In-Depth: Feniton


Feniton, Devon, England

© Feniton History Group




Feniton Church

Feniton Church

Extract from Devon by W.G.Hoskins (1954),

FENITON is a neat, well-cared-for village, set in park-like country. Feniton Court, a Georgian house, was the birthplace of John Coleridge Patteson (1827-71), first missionary bishop of Melanesia, murdered by natives in 1871. His farther, Sir John Patteson, distinguished judge, died at Feniton, 1861.

The church (St. Andrew) is entirely 15th century work except the small N. transept. The fine 15th century rood-screen to naïve and S. aisle is of the Kentisbeare type, well proportioned and rich in detail, with its vaulting almost intact. The cornice is singularly rich. The parclose screen is also of beautiful design. In the chancel is a tomb with a striking and emaciated cadaver, probably that of one of the Malherbes (15th century). A few 16th century carved bench-ends survive, together with a number of modern ones of excellent design.

In Fenny Meadow, just N. of Fenny Bridge, the western rebels of 1549 were defeated by Russell's mercenaries. Curscombe Farm was a Domesday manor. Colesworthy is mentioned as early as 1219 and is probably of 12th century foundation. [1]

The parish is made up of 1,822 acres.


Feniton is just off the main A30 trunk road some 11 miles from the city of Exeter and 6 miles from the market town of Honiton, just across the road over the River Otter is Ottery St. Mary. It is a village of parts, there are the Hamlets of Fenny Bridges, Colestocks, Colesworthy and Curscombe. Above the old village centre is the "new" village, a housing estate built in the late 1960s. This is alongside the railway station and remaining pub, The Nog Inn. It is part of the historic Hayridge Hundred.

While high quality agricultural land has shaped Feniton’s character as a farming community over the millennia, during the last fifty years the village has experienced haphazard and poorly structured housing development that has earned it the notoriety of being the most badly planned village in the region. Moreover, with each new development, despite the usual reassurances of developers, the grave problem of flooding has worsened as concrete is spread over the rich agricultural ground.

The new estate was built on fields that are known to be underwater in the winter and this has lead, in recent years to the village suffering serious flooding episodes. [5]


Population of Feniton varies a little over the years from, 1801 = 252. 1811 = 252. 1821 = 258. 1831 = 321. 1841 = 343. 1851 = 366. 1861=361. 1871=333. 1881=355. 1891=354. 1901=387. 1911= 387. 1921 = 374. 1931 = 318. 1951 = 344. 1961 = 320. 1971 = 1,069. 1981 = 1,586. 2001=1,976. The steep rising of the number due to the development of the new estate in the late 1960s.

In 1995 two smaller developments were added on the old railway yard and sidings, one known as The Signals, the second talking the name The Burlands. A third on land taken from the cricket pitch and tennis courts, named Acland Park was built in 1996. Currently 2015, the village has had to take in the Wainhomes site of 50 houses, known as Winchester Park and a smaller development of some 35 houses off Acland Park on a derelict farmyard. [5]


Where there was water and shelter a community would perhaps make a base, as first they would have been hunter gatherers. As archaeology digs deeper in to the past the written past changes and I leave it up to the reader to follow this up.

The small brook that runs down to the River Otter through the village is called The Vine, which gives the village its name.

The name of the village, often with the name of the Manor family, Malherbe as a postfix is found to spelt in many ways. Vyneton Malherbe, Finetone, Finatona, Venyton, Vynyngton, Fynton, Fenyton, Fyenton, Vineton, Fenyton, Veniton and the more recognised spelling Feniton.

Ottery St Mary and Feniton are mentioned in a charter dated 1061 detailing the boundary between the two parishes.

It is mentioned in the Domesday Book along with the hamlet of Curscombe.

The Western Rebellion had a serious impact on the area due to the Bloody Battle at Fenny Bridges which took place on 29 July 1549, The Manor House was burnt to the ground by the Royalists because of Lady Jane Kirkham’s care of injured rebels. She was a descendent of the Malherbe line.

This web link gives the detail of those horrific times. One of the members of the History Group has published a booklet available in the Church and also more can be found at this link:

There must have been a "Great Storm" prior to 1599 when Sir George Cary employed a brick maker from Dorset to make bricks to repair the village. This was done in the "Great Mow" at Colesworthy. This is very early for brick making in the County.

