St Keyne & St Martin

Violet Pinwill had a long association with St Martin-by-Looe that began before 1921 and continued until just before she died in 1957. The chronology of the work is not altogether clear but letters from Violet Pinwill to the Revd William S. Picken and later his son the Revd William M. M. Picken between 1923 and 1956 held at CRO (AD1240/4/17) provide some information. The quality of the work is acknowledged in Beacham & Pevsner (2014 p. 577) as ‘a specially good ensemble’. At the same time as some of this work was being carried out, Violet was also making pieces for two other churches in Looe, St Mary and St Nicholas.

St Martin by Looe Altar Rail Angel
Angel on the Altar Rail at St-Martin-by-Looe

Altar Rails – Guide (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006); 1921

There are no photographs of these in PWDRO but the guide states that the rails were carved by V. Pinwill in 1921 and are thought to be the earliest pieces. A gilded semi-kneeling angel in prayer graces either side. The rails are dedicated to sisters Sarah Lydia Couch (died August 1920) and Maria Jane Couch (died October 1920), cousins of the writer Arthur Quiller Couch.

Credence Table – Photograph (PWDRO 244/2); after 1921

Choir Stalls – No documentary evidence; circa 1933

There is no documentary evidence for the provenance of the choir stalls, although they are quite easily attributable to V. Pinwill because of the seaweed and fish poppy head, almost identical to a design by Sedding used in 1909 for Lanteglos by Fowey, and the familiar semi-kneeling angel. The guide states that the ‘rather large’ stalls were ‘not intended for this church originally’ (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006 p. 6) but does not elaborate further. They are dedicated to the memory of John and Ann White of Polvellan Manor in West Looe, as well as their daughter Mary Elizabeth who died in 1933, providing some sort of date for the stalls. 

Clergy Stall – Photographs (PWDRO 116/80); after 1921

The front of the stall bears a wreath within which is a dedication to Lieut. Comm. John White, killed in action in October 1916 while in command of HMS Genista, son of John and Ann White of Polvellan Manor named on the choir stalls. A semi-kneeling angel sits either side of the back.

Piscina Frame – Photograph (Impey Family Archive); 1952

The provenance of this unique Pinwill carving, dedicated to the memory of Major Roy Neil Boyd Campbell DSO OBE of the Indian Army, only came to light in early 2020, when a member of the family forwarded a photograph held by a cousin in Australia. This photograph was recognisable as one that would have been taken for the Pinwill archive but was instead passed on to the family. The Major died in 1950 but Trevaldwyn & Picken (2006) note that a new frame for the piscina was installed in 1952.

Figure of St Martin of Tours – Guide (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006); after 1921

A figure of St Martin, when still a Roman soldier, cutting his cloak in half to give to a wayside beggar on a cold day, was carved by Violet as a gift to the church. However, its whereabouts was unknown until it was recently discovered in the Vestry and eventually identified as this Pinwill work in March 2022.

Lectern Foot – Photograph (PWDRO 244/1); 1924

The photograph at PWDRO shows the entire lectern but the guide (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006) states that it was only the foot, with the symbols of the four evangelists, that was added in 1924, paid for by the daughters of the original donor of the piece.

Font Cover – Photograph (PWDRO 244/2); after 1925

The cover features a figure of Christ with arms outstretched, based on a Portuguese bronze (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006). It is dedicated to Walter Edward Newton who died in December 1925.

Chancel Screen – Photograph (PWDRO 116/80); 1934

The chancel screen was discussed in letters between Violet Pinwill and the Revd Picken from July 1933. Wheatly was mentioned as the architect, who needed to sort out the exact line on the step to which the screen was to be fixed. An estimate was submitted for £600 but in the event,  it cost £100 more because it was decided to add coving to the back, rather than have it plain. By the time the bill was submitted in June 1934, £500 had already been paid on account, largely to defray the cost of buying the wood. A newspaper report, complete with photograph, described the screen in detail (Western Morning News, 1934a). It is dedicated to Margaret Quiller Couch, another cousin of Arthur Quiller Couch, who died in 1933 and left a legacy for the adornment of the church.

North Transept Screen – Guide (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006); 1939

The guide tells us that the north transept was restored to the status of a chapel in 1939 by the addition of a screen, carved by Miss Pinwill, using a seventeenth-century design from elsewhere in the church.

Processional Cross – Letters (CRO AD1240/4/17) V. Pinwill designer and carver; 1956

In July 1956 Violet wrote to the Revd Picken enclosing a sketch for this item. She mentions a model (maquette) that he had already seen and that perhaps he would like to discuss details of the vestments. This strongly suggests the cross bore a figure, probably of Christ; such a cross exists in the church and is still in use. It is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Edward Stephens 1879-1954. The bill for the cross had not been sent before Violet died and one was sent by the accountants acting for the executors of Violet’s will on 17 January 1957. It was for £45 for the making of one processional cross with engraving on the reverse.

