At the meeting of the Devonshire Association at Okehampton in 1925, Mr T Cann Hughes read a paper on the Post Reformation Vicars. These notes deal with them before the Reformation . As is to be expected, the further back we go, the greater the difficulty of collecting material for the story.  Search has been made in many directions but probably more still remains which may in the future come to light and fill up gaps in the the present notes.

The Early Anglo-Saxons did not build churches but held their services in the open air. Later they did build, at first with wood but later with stone . A few of the latter still exist in different parts of the country. (Wareham in Dorset has a lovely example. Locally Honeychurch near Okehampton was originally “Huna’s Church” reflecting the Anglo-Saxon landowner here in the tenth century) .

We have no mention of a built church in Okehampton before the Norman conquest but in Leofric’s Missal (circa A.D. 970) priests are mentioned at the freeing of the slaves there.

The first definite mention of the Church in Okehampton is that Bishop Briwere appropriated it  and the Chapel at the castle to the Prior and Monks of the Benedictine Priory of Cowick on March 29 1239.
(Stafford’s Reg. p. 268

The Instrument of Appropriation is given in Oliver’s Monasticon p. 156.)

It is stated that William, son of the Baldwin de Brioniis who built Okehampton Castle, founded Cowick as an offshoot of the Norman Abbey of Bec. William had followed his father as Sheriff of Devon.

Bishop Briwere, a little later made a taxation of Okehampton Church and the Chapel at the Castle.

From the above remarks it is clear that no definite date can be given for the erection of the first Parish Church. There are no authentic remains but it is almost certain that it was on the site of the present church.

Towards the end of this century (13th) a considerable amount of re-building of churches took place. In 1259 Bishop Branscombe consecrated 31 parish churches and three conventual. In 1261 he consecrated 14 Parish churches, including Okehampton, Lydford and Chagford and St Germans Priory Church.  Although this is the first definite mention of the church building there can be no doubt that a church existed before this. We have seen that long before, the advowsen had been given to the Priory of Cowick.   In the late Rev. Mr. Hennessy’s notes on the Vicars of Okehampton he refers to the vicar named Robert de Denvorn as appearing in the Curia Regis Rolls in 1233.

There is some uncertainty as to which Saint Okehampton Parish church was dedicated. The early records always say to St James . This may be a clerical error but in some cases we know that the name of the Saint was altered afterwards. Even in Anglo Saxon times old dedications were lost and Archbishop Wulfred in 816 made rules to remedy this.
In the note of dedication, no name of the Vicar appears in the Bishop’s Register, although the exact date of the dedication is given, viz. July 31 1261.

It was not until nearly 6 years later that an appointment appears in the Bishop’s Register. It runs:- Adam, instituted Vicar of Okehampton , April 6 1267.

Read More

On this same date Bishop Bronscombe granted absolution to the parishioners at Kynggeswere. Robert of Meldon, Roger of the Stane, Nicholas of Foleleigh, Richard Osmund and Richard of the More of the ecclesiastical parish of Okehampton came and sought absolution from the sentence of excommunication. On their submission and payment of 60 marks the sentence was withdrawn.

The inhabitants had alienated mortuaries to their own use and had been excommunicated and the Church laid under the Interdict.

The mortuary referred to arose from the will of Robert de Oke. Present: Ada, perpetual Vicar of the Church of Okehampton (Bronscombe Register p: 211)

In a list of the lands and liberties of Cowick, 3 Edward 1 (1273)  it is stated that the Church of Okehampton is appropriated to Cowick and is valued at £10:13:4 per annum (£10 . 67p per year.)

Sir William of Winklege was instituted Vicar 22 Feb.1277/8 . Bishop Lacey’s Register states :- Walter, Bishop, admitted Sir William of Winklee, priest, to the Vicarage of Okehampton, on the presentation of the religious men of the Priory and Convent of Cowick.

During the variate of this man (1288) occurred the ‘Taxable Ecclesiastica’ . Pope Nicholas 4 (to whose predecessors in the See of Rome , the first fruits and tenths of ll ecclesiastical benefices had for a long time been paid) granted the tenths to King Edward 1 for 6 years , towards defraying the expense of a crusade. The King caused a valuation to be made. It shows:-

Taxation                   Tenths

Church of Hoc’mton     £10:13:4 (£10.67p)         £1:1:4  (£1:20p)
Vicar of the Church   £ 1:6:8   (£1. 33p)                   nil

The stipend of the Vicar certainly seems small. The Priory of Cowick came off best, as was usual.

Sir Ivo  (Yvo)  was instituted Vicar 1 March 1309/10

The Bishop visited the Parish on June 20th 1311;  Sept 14 in 1320  and October 3 &4th  1321.  On the latter date, he ordained Richard Burnel to the first tonsure.      Note: The title ‘Sir’ was given to all priests who held no University degree.

18th Dec. 1328  Dismissal of the Vicar of Okehampton. The bishop sends a letter to the Dean of Okehampton ordering the dismissal of Ivo owing to the impotence of body.

(Suspect terminal illness)      ( Grandisson’s Register p.434)

From a later note in the same Register (1332/3) we learn of that Ivo had died.

A hiatus occurs here. In the list at the Parish Church, there appears the name of Sir Robert Busse as Vicar in 1339, as witnessed in Grandisson’s Re. p 916.

For the next appointments we must go to the Patent Rolls.

William de Sheryngton.  Westminster 20 April 1349.

