St Petrock’s has been described as “among the most confusing of any church in the whole of England.” The first record of the church is in about 1200, and the site may well be older, but everything visible now is late medieval or later.
The core plan of the church was a simple nave and chancel (where the altar is located), with the tower incorporated in the north-west corner. There were other buildings clustered around the church, so it could only expand south. The south aisle was first to be built in about 1413. The second ‘Jesus’ aisle was added in the early 16th century, and further additions made in 1587 and 1828. Then in 1881 the Victorians turned the whole church through 90º when they added another chancel.
Since 1996, the aisles and the later chancel have been partitioned off and used as a homeless centre. This means that the church, that is the nave and original chancel, has returned to its original orientation.
According to the Historic Environment Record, the building is “heavily based on Permian breccia, including some very fine-jointed ashlar builds in the tower”, that is, the best quality worked Heavitree Stone. However, the Listed Building record states “Red sandstone”. Which is it? Well, we know that breccia is sometimes classed as a type of sandstone. Can you see the angular bits of gravel embedded in the stone? That means Heavitree Stone.
St Petrock’s is the largest to survive of the ancient parish churches scattered around Exeter’s city centre. You can also see Heavitree Stone in St Martin’s, St Stephen’s, St Pancras’, St Mary Arches, and St Olave’s. Can you find them all?
- Exeter City Historic Environment Record, 1068-1300 – http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=1816827&resourceID=1054
- Exeter City Historic Environment Record, 1300-1540 – http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=1816811&resourceID=1054
- Historic England Listed Building – https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1333409
- Deryck Laming & David Roche “Permian Breccias, Sandstones and Volcanics” – https://new.devon.gov.uk/geology/devons-rocks-a-geological-guide/
- Parish of Central Exeter, covering the six churches – https://www.parishofcentralexeter.co.uk/visiting-our-churches/
- St Petrock’s Centre – https://stpetrocks.org.uk/
- Nicholas Orme (2014) “The Churches of Medieval Exeter”
- Demolition Exeter blog – http://demolition-exeter.blogspot.com/2011/04/st-petrocks-church-high-street.html