodists, Baptists, Roman Catholic and other Christians – and even Jewish families – worshipping in their local parish church, not just because that is all that is available without travelling distances, but because they want to identify with their neighbours as a community at prayer and social activity. In looking at their mission to the community some parishes are having talks with other denominations, particularly the Methodists, to form Mission Communities on an ecumenical basis. There is already a Local Ecumenical Project in Princetown where the Anglican congregation has shared a building with the Methodists for some years now, after the parish church could no longer be used safely. And Buckfastleigh is working towards a joint church with the Methodist congregation there to form a Mission Community. There will be others as the whole initiative unfolds.

Many have said, somewhat critically and sceptically, that this is clutching at straws and an attempt to manage decline. I defy this and the signs of life and growth are evident in many places. The diocese itself has espoused a strategy for growth over the next decade. We are optimistic, being people of resurrection and new life and do not believe the difficulties we face will have the final say. There are some tremendous things happening in the Moorland Churches and many people giving all they can to maintain the life of the Church and the pastoral care it offers to all and sundry. In fact, in recent years Exeter Diocese is one of the few in the Church of England which has noted growth in numbers of people attending church on Sundays and at other times.

That phrase, at other times, is important because there are initiatives which reach out to people to meet and worship on other days – using church buildings for after school groups and mother and toddlers.

There are also visionary projects which could take shape on the Moor. I was talking to a priest recently who has worked in this diocese in the past, then went to work elsewhere, but has returned and is at present working as minister to a Methodist/United Reformed Church congregation. He was instrumental in the work which was begun at Princetown in the Parish Church after it was condemned as unsafe, then was taken over by a trust to be a home for ecological concerns and the spirituality prompted by Moorland life.  He now hopes to set up what is called the ‘Tormentil Initiative’. The tormentil itself is a plant with a small cross-shaped flower, found all over the Moor. As he says, it spreads among the tangled stems of grasses and other heathland plants, the tiny crosses together shining like a myriad of gold stars. Tormentil is considered one of the safest and most powerful of our native English astringents, useful for stomach complaints as well as ulcers and sore throats. His initiative is grounded in the theology and traditions of mainstream Christian denominations and located within the context of Dartmoor. It has the following elements:

  • Finding ways to help people experience the Moor in the context of retreats and study days
  • Designing study material to assist churches and society at large to engage with climate and ecology issues
  • Help churches address practical questions about energy use
  • Collect and develop worship material to enable churches to bring ecological concerns into the heart of their worshipping life
  • Create a network of people committed to adopting and exploring a contemporary Christian lifestyle.

We hope this initiative will bear fruit in the near future. And there are other thoughts which Bishop John of Plymouth has about setting up communities on the Moor for places of reflection and formation, specially for those who are feeling called to ordained ministry. Much of the training now is done through regional and diocesan courses while those involved continue their normal working lives in order to maintain their families and homes. They need times when they can be apart and reflect on their lives and the calling to which they have responded. The Moor is a tremendous asset in doing this and houses dotted across its span could be very useful for allowing this to happen. The Moor has a lot to offer for anyone contemplating a life of service to people as priest or deacon.

In conclusion, then, I want to say that there is a very lively spirituality still in the parishes of the Moor. Dedicated clergy and lay people, who offer the pastoral care which the Church of England and our ecumenical partners have offered for centuries, will still be there, but in a different way. Moorland spirituality will continue to offer much to people both within and without the formal Church structures. The buildings will continue to be visited by many walkers and tourists, and their beauty and sometimes starkness will inspire and give hope to many. The constraints of stipendiary clergy numbers will not stop the life of the Church in all its fullness as all the Baptised play their full part in its ministry. The sick will be visited, the bereaved offered care, the dying shown the love of Christ, the newly born baptised and those of riper years, the young prepared for confirmation, the loving couples married, the dead buried, the faithful fed by word and sacrament, teaching and pastoral care. I believe the future is very bright, not without its difficulties and challenge, but with a renewed vigour and excitement, which will build on the past and have a very positive outlook for the future.

The rock I touch bears the marks of millions of years of history. It speaks to me of all that has gone before and of so much of what has brought us to where we are now. It witnesses to the past but also holds strength for the future. Our Lord spoke of those who built on sand and on rock and how the latter stood the test of flood and tempest. The Church on Dartmoor is built on the rock of Christ and on the rock of eternal granite – its future is assured.’

