The discovery was made after large pieces of plaster covering the entrance started falling off the walls at St Peter’s in Knowstone, north of the regional capital, Exeter. It was found that a wooden hatch and stairs leading to a gallery or “rood loft” – where church leaders would have led services above worshippers.
In 1561, Queen Elizabeth I said all rood lofts should be banned because of the connection to Catholicism.
It meant officials at the Grade II listed church blocked-off the steps – which haven’t been seen since until now.
A number of paintings and some writing on the wall dating to the 17th and 18th Centuries have also been revealed.
“It was a very big job to stabilise everything,” said Mr Howe.
As a result of the work on the steps and the wall, architect A J Bunning won the 2021 National Churches Trust King of Prussia Gold Medal for conservation and repair.
When the restoration won the award “we nearly fell off our chairs”, said Mr Howe.
“It was wonderful and we are very pleased to have done the work.”
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The King of Prussia Gold Medal for repair and conservation architecture was awarded to A J Bunning architects for their work on St Peter’s church, Knowstone, North Devon.
The project centred around the discovery and then the restoration of wall paintings during routine repairs to an area of plasterwork.
As the examination and research progressed, it became apparent that the dating of the successive layers of the wall painting schemes was tied intrinsically with the history of the rood screen: from its initial construction to the subsequent removal of the rood loft, and then the final removal of the screen.