Public donates £7,000 to save priceless 15th century rood screen panels stolen in raid

Following a national fundraising campaign, The Churches Conservation Trust today announced it has reached its target of £7,000 in public donations to conserve the priceless rood screen panels hacked from Holy Trinity Church in Torbryan in Devon by thieves in August 2013, and later recovered by the police

A fundraising campaign was launched in May 2015 to pay for vital restoration work after the two priceless 15th century oak panels – bearing paintings of St Victor of Marseilles and St Margaret of Antioch – were recovered by the police with significant damage. Following their theft in August 2013, the panels had remained missing until they were recovered by the Metropolitan Police Art & Antiques Unit after being spotted by a private collector in an online sale.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has also awarded a £47,000 grant for a two-year project to tell the history of the building and the surrounding village and countryside, adding imaginative new on-site interpretation and events.

Crispin Truman, Chief Executive of The Churches Conservation Trust said: “Thanks to the generosity of the public, where once we were faced with a tragedy, now we are celebrating victory. Not only will the panels now be returned to their rightful place at Holy Trinity Torbryan, but also a community project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund will encourage local residents and schoolchildren to learn their fascinating story. I’m truly grateful to all those who offered their help in restoring this priceless masterpiece, and encouraging the world to enjoy their beauty.”

Left the Torbryan missing panels before the summer 2013 theft (Credit - Diana Neale LRPS) and above after the theft

Though the two stolen panels are currently being safely stored off site, once the restoration work has taken place, they will be returned to the church, and the public will not only be able to observe the newly-restored rood screen, but also to join in a project – supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund – which will allow visitors to learn the hidden histories of Torbryan.

The tumultuous history of the rood screen will also be explored, alongside the role of local nobleman Sir William Petre during the Reformation and the story of local caves which were the unlikely source of prehistoric finds by Victorian archaeologist James Lyon Widger.  A programme of events will also be developed to encourage local people, schools and organisations and tourists to visit the church throughout the year.

Throughout the project local residents are being invited to volunteer, taking part in conservation, welcoming visitors to the church, organising events and undertaking further research into the history of Holy Trinity and Torbryan. Anyone interested in volunteering can register their interest now by emailing [email protected].