George Fellowes Prynne

 

introduction | work | screens | biography | sharville.org.uk

 

PLYMOUTH Devon
St. Peter

Plans for the new church were drawn up by the Vicar’s second son. Mr. George Fellowes Prynne, F. R. I. B. A., who has since become famous in his profession, designing many churches and restoring others in London and the Provinces…  The new church, at the date of its consecration, had cost about £12,000, and in it Mr. G. Fellowes Prynne has provided a dignified and beautiful addition to the churches of the Three Towns.

(George Rundle Prynne: a biography by A Clifton Kelway)

The occasion of the church’s consecration, on 1 February 1882, was one of George Rundle Prynne’s most triumphant moments. Some years later at the dedication festival of 1891, during the high celebration

…Gounod’s Messe Solenelle was sung by the choir, the tenor solo in the Sanctus being taken by Mr. G. F. Prynne, A.R.I.B.A.

(Church in the West 17 Oct 1891)

The tower, with its copper pyramid, is a feature not only of the church but of the Plymouth skyline, and shows how much the exterior appearance of the church is enhanced and brought into perspective by the completed tower. The splendid wrought iron gates remain, as do most of the original external features, despite the bomb which so severely damaged the interior in April 1941.

The appearance of the interior is radically different now. One can only begin to appreciate it from surviving contemporary photographs, such as the postcard illustrated. The dominant feature, clearly, was the great mural on the wall at the entrance to the chancel and sanctuary. This wall existed primarily because Fellowes Prynne built his nave on to an existing, much smaller scale, chancel and sanctuary designed by his mentor, George Edmund Street.

The Mural

A massive mural, assumed to be the work of the architect's brother, Edward Prynne, was situated at the entrance of the chancel and sanctuary of the church. This mural would seem to have been unique in Edward Prynne’s work, most probably owing to the unusual situation with the design of the building. The result of the chancel and nave being built on to a smaller, existing sanctuary was that there was a vast area of wall, to which the congregation would be facing, and it was this wall that Prynne decorated. The following description, to try and give an idea of the magnificence of this piece, is based on one contemporary monochrome “real photograph” post card (not postally used) from the author’s collection, which is illustrated.

The mural occupies the full space between the sanctuary arch and a set of three lancet windows high up within the curve of the barrel roof. Below the three windows Christ stands in majesty, very much Lord of all He surveys. He is attended by three seraphim on wither side. Next to, and below, the figure of Christ are throngs of saints, some of whom would be easy to recognise by the symbols they carry. The crowd immediately to the left and right of Christ are in neat ranks; the throng below them are much more haphazardly arranged, and there seems to be a considerable amount of activity going on.

Thanks to the high quality photographic lenses used in the early 20th Century, and the scanners we use now 100 years later, I have been able to study this remarkable image in some detail. You can see the mixture of saints and angels portrayed. One portrayal which particularly caught my eye is of a slave with his wrist chains broken, taking his place in heaven among the saints. He is seen in the detail shown above. At the base of the mural, each side of the arch, a winged sentinel stands guard. One of these angels is clearly shown in the same detail as the slave, and is comparable in style to Edward Prynne's many other Pre-raphaelite style angels illustrated elsewhere on this site (for example, East Grinstead, Roehampton). There is a striking resemblance between the design of this mural, and the same artist's design for the Great East Window at St. Peter, Staines.

There is no doubt that this piece would have been painted in Edward Prynne’s usual array of colours, in all likelihood rendering the stained glass of the east windows superfluous. It was the largest decorative scheme of its kind, and was painted in memory of his father George Rundle Prynne. Tragically, this work of art was lost as a result of damage sustained in the Second World War.

The benefit of zooming in on this wonderful old postcard gives us the opportunity to see the details of the delicate but sumptuous metal screen, almost lost in the splendour of the mural. You can also see Street's chancel and sanctuary, with what I assume to be an altar and reredos to Street's, not Fellowes Prynne's design. If this is the case, it is clear to see where the latter acquired many of his ideas!