Church History & Guide
Welcome to St. Matthias' Historic Guide
The Churches that stand at the hearts of our communities are visible symbols both of the human search for God, and our worship of Him.
And, from the grandest cathedral to the humblest parish church, each building has a story to tell.
St Matthias’ is no different. From the deep longings of the community of Ilsham and Wellswood in the 19th century to have their own place of worship, to the thriving church community here coping with the demands of being the church in the 21st century, and reaching out to our neighbourhood… our church tells its own story.
We invite you to come and take time to look around, and enjoy what the building has to offer, to take time to be quiet and listen to God, as well as joining us in prayer (this history has many suggestions for that.).
Above all, give thanks to God, who inspired the building of this church, and who, in love, draws close to us day by day.
A Brief History and Guide to
St. Matthias' Church and Church Centre
St. Mathias' Church & Church Centre
Babbacombe Rd. Wellswood.
Torquay, Devon. TQ1 1HW
The church is dedicated to St. Matthias; his figure flanked by two angels, is over the North Porch. Following the Ascension, after prayer, Matthias was chosen by lot to be one of the apostles, replacing the traitor, Judas Iscariot. St. Matthias served as a missionary and was martyred.
The site of the church was given by Sir Lawrence Vaughan Palk and his son Lawrence Palk, MP - and they also endowed the living - in the 1850's. St. Matthias' was built as a Chapel of Ease of St. Mark's Church, Torwood. It became an independent church and parish in 1880. In 1974, the Rector of St. Mark's became Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity Church. A few years later these two churches were closed and in 1979 the Vicar of St. Matthias' became Rector of the enlarged parish of St. Matthias, St. Mark and Holy Trinity.
The foundation stone of the church, then St. Matthias Chapel, was laid on Easter Monday, 13th April 1857. It was designed in the decorated style, by Anthony Salvin, a leading exponent of the Gothic Revival. It was built by local builders, John Tapley Harvey and William Harvey. It was consecrated on the 14th October 1858 by the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt. Rev. Henry Phillpotts (who lived at Bishopstowe, now the Palace Hotel on the Babbacombe Road). The Vicar of Okehampton, the Rev. Prebendary Downall, preached on the text beginning "To whom coming as unto a living stone", from 1 Peter 2: 4 - 5.
St Matthias' Church
(before it was enlarged in 1894)
In more recent years we have links with the past. The cornerstone of the Church Centre laid on 20th October, 1985, has the words from 1 Peter 2: 4 in the Good News Bible version, "Come to the Lord, the living stone."
The present church is considerably larger than the buildings of 1858. The South Aisle was added in 1865 and the Chancel enlarged in 1885. The main change in the considerable enlargement of the church in width, height and length, the formation of the West end and the addition of the North Porch were undertaken in 1894 by the notable Church Architect, John Loughborough Pearson, who was also the architect of Truro Cathedral.
St. Matthias' Church today
Now let us walk round the church, noting some of the interesting features. We shall begin at the North Door, on the Babbacombe Road. Just inside is the Font. It was given by the family and friends of the Rev. Thomas Nash Hicks, the first Vicar of St. Matthias' under whose guidance and dedication over 24 years the chapel grew in size to the church we see today. The font cover was added later. It is made of British oak which has been seasoned for some 70 years. The engraving was supervised and partly executed by an elderly lady of 82 years. Sometimes babies are baptised at this font but more often a small portable font is used so that all the congregation can more easily see the ceremony.
Ahead and to the right is the beautiful central West Window above a fine oak carved screen. It represents the first part of the Te Deum, the song of praise.
As we walk up the left hand, North Aisle we notice the memorial tablets and windows. A marble tablet recalls a sad series of events for Henry Dundee Hooper; the death of his wife, second daughter and son, all within 18 months. He bequeathed a proportion of his estate to the Church and living of St. Matthias.
The second window on this side has at the top the coat of arms of Queen Victoria. Beneath are the figures of St. Ethelbert who became King of Kent about 560, and his wife St. Bertha who was a Christian. King Ethelbert was himself baptised by St. Augustine in 597. This window was put up to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.
On the East wall of the North transept there is a window in memory of Briscoe Hooper, father of Henry Dundee Hooper, "for 38 years legal adviser to the town." The window depicts Moses with the Ten Commandments and John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester, who suffered martyrdom at the stake in 1555.
The small Chapel to the left of the Chancel was originally the clergy changing room and was re-ordered in 1926/7 by the efforts of Major Garrett (who as Borough Engineer designed Torquay Pavilion) and a forceful church worker, Mrs. Kitchen. Notice the fine stained glass windows, one dedicated to St. Francis and the other to the theme that "those who sow in tears shall reap in joy". This small Chapel is kept as a place for quiet worship and is always available to members of the order of St. Francis of Assisi.
The Chancel was built in scale with the original chapel and as the church grew the chancel became too small. John Snelgrove, whose name recurs frequently in this period of the Church's history, suffered the loss of his son, James, at the age of 17 and the chancel was enlarged in 1885 at Mr. Snelgrove's expense and dedicated to his son's memory.
