WELCOMBE, DEVONSHIRE

 

Grid Ref: SS 228 184
12 June 2006

The church of St. Nectan's in Devon has the oldest screen in the county.  The font dates from the 11th century and the pulpit from the 16th century; the lectern is Jacobean.  The vestry door dates from about 1300 and was originally the outer door.  Formerly, it was used in baptism ceremonies as the "Devil's Door" through which the Devil was supposed to escape during the service. 

St. Nectan's spacer Font
St. Nectan's, Welcombe   The 11th century font
St. Nectan's church   Pulpit
View from the South West   16th century pulpit
arch   nave
Arch beneath the tower   Nave looking west showing barrel vault ceiling
detail of screen   screen
Detail of Screen   Screen
church gate   St. Nectan's well
Entrance to churchyard with war memorial   St. Nectan's Well

 

Within the church there is a framed poster donated by Dr. & Mrs. Richard Heddon in 1925, which gives a few details of the church provided by the local historian, R. Pearse Chope from which the following notes are abstracted.  St. Nectan was the first Devon saint and martyr.  He was venerated in the Hartland area and the churches at Welcombe and Stoke are dedicated to him.  The chapel at Welcombe was probably built by the collegiate church at Stoke, which had been founded before the Norman Conquest by Gytha, the wife of Earl Godwin of Wessex, to commemorate his deliverance from a storm at sea.  Gytha was a kinswoman of King Canute and the mother the last Saxon King, Harold Godwinson.   Chope quotes Dr. Charles Cox, who believed most of the ground plan and some of the fabric of the church to be Saxon. After the Conquest, the land, which had royal connections as far back as Alfred the Great, went to William I.  About 1169 it was part of a grant of land by Geoffrey de Dynham, who was Lord of the Manor and Hundred of Hartland, to support the conversion of the Collegiate Church into an abbey of Augustinian Canons - Hartland Abbey.  A Royal Charter of 1189 confirms the gift of the chapel at Welcombe to the abbey.  Welcombe was not a parish church but a daughter chapel to Hartland.  In 1508, it was rebuilt in a more substantial manner and the Abbey and Convent of Hartland undertook to provide a priest.

The church has a cruciform ground plan with two small transepts which may be later additions from the rebuilding of 1508.  The tower dates from 1731 as shown by an inscription on the tenor bell "A Gooding cast us all four for this new builded tower 1731". The south porch formerly had a sundial dated 1735, with the inscription "fugit irreparabile tempus".  The screen, believed to be the earliest remaining in Devon and it is thought that it was made by the same craftsmen that worked on Hartland Abbey some time after 1450.   The church once had a West Gallery.  Across the road from the church is St. Nectan's Well.

 

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