St Mary Magdalene

In the modern era, the restoration and embellishment of the church of St Mary Magdalene has employed some of the finest ecclesiastical carvers locally available. The 1892-94 restoration, designed by John Dando Sedding, who died before the work was begun, included reseating of the nave and aisles (Hutton, undated). Historic England (Launceston) states that the bench ends made for this purpose were carved by Arnold Fellows, while the south and north parclose screens, 1904 and 1913, respectively, are the work of John Northcott of Ashwater and the alabaster carving in the reredos was carried out by Harry Hems of Exeter.

Launceston St Mary Chancel Screen
Chancel Screen at Launceston St Mary

Chancel Screen – Photograph (PWDRO 244/5) E.H. Sedding architect; 1911

This screen, designed by Sedding and executed by Rashleigh Pinwill (Western Morning News, 1911), is ‘a work of art’ and ‘as fine as anything imported… from London’ (Jenkins, 1999, p. 75). The photograph at PWDRO shows the screen installed in the church but lacking the figures of six saints that were added over the next three years (Hutton, undated). Those already in place in 1911 were St Mary Magdalene standing in the centre and the seated figures of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These four are identical to the figures in the reredos at Ermington (installed the same year) and in the screen at St Erth (installed 1912), both of which were also designed by Sedding. According to history boards inside the church, the screen cost £375.

Reredos Surround – Photograph (PWDRO 244/2); 1911

It is very unusual to see the work of two carvers combined in one piece. The central part of the reredos, a carving in alabaster of The Transfiguration of Christ, is the work of Harry Hems of Exeter (Warner, 2022), whereas the carved surround in wood is by Rashleigh Pinwill, and both are dated to 1911 (Hutton, undated). Apparently, opinion on the quality of the figure is divided, though the woodcarving ‘invites less qualified admiration’ (Ibid. p. 29).

Launceston St Mary Font Cover and Panelling
Font Cover and Panelling at Launceston St Mary

Font Cover and Panelling – Photograph (PWDRO 244/5); 1914

A new font was installed in 1914 and the old one inverted to form the base, an act described by the guide as ‘restoring zeal… somewhat unhinged’ (Hutton, undated p. 31). The towering font cover, topped with a characteristic Pinwill dove, and the panelling behind it, were made at the same time. A plaque on the wall states that the font cover was given in memory of Thomas Jackson Nunns, Vicar 1890 to 1907, who had been the force behind the restoration of that period.


Historic England (Launceston) accessed 29/12/20.

Hutton, P. (undated) Mary, Mary Magdalene. A History of the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Launceston.

Jenkins, S. (1999) England’s Thousand Best Churches. Allen Lane The Penguin Press.

PWDRO 244/2 Photograph Album. Various. Woodcarvings.

PWDRO 244/5 Photograph Album. Various. Woodcarvings.

Warner, M. (2022) A Time to Build: Signposts to the Building, Restoration, Enhancement, and Maintenance of Cornwall’s Anglican Churches and Mission Rooms. Scyfa, Cornwall.

Western Morning News (1911) A Quatercentenary. Launceston Church and its Story. The New Screen. 22 July p. 8.