- Famous for a gangster priest in the19th century
- Lovely south door
- Elegant classical pillars inside
- Equally elegant collection of 19th century pews
- Old rood stairs door with old plaster and traces of 18th century wall painting
- Original Victorian sanctuary
- Some good Victorian stained glass and faded Medieval as well
- Interesting roof bosses
Knowstone Church of St Peter and a gangster priest
When John Froude succeeded his father as vicar of Knowstone in 1803 likely most folk in this deep country parish were relaxed and welcoming.
They could not have been more wrong.
From his first arrival at Knowstone he encouraged about him a lawless company of vagabonds who, when they were not in prison, lived roughly at free quarters at the rectory, and from thence carried on their business of petty larceny; and who were, moreover, ready to execute vengeance upon the rector’s enemies, and these enemies, although they lived in continual terror, were numerous.
Devonshire Characters and Strange Events, Sabine Baring-Gould
For forty-nine years, until 1852, Froude ran the parish like a mafia boss, terror and gangsterism uppermost, and devoted to hunting and killing any creature on four legs, and possibly one or two on two.
But why was he allowed to thrive? After all, if we were looking for an anti-priest he would so fit the bill.
Well, probably four main reasons. The parish was very isolated, and there were similar elements in North Devon society at that time to protect him, though he does seem numero uno.
Then the Froude family had the advowson, the right to appoint the rector and get all the tithes, of this parish, in this case more like the fox guarding the hen house.
Lastly it was so very difficult to get rid of a priest, they were appointed for life, and just cause had to shown. But probably the ultimate responsibility had to rest with the church, which was admittedly in a bit of deep pickle in many ways in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
But this did cause many a soul to up sticks and move to other churches, as Sabine Baring Gould makes plain writing in 1908
… but we have had enough specimens of a type of clergy that is, we trust, for ever passed away; but it has gone not without leaving its mark on the present, for it was this sort of parson who drove all the God-fearing people in the parish into dissent.
Devonshire Characters and Strange Events, Sabine Baring-Gould
A fine south door
Though I venture no local nonconformist chapel had a door and doorway as good as this.
They are both likely fifteenth century, though that arch design does seem so very Norman. Maybe it was a refurbishment of the original arch, maybe a copy… or maybe they chipped out most of the old Norman doorway and filled it in with new stone.
Which looks a possiblity from the back, with that white-stone arch possibly being the original… possibly.
That door though, definitely medieval and definitely a beauty.
Inside Knowstone Church
Inside there is an attractive sparseness along with a bit of mish mash of styles. Those pillars for one thing. They were described as ‘modern’ in the early nineteenth century, and they defiantly look classical in style, which was the fashion in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
To see them in a medieval Gothic church is quite the unexpected, and nicely unexpected too.
Very nice indeed, smoothly dipping in and out of the pews, smooth arched with a solid squareness to contrast with the curves.
Good nineteenth century pews
Those pews though, they are truly a thing of joy.
They look like they might have been adapted from older box pews, which has been known before, but on the other hand they might be original. For one thing their backrests slope backwards, for comfort’s sake presumably, so does this indicate they are original? After all, box pew backs are always vertical, at least those I have seen.
Whatever the truth is, they are brilliant; Classical again, probably eighteenth or early nineteenth century again, elegant, simple, beautifully crafted, what more could we want?
Very elegant bench ends
Well worth a closer look in truth, yet so easily passed by; but just take a closer gander.
They are composed of ‘fielded panels’, which reached their perfection in the Georgian age, and this comes from that age near enough. Beforehand the Tudors did panel their rooms, a fashion brought in for the Italian Renaissance, but far more ornately with lots of carving covering the wood.
Over time the amount of carving on the panelling slowly decreased until we get this style, ‘raised fielded panelling’ to be exact because that centre bit is raised to be level with the outside bits.
But the mouldings and the different depths really come out to play here; the centre panel with that slight moulding around its edges to emphasis its shape, then the wood falls away catching the light from whichever direction it comes from.
Moving on outwards there is a curved moulding to break any potential monotony that using only right angles might bring, as well as that light catching thing, though in a different manner than before (clever that).
Then the uprights and horizontals surrounding the panels, with on either side another moulding to subtly frame the whole while the top moulding brings it to a clear end.
And made from fine oak, waxed and polished, the colours of old gold and the beauty of the organic.
Life is good with classical pews.
