Ecclesiastical Antiquities in Devon

Excerpt from Ecclesiastical Antiquities in Devon by George Oliver

George Oliver (1781-1861) was an antiquarian, and a secular priest in the Roman Catholic Church. This excerpt is from the second volume of Ecclesiatical Antiquities in Devon, published in 1840.


This extensive and fertile parish, for the most part, once belonged to the powerful family of Tracy.[1] Though their influence here had gradually declined towards the close of the thirteenth Century, yet their ambition appears to have suffered little diminution. Henry de Tracy incurred the displeasure of his Diocesan, Bishop Bronescombe, for pressing the claim of presentation to the Rectory of Tawstock, and for demanding the custody of Barnstaple Priory in cases of vacancy, though in such pretensions the members of that Monastery seem to have tamely acquiesced. Both were visited with the Bishop's disapprobation and censure. In July, 1272, such pretensions were formally abandoned by Henry de Tracy, who thereupon was re-admitted into the Bishop's favour; but Walter, the Vicar of St. Peter's Church, in Barnstaple, was commissioned by Episcopal Authority to hold the custody of Tawstock Rectory, as well as of the said Priory for the present.

The Registers of the See do not illustrate the history of this important Parish, as might have been expected. We meet with its Chapel of St. Laurence on 3 August, 1400, in folio 45, Vol. 1. of Stafford's Register: also with an Indulgence of 40 days granted by Bishop Lacy, 17 July, 1435, and by Bishop Oldham, 17 August, 1505, for all true penitents who should contribute to the maintenance of Tawstock Bridge.

Before we describe the Parish Church of St. Peter, we submit to the reader the succession of the Rectors.

Robert Burnel, collated per lapsum on Quinquagesima Sunday, 1272-3.

John de Pontisera or Pontes or Pointes, who was admitted 19 October, 1275, on "the presentation of the Prior and Convent of St. Mary Magdalene, in Barnstaple.

He was a Canon of Exeter Cathedral, and was also collated to the Archdeaconry of Exeter, 22 December, 1275. Within 5 years he was promoted to the See of Winchester, the Registers of which commence with his elevation to the Episcopacy. Dying at Wolvesley, late in the year 1305, he was buried in his Cathedral with this Epitaph—

"Defuncti corpus tumulus tenet iste Johannis
Pointes, Wintonie Presulis eximii."

Robert de Stapeldon, the date of whose institution is not recorded. He died about the Feast of our Lord's Ascension, 1311.

Edward de Sancto Johanne, succeeded 21 September, 1311, on the presentation of Sir William Martin, Knt. On whose cession

Thomas de Bradford, admitted 30 January, 1313-14. Pat. Sir William Martin, Knt.

John de Galmeton succeeded "ad Ecclesiam vacantem" 20 June, 1313. Pat. the Lord William Martin. See fol. 85, Reg. Stapeldon.

Thomas de Hegham, occurs Rector 16 August, 1328. See folio 58, Vol. II. Reg. Grandisson.

William Woolaston, admitted 9 Feb. 1366-7. Patrons Sir Richard de Stafford, Knt. and Philip de Luttelegh, as Proxies for that noble Knt. Sir Ralph Bassett de Drayton.

N.B. The will of this Rector was proved before Bishop Brantyngham in his Chapel of Clist Manor, 5 April, 1384. From folio 122-3, of Vol. 1.of his Register, we collect that certain evil, minded persons had forced an entry into the Rectory House of Tawstock, and carried away property in defiance of the Executors.

William Parkers, of Olneye, succeeded 13 May, 1384, on the presentation of Sir Ralph Bassett, Knt., Lord de Drayton and de Olneye

N.B. This presentation became the subject of a lengthened contest. Bishop Brantyngham at last referred the settlement of the suit to Dr. Roger Page, of the Court of Arches, (fol.126, Vol. II. Reg.) who decided on 16 June, 1890, in favour of Walter Gybbes, who was presented by the Crown.

Walter Gybbes, admitted 22 June, 1390. Pat. K. Richard II.

William de Pilton succeeded "ad Ecclesiam vacantem" 10 June, 1404. Pat. K. Henry IV.

John Pulton, S. T. P. instituted 1 August, 1435. Pat K. Henry VI., "ratione minoris aetatis Thomasie filie theredis Ricardi Hankeford militis defuncti."

N. B. This Sir Richard, son of that celebrated Judge Sir William Hankeford, was buried at Monklegh. His daughter Thomasin became wife to Sir William Bourchier, Lord Fitzwarren, and brought the Tawstock estate to his Family.

Thomas Ludlow, the date of whose institution does not appear; but on whose death

Sampson Combe was admitted his successor 29 March, 1460. Patron Sir William Bourchier, Lord Fitzwarren.[2] On whose resignation

John Bourchier, admitted 6 September, 1460- Pat- Sir William Bourchier, Lord Fitzwarren. On whose resignation

Richard Bryte succeeded 15 September, 1468. Patron as before.

