The story of St Martins Church Barton

Torbay Weekly

The stories behind Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: St Martins Church Barton - No 82.

This emotive recall of my Blue Plaque stories involves my great friend and working partner Russell Buckingham (now deceased) who amongst a great deal of work for the Society helped put up sixty of our plaques over many years prior to his death.

St Martins Barton was in fact his church and being joint warden Russell personally recommended to its vicar Father Gorran Chapman that our Society be commissioned to install a Blue Plaque at the doorway in celebration of its seventieth anniversary since consecration in 1940 a time when the building was still incomplete.

The original building plan for church had been scaled back when men and materials became in short supply due to commencement of the Second World War in 1939. Today we can still witness no balcony was built and internal walls are quite simple structures. Obviously with a shortage of materials and most skilled men subject to a different "calling" these were difficult times. Nevertheless, the church was eventually consecrated by the right Reverend Charles Edward Curzon tLord Bishop of Exeter) on July 20th 1940.

In 2009 with the sponsorship of the plaque and the text of the literature written and proofed by Father Gorran all agreed the unveiling date was fixed to fall on St Martin's Day of 2010. Now as usual it was up to Russell and myself to make the normal arrangements for placement of the plaque which involved various visits to see Father Gorran at the Vicarage, a first for me as was the attendance at St Martins Church. We were later informed by Father Gorran he chose November 11th as this is traditionally St Martins Day (or Mass) although in recent years it has been overshadowed by becoming Armistice Day to celebrate the end of the First World War. Nevertheless, history records that a Roman soldier of the fourth century became the first Bishop of St Martin's of Tours following his conversion from being a soldier in combat, to a soldier of The Lord.

It was also confirmed this three part event would involve the Bishop of Plymouth the Rt Reverent John Ford using the occasion to attend a service to confirm eight members of the congregation into the Church. The 2010 Martin Mass was to be split into three formal celebrations with the unveiling of the plaque being the last part of the proceedings.

St Martin's Church had originally drawn its many followers from the villages in and around this part of Torquay which included Barton, St Marychurch, Hele and latterly the Willows. All would originally meet in what was termed a "satellite" Mission Church of the parish of St Marychurch, with its clergy house near this site until this was finally demolished in 1990 to build todays "The Vicarage" (adjacent to St Martins Church). The original occupants of the earliest building were known as Curates or Priests.

The foundation stone of today's church was laid on February 15th 1939, just months before the outbreak of the 2nd World War against Germany. The original intention was to build the church along the style of Roman Basilicas to reflect the Anglo-Catholic tradition of the Church of England - already practised by the Parish Church of St Marychurch - although perhaps not the Chapel as established at Barn Close by the Brunel family, in accordance with Isambard Kingdom Brunel's wishes prior to his early death. The congregations of Hele and of Barn Close followers, would eventually amalgamate with those attending St Martin Church.

This fifth Blue Plaque to a Church in Torbay was formally unveiled by Councillor Matthews Phillips after being blessed by the Rt Reverent Royden Screech on November 11th 2010. Finally, to what was a very large number of attendees to this triple event and anniversary, refreshments were finally served by members of the congregation in the adjacent church hall.