St Martin by Looe Eldred Bench End
Painted Bench End at St Martin-by-Looe

Nave Seating – Photographs (PWDRO 116/80, 116/113; 244/1 & 244/2); Guide (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006) V. Pinwill designer and carver; 1923-1948

All the seating in the nave was renewed between 1923 and 1948 with memorial pews (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006). According to the guide, they were all carved and, except for the war memorial one, designed by V. Pinwill. The designs of some of the seats are discussed in letters between Violet Pinwill and the Revd Picken. The traditional parts of the designs were taken from the original pews of the Langdon Chapel of 1612. It is not known which of the seats was made first, but a receipt for £43 17s. 0d. was sent by V. Pinwill in January 1923 (CRO AD1240/4/17). More information is provided below on individual seats, grouped according to where they are in the church, rather than chronologically.

North Aisle Seating from Back

Supreme Sacrifice Seat – Photographs (PWDRO 244/1); 1923-1934

The seats in the north aisle are memorials to those lost in the Great War and the high-backed one by the door bears a scene of a dying soldier and the words ‘The Supreme Sacrifice’. On the top of the ends are a soldier and a sailor with bowed heads. Inscribed on the other side are the names of some of the local men who died. According to the guide (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006), this is the only seat not designed by Violet Pinwill. The identity of the person who did is revealed on the back of a photograph deposited in CRO (AD1240/4/46). The image is of a ‘sketch model in plaster’ of the panel for the proposed war memorial – a preliminary stage in the process of carving such a complex piece of work. The back of the photograph has been annotated by the Revd W.M.M. Picken:

The design for this war memorial panel was drawn by Mr L.D. Symington. But by a misunderstanding what was sent to Miss Pinwill, and was the pattern from which she made this plaster model (afterwards carved in wood and installed in St Martin by Looe Church), was Mr Symington’s preliminary sketch, not his intended finished draft. This accounts for the defects in the draughtsmanship of this model, particularly of the figures. Mr Symington – an admirable draughtsman and artist – was distressed by this, as he told me.

This was rather unfortunate, to say the least, and it has to be said that the figures are not as well-formed as they might be.

War Memorial Seats (3) – Photograph (PWDRO 116/113 & 244/1); Guide (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006) V. Pinwill designer and carver; 1923-1934

This group of three seats are photographed together. One carries the inscription ‘In Memoriam 1914-1918’ and has a semi-kneeling angel on the end carrying a wreath, while the other two bear names of more men killed in the Great War. They all have military insignia on the ends.

Picken Seat – Letters (CRO AD1240/4/17) V. Pinwill designer and carver; 1932

This seat forms part of the War Memorial Group in the north aisle and is dedicated to Lieut. Ronald Baynton Picken, nephew of the Revd W. S. Picken. It was briefly discussed in a letter from Violet Pinwill in 1931.

Swords into Ploughshares Seat Front – Photograph (PWDRO 116/80 & 244/2); Letters (CRO AD1240/4/17) V. Pinwill designer and carver; 1934

This is the front desk for the seats in the north aisle and features a forge scene to represent the turning of ‘swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks’, a quotation from Isaiah often used to signify peace. In panels either side are wreaths to denote remembrance. Each end is topped with an angel semi-kneeling before a prie-dieu and playing a musical instrument. Letters between Violet Pinwill and the Revd Picken in June 1933 discuss the design of the piece and she mentions having found a suitable scene of a forge on which to base it. The front was not completed until March 1934, when a newspaper article about its installation provides a photograph and the information that it will ‘complete the block of war memorial seats’ (Western Morning News, 1934b p. 3). Very unfortunately, it now has a white radiator partially obscuring it.

Centre Section Seating from back

Women’s Work Seat – Photographs (PWDRO 116/102 & 244/1); Guide (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006) V. Pinwill designer and carver; after 1923

The back of this seat is composed of five panels, each depicting an aspect of the work of women in teaching, art, motherhood, needlework and nursing, surmounted by the words ‘All thy work shall praise thy name’. On one end is a carving of the Virgin and child based on Madonna col figlio by Guercino, in which Jesus raises his hand in the sign of benediction. On the other end is a carving of remarkably young widow with a child putting her ‘mite’ into the temple offering, possibly as a reference to the many young widows left after the Great War. Both ends are topped with semi-kneeling angels.

Bawden (1862-1918) & George Knight (1841-1920) Seats (2) – Photograph (PWDRO 244/1); Guide (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006) V. Pinwill designer and carver; after 1923

Honey Seats (2) – No documentary record; after 1923

One is dedicated to Mary Rendle Honey 1834-1904.

‘Benedicite’ Desk Front – Photographs (PWDRO 116/80 & 244/1); Guide (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006) V. Pinwill designer and carver; after 1923

This is the front desk for the central block of seating. It features five panels (only four are shown in a photograph of the disassembled parts) with plants, animals, birds and fish. It is known as the ‘Benedicite’ pew, invoking the words ‘O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord’. Each end has an angel semi-kneeling before a prie-dieu and playing a musical instrument. An inscription ‘To the Glory of God and in Memory of’ is intended to precede the dedications on the seats behind.

