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Mysterious archaeological discovery at Dartmoor Church

— 13 Mar 2017


St. Petrocs on a clear Spring morning with backdrop of moorland.


Previous hard cement mortar and render intensifying damp conditions


Removal of cement exposing stonework


Repointing in lime mortar


Fragments of bone found deep inside the tower walls. Photograph by Carrek Ltd.


Previous defective leadwork and slating to roof


Renewal of lead abutments with stepped flashings and reslating


Internal scaffold and temporary lighting for new LED lighting installation


Heritage Lottery funded


Dartmoor Magazine - Spring Issue

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The team at Jonathan Rhind Architects have recently been overseeing the Heritage Lottery Fund grant aided conservation repairs at St Petroc’s Church in South Brent, including removal of cement pointing and replacement in lime mortar, grouting the core of the tower walls, rebuilding the parapet and extensive upgrade of the lighting scheme with energy efficient LED fittings to illuminate interior features.

During works to consolidate the stonework of an arch in the 14th Century Dartmoor tower, a section of masonry came loose and needed to be reset. In the core of the wall fragments of human bone were discovered, identified as a piece of human jawbone. There were also several pieces of skull and other unidentified bone fragments.

Martin Sturley-Hayes at Jonathan Rhind Architects said: “It was a surprising but interesting archaeological discovery and we were intrigued to find out more about how these fragments came to be within the stonework. St Petroc’s Church has a fascinating history, so we were all curious to what events led to this.

“It’s thought that the pieces of bone came from loose fill material from the churchyard used for previous repairs of the tower. The fragments were all carefully recorded by South West Archaeology before being returned to the wall,” added Martin.

The work on St Petroc’s Church has involved parts of the tower being carefully dismantled, each stone meticulously numbered and rebuilt in former positions. The heavy cement mortar has been replaced with a more appropriate and breathable lime mix with more of the stonework exposed.

The Church of St Petroc has a complex history, with a tower at the west end of the building dating back to the Norman period. It is thought that this Norman work represents the rebuilding of a Saxon church, with Saxon masonry remaining at the base of the tower.

Local records suggest that the earliest church was founded by Saint Petroc himself, however it is more likely to have originated when the manor of South Brent was granted by King Canute to the newly founded Abbey of Buckfast in 1018.

To find out more about our work on churches, take a look at our case studies.

Other members of the project team: -

Carrek (contractor)

South West Archaeology (archaeologist)

Mildred, Howells & Co. (QS)

Rose of Jericho (mortar analysis)

Floyd Consult (moisture monitoring)

Demaus Building Diagnostics (timber assessment)

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