N.B. This Rector resigned the Living and accepted the Benefice of Marwood, also in the gift of the said Patron, 13 May, 1469.

John Uffculme, (a monk) admitted 10 June, 1469. Pat. the same. See fol. 15, Bothe's Register.

Oliver Dinham, _______ on whose death

Thomas Bourchier succeeded 25 May, 1500. Pat. Sir John Shapcot, Knt. On whose death

William Horsey, L. L D. a Canon of Exeter Cathedral, was admitted 21 March, 1523-4. Pat. Sir John Bourchier[3] Lord Fitzwarren. His Rectory in 1535, was valued at £69 12s. Id. per annum. On whose death

George Wyndam was admitted 25 April, 1543. Pat. Sir John Bourchier de Fitzwarren, Knt- Earl of Bath.

N.B. This Incumbent died shortly after Institution.

William Hodge, admitted his successor 8 December, 1543. Pat. as before. This Rector died intestate.

Richard Wendon, _______ on whose deprivation or cession

William Wyot, S. T. B. succeeded 4 June, 1577. Pat. John Chichester, of Youlston. Esq.

Simon Canham was admitted to the vacant Living 23 April, 1578. Pat. huc vice John Chichester, of Youlston, Esq. On whose death

Oliver Naylor succeeded 15 March, 1622-3. Pat. Edward, 4th Earl of Bath. On whose death

Richard Downe, S. T. D. succeeded 15 September, 1636. Pat. Edward, Earl of Bath[4]

This Rector died 10 December, 1652.

Oliver Naylor, a Prebendary of Exeter Cathedral, from 19 January, 1660-1 was appointed to this Living after the Restoration; but the date of his Institution is unknown.

He lost his wife (Jane) 2 January, 1695, aet. 51: he died 14 July, 1705, aet. 77.

George Bull succeeded 6 October, 1705. Pat. Sir Bourchier Wrey, Bart.

William Mervin, (whose Institution is not given) ; but on whose resignation

Chichester Wrey (son of Sir Bourchier Wrey[5] Bart., by his Lady Florence daughter of John Rolle, of Stevenstone, Esq.) was admitted on the presentation of his mother, 5 September, 1710. He died 13 March, 1756. Aet. 70, and was buried on the 20th.

Charles Hill succeeded 16 June, 1756. Pat. Sir Bourchier Wrey, Bart.[6] He died 14 Feb. 1801, and lies buried in the South Porch of his Church.

Bourchier William Wrey, (son of Sir Bourchier Wrey, Bart., by his second Lady, Ellen (Thresher) was admitted 22 April, 1801, on the presentation of his brother Sir Bourchier Wrey, Bart.[7]

He died in the new Rectory House at Corfe, 19 August, and was buried on 27th Do. 1839, aet. 78.

Henry Bourchier Wrey, (son of the late Baronet by his 2nd wife Lady, Anne (Osborne,) and half-brother to the present respected Baronet Sir Bourchier Palk Wrey) was instituted 24 January, 1840. The well kept Register of Marriages commences with 6 April, 1538. Baptisms 10 Nov. 1538. Burials 27 Nov. 1538

The Church, dedicated to St. Peter, is indeed a spacious structure, measuring in its inside length 112 feet: the width of Nave and the North and South Aisles 44 1/2 feet, and of the Transept 70 feet. In the centre rises a well built Tower, (which contains six bells) measuring to the Battlements 76 feet 2 inches, and to the top of pinnacles 10 feet 8 inches more. Total height 86 feet 10 inches. When we passed the beautiful South Porch, the eye fell on a grave stone towards the west, to the memory of Joan Peard, widow, who was buried 10 January, 1571, with a well cut "Requiescat in Pace." A Gallery at the West end of the Nave, erected in 1697, is entirely out of keeping with the character of the Fabric. Under this Gallery is a venerable Square Font. The Church has evidently been built at different periods: the Nave and lower part of the Tower appear to be the more ancient portions of the structure: a South Aisle opening into the Chancel by two bold arches, is comparatively a modern addition. Under an obtuse arch in the north wall of the Chancel, is the well executed figure of a female, in oak, with her hands joined before her breast. Can it represent Thomasia Hankeford the heiress above-mentioned, who brought the estate into the Bourchier Family?