Services, electricity came in 1952. Most of the properties had wells, but a piped supply came in 1957. Mains gas arrived in the 1980s. [5]


Agriculture was the main occupation.When the railway came 1860, associated businesses. grew, the coal merchant, The Railway Hotel, The railway staff, and even W H Smith had a paper shop there, a telegraph clerk. The brickyard at Talewater, part of the Escot Estate was used to build and repair the farmsteads. There were two pairs of cottages built for the railway staff. Peter Wheaton built the Railway Hotel at this time to cater for the train users. The rooms were also used for auction sales, village suppers and meetings. [5]


Feniton Church

Feniton Church

The Church is of Norman origins, but rebuilt in more than one phase in the 15th century and early 16th century. Built of local stone and flint rubble, the north transept is coursed blocks of dressed flint; limestone, sandstone and Bath stone quoins with a slate roof. There are letters of concern over the condition of the building dated 1602. There was a major renovation of 1877.

The first Rector was Gifford de Baketon dates unknown, the second Robert de Polammesforde, 1263-1264.

The church contains a Memento Mori or Cadaver Tomb. [2]

Memento Mori or Cadaver Tomb

Memento Mori or Cadaver Tomb

In 1744 the Rector, Christopher Ewings states "I have four & forty Families in my parish one of these are Dissenters. Presbyterians."

In 1799 William Staverfield states "I do not reside upon my Cure. I reside at Kew in Surry. My Father being very aged, upwards of 80 & very infirm & desirous of my continuing with him, I was therefore induced to take the Charge of Kew Church, that I might comply with his Wish in living with him. I have a Resident Curate living in the Parsonage house, who is duly licensed, with a Salary of Forty Pounds per Annum & Easter Offerings. His Name is Roger Andrews. I have no Lecturer." [3]

The parish registers are held in Devon Heritage Centre, Sowton, Exeter. Baptisms: 1549-2006, Marriages: 1550-2000, Burials: 1549-1957

The church has some very old pew ends and the later ones are carved with coats of arms relating to the families who lived at Feniton Court.

In October 2008 the church was badly damaged by a freak storm and was closed for repair and re-ordering it was re-dedicated on 5th March 2011. [5]

St Anne’s Chapel

This was thought to be a medieval Chantry, situated near Fenny Bridges Mill until it was swept away by floods in 1752. This section of the river is notorious for the number of drownings which, according to local legend, is the result of a curse placed on the site of the chapel by Feniton’s blacksmith after his son dropped dead in Ottery Churchyard. The house of the same name was used by the Overseers of the Poor.

Fenny Bridges Methodist Chapel

Fenny Bridges Methodist Chapel

Fenny Bridges Methodist Chapel

It was built in 1839 as a Centenary Methodist Chapel on land given by Edward Coombe, who owned the mill at Fenny Bridges. He died in 1840 in his 44th year when the mill passed to his wife Sarah.

The chapel was a single cell chapel, gable-ended on a north–south axis. A double door was at the south end and originally there was a porch attached to this end. The interior was plain with a plastered ceiling. It is built of local flint rubble and stone with some limestone ashlar detail. It fell in to disuse and became a piggery, part of the small farm at the Mill and recently a dwelling.

Sidmouth Junction Chapel

Sidmouth Junction Chapel

Sidmouth Junction Chapel

The existence of this little chapel is entirely due to the building of the railway line from Yeovil to Exeter, the plans of which were agreed in 1856 and work starting in 1859. There were 3000 men employed to build the line. These “navvies” came from all parts of Britain and the camp life for those who did not find lodgings was rough and inhospitable.

The only way that religious teaching could be given was by open-air gospel meetings. So successful were these meetings that after the line was completed and the stations built the lay preachers decided to build a permanent mission centre which could cater for those who lived around the new station of Sidmouth Junction. One of the most active preachers was Mr. Miller whose name survives in the business he founded Miller and Lilley, now taken over by Bradfords, builder's merchants.

The opening service was on Tuesday September 19th. 1865 when the preacher was Rev. David Hewitt. There was also a public tea at a cost of 9d.

