St Michaels Chapel is situated within woodland atop a limestone outcrop. The source of much speculation and legend; some old, some more recent, very little documented history of the building exists.
Probably constructed in the 13th or 14th century from local limestone with red sandstone dressings; it is not entirely clear that this ever was a chapel or site of religious significance - espiscopal registers and cartularies do not record it - and the stone cross which adorned the roof was a 19th century addition by the Marchioness of Bute (this was removed during the work on the site in 2015).
The Handbook for Torquay and its neighbourhood with the natural history of the district (1854) describes the chapel:
This [road] we follow to the right, passing on the left hand Pilmuir, the residence of Lord Sinclair, and emerging at length on the Newton Road, close by the Terminus of the South Devon Railway. A few yards further on, and on the opposite side of the road, we find a footpath leading into the wood, and winding up the side of a steep hill, the summit of which is formed by a huge crag of limestone rock, crowned by a building named St. Michael's Chapel.
This is a very simple structure, consisting of a single room. It is 29 1/2 feet long, by 14 feet 3 inches in breadth, and faces east and west. It stands within a few feet from the perpendicular precipice at the western end. It is built of solid masonry, with an arched roof constructed of horizontal slabs. On the west side there are two small windows, and in the cell of the lowest are the remains of a perpendicular and two horizontal irons. There is a large window on the east side, and some vestiges of a porch on the south. No traces of a floor have ever been discovered. There are four arches in the building, of different forms, — an elliptical, a segmental, an obtuse gothic, and an equilateral gothic. The cross at the eastern end was erected by the Marchioness of Bute, a few years since.
Of its origin and nature we know simply nothing. Some have imagined that it was a chapel dedicated to St Michael, and connected with Tor Abbey. Other conceived it to have been a votive building raised by some who had escaped from shipwreck. It has been thought to be a place for repentance, "where pilgims were wont to repair, and by an expiatory penance atone for a life of pleasure." And again it has been supposed that it was an abode destined for the punishment of offenders, with no reference to devotional purposes. But the whole is pure conjecture, and must ever remain such, for neither the building itself, nor any ancient records throw one ray of light upon the subject. One thing however is certain, that it commands a splendid view, one that will more than repay the labour of climbing for it.
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