Dartmoor church event celebrates transatlantic link

St Michael and All Angels’ church at Princetown on Dartmoor is the only church in England to have been built by prisoners of war. Sailors captured during wars with France and America in the early 19th century were held in Dartmoor prison and paid only sixpence every three months to build the church that served the prison community.

In 1904 a magnificent commemorative glass window was gifted to St Michael’s church by descendants of American servicemen in honour of over 200 American prisoners who perished while incarcerated, many of whom are buried in the churchyard.

This month saw the completion of ‘A Window in Time’, a year-long project to restore the window, which had suffered significant damage in the face of Dartmoor’s harsh weather.

CCT marked the successful return of the window with a celebratory event for the local community and international visitors on Tuesday 3rd June.

Over eighty guests attended a special service of peace led by Reverend Nick Shutt, including Tavistock mayor Harry Smith, Plymouth’s Honorary French Consul Alain Sibiril, officers of the Royal Navy and members of the National Society US Daughters of 1812, the American organisation that originally gifted the window. Pupils from Princetown Primary School, who took part in the conservation of the window and designed a temporary replacement, also took part in the day.

Sophie Shotter, Teaching Assistant at Princetown Primary School, said: “‘A Window In Time’ at St Michael’s church gave the children a unique opportunity to be involved in a community building in a creative, hands-on way. To learn about and experience first hand the craft techniques that go into a building like this is something the children wouldn’t normally have the chance to do.”

Virginia Apyar, president of the National Society United States Daughters of 1812, added: “We are absolutely delighted that this remarkable, one-of-a-kind window has been saved for future generations. It has been a real pleasure to see the window being enjoyed by local people and used as creative inspiration by young people from the school. Our thanks go to The Churches Conservation Trust for their wonderful work to make this happen.”

Peace prayers were followed by refreshments, church tours and a preview of the church’s brand new visitor interpretation, which explains the extraordinary history of England’s prisoner of war church.

St Michael and All Angels’ church is open daily to visitors.