The historic, Grade I listed, the Colebrooke Church of St Andrew’s is situated within the rich and fertile agricultural landscape of mid-Devon, some four miles west of Crediton. It’s an important local landmark set on a hill overlooking its scattered parish.
Colebrooke Church – The Early Years
Little is known about the history prior to the late 12th century, apart from the fact that there was already a church on the premises, and there are still traces of this earlier building in the south wall. It’s thought that this structure was probably constructed during the early Norman period.
The first documentary evidence of the church is c.1170. It’s recorded in a letter by the Bishop Bartholomew Iscanus/Bartholomew of Exeter to King Henry II. (He was ordained in 1161 – died 1184 and is buried in Exeter Cathedral)
Bishop Bartholomew wrote about a dispute between himself and, Alexander de Colebrooke, the Lord of the Manor over who had the rights to the advowson (The right as Patron to nominate a priest). De Colebrooke wanted the Colebrooke Church to be under the control of the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, similar to the Church at Temple in Cornwall.
Needless to say, the Bishop didn’t want to lose his influence and at the end of the day won the seal of approval from the King.
The church seems to have gone through a rough patch about a century later towards the end of the 13th century and was in a poor state of repair. Pevsner/Cherry in the Buildings of England – Devon writes:
‘“It is known from records that the chancel was ‘parvum, inhonestum, male fenestratum et male co-opertum in 1281 and still in 1301, but ‘competens’ in 1330.”
By 1330, however, the church had somehow secured the means to reroof, renovate and extend the existing building.
The Coplestone Aisle/Chantry Chapel
Chantry Chapels were a popular feature in Medieval churches prior to the Reformation. In many cases, these chapels were set up with funds in the form of an endowment bequeathed by a deceased wealthy patron in order to support a chantry priest.
He was employed to carry out a number of masses for the said person in the belief that this would aid the person’s soul to travel faster through Purgatory and on to Heaven. At Colebrooke, the Chantry Chapel or Coplestone Aisle as it became known was actually built by two sons c.1460, Philip and Walter Coplestone, of a prominent local family.
They were, most probably, executors of their father’s will and created the Chantry Chapel at his posthumous request. John Coplestone had died in 1458 and in his will, dated the 18th October 1458 had requested to be buried in St. Katherine’s aisle at Colebrook Church next to his wife Elizabeth, who had died the previous year. The well-worn ledger stone can still be viewed in front of the Coplestone Aisle.
*There seems to be quite a wide variation as to how to spell Coplestone – other variations include Copplestone, and Copleston.
By the latter half of the 16th century, the chapel became the Coplestone family pew and it’s believed that it was at this time a fireplace was installed, a pretty unusual feature in a Chapel! Unfortunately, the fireplace itself is long gone but, the chimney can still be seen from the exterior.
The Parclose Screen at Colebrooke Church
An unusual feature in the Coplestone Aisle is the Parclose Screen that is beautifully carved but in a style, unlike other Screens that can generally be seen across Devon, such as at Cheriton Bishop, South Milton or Ashton.
It’s believed to have been carved in the early part of the 16th century by a Franco-Flemish craftsman and it has been suggested the carver may have been a Breton. According to Pevsner in his Buildings of England – Devon, the Screens at the nearby Churches of Coldridge and Brushford are by the same hand.
Itinerant craftsmen from the Continent were common in the Medieval Period and they were definitely working across Devon during this period. St. Saviour’s in Dartmouth and St. Martin’s at Sherford both have Rood Screens that were painted by the same Flemish artist.
The Coplestone Prayer Desk/ Prie-Dieu
Probably the most unusual item to have been housed in the Chapel, but is now found in the Chancel, is the 15th-century Prie-Dieu. It was carved in 1472 for the marriage of Philip Coplestone (builder of the Chantry) and Anne Bonville, an heiress from her maternal grandmother, Leva Gorges and was a match that greatly boosted the Coplestone coffers!
The prie-dieu is crudely carved with a grotesque figure on both panels each holding a shield bearing the coat-of-arms of the Coplestone family and that of the Gorges family.
The Font at Colebrooke Church
The octagonal font dating from the 15th century is carved with alternating shields and quatrefoil panels; and is covered with a beautiful 17th-century oak font cover.
Standing atop the cover is a double-faced figure which is thought to be that of a cleric. However, in the late Victorian period, this figure seems to have been mistaken for an angel, or someone decided to try and change it into one and it was given a pair of wings in 1898! They certainly seem a little off-kilter with the rest of the cover.
Finch Foundry – The attractive village of Sticklepath on Dartmoor is home to Finch Foundry, a feat of Victorian ingenuity and engineering that produced industrial tools right through to 1960, and is now part of our rich and varied industrial heritage.
Exeter – The vibrant city has a wealth of historical interest from Roman through to Modern Day and is also a pedestrian-friendly shopping centre with a great blend of independent shops and high street chains.
Crediton Parish Church – There is only one word to describe this magnificent church and that is – enormous! This former collegiate church has a history that is documented back to at least the early 10th century and is crammed full of interesting artefacts. It even has its own museum!