Church House, South Tawton

The Church House, South Tawton stands in the south east corner of St. Andrew’s Church yard facing a square in this picturesque Devon village – between the lych-gate and a green lane, now on the Tarka trail. Church House was built in c.1490 for Church Ales for brewing, baking and feasting and to be used for weddings and funeral gatherings and fundraising. Church House has since been used to store weapons in the 17C, as a schoolhouse in the 18C, as a Poor House in the 19C and a village meeting hall and art gallery in the 20C.

The Dartmoor granite building has elegant 15C windows – the east window original tracery intact but the south windows much altered and defaced. A small north window was blocked in c. 1699 when a new chimney stack was inserted. A further small window filled with hand made bricks.

Funding for Repairs & Renewal

The thatch and oak trusses date from c.1490. One truss is remade from earlier elm and oak timbers with fascinating detail variations in construction at either end. The smoke blackened thatch is original to c.1490 and of great significance. Sample analysis of this thatch has revealed much about late mediaeval cereals, crop weeds, thatching methods and materials.

Although still in church community use the building had fallen into disrepair. A scheme for repair and renewal was prepared. Dedicated and enthusiastic commitment from local residents ensured financial support from individuals, groups, authorities and trusts. The Heritage Lottery Fund provided major funding, with support from Dartmoor National Park Authority and English Heritage.

Contemporary Design, Traditional Materials

Contemporary design using traditional materials and craft repairs have been combined to grant a further lease of life to this charming building. Earlier inappropriate alterations have been removed. Access and facilities for able and less able have been incorporated. Discreet and contemporary services have been installed with new background heating, electric and fire precaution systems. A small kitchen and lavatories complete the updated facilities.

Damaged or removed stone mullions and spalled stonework have been replaced. Oak floors and the muntin screen carefully renewed. Oak doors and windows have been replaced to traditional detail. The 18C iron railings, photographed in 1906, are now repaired. Poor masonry repairs from the 20C have been replaced with lime mortar pointing and lime putty plaster work.

The historic thatch has been top dressed in wheat reed and one failed roof bay renewed entirely using original detail and materials. The progress of scheme design and work on site has permitted research, investigation and analysis by archaeologist, dendrochronologist, historian, specialists and students. A sensitive conservation contractor has taken great care to repair the building and took time to train new workers and students in traditional craft skills.

The project has therefore been fulfilling in many ways and has now proven immensely successful in providing a rich and flexible community resource which is in great demand.

Contractor: Darrock & Brown
Awards: RIBA Regional Award 2006, LABC Highly Commended 2007