The old rood stairs
Going back in time the fifteenth century rood loft stairs (the rood loft and screen are long gone) greet us, with remnants eighteenth century wall painting. It must have been a gorgeous sight, especially as they did not just paint ornate texts. The doorway too was outlined as we can see from the surviving paint at the top.
Now the whole is more a meditation on age, back then it surely was a glimmering glory.
A medieval roof boss
Going back again this rough beauty is pure medieval, a roof boss from the original ceiling in the north aisle.
Usually these tongue-sticking-bosses are interpreted as a warning against hurtful words, Sins of the Tongue as they were called, and this could well apply here. Slander, backbiting, lying, nastiness, dishonesty come easily to an uncontrolled tongue, and the church was all about bringing peace amongst all, not that kind of stuff.
Thus the heads up to churchgoers when their heads went up, something for them to contemplate.
The classic Victorian chancel
The chancel is pretty much unchanged from the nineteenth century renovation apart from the curtains which so do not belong there; placed as if to hide an embarrassing aunt or uncle from view, who otherwise might harumph a few home truths and challenge folk to think.
Because they do cover (when drawn) the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Credo, the first two at least being arguably some of the most important parts of the Christian path (Christ seemed to think so, anyways).
Sadly at some point in the not so distant past the Ten Commandments became to be understood as the dictatorial utterances of a grumpy old beardie with the odd lightning bolt on hand to ensure compliance, but pop back only a tad further and folk were writing about their tenderness and compassionate support for a deeply spiritual life.
No prizes for guessing which interpretation I vote for.
Remnants of the old rood screen
Back down the nave and one valid question is what happened to the rood screen, as we have already the stairs that led up to the loft?
Well, bits of it are now part of the later pulpit, as seen here.
These are likely part of the wainscoting, the bottom panelling, but the back of the panels have been removed and just the front carving used. Maybe they were rotten, maybe they had naughty images on (saints and stuff, not the other kind of naughty!) or maybe it was design choice; it still makes for a grand little touch.
A medieval Green Man
With some extremely enjoyable foliage faces up the top and good carving below. Bet this little critter has seen a few things in its life.
A medieval Madonna and Child
In a window is this medieval Madonna and Child, time slowing fading it into the background of the universe as it should in many a way.
We can just make out Jesus’ face and the globe with cross he is holding as the Saviour of the World. The tenderness in Mary’s left hand holding her child at the bottom is a delight, and that little detail of her golden hair, as well as the tilt Christ’s head.
Very nice Victorian stained glass
And this window, a wonderful pattern of foliage, leaves and berries, or are they stylised grapes? And I love that little cross bottom left too.
This glass pattern is called Quarry Glass, from the French ‘Carée’ meaning square or diamond-shaped.
Christ the Good Shepherd
Whilst here, in some Victorian glass, is Christ the Good Shepherd, surrounded by some very pretty flowers in mild yellow.
“I am the good shepherd. The shepherd, the one who is good, lays down his soul for the sake of the sheep”
Victorian Romanticism, I do so love its beauty, and it definitely has a truth, and likely enough a necessary recovery from the viciousness of Gangster Froude’s savage rule.
Mind you, Jesus’s choice to use the shepherd thing (and I appreciate it’s a meme throughout the bible, which yer man referred to all the time) is a fascination.
Because shepherds, well, how shall we say it… ?
“Most of the time they were dishonest and thieving; they led their herds onto other people’s land and… pilfered the produce on the land.”
Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, Joachim Jeremias
And he was talking to Pharisees at the time, very legalistic Pharisees who saw conformity to the Law of God in every detail as the way to the Divine. Arguably, Christ identifying himself with the ‘unclean’ marginalised was a direct challenge to their assumptions, amongst other layers of meaning.
What is more, a shepherd who cares for all, including the John Froudes of this world. And shows us how to do the same.
Sneaky, this Christianity thing.
Different styles, different beauties
Loving John Froude is a challenge, a big one, loving this little church considerably less so, with its classical pillaring and gorgeous benchwork amongst others.
It has a modesty, almost a plainness, which has a deep attractiveness.
If I ever wrote a ‘Best Churches in Devon’ book then I would put every Devon church in it under its own special category, and that is the thing here. Knowstone has its own category and for some us needs to be loved as such not compared to others.
Because look at those straights lines and angles here, a fine combination, and well worth loving just for this.
Along with everything else.