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Ecclesistical & Heritage World No.99

Lighting installation works hand-in-hand with restoration project

AnthonyJSmith pic1The restoration and refurbishment project at the Church of St Mary the Virgin at Holne, on the slopes of Dartmoor in South Devon, was a long-term undertaking. As all involved are well aware, obtaining the necessary permissions and faculty for the medieval, Grade One-listed building took almost a decade. That included securing the funding! But, then again, it had been over 100 years since the last refurbishment – so upgrading the lighting was integral to the whole scheme.

AnthonyJSmith pic2Obviously, the church has undergone major and minor work since it was built in the 13th century and it has been part of the fascinating history of the village for the past 782 years.

The church originally consisted of the central nave and chancel, with transepts and a western tower; but in about 1500 the building was enlarged to include side aisles and arcades. In 1855 the chancel roof was renewed with ornate roof bosses and in the same year the window over the high altar was donated to the parish. A short time later, in 1894, in the north transept a window in memory of Charles Kingsley – the writer, priest and social reformer who is famous as the author of The Water Babies and Westward Ho! – was installed. He was born and baptised in Holne in 1819 during the time that his father was a curate at St Mary’s.

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For this latest restoration, project management was the key, as it involved experienced professionals in conservation, electricals, lighting, roofing, plumbing, boilers, plaster and woodwork – to name but a few. It was a complex refurbishment and required closing the church for five months – while the congregation prayed at other village locations.

In 2020 a survey of the plaster and painted surfaces in the church was carried out. The result of the survey revealed possible fragments of late 17th or early 18th century text and painting on the walls of the nave arcade.

A further detailed study and report was undertaken in July 2022 once the full scaffold was in place. The charming and ornately painted cartouches with biblical inscriptions have been revealed above the arches in the nave arcade. They were found to be supported by a hair plaster applied onto an earlier lime plaster and were covered in limewash.

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The work involved the removal of previous interventions where electrical cables had been inserted and covered with cement. That cement, and red plastic conduit, had facilitated the fitting and fixing of lighting some 60 years ago – unfortunately cutting through the paintings. The four 17th-century cartouches revealed were uncovered and stabilised.

Neil Blake and Che Polley from Anthony J Smith (Gloucester) Ltd first visited the church in 2019 and following further meetings, demonstrations and discussions a new lighting specification was presented to the congregation and PCC. The proposals were then submitted to Exeter DAC, with further guidance from the church architect John Scott.

A completely new, dimmable LED lighting system has been installed, together with an easy-to-control and alter scene setting system, which provides the flexibility to give plenty of variations to suit the services and activities taking place in the church.

Once the roof was repaired and sealed, the chancel ceiling was next. The wonderful bosses are now highlighted by the new lighting installation.

AnthonyJSmith pic6Che Polley and Peter Hill of Anthony J. Smith (Gloucester) Ltd are pictured receiving a gift of Devon honey from the Rt Rev Mark Rylands, now Rector of St Mary the Virgin, at the re-opening dedication service.The rood screen across the nave and aisles dates from 1480. It was described in 1876 as ‘one of the finest in its class in the county’. Conservation was carried out on the screen and its 40 wainscot paintings of saints and martyrs in 2008 and the chalice – or goblet – pulpit in 2015. St Mary’s now features as one of Devon’s Fifty Best Churches, in a book with the same name.

Again, sympathetic lighting installed by Anthony J Smith (Gloucester) Ltd now highlights this remarkable, and wonderful feature (pictured above).

Underneath the ceiling the High Altar needed tender loving care – and sympathetic lighting installed by A J Smith now emphasises both its importance and beauty. The pictures (right) show the altar before and after the new lighting was installed. You could say the lighting now illuminates the whole chancel.Church Warden Gillian pointed to the importance of team work to the project: “While quite a long process, the overall project has been a great success. The lighting in particular has revealed that the church is greater in size than previously perceived and highlights the many significant features within it. Thanks to A J Smith for their important contribution and teamwork – it was and is very much appreciated.”

The church has not only resumed its services, but is also now a community venue for the village. A recent community event was attended by over 80 local people.

Che from A J Smith added: “It is always a privilege to be involved with projects like this, especially when the new lighting really enhances all the features that were already present and just waiting to really be seen. Following completion of the works we were invited to attend the first service back in the church and received a great deal of praise and positive comments from the parishioners and local community.”

For further information call 01453 825 130, email the team at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.anthonyjsmith.co.uk.