Contractors working on the conversion of the former St Leonard’s Church, Newton Abbot, have unearthed an ecclesiastical mystery.
While preparing the Victorian structure for its new life as the Newton’s Place museum and community hub, two tired and dusty kneelers - hassocks to give them their proper name - were found behind a wall. Of an unusual design and differing in size, they are thought to date from the 19th century.
No one can figure out why they should have been deliberately hidden. "It’s a mystery, a bit spooky," said Kate Green, Outreach Worker for Newton’s Place. "The kneelers are like the cloth ones you see but these are made from raffia and stuffed with straw. They were found when a panel was removed, it’s very odd that they should have been hidden like that. If they weren’t wanted why not just get rid of them?"
The puzzle was beyond even the combined brains of members of the Teign U3A (University of the Third Age) History Group. They were shown the hassocks by Kate while on a tour of the site which is due to open to the public early next year. One theory that they might have contained church treasure floundered when an inspection of the innards revealed nothing.
The U3A members were pleased however with progress at the £2 million cultural project that will also conserve some of the Grade II building’s best features. With a new floor now laid and set, work on creating rooms and the upper level is set to begin within weeks. The main build is due to be completed by the end of August after which award-winning designers Leach will move in to create the display areas.
"Kate’s shown us the future, described exactly what will be here, and it’s going to be fascinating to come back and see it," said U3A visitor Jill Thompson. "It’s going to be absolutely amazing, a huge thing for the town."
U3A members Margaret Southcombe and Peter Luxton with the mysterious hassocks.