Sunday, 27 November 2016

St Luke’s Church, Torquay–A Feast of Victorian Gothic Revival

This morning I went with my hubby to a service at St. Luke’s Church in Torquay. He knew the church, and had told me it was lovely inside, but deliberately didn’t tell me too much because he wanted it to be as much as a surprise to me as it had been to him when he first saw it.

As soon as I went in, my jaw dropped and I was blown away! He and I are both suckers for Victorian Gothic Revival, and this was a wonderful example.

The church is Victorian, completed in the 1860s with lavish wall paintings which were restored and embellished during the 1960s after a fire.

Here is a view of the chancel.

01 Chancel

Note the beautiful Victorian tiled floor.

Detail of the reredos.

02 Reredos Detail

This depiction of the Last Supper is in relief and the table projects enough to cast a shadow.

Wall stencilling on the left hand side.

03 Wall Stencilling

Detail of stencilling.

04 Wall Stencilling Detail

To right and left of the altar are four roundels with raised marble frames, depicting the four Gospel writers – in this case, St. Mark. I love the painted lilies to the left as well.

05 Gospel Writer Wall Painting

Above the stencilling there are a number of wall paintings depicting angels and other Biblical characters and scenes, and the whole thing is peppered with Biblical quotes and exhortations to worship, often on ribbons carried by angels. When the restoration was done, the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik was still topical, so the artist also depicted this!

06 Sputnik

Moving to the right side of the chancel, you can see one of the beautiful brass candelabra. Also in more detail on this picture is the absolutely gorgeous riotous vine complete with golden bunches of grapes that meanders across the wall between the windows, above the altar.

07 Brass Candelabra

Here are the beautiful organ pipes, painted and decorated with bands of colour.

08 Painted Organ Pipes

09 Painted Organ Pipes Detail

To the right of the organ is a wall plaque in memory of a chorister which I found particularly attractive.

10 Chorister Memorial Wall Plaque

Before moving on from the chancel, just look up at the magnificent roof!

11 Chancel Roof

The whole thing glows and sparkles with the addition of lavish amounts of gold.

Beside the lectern is another memorial plaque with a most attractive gold mosaic background.

12 Memorial Wall Plaque with Gold Mosaic

The main body of the church is somewhat plainer, but the side aisle roofs are painted, and the glorious red pillars – deliciously Victorian!

13 Pillars and Side Aisle

14 Side Aisle Roof

The smaller organ pipes, situated by the lectern and behind the organ console are arranged in a glass case so that they can be seen, along with their mechanism.

15 Small Organ Pipes

An example of several wall paintings for the children. These ones are over the exit.

16 Wall Paintings for Children

(These pictures of St. Luke’s are the first I’ve taken with my new iPad Pro. I am very impressed with the quality of the camera. I did not use the flash, and learned “on the hoof” how to work it, discovering along the way a powerful zoom, and also a “burst” facility – keep your finger on the button and it takes continuous shots in quick succession. It must also feature an anti-shake device because they came out remarkably clear despite my being unable to hold the device really steady, especially when in zoom mode, holding it high up.)

Some time ago we visited Knightshayes Court near Tiverton in Devon, owned by the National Trust, which is also decorated in this wonderful style with loads of wall paintings. I was so inspired by the decorations in this country house that I tried my hand at reproducing something in the same style in our previous house.

Lobby Mural 1

This mural was in the entrance lobby and was the first thing you saw when you came in the front door, and if you look carefully you can see it extends across the door that leads into the house proper. The pillars, arches and ceiling cornices are all trompe l’oeil – the wall is flat.

Lobby Mural 2

Lobby Ceiling

One of several panels I painted on the lower part of the wall.

Lobby Wall Panel

As you can imagine, I was sad to leave all this behind when we moved, but I was assured by the new tenants that they loved it and would not paint it out!

Although I am no longer able to paint on such a large scale as this, looking at the detail of the St. Luke’s paintings this morning, I got a huge amount of inspiration and am keen to try my hand at painting in the Neo-Gothic style but on a smaller scale. A while back I started working on some Gothic stencil designs to cut with my Cougar cutting machine, and I am sure I could combine these with some painting in this highly decorative style which is quintessentially English and endlessly intriguing. As my hubby and I are always saying about the embellishments in Victorian architecture, “They didn’t have to do that… but isn’t it great that they did!”


  1. Wow what a beautiful church! The pictures are just gorgeous.

  2. I can't tell whether my first comment went through or not. I was just praising the beautiful interior if that church and I wanted to add how amazing it is that you painted murals in your previous home. That is just incredible! I really do hope that the new owners were true to their word and kept them - for their own sake as well. One of these days they might be worth a lot of money LOL - an original Shoshi!

  3. Amazing! What more can I say :)


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