South Aisle Seating from Back

Bell Ringers Seat – Photographs (PWDRO 244/1); Guide (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006) V. Pinwill designer and carver; after 1923

This is a particularly charming piece of work. The carving on the back consists of a central panel of bells in full peal, with side borders of twining ropes, surmounted by a string of small bells and ropes. On the end is carved a bellringer, the captain of the tower at the time, Charles Bettinson. This is topped by a semi-kneeling angel ringing hand bells.

Eldred Seat – Letters (CRO AD1240/4/17) V. Pinwill designer and carver; 1932

The story of this seat is told in Chaytor (1990), which describes how a young man was drowned while fishing in a remote valley in the Himalayas. His grief-stricken mother travelled to the place where he died and took photographs, which she sent to Violet Pinwill to reproduce as paintings on the bench end (CRO AD1240/4/17). There are four painted panels showing the locations of the young man’s journey and death. Violet mentioned to the Revd Picken that the work had been very difficult, but the result is superb.

Jackson Seat – Letters (CRO AD1240/4/17) V. Pinwill designer and carver; 1931

This seat was discussed at length by Violet Pinwill, the Revd William Picken and Katherine Jackson the donor in the letters cited above and can be dated confidently to 1931. It features a ship in full sail and a quotation from the poem by John Masefield ‘All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by’. The dedication is to Arthur B.H. Jackson, a keen yachtsman, who died in November 1929, the dear husband of Katherine Jackson. Originally, Mrs Jackson wanted a memorial in the form of a cross in the graveyard but Violet Pinwill thought this unsuitable and beyond the allotted budget. She eventually persuaded Mrs Jackson to add to the reseating by having a bench end dedicated to her husband and then produced the ship design, which swayed the decision.

Campbell Seats (3) – Photograph (PWDRO 244/2); Letters (CRO AD1240/4/17) V. Pinwill designer and carver; 1932

There is only one photograph of these seats, showing the end of one with military insignia, topped by a semi-kneeling angel playing a stringed instrument with a bow.

HMS Salmon Seat – Photograph (PWDRO 244/2); Guide (Trevaldwyn & Picken, 2006) V. Pinwill designer and carver; 1948

This bench end was the subject of three letters dated Januray 1948: one from ‘Bud’ Graham-Bonnalie, the donor, to the Revd W.M.M. Picken, his in reply, and another from the Revd Picken to Violet Pinwill (CRO AD1240/4/20). The bench was to be a memorial to Mrs Graham-Bonnalie’s first husband, Lieut. Robin Hugh Meliss Hancock DSC, lost aboard HMS Salmon in July 1940. The design, suggested by Mrs Graham-Bonnalie, shows the submarine on the surface of the sea, with fish below and gulls above and a sunburst behind. This memorial completed the seating in the south aisle and the Revd Picken was keen to proceed, adding in his letter to Violet Pinwill that ‘I have said nothing about a Faculty. I don’t want one, and am prepared to put in… memorials without further formality’.

Armstrong Desk Front – Photograph (PWDRO 244/2); Letters (CRO AD1240/4/17) V. Pinwill designer and carver; 1948

This is the front desk for the seats in the south aisle, which, like the other two fronts, is graced with angels semi-kneeling before a prie-dieu and playing musical instruments. This, and the seat behind, is referred to in letters from Violet Pinwill to the Revd Picken, dated November 1947, in which they discuss the re-use of wood from the old seats and the inclusion of other old panelling from near Liskeard. Some of the carving on the front could be old, with newer panels worked to match. It is dedicated to Florence Hannah Seymour Armstrong, who died in November 1943.

North and South Transept Seats – Letters (CRO AD1240/4/17); 1933/34

There is no other mention of these seats except for an estimate submitted in July 1933 that includes £78 for further seats with plain fronts for the transepts. Some of these are now located elsewhere in the church.


Beacham, P. & Pevsner, N. (2014) The Buildings of England. Cornwall. Yale University Press, London.

CRO AD1240/4/17 Correspondence. To Rev. Picken, St Martin by Looe, from V. Pinwill 1923-1956.

CRO AD1240/4/20 Correspondence. To and from Rev. Picken, St Martin by Looe 1948.

CRO AD1240/4/46 Photograph. Sketch model in plaster of proposed Supreme Sacrifice Seat Back.

PWDRO 116/80 Photographs. Looe St Martin. Interior, Screen, Nave Bench and Panelling, Clergy Stall and Table.

PWDRO 116/102 Photographs. Truro St Clement. Retable; Looe St Martin. Panels for Bench Back.

PWDRO 116/113 Photographs. Various. Bench Ends.

PWDRO 244/1 Photograph Album. Various. Woodcarvings.

PWDRO 244/2 Photograph Album. Various. Woodcarvings.

Trevaldwyn, B. W. J. & Picken, W. M. M. (2006) The Parish Church of St. Martin. History.

Western Morning News (1934a) New Chancel Screen. St Martin-by-Looe Restoration. 25 April p. 8.

Western Morning News (1934b) New Memorial. St. Martin-by-Looe Church. 15 March p. 3.