The dwarf walls at the entrance to the Chancel are of alabaster capped with red Ogwell marble. The chancel gates of wrought iron are in the Art Nouveau style of the turn of the century. The letters I H C and X P C are based on the Greek word for Jesus Christ. These gates were dedicated at the Church's Jubilee of 1908. The altar rails are of brass wrought to a Venetian pattern.
The Reredos, the screen behind the altar, a memorial to John Spencer Meade who died in 1884, is of pure alabaster. The three panels record the Sacrifice and Triumph of Our Lord in the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. The prophets Isaiah, Elijah, John the Baptist and Daniel divide the panels. Notice the beautiful mosaics of angels and cherubs on the walls, and the fine floor tiles. . Above the altar is the East window. This has the oldest glass in the church. The window was re-leaded and renovated in 1998, the work funded by the Friends of St. Matthias' through a generous gift in memory of Peter Myott. The original inscription on the window is unfortunately hidden by the altar screen, but reads "I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall live."
On the right side is a sedilia (from the Latin for a seat). These were permanent and often ornate items in a church from the 12th century onwards, used by the priest, the deacon and the sub-deacon, but in this church they are not graded in height. Beyond them is the credence shelf for the wafers or bread, and wine. Above is a window in memory of Charles Kitson, "active in local affairs".
In the next window the glass illustrates "Feed my sheep, feed my lambs". It was installed after a Mission in 1888.
The lighting of the Choir Stalls was carried out in memory of Eric Watson, Warden of this church 1970-1980, a gift from his family and his fellow-warden
The South Transept Chapel has a wooden carving of the Last Supper over the altar, and nearby a window depicting the same scene. Notice the brass tablet in this Chapel to the Rev. Rex Luckcraft who was only here for 6 months before he died - in 1970, but "won many friends and advanced God's kingdom."
The original organ was built in 1885 by Hill & Son (builders of the Westminster Abbey organ) at a cost of £1,100. It was re-built and enlarged by Rushworth and Dreaper in 1923, had a major overhaul and a further enlargement in 1949 as a memorial to Mr. W. L. Twinning who had been organist here for 41 years. It was substantially rebuilt again in 1975 when the organ console was moved to the North Transept and rebuilt and upgraded in 2008 by Nicholson's of Malvern; the work arranged and funded by the Friends of St.Matthias'.
On the wall of the South Aisle there is a carved wooden memorial to two brothers Gerald and Laurence Russell who both died in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War. There is also a general War Memorial to all who fell in the 1914-1918 War.
Along this side of the church we continue to see fine stained glass. Notice the details of the flowering trees in the backgrounds. At the back of the church is a stand in memory of the Rev. Neville Rose-Price, Vicar here 1965 - 1970. On it lies a Memorial Book. It is open to show the names of those who died over the years in this particular month.
Upon leaving the church and entering the Link Hall visitors will pass through the double doors with their panelled surrounds. The facings of the surround incorporate pews from St. Matthias' and sections of the Communion tables from St. Mark and Holy Trinity, thus symbolising the linking of our Church Centre to the three churches.
Past Vicars of the Parish of St. Matthias' Church
THE CHURCH CENTRE
In 1923 the need for a Church Hall was first discussed by the Parochial Church Council but nothing tangible occurred until the incumbency of the Rev'd. Neville Rose-Price, when the old Paish's Piano Shop in Lisburne Square was bought in 1968. Converted to a hall, this served the parish well but had the disadvantages of being remote from the church, being somewhat austere and being a single usable room. During the 1970's the need to build an additional hall adjacent to the church was again apparent and sketch designs were under consideration at the time the Rev'd. Peter Larkin commenced his incumbency in 1981. These sketch plans were for a modern but small single storey hall, but the Rev'd. Larkin had a greater vision.
In 1982 a design brief was compiled, Edward Narracott, Tanner & André were appointed Architects, and Hart and Humman Quantity Surveyors; the Church Centre was designed and costed. Planning permission was sought in 1983, refused by Torbay Council but granted by the Secretary of State for the Environment on Appeal in September 1984. That October a building fund was launched and as building costs were escalating, the Parochial Church Council took the decision to commence the building contract with Cruse and Bridgeman of Torquay when half the funding had been achieved - a commitment of faith. In June 1985 the Bishop of Plymouth, the Right Rev'd. Kenneth Newing, cut the first turf to commence work. and on 20th October our oldest church member, Gwen Andrews, laid a commemorative stone with the text "Come to the Lord, the living stone," (1 Peter 2:4). The stone itself appears like marble, but is in fact an ordinary piece of walling limestone taken from the church and cut and polished; symbolising new birth from old. Building and giving proceeded apace and on Palm Sunday, 23rd March 1986, the new Church Centre was opened by children from the congregation. The final cost was £213,629 of which £55,000 came from a bequest by Mary Alexander, £43,000 from the sale of the old hall, £15,000 from the Diocese of Exeter and the balance of almost £101,000 by direct giving from the congregation and parishioners.
