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Elizabeth Simcoe and her daughters: amateur ecclesiastical design in the 1840s

By Jim Cheshire


The project sought to describe and analyse the activities of a Elizabeth Simcoe, a wealthy evangelical dowager, and her daughters in the 1840s and early 1850s. Between them the Simcoes carved stone and wood, painted glass and designed the decorative schemes for three churches in the immediate area of Dunkerswell in Devon. Though mentioned in passing in several accounts relating to the Simcoe Family (many by Canadian historians as General Simcoe was Governor of Upper Canada and Elizabeth Simcoe kept famous diaries of Canada in the early nineteenth century) no-one has attempted to accurately record their activities as ecclesiastical designers and makers. Amateur ecclesiastical design was more common in the Victorian period than is currently appreciated and many of the practitioners were women. The example is unusual in the scale of production and the fact that the products were not ephemeral: altars, fonts, pulpits and stained glass windows made by the Simcoes exist today in a number of churches in East Devon. The Simcoes were also unusual in that they were evangelicals, while much activity (though later in the period) is associated with the High Anglican Church. The article seeks to establish exactly what was made and by whom, how the Simcoe interiors display a Low Church approach to ecclesiastical design and how the Simcoes altered old carvings and woodwork (which may have been acquired on picturesque tours of Wales) into new fittings for their churches. Social historians of Victorian religion increasingly talk of the ‘feminisation’ of piety and religion in general. This project and current interest in other female architects (such as Sara Losh in Wreay, Cumbria) suggests that historians of design and material culture have much to add to the debate

Topics: K120 Interior Architecture, W740 Surface Decoration, W250 Interior Design
Publisher: The Victorian Society
Year: 2008
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