PB then encouraged question and comment to both JR and himself.

Anthony Beard mentioned that in Widecombe-in-the-Moor church, which is known as the ‘Cathedral of the Moor’, exhibits inside the church are of great interest to visitors. He believes that much more use should be made of two-thirds of the church space. JR commented that the presence of stewards (as at Tavistock) is very helpful and important for visitors, as they provide a human presence.

Geoffrey Wrayford commented that the established liturgies of the church do not seem to reflect the ‘liturgy of the Earth’, which creates a tension for the churchgoer or would-be churchgoer. Perhaps there is a need to change the form of worship? JR said that there was a movement called ‘Fresh Expressions’ which was trying to engage communities in different ways.

Jonathan Aylett asked whether there was likely to be any reform of VAT on repairs to religious buildings, which he considered to be ‘a great iniquity’. PMB said that VAT was both chargeable and iniquitous. So far, despite several attempts, English Heritage had got nowhere when trying to persuade the Treasury to lift the VAT burden.

Judy Moss raised the question of how non-believers are accepted in churches. She and many others felt uncomfortable with vocabulary such as ‘spirituality’. She said that non-believers needed an assurance that, if they entered a church, they would not be put under pressure to join the church community. JR responded by saying that a shared common humanity was the great thing and should be the guiding principle. PB endorsed this, saying that churches have to be open to all.

A lady from Holne mentioned the Friends of Holne Church as a positive group.

Elizabeth Jarrold told of the community of Cornworthy who had raised a very large sum of money for the repair of their church tower. The church bazaar was now held in the church, not the village hall.

Christopher Meathrel asked if there was a ‘Churches at Risk’ register for Dartmoor, given the loss of so many other community facilities in rural areas?  The answer was that there is no register as such. JR commented that each parish was different. He also mentioned that about £8 million per annum comes from parishes in the Diocese of Exeter as their ‘Common Fund’ contribution to the £12-£13m needed. He acknowledged that this can cause real problems for some parishes.

PB then introduced Penny Perkins, churchwarden of Throwleigh, to launch the showing of the 20-minute film of the Throwleigh Festival held 24-26 April 2009.

Penny informed the gathering that Throwleigh parish on NE Dartmoor had a population of about 300, of whom about 24 were on the church electoral roll. It formed part of the Whiddon Benefice of eight parishes. The idea for the Festival stemmed from asking the question, ‘How would the community feel if the church was closed?’ Many people in the parish said, ‘I don’t come to church, but….’, revealing a deep attachment to the church as an historic building and to what it represented.

The film, edited by novice (but amazingly skilled) Dave Hatton from 6 hours of film, showed what happened when the community tapped into the creative ability of people in the parish. St Mary’s church was transformed into an exhibition and performance space – a musical concert was held in it on the Saturday evening. Providence Chapel was used for a children’s music competition. A bell-ringing competition was held, with a trophy. Therapies were offered, gardens were opened, and the Village Hall hosted an exhibition and teas.

Dawn Hatton, Festival Organiser, then talked about how the Festival was created. Part of its inspiration came from the Dartmoor Society Literary Festival held in Tavistock in 2008 and acquisition of an Awards for All grant made it financially viable. One year of planning was required, with a steering group of nine people.  DNPA and the Dartmoor Society also helped with grants.

The age range of participants stretched from 4 months to 98 years, from all walks of life. Once people realised that anyone could take part, ‘the village was buzzing’. New skills were acquired as was equipment (projector, laptop computer and screen) for the Village Hall. Sales of CDs and DVDs raised money for the church.  The whole process was a celebration of people’s talent, with many performing who had never done so before. Above all, the Festival t raised awareness of the needs of both church and chapel, and of the need to be as inclusive as possible.  Future events are already being planned.

Before lunch, presentations were made to Mike Hedges and Sue Andrew by Peter Beacham, of gifts of engraved and inscribed glass from the Society, for their long service to the Executive Committee in different roles.

After a buffet lunch, participants divide into separate groups to be taken by guides on tours of the cathedral, the cathedral roof, the library and Bishop Grandisson’s chapel.

