The History of St Martins Barton Church

00:00 February 27, 2022

The stories behind Torbay’s blue plaques by Ian Handford, President of the Torbay Civic Society. This week: St Martins Church Barton – No 82.

This moving reminder of my Blue Plaque stories involves my great friend and working partner Russell Buckingham (now deceased) who, among much work for the Society, helped put sixty of our plaques in place for many years before his death. .

St Martins Barton was in fact his church and, as co-director, Russell personally recommended to his vicar, Father Gorran Chapman, that our society be commissioned to install a blue plaque at the door to celebrate his seventieth birthday since the consecration in 1940, a time when the building was still incomplete.

The original building plan of the church had been scaled back when men and materials became scarce due to the start of World War II in 1939. Today we can still see that no balconies were built and that the interior walls are fairly simple structures. Obviously, with a shortage of materials and most skilled men subject to a different ‘call’, these were tough times. Nevertheless, the church was eventually consecrated by the Most Reverend Charles Edward Curzon (Lord Bishop of Exeter) on July 20, 1940.

In 2009, with the sponsorship of the plaque and the text of literature written and edited by Father Gorran, all agreed that the unveiling date should fall on St. Martin’s Day of 2010. Now, as usual, it was up to Russell and myself to make the normal arrangements for the placement of the plaque which involved various visits to see Father Gorran at the Vicarage, a first for me, as well as attendance at St Martins Church. We were later informed by Father Gorran that he had chosen November 11 as it is traditionally St. Martin’s Day (or Mass), although in recent years it has been eclipsed by becoming the day of the armistice to celebrate the end of the First World War. Nevertheless, history records that a 4th-century Roman soldier became the first Bishop of St. Martin of Tours after his conversion from a soldier in battle to a soldier of the Lord.

It has also been confirmed that the three-part event will involve the Bishop of Plymouth, the Most Reverend John Ford, taking the opportunity to attend a service to confirm eight members of the congregation into the Church. The 2010 Martin Mass was to be divided into three official celebrations, with the unveiling of the plaque being the final part of the proceedings.

St Martin’s Church originally drew its many followers from the villages in and around that part of Torquay which included Barton, St Marychurch, Hele and later the Willows. All would originally meet in what was called a “satellite” missionary church in the parish of St Marychurch, with its clergy house near this site until it was finally demolished in 1990 to build today ‘The Vicarage’ (adjacent to St Martins Church). The original occupants of the first building were known as parish priests or priests.

The first stone of the current church was laid on February 15, 1939, a few months before the outbreak of the 2nd World War against Germany. The original intention was to build the church in the style of Roman basilicas to reflect the Anglo-Catholic tradition of the Church of England – already practiced by the parish church of St Marychurch – although the chapel may not Established at Barn Close by the Brunel family, in accordance with the wishes of Isambard Kingdom Brunel before his untimely death. The congregations of Hele and followers of Barn Close would eventually merge with those attending St Martin’s Church.

This fifth blue plaque at a church in Torbay was officially unveiled by Councilor Matthews Phillips after being blessed by the Rt Reverend Royden Screech on November 11, 2010. Finally, for what was a very large number of attendees at this triple event and anniversary, refreshments were finally served by members of the congregation in the adjacent church hall.

Martha J. Finley