LOCATION 17
 

 

ST GREGORY’S CHURCH

This was an ancient pagan meeting place and burial ground, having a small pool of water provided by a fresh water spring. In 600AD missionaries arrived from Rome and used the local people’s rituals to draw them to Christianity, so a Saxon church of wattle and daub with a thatched roof was built on the site.

After the Norman invasion, the church was rebuilt using red stone from Whipton quarry, which they carved with leaves and plants and Christian symbols. The only surviving piece of this carving is a large ram’s head, which now lies against the north wall of the church but originally supported a roof beam. (See picture)

In 1349, the Great Plague, when Dawlish lost three new vicars in a year, brought the great era of cathedral building to an end, so skilled masons were employed in the building of private houses or rebuilding of parish churches.

Around 1400, the church tower was built of red sandstone and is now the oldest part of the present church. It housed the bells which regulated the lives of Dawlish’s medieval inhabitants and tolled at their passing. Soon after, due to growing prosperity, the walls were also rebuilt in the same local stone. And in 1438 the carved pillars were constructed in the nave.

During Cromwell’s reign as Protector, a simple, puritan approach to religion meant the colourful medieval wall paintings were white-washed and statues were destroyed. A screen behind the altar was painted with the 10 commandments and everyone had to attend church every Sunday by law.

During the Napoleonic Wars, travel to the Continent became impossible, so seaside resorts sprang up all around our coast. Fashionable visitors flocked to Dawlish and swelled the population. In 1823, the church was enlarged and a new roof built 3 feet higher than the original in order to accommodate galleries for the larger congregation.

In 1875, the Victorians refurbished and enlarged the church with a new Chancel and south aisle, now the Lady Chapel. When the galleries were removed in 1897, the whole church was the light and open building it is today.