The speaker for the afternoon, on ‘Photographing Dartmoor Churches’, was Harland Walshaw, photographer, and co-author with John Lane of Devon’s Churches – A Celebration (Green Books). Harland began by paying tribute to Edwin Smith whom he called ‘the greatest photographer of English churches’, working especially in the 1950s and 1960s.  He and John Lane selected some 250 churches in Devon for their book. Their guides were Pevsner and Hoskins.

Harland revealed that he rarely photographed exteriors – he liked to go inside and get the feel of each church.  His was ‘a different kind of worship’ – through his eyes. He remarked on the wonderful richness of woodwork in Devon churches.

His preferred camera for his black and white work was a German Rolleiflex, fifty years old. This produced 2 ¼ inch square negatives. He used natural light, with exposures (on a tripod) of 15 secs/30 secs/1 min. He found that overexposing the film, and then underdeveloping it in the darkroom, gave the best range of blacks and greys. Days without sunshine were best. Rain itself can be wonderful as wetness reflects light.

He was not keen on carpets! Among churches that made a special impression on him were Brentor, not only for its location but because there were carvings of plants that reflected the surrounding hedgerows. He likened the pinnacles on the tower of Sampford Courtenay church to ‘the ears of a hare’. Buckland-in-the-Moor church had a ‘fabulous interior’ and font, and Manaton was ‘wonderfully atmospheric’. In North Bovey there were benches polished by ‘centuries of congregations’.

The surviving finely carved medieval rood screens were ‘some of the greatest works of art in Devon, as good as anything in any art gallery or museum’. The contrast between the plain granite pillars and the rich carving of the woodwork is one of the particular delights of Dartmoor churches.

PB had to leave for London at the end of Harland’s talk, and Geoffrey Wrayford stepped in as chairman for the rest of the day.

In a question session, Harland was asked why he used black and white, to which he replied that the publishers demanded it! He himself preferred it. He was not averse to using digital cameras. Mostly he was with John Lane on his visits. He would make use of stepladders or scaffolding to reach some difficult spots.

Anthony Beard asked if anybody had photographic evidence of painted religious texts on the walls of Widecombe church, which he himself remembered seeing many years ago.

In the final discussion period, Tom Greeves read out an email from Jenny Pratt of Sourton:

‘Please send my apologies to the meeting as a representative of St Thomas á Becket Church, Sourton. We would have liked to be there as it is very relevant to us as a small ancient church on the edge of Dartmoor. At present our 14th century tower is hidden behind scaffolding as part of essential restoration work partly funded by English Heritage. The whole project is estimated to cost £193,000 of which EH will give us 60% if we can find the balance before this December. We have been working hard at fundraising and since Easter we have raised over £5000 serving cream teas in the parish hall near the church on Sunday afternoons and Bank Holidays. We are fortunate to have the Granite Way cycle track running adjacent to the churchyard. Many cyclists, walkers and holidaymakers have come, as well as local people who enjoy the social occasion. We have a tiny and elderly congregation (average 12). The scattered parish has a population of 350. We have also applied for as many grants as possible and are very grateful for all the support we have been offered. We are now £3800 short of our total and have every confidence we can achieve it. Today (Saturday 12th) we are busy serving cream teas. Half of the money is going to Devon Historic Churches Trust for their annual fundraising day. They have been very generous to us. We would love to hear any ideas from the meeting.’

Tom Greeves asked if enough was being done to share information about the wonderful craftsmanship in our churches, and whether there was anything the Dartmoor Society might do in this respect, such as offering an award for the best church guide.  Concern was expressed that internet or other images of some of the precious items, including painted screens, could pose a risk, but Harland Walshaw and others felt that such a risk should be lived with and that churches should remain as open and accessible as possible. Brentor was cited as an example of a church open 24 hours a day. The possibility of some sort of community watch system specifically for churches, was mooted.

Geoffrey Wrayford mentioned that Lympstone church was used for school assemblies twice per week.

The day was drawn to a close by Dr Tom Greeves, Chairman of the Dartmoor Society, who mentioned that the absence of anybody from Dartmoor National Park Authority (members or officers), despite being given ample advance notice, was noteworthy and disappointing. Bill Hitchins, chairman of the Authority, had spoken to him by telephone, asking if the National Park Authority should be doing anything.

Finally, all who had made the day so successful were thanked, including the coordinator Geoffrey Wrayford, the speakers, the caterers, the guides, those manning tables and working behind the scenes and, especially, the participants.

Tom Greeves

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