The Centre is designed for the minimum of maintenance and economy of heating. Floors are of precast concrete, cavity walls are of Forticrete artificial stone facings and insulating blockwork. The roof is of timber scissor trusses with natural slate coverings; first floor elevations are slate clad. Steel windows and doors are double glazed. All exposed wood is hardwood. Religious symbolism has been used throughout the building. The double doors have the cross of Christ in darker wood within the framing of lighter wood. Larger door handles have 'A' and 'Z' insignia derived from the Living Bible Translation (Revelation 1:8) "I am the A and the Z, the beginning and the end of all things says God who is and was and is coming again." The Church public address system is linked to many rooms to enable services to be heard in the Centre.
To continue our journey, the visitor will pass through the Link noting that disabled persons' use is considered by special toilet facilities, the avoidance of any steps or changes in level, and the double doors from the link leading to a wide easy ramp approach.
From the link we enter the Peter Larkin Hall. The hall was so named in 1998 after the Rev'd. Canon Peter Larkin had left the parish to take up a post in Plymouth, in recognition of his 16 years of dedicated ministry at St. Matthias'. This room is used by the church, clubs and for private and general social events.
It is used daily in term time by Ilsham Church of England Primary School for assemblies and physical education. Note the Canadian maple sprung floor and, at the East end of the room, the wood cut figure of Christ preaching. Off the hall is a well equipped kitchen and large store.
The visitor should now return to the Link and go down the stairs. Note the two tone glass window forming the cross of Christ. (For those in wheelchairs or with prams, go down the ramp and enter via the path beneath the ramp). At lower ground floor level is the Parish Office, the administrative nerve centre of the Church, with print room and boiler room off, and a wide corridor passing a series of rooms. To the right is the Mary Alexander Lounge. This room is named after a devout and quiet Christian lady, a companion to a wealthy lady of Torquay, who inherited a large sum upon the death of her friend. She lived frugally and no-one knew of her wealth until after her death when her inheritance was bequeathed to St. Matthias' Church. Visitors frequently remark on the peaceful atmosphere of this room which is popular for small meetings and private gatherings. It is often used after funerals in the Church. Note the tapestry of the Last Supper, worked by a past member of the congregation. Off the lounge is a large store built in 1997.
Continuing down the corridor we reach the Ark - so called as it was built for use by children's groups, but also doubles as a further meeting room. Next to the Ark is the Rose-Price Room, named after the Rev'd. Neville Rose-Price, vicar here from 1965 until his death in 1970. This room is set aside for reading (there is a small Christian library here) and as a quiet room for study or prayer. This room also doubles as a small meeting room. Continuing past the toilets the visitor reaches another small hallway which was the end of the 1986 building.
THE CENTRE EXTENSION
In 1990 the need for a further extension became apparent with growth in use of the buildings by Ilsham School, local clubs and the church. In particular the church's own young people's groups had an increasing need for space.
After consideration of the needs, Edward Narracott, Tanner & André and Hart and Humman were again engaged and various sketch designs were costed before the present design was decided upon by the Parochial Church Council. The extension also gave the opportunity to link in and upgrade the Clergy Vestry and Choir Room off the South undercroft, which were antiquated.
An appeal was launched in 1990. This time there was no problem over Planning Permission. Small grants were given by Devon County Council and Exeter Diocese, but apart from this all monies were given by church members with some help from the local community. A building contract was again entered into when half the money had been raised. The builders were M W Benney of Torquay, works commenced on 6th January 1992 and were completed on 11th September 1992. The total cost was £146,355.
To continue our journey the visitor will pass through the link corridor. Note the outside play area for small children to the left. This has a soft rubberised surface to meet safety regulations. To the right is the Pine Room. This was to be a temporary name given whilst an appropriate name was considered by the church membership! The Pine Room was designed for hard wear. Vinyl covered concrete floor, hard wall plaster, pine boarded ceiling, flush fitted lights, safety glass to windows and doors. This room is used by the Pre-School, Youth Club and Brownies, and for Ilsham School meals, as well as being an extra meeting room. Off the Pine Room is a large store.
On leaving the Pine Room the visitor should turn right through another set of double doors into the Music Room, (formerly used by the choir and Musicians) now by the Pre-School and, if need be, as another meeting room. Off the music room is the Clergy Vestry. To the right of this room is a large oak door; through this is a passage with a toilet to the left and a mother and baby changing room to the right. Ahead there is a flight of stairs leading up to the church. On Sundays this is the Clergy and Choir access to the church. Upon climbing the stairs the visitor re-enters the church and may leave by either the North door or the Link.
"Ilsham and Saint Matthias" written for the First Centenary of the Consecration of St. Matthias' Church, 1958, by Louis M. Coulson, son of the then Vicar, the Rev. T.A. Coulson.
"The Churches and Chapels of Torquay" by "Criticus" re-printed from The Torquay Times.
"Church Furniture" by E.L. Delderfield.
This Guide was written by Joan Mason-Martin in 1985 and updated by John Hart in 1998 to commemorate the 140th Anniversary of St. Matthias' Church, revised and updated 2009.
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Past and Present Vicars & Rectors