Church History

It was suggested by one historian that the original parish church was situated at Churchcombe but it was inconvenient for the villagers and was abandoned, and the present site was chosen. The Revd. William Palmer, vicar of Yarnscombe in the mid-18th century, referred to a ruined chapel at Churchcombe.

The oldest part of the present church of St. Andrew is the tower, which has traces of Norman work and suggests that there was probably an earlier church here. Above the porch is a sundial, made in 1788 by J. Berry, inscribed with the churchwardens’ names of that time, A. Loveband and Henry Ford.

The chancel and nave were built in the first half of the 13th century with the south aisle and porch added 200 years later. The style is Early English with a barrel ceiling of oak beams. The monolithic granite pillars dividing the south aisle from the nave are seen to be leaning to the south. This is thought to have happened during the settling down period after the building of the aisle, and there has been no further movement. The pillars are of Dartmoor granite, each weighing about tonne, and it is of the opinion that they were probably transported from Dartmoor on sledges.

In later years some renovation work was carried out and in 1846 the vestry was added. Prior to this date the priest had to robe in the belfry chamber, with great inconvenience to the bell ringers. This work was carried out by the curate, The Revd. R. H. Podmore, who left a record of the completed work. Further alterations were undertaken in 1889 by The Revd. J. B. Singleton. He provided the present oak altar table (previously a stone slab) and the choir stalls, all carved by local craftsmen. It was at this time that the high-backed seats were removed and the present pine pews installed. Whilst this work was being undertaken the footings of a rood screen was discovered and further excavation brought to light the ancient spiral stairway and the opening of the rood loft, which is now seen in the south wall just as it was built over 400 years ago. It is not known what happened to the rood screen. Near the organ are some very old Barnstaple floor tiles.

The only ancient glass is in the east window of the south aisle. It is a fragment of mediaeval glass showing an angel holding a shield bearing arms. It may commemorate the 15th century marriage of Nicholas Stewkley to Thomasin, daughter of John Cockworthy. The arms depicted are a chevron between 3 cocks (Cockworthy) and an engrailed chevron between 3 fleurs-de-lis. The stained glass window of the chancel is modern and is a memorial to the Loveband family. There are many monuments, mostly in the form of tombstones, forming the floor of the chancel and nave. In the north wall of the chancel there is an Easter Sepulchre, the base of which is the Cockworthy slab. Opposite is a piscina once used for rinsing the communion vessels. In the wall above the vestry door is the marble memorial to a member of the Pollard family. The opening in the wall of the south aisle is thought to have been provided for a memorial to the donor of the aisle. On the wall by the priest’s door hangs a plaque of the arms of King George IV, presumably presented to the church on his coronation in 1820.

The font has an unusually large bowl carved with quatrefoils and floral motifs which suggests it is of the Tudor period dating possibly from the late 15th or early 16th century. The ancient chest nearby is carved from an oak log and appears as old as the church itself – 13th century. The oak screen to the belfry chamber is a memorial to members of the Oatway family and was erected and dedicated in 1976. The tower has a peal of six bells.

The church plate includes an Elizabethan chalice, and a silver paten dated 1609 that is said to be the oldest in the county. The earliest record of an incumbent is 1269 when William Hurwarde was appointed. The parish registers date from 1653. The County Record Office in Exeter has the registers for baptisms (1653 – 1998), marriages (1653 – 2002) and burials (1653 – 1983).

A plan of the church in 1888 – 89 is available.

There are three ancient charities still existing.

  1. Parish Lands

    Some time before 1593, when one of the feoffees made a report, a small farm at Ashridge, Westleigh was bequeathed to Yarnscombe Church by Mrs. Katherine Mesefen, daughter and heiress of Stephen Wansard. The income was applied to the “relief of the poor, the amendment of the highways, and to the reparation and necessary uses of the Church”. The land and buildings were sold in 1923 by order of the official Custodian of Charities and the income invested in Government Stock.

  2. Edward Warren Charity

    In 1693 Edward Warren gave the ground rent of 40 shillings [£2] per annum arising from a messuage (dwelling house, outbuildings and garden) called North Westcott. This was to be devoted to the poor of Yarnscombe; to be distributed by quarterly portions in 12 penny wheaten loaves: to each a loaf. Until recently this money was still collected and distributed by the Parish Council but by 2011 the income was so small that it was decided to split the balance equally between the church and the youth club.

  3. John Champneys and others

    In 1796 John Champneys left £20 to the poor of the Parish.

    Mrs. E. Nichols gave £5 and an unknown person £25. The official Custodian of Charities invested the money in Consols and the dividends were distributed to aged and infirm persons by the Parish Council but, as with the Warren charity above, in 2011 the remainder was split equally between the church and the youth club.

Today the parish is part of the Two Rivers Mission Community of eleven churches comprising Alverdiscott, Atherington, Beaford, High Bickington, Horwood, Huntshaw, Newton Tracey, Roborough, St. Giles in the Wood, Tawstock and Yarnscombe. There are three clergy to minister to these parishes, led by a Team Rector.

List of Yarnscombe clergy.