It closed on 19th July 2010 and was sold, it is part way through conversion to a private dwelling. [5]

Community Life

Sidmouth Junction was and still well known for its annual ploughing match. The villager hall opened on 12 April 1923, it has a sprung floor ideal for dances. It has been used by all the village groups since.

The first council houses in the village were built in the Sidmouth Junction area in the 1920s as "Homes for Heroes". Honiton Rural District Council asked the parish council to choose the applicants to live there.

The church has always been at the centre of village life. There were fetes on the lawns at Feniton Court. Hunt suppers and dinners held in the Parr Rooms. Sport was and still is an important factor in village life, with tennis, now sadly lost as the courts where built on in the 1990s, football, hockey and cricket, skittles and darts, all still very active. The WI was formed in 1929 and is still going strong today. [5]


In the mid 1800s there were three schools in the parish, one in Fenny Bridges, John and Mary Webber had a school in the house known at the time as Broomfield, later it was The Fenny Bridges Hotel. By 1851 they had 11 scholars, they were from less well off families and the thought is they were sponsored there by the Chapel. It was closed by 1887.

Oct 1855

Oct 1855


Private School

Private School

The second one, established by 1841, was in the houses Thorne and part of Court Barton. It was run by the Murray sisters. This was a private school. The sisters Jane and Mary had retired in by 1871.

School in Curscombe Lane

School in Curscombe Lane

In 1844 a one room School was established by Miss Patteson, off the Curscombe road. The Pattesons gave the school building to the village in 1863, with the Church as Trustees.

In 1947 the school became a Junior School, the seniors were transferred to other schools in the area. It was in this year that the water for the school well, was causing problems. The pumps were in the teacher’s lavatory!

The New School

The New School

In 1961 negotiations for a new site for the school were in hand. The new school would allow an increase in the population of Feniton with the building of new Council Houses and the new estate.

Work started on the 1st October 1966 when Lord Roborough, Lord Lieutenant of Devon laid the foundation stone. The new school accepted its first pupils for the September 1967 term. [5]

Travel and Transport

In the early days the villagers would have walked, the more affluent would have ridden, there were carriers and the stage coaches, whose nearest stop, was at Fairmile, and also perhaps at the Greyhound Inn in Fenny Bridges.

Before 1860 the nearest railway station was in Cullompton, this London line opened on 1 May 1844. Then on 19th July 1860 the station opened bring growth to the area around it. A branch line opened 1874, taking the traveller to Sidmouth, hence the name Sidmouth Junction.

Railway Map

Railway Map

The station closed on 3 Jan 1967, but due to public pressure by the new residents it was re opened on 3 May 1971. [4]

The commercial and private use of vehicles increased. Around the time of WW1 a petrol pump was available at The Railway Hotel

Families and Notable People

The Domesday Book tells us that Etmar & Ineguar, Robert, Count of Mortian and Drogo de Montacute held the Manor. The next name to mention is that of Malherbe, this family held the Manor of Feniton from circa 1146 until 1556, 410 years. The Manor often passed down the female line. Lady Jane Kirkham was the last of the line, her step brother in law William Kirkham then sold the manor to Sir George Cary and his brother's son, also George (1557-1641). Then the Trosse family bought the estate followed by a succession of Westcountry families.

In 1841 Sir John Patteson bought the estate he is mentioned above in the Overview. The Rashleigh family of Menabilly, Cornwall, bought the estate in 1873, they never lived in the village, but rented Feniton Court out to tenants. In 1921 the whole of the village properties that were part of the estate were put up for auction. The remaining Home Farm and Manor house was bought by the Acland family in 1925, the family left the estate in 2004.

The runner Jo Pavey is a Feniton girl, the village are very proud of her. [5]

Further Reading: bibliography




[2] "The ancient sepulchral effigies and monumental and memorial sculpture of Devon" by W. H. HAMILTON ROGERS, F.S.A

[3] Episcopal Visitation Returns 1744 and 1779


[5] The files collated by members of Feniton History Group: Brenda Powell, Jenny Wilson, Alan Powell, Geoff Broadhurst, David Lanning, Chris Gibbins.

The author of this work retains all rights and must be credited when the material is displayed or shared. Any use of the material for commercial purposes requires the written consent of the author, as does any use of a significant portion of the material for purposes other than individual private research.