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Detailed History

This Section has been taken from an anonymous booklet entitled:

A short history

of the village of Churchstow

The South Hams

The County of Devon


There has been a village or community in some form on this site since at least 1239AD, from when the first records of a religious building on this hill top are dated.

Churchstow is situated two miles north west of the town of Kingsbridge on the Plymouth road, five miles north of Malborough and seven miles north of Salcombe.

The most notable feature of the village is of course the church, but the cluster of buildings made up of the thatched cottages to the west of the church, and the Church House Inn are the only remaining buildings from what would have been the village green, the green was formed by the oblong of ground from the church west to the Venn Road.  These buildings with Home Farm and the cottages in the valley down the lane to the north of the church comprise the earliest examples of village buildings.

Since coming into existence the name of the village has undergone many variations.  The earliest recorded name, in 1242AD was Churechestowe, yet only two years later the spelling was Chyristowe, then Churestowe, Chirchstowe, Church Stoke and  Chestow, all based on compounds of the Early English ‘Cirice and Stow’ the place of the church.  The Church of St Mary is the mother church of the district, senior to the church in Kingsbridge and Malborough even though both places were established communities of some importance when Churchstow was still a simple hamlet.  Kingsbridge is in fact a very early example of ‘a new town’, especially created to provide a magnet for the peoples living on the estuary.

St Mary’s is built in the architectural style known as Perpendicular, this style was a particular English style of Gothic that flourished throughout Europe from the end of the fourteenth to the middle of the sixteenth century, though not the first building on this site it remains largely unspoiled since it was built.  The bowl of the font is the oldest object to have survived in the church being dated 1170AD.  There is a peal of six bells in the tower and they are rung regularly by the village bell ringers for services and by many visiting ringing parties from other churches.  There are still existing village registers for deaths, marriages and births, the earliest surviving example dating from 1538, 1539 and 1549 respectively.  Most of the land in this area of South Devon was in the possession of the Abbots of Buckfast and the area around

Churchstow was known as the Stanborough Hundreds, an early name for a section of land, over which the Lord of the Manor ruled with the power of life and death.  The Manor House was built by the Abbot as his local residence for the times when he had to preside in his court at Kingsbridge.

When King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries these lands and powers were ‘privatized’ being bought by Sir William Petre. Quite a lot of the old Manor buildings can still be seen and particular note should be made of the Tudor Gate House remains at this site of Leigh Barton.

The Church House Inn is also well worth a visit, other than for the fine victuals it provides, it is probably the oldest building in the village after the church, the major structural parts dating back at least 750 years.

Church Houses, of which there are many in this area, were built by the village as community centres.  The land for the Churchstow Church house was made available to the village by the Abbot of Buckfast, but its use was secular.  The upper room, which would have been the size of the present bar area, was an open space in which the people of the village and environs could meet for social, religious or political events, and would have been reached by means of a wooden stairway on the outside of the building constructed over the position of the present front doorway.  The present bar would have been the ale house.  In those early days brewing ale was the sole prerogative of the church, and though the brewing was done on the premises it was controlled by the monks, so the separation from the church was not very wide.

The thatched cottages to the west of the church were built as a single dwelling ‘a Yeomans longhouse’ probably about 550 years ago, and was used originally as a hostel by travelling monks as they made their way between monasteries or when Buckfastleigh was being ‘spring cleaned’.  Only at some later date was it divided into three cottages and only in recent years made into two homes.

They have recently been registered as grade three buildings by Heritage Trust.  If you go down the lane towards Home Farm there are a number of features worthy of note.  In the garden wall of Court, a private home, there is a very fine example of a ‘butter safe’ utilizing the plentiful supply of fresh water available in the village. This is an early form of refrigeration used by the local people for keeping dairy products fresh.

There are eleven springs in the village, the village pump can be found at the junction of Pump Lane with the ain road to the west of the Inn.  There is also another pump in the Inn itself, the well can be seen in the new room covered with a glass viewing lid.  The pump is still in a useable condition, only needing to be primed to provide water for the use of the Inn.  The cottages to the immediate east of the Church House Inn, Church Cottages, take their name from what would have been a row of cottages, two of these cottages have now been absorbed into the premises of the Inn, now the carvery.  The two standing separate and now called Church Cottages were a single house, in fact until the early nineteen hundreds it was another public house, The Tradesman’s Arms.

Over the road, sited between the bus shelter and the wall of the church grounds, used to stand the Village Smithy.  The blacksmith was still working in the village until the nineteen forties. It can be seen on this old postcard:

Some two miles due east of Churchstow, three or so miles by road, is Coombe Royal, a fine Tudor House.  North east from Churchstow taking the right hand fork of the road behind the church you can find Leigh or Lega, this property was sold to Walter Clavel in the reign of Henry II, re-founded in the reign of Edward I by Maude, Countess of Gloucester, for an order of Nuns.  This is an almost perfect example of monastic building.  There is also a burial ground for the non conformists, a piece of ground given by the then owner for the use of those excluded by the Orthodox Church for a place to lay their dead to rest.

As might be expected there are any number of ‘stories’ that have surfaced out of the mists of village history, for example it is said that there is a smugglers’ tunnel running beneath the Churchstow - Kingsbridge road, to the east of the village, and that it was possible to hear the rumble of wagon wheels in the quiet of the night…..  but it could be an underground stream!

Churchstow in early 1900’s

Old aerial view (pre- Scotts Close and Glebelands)