Jan 292017

I thought that I had better lead by example and submit my results for the first of our shared endeavour tasks. I have chosen one of my places, the rural parish of Buckland Brewer in North Devon, for this project and I am going to investigate the time span 1100-2017. I have discovered some interesting pre-Reformation facts about the place and would like to include those and also want to take a brief look at the early history of what is now the Anglican church.

There have been six public places of worship in the parish: The Anglican Church of St Mary and St Benedict, one Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, three Bible Christian (a Methodist off-shoot) Chapels and one Baptist Chapel. I am also aware of two private chapels that were in larger houses in the area. What are now two neighbouring, separate, Anglican parishes, Bulkworthy and East Putford, were once chapelries of Buckland Brewer, so I shall also include those, especially as Bulkworthy is another of my one-place studies. Bulkworthy had its own Bible Christian Chapel, so I shall be looking at that as well. This gives me, in total, eleven places of worship to study. This is for an area that, in 1851, had a population of 1350, 977 of whom were in Buckland Brewer, the remainder being in East Putford or Bulkworthy. I am aware that there were almost certainly other private chapels whose existence has been forgotten but I think I am unlikely to find more evidence of these and the two that I do know of were probably not in use much after the Reformation.

I have taken recent photographs of the nine places of worship and also have historic photographs of some of them. As the private chapels are on private land and one is a room within a dwelling, rather than a separate building, that is more difficult but I do have modern pictures of the exteriors.

In addition to taking part in the Society’s Faith shared endeavour, I am also participating in the ‘Communities of Dissent’ project, run by the Community and Family History Research Group. This has a more limited focus, concentrating on non-conformity from 1850 onwards.

The Anglican Church of St Michael and St. Benedict in the village of Buckland Brewer, formerly a Catholic place of worship

Pre-reformation this was of course, a Catholic church, as were all churches in England. The Anglican Church of St. Mary and St. Benedict, stands on one of the highest points of the parish. The top of the tower is more than 600 feet above sea level and can been seen from several miles away. The church is believed to have been Norman in origin. After several disasters and renovations, only the south door remains from this period. The church was struck by lightning in 1399 and reputedly reduced to ashes. It was struck again in 1769, causing considerable damage. Lack of funds meant that the eighteenth century rebuild was of poor quality. Most of the current church dates from the extensive renovations of 1877, which were commissioned after yet another storm rendered the tower unsafe. The church bells were cast by local bell founder, John Taylor. The neighbouring parishes of Bulkworthy and East Putford were once chapelries of Buckland Brewer. The first known vicar was Sir Walter de Denetone, who was inducted in 1279. Today, the church is part of the Hartland Coast Mission Community.

The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel

Methodism arrived in Buckland Brewer in 1808, when Mr Sleep preached in the Club Room of the Bell Inn, owned by Mr Daniels. Initially, Wesleyan Methodist services were held in the home of Robert and Alice Curtis. In 1827, a Mr and Mrs Curtis gave a cottage on their farm for use as a Methodist Chapel and Sunday School. Robert died in 1818 so this may have been one of his sons. By 1842, it was necessary to extend this chapel. The building later became the Village Shop (now closed).

The Bible Christian Chapels

The Bible Christian ‘Salem’ Chapel opened at Thornhillhead in 1830, complete with Sunday School and graveyard. The building is still open as a United Methodist Church. This served the south of the parish but although Anglicans and Wesleyans were catered for, there was still no Bible Christian place of worship in the centre of the village. In 1832, a licence was granted for Bible Christians to preach in the home of John Hancock, a labourer. This house is likely to have been in a row of cottages known as New Buildings or Smale’s Cottages. In 1842, another Bible Christian Chapel was opened, at Cannapark, Twitchen. This building closed in 1966 and is now derelict. Finally, the village got its own Bible Christian Chapel when a local stable, next to the Wesleyan Chapel, was converted in 1854. Three years later the Bible Christians purchased Ash House, which adjoined their existing former stable, from Ann Clarke and John Eddy. This became the Providence Bible Christian Chapel. The building fell into disrepair in 1900 and was rebuilt on the same site. Reverend Thomas Braund preached at the opening ceremony in 1903. The Bible Christians became part of the United Methodists in 1907.

I have prepared a longer narrative about the Baptist Chapel but this is a work in progress so I still have the Anglican chapleries, Bulkworthy Bible Christian Chapel and the private chapels to do.

Janet Few

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