But the great attraction to visitors, is the number of splendid Monuments. We may particularise 1st. Lady Frances Fitzwarren's, daughter of Sir Thomas Kitson, Knt. She died on Easter day, 1586, and was buried 4th April that year.—2nd. That of her son William, Earl of Bath, and his consort Elizabeth, the second daughter of Francis, Earl of Bedford, and married in St. Mary Major's Church, Exeter, on 7 August, 1583.[8] She was buried 25 March, 1605. Her Lord followed her to the grave 12 July, 1623.—3rd. Of the Right Honourable Henry, Earl of Bath, who died (after much suffering in person and property for his Loyalty) 16 August, 1654, and was buried on 17th of the same month, though his funeral rites were not solemnized until 21st of the month following. His widowed Countess Rachael, daughter of Francis, Earl of Westmoreland, placed to his memory that costly Sarcophagus, the engraving of which may be seen in p. 241 of Sandford's Genealogical History of the Kings of England. This Countess, in the verbose Inscription which, may be read, pp. 410-11 of Polwhele's History of Devon, appears inconsolable for her loss; but this was assuaged by her subsequent marriage to Lionel Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex. Dying in London 11th November, 1680, aet. 67, she was buried at Tawstock, on Friday 21st January following. Elevated on a round Pedestal, the majestic statue of this Countess Rachael, in white marble, commands attention. There are many Tablets in the Church which would deeply interest the Herald and County Historian; but which do not fall in with the nature of this work. These ought to be faithfully copied, to prevent the oblivion which otherwise awaits them.

It was pleasing to see the abundance of Church Plate: an old cup with the date 1576 on the cover—a Paten given in 1704, by Sir Bourchier Wrey, Baronet—a large Flagon, the gift of Edward Lovett of Corfe, in this Parish, Esq., about the same time as the Paten above-mentioned—another Paten, presented in 1721, by the Rev. Chichester Wrey, Rector and a gilt cup by Florence Lady Wrey, in 1724.

The Writer cannot leave this interesting spot, without acknowledging his warmest obligations to the very worthy and Honourable Baronet, Sir B. P. Wrey, for his courteous attentions, for his anxiety to procure accurate information, and for his generous present of the accompanying plate of Tawstock Court, once considered the largest and grandest Mansion in Devonshire.

[1]The Charter of one Henry de Tracy, dated in 1146, confirming the previous grant of Tawstock Church to Barnstaple Priory, by Johel and Alured, may be seen In Dugdale's Monasticon.

[2]Ann Plantagenet, eldest daughter of Thomas Duke of Gloucester, and of Eleanor Bohun his consort, married thrice,

1st. Thomas, Earl of Stafford.
2nd. Edmund, Earl of Stafford.
3rd. William Bourchier.

By her last husband she had 1st. Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex. 2nd. William Bourchier, Lord Fitzwarren. 3rd. Thomas Bourchier, successively Bishop of Worcester and Ely, and finally Arch-bishop of Canterbury and Cardinal & Cyriaci in Thermis. The Arms of his Grace are still to be seen in the North Aisle of Tawstock Church. Dying 30 March, 1486, he was buried on the north side of the High Altar of his Cathedral in a marble Tomb. N. B. Thomas Bourchier, another descendant of the Earls of Bath, took the Franciscan Habit at Greenwich towards the end of Q. Mary's reign. Subsequently he retired toParis, where he was made a Doctor of Sorbon, afterwards proceeded to Rome, and became Penitentiary in the Church of St. John Lateran, and maintained the reputation of being a man of extraordinary piety and great learning. He died about the year 1586. He was the Author of " Historia Ecclesiastica de Martyrio Fratrum Ordinis Minorum S. Francisci de Observantifi" 4to. 1582.

[3]He was created Earl of Bath 9 July, 1535.

[4]This Nobleman died at the age of 46, and was buried 3 March, 1623-4. His Countess (Dorothy, daughter of Lord St. John, of Bletsoe) died 20 August, 1632. Her Lord had been a Patron of County History; and as such Westcot, p. 221, M.S. Survey of Devon, says "of this chief ornament of the North of Devon, he was the primum mobile of these my labours, and strong perswader, and would have been a great assistant (being singularly adorn'd with the best sciences) had not the Fates otherwise decreed."

[5]This Baronet, K. B. (eldest son of the Sir Chichester Wrey, of Trebigh, Cornwall, Bart., who had married Anne, daughter of Edward, 4th Earl of Bath, and relict of James Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex,) died 28 July, 1696, aet. 44, and was burled 18 August ; his Relict survived 'till 24 August, 1724, Their eldest son Bourchier succeeded to the Baronetcy, and married Diana, daughter of John Rolle, of Stevenstone, Esq. lie was buried at Tawstock, 12 November, 1726. Strange to say that though the Parents of Sir Bourchier were also interred in the Vault here, the Parish Register is silent. Sir Chichester Wrey had died in 1663.

[6]This Baronet was buried 22 April, 1784.

[7]This late Baronet died at Holne Chace, 20 November, 1826, aet 70. His Family must ever be indebted to him for the erection of the present convenient and noble mansion, of Tawstock Court. The old House (of which through the liberality of Sir Bourchier Palk Wrey, Baronet, we are enabled to give a Plate) was burnt down 10 November, 1783. The Gateway erected in 1574, is still standing, and was engraved for Polwhele's History of Devon.

[8]On this occasion says Izacke, "the City of Exeter presented a Bason and Ewer of silver gilt, and also made then a triumph in Southernhay, in honour of this said marriage" p. 137, Memorials.