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Glebe Cottage

(This section was provided by Dennis and Shirley Dawes)

Glebe Cottage, Tithe Hill, Churchstow

(Formerly Churchstow Rectory)

Known until 1927 as “The Glebe House”, Mrs Harman (Hettie Steer’s mother), who had bought it, thought it sounded rather pretentious and changed the name to Glebe Cottage.  It had been sold by public auction by order of the then Bishop of Exeter together with two fields. One field adjoining the cottage (now Glebelands) went with the Cottage, the other was bought by Mr H Walke of Pullyblanks Farm and this later became the housing estate - Woodlands.

It is not known when the Glebe was built but the first mention of it is in the Church records for 1291, in the reign of Edward I when a census was taken for the purposes of taxation for Pope Nicholas IV in Rome.  It refers to a Church and an Ecclesiastical Rectory being at Churchstow.  England at this time was a Roman Catholic country and ChurchstowChurch was under the jurisdiction of the Abbot and monks of the original Buckfast Abbey, until the dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII in 1536 when the Abbey was destroyed and England became Protestant.

On the dissolution of the Abbey, Gabriel Donne, the last Abbot, granted a lease to John Southcot of Bovey Tracey, Devon, of the Rectory of Churchstow and its dependant Chapel in Kingsbridge.  The life of this lease is not known but it eventually reverted to the Bishopric of Exeter.

When Mrs Harman bought the Cottage she altered it considerably to basically what it is today.  There was no inside water or lavatory so piped water from a spring in the field was brought indoors, and an entrance/porch and shed were built at the rear.  The old wash-house was turned into a kitchen with access made through the dining room, and a landing and bathroom were built over it.  The present sitting room was two rooms (kitchen and small dining room) and the dividing wall was removed to make one room.  The stone from this wall was used to pave the garden path.  Mains water did not come to Churchstow until 1949 and electricity in 1952.  Until then, oil lamps and candles and later Calor Gas were the only means of lighting, while coal and paraffin were used for cooking.  An Aga cooker (the first one in the area) was installed in 1937.

In a letter dated 14th September 1747, the Rev. J Wilcocks, then Vicar of the parish but living in Kingsbridge, writes of the Rectory as - “A small cottage fit only for a family of the lowest class of people, with two fields let together for 9 guineas a year.”  (From Parish records)  This referred to the oldest part of the cottage; the newer wing (present staircase, dining room and bedroom over) was built on in Victorian times, about 1850/60, together with the wash-house and outside flush lavatory but no water was brought indoors, there was just a tap outside the back door.  The present beams at the end of the sitting room show the position of the old staircase.  A stable and cow shed with lofts above were built at this time.  Hawkins in his “History of Kingsbridge” published in 1819 writes of the Churchstow Glebe thus - “The Vicarage house on this Glebe is a wretched hovel in which no clergyman has resided for at least a century”.  It seems therefore, that it has not been used as a Rectory since the 17th Century.  After the repairs, the property was let by the Church.  The ‘Devonshire Directory & Gazetteer’ for 1870 lists the Glebe as a farm occupied by a Mr William Barnes - farmer.  With just two fields it could only have been a smallholding but Mr Barnes may have rented other fields in addition.  In the early 1920’s a Miss Mitchison rented the house from the Church, but not fields.  At the turn of the century there were two Inns in Churchstow, the Church House Inn which is still there, and the Tradesman’s Arms which is now a private house.  The manor house was Whitehall and the lord of this manor in former times had the power to inflict capital punishment.

The Gazetteer states that in 1861 the vicarage with two fields was valued at £200 per annum in the incumbency of the Vicar.  This rent therefore formed part, if not the whole, of the Vicar’s income.  The Rectorial Tithes were commuted in 1839 (to the Acland family) for the sum of £328 per annum.  This is why there is no direct upkeep for ChurchstowChurch today.  Tithe Hill undoubtedly gets its name from the fact that the tithes were originally paid to the incumbent at the Glebe.

The Commutation Act of 1836 altered the system of tithes and they were discontinued as such but added to rents, a total being fixed for each parish.  In 1891 the landowner and not the tenant was made solely responsible and in 1918 compulsory redemption was provided for, the Minister of Agriculture being the sole arbiter in any disagreement between the tithe-payer and the owner.  Tithes have eventually died out.

Kingsbridge was formerly part of the parish of Churchstow. At what date the separation took place is uncertain, however they still however form one Vicarage, Churchstow being the MotherChurch.

In 1309 there was a small chapel in Kingsbridge dedicated to St Edmund but it had no burial rites.  It is recorded that the parishioners of Kingsbridge complained of the “inconvenience of attending the Mother Church of St Mary at Churchstow which is founded on the summit of a high mountain, and the direct way between them for carrying dead bodies to be there buried, proceeds through a troublesome and tedious ascent of the said mountain”.  (Note: The ‘direct way’ would have been the path from the end of Union Road in Kingsbridge, up the hill and over ‘Norton Ball’ to Churchstow.  The road we use today did not exist.

In consequence of this representation, Mon. Littlecumb, rector of the Church of Churchstow “granted unto the Abbot and monks of Buckfast permission to build a church in their demesne in the Vill of Kingsbridge upon condition of their granting all the profits of the said Vill belonging to the Church for the maintenance of a Chaplain to celebrate divine service there, and that all the inhabitants might enjoy every ecclesiastical right therein, so that they visited the Mother Church, with offerings, at least once every year, to wit, on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary or within eight days after”.

The present KingsbridgeChurch was thereupon erected and was dedicated on 26th August 1414 to St Edmund, King and Martyr (killed by the Danes in A.D. 870) and the cemetery was consecrated the following day.

Mon. Roger Bachelor then Rector of Churchstow, made his will on 30th August 1427, asked to be buried in Kingsbridge, and left “to its store - 10 marks”.  To the store of St Mary’s Church, Churchstow, he gave “12 sheep and 1 cow, and also 2 marks to paint the image of the blessed Mary of Churchstow in the Chancel”.

We do not know when he died but he may have been one of the last Monks to live at Glebe before Henry VIII destroyed the monasteries a hundred years later and caused them all to flee.  Church of England Protestant Clergy have been the incumbents ever since.