The Heart of Oak project began when a rare, carved oak, Renaissance screen was donated to Newton Abbot Museum in 2008.

It is thought that the carved oak panels were originally from St Leonard's Chapel, (generally known as the Clock Tower). The carved oak panels could date from c.1534. They were purchased at auction by George Templer, builder of the Haytor granite tramway. One of the project's aims is to commission an art historian to research the origins of the design and choice of symbols and characters depicted in the carved panels of the screen, and possibly even discover the maker. These findings will help to inform the workshops and future exhibitions for the town.


George TemplerThe oak panels were purchased at auction by George Templer, builder of the Haytor granite tramway. He had just married Charlotte Elizabeth Kennaway, daughter to Sir John Kennaway, in 1835 and in 1836 George set about building a beautiful house at Sandford Orleigh on the road from Newton Abbot to Bovey Tracey. The site commanded a view of the River Teign estuary on one side, and to Haytor on the other - and encompassed the triumphs of George's past.

The carved oak screenIn fitting out his home, George Templer had the carved oak screens made into an enormous vermantel - a chimney/mantelpiece surrounding a fireplace. The panels were put into two rows of 6 panels and joined with a cornice and by caryatids on a framework to hold it all together. The subjects depicted by the screens were origianally not thought to be of a religious nature - but more research by the commissioned historian,Dr Riall, has changed this opinion and the carvings do have a religious significance.

Here the screen remained for 175 years. They were seen by George Templer and his numerous guests, and after his death in 1843, by the Victorian explorer of the Nile, Sir Samuel Baker and his wife Florence and their many famous visitors - and down the ages until the house fell under the hammer and was bought by a developer to convert the house into apartments.

Sir Samuel Baker and his wife FlorenceIn the process of conversion, the vermantel was removed to storage - for 10 years. Eventually the owners of the apartment offered the screen back to the town. The Newton Abbot Town and Great Western Railway Museum took on the challenge to restore the carved screens and surrounds and the Heart of Oak Project was born.

The Project needed funding to carry out the work and the bulk of the money - £43,700 has been given by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Other grant aid has come from Ugbrooke Environmental Ltd, The Claude and Margaret Pike Trust, The Golsoncott Foundation, and many donations from County, District and Town Councillors and many generous donations from the public.

Entrusted with this money the Heart of Oak project has a variety of Aims, Objectives and Measures of success

To get people involved there are lots of free workshops

The conservation of a remarkable and historically important Renaissance screen, which will become a ‘historic gem’ for Newton Abbot, and will create a sense of pride in the town. It will be displayed to the public for the first time in 175 years. As a community celebration, music and dance events will take place in the run-up to the unveiling of the restored panels. The conservation of this rare screen will capture the imagination of the media and create National and International interest in the project and the town.

What an opportunity for the town!