Presentation of William de Sheryngton, Chaplain, to the Vicarage  of  Hoccompton, in the Diocese of Exeter, in the King’s gift by reason of the Priory of Cowyck being in his hands on account of the War with France.

He was presented by the King to the Vicarage of St Thomas by Exeter (Cowick) in 1345 (Cal. Pat. Rolls) and in 1346-47 he is named the Vicar of St. Thomas the Martyr within Exeter. By the same Patron, he was presented to Okehampton in 1349 (supra).

No evidence of institution to either living can be found.

The circumstances under which the King became Patron are the following:-

Whereas the King, by judgement of the Court of the Bench lately recovered against the Prior of Cowyk,  his presentation to the Vicarage of the Church of St Thomas by Exeter as in his gift  by reason of the temporalities of the Priory being in his hands on account of the war with France and presented William de Sheryngton, King’s Clerk, to the same, he is now informed that one Simon Russel, Chaplain, and others, are scheming to make the judgement and presentation of no effect: he therefore commands all mayors, sheriffs, bailiffs, ministers and others, to arrest all such persons and bring them at once before the King and Council.     Dated  March 16  1346 (Cal. Pat. Rolls 1345-48 P. 108)

Simon at Pirie. 20 Dec. 1349. Presentation of Simon at Pirie of Crychford, Chaplain,  to the Vicarage of the Church at Okehampton, in the Diocese of Exeter, in the King’s etc. gift.    Cal. Patent Rolls.

Thomas Hendes. 16 January 1350. Presentation of Thomas Hendes of Alretone, Chaplain, to the Vicarage of the Church at Okehampton, in the King’s gift. Etc. Cal. Patent Rolls.

He was instituted on Feb.4. Grandisson’s Reg. p.1403

This frequent change of Vicars is almost certainly accounted for by the prevalence of the ‘Black Death’ . G.G.Coulton, in his story of that plague, comments on the remarkable frequency of change in the poorer livings in these words:-

“A Vicar could not often pay a substitute; he must do the work and take the risk himself: he could not afford to wander in search of some lonelier and healthier spot: he must either cynically repudiate every responsibility of his sacred profession or face considerable extra chance of infection.”

Thomas Reynolde or Reyner. Okamptone. Sir Thomas Reynolde was instituted at Clist 19 Sept 1350.

Patron;  King Edward 3 “ by reason of the temporalities of the Priory of Cowick being in the King’s hands , on the occasion of war between him and his adversaries the French “

Grandsisson’s Register  Vol. 3 p 1412

A Sir Thomas Reynolde, priest was instituted in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin at Brightley on 7th April 1349 (Grandisson’s Register Vol. 3 page 1383)
This was undoubtedly the same man.

1356 Bishop Grandisson in his return to King Edward 3 (1356)  states that the  Prior of Cowick holds the church at Okehampton and it’s value is £12.

1358 Sir Thomas Reyner exchanged Benefices with Sir John Gyffarde, Rector of Inwardleigh.

Sir John Gyffarde, was instituted at Exeter by Master Stephen de Penpel, Official Principal , under a commission dated at Chudley the 5th June 1358.  He was inducted 26th July by Sir Gregory, Rector of Jacobstowe. The Bishop received the certificate at Chudley on July 28.  (Grandisson’s Register Vol. 3 Page 1449)

As at this time there was still war with France , the appointment is met with in the calendar of Patent Rolls. Under the date Oct 28th 1357  appears:- Westminster. Presentation of John Giffard, parson of the Church of Inwardleigh, to the Vicarage of the Church of Okehampton , in the King’s gift by reason of the Priory of Cowick being in his hands on account of the war with France, on an exchange of benefice with Thomas Reyner.

Under date Oct.1 1339 we learn from the Bishop’s Register that John Giffard, sub-deacon at Inwardleigh, has dispensation for non-residence of 12 months for study.

It was during the period of office of John Gyffard  that the inhabitants of Okehampton applied to the Pope Urban V.  for permission to have services in St James Chapel, in lieu of the Parish church. The original parchment of the Pope’s reply is in the Town Chest. (Devon Record Office A transcript of the letter sent can be found in these records. (History of St James Chapel)

It says :- 1365. Urban, Bishop, servant of the servants of God to our beloved sons wheresoever of the township of Ochampton, of the diocese of Exeter, greeting and apostolic blessing.  Conscious of the expression of your devotion  which thou showest to us and to the Court of Rome , may we judge liberally you towards sins.
Hence it is in your township of Ochampton, in the parish of the Holy Trinity, otherwise All Saints there is a certain Chapel, founded and fully furnished in honour of St. James , but not endowed and even deprived of divine service . The petition on your behalf which has reached us sets forth that the same township , together with the chapel is found to be situated  between two streams of water, on account of which floods often occur,  so  that, as we learn and are assured, for the distance of  a mile or more it is impossible to attend to hear divine service. It is stated that also in the schedule of your said petition  that through the middle of your said township of Ochampton there is a certain public road which stretches from Cornwall towards the city of Exeter and London, by which so many caravans enter and pass through,  that sometimes, from the said township to your mother church it has happened that it was not possible to provide the said travellers with food and other necessaries or to help them in any way in your absence.

At the same time, in the said petition,  on your behalf, it is humbly implored of us that we may deign to grant a perpetual chantry  and the celebration of divine services on these occasions, at the said your Chapel. We therefore, desiring as we ought, the increase of divine religion and seeing how piously your devotion to God is established, we have granted by our favour the perpetual Chantry and the continual celebration of Divine Service  by whatever priests, religious or secular, in the said your Chapel of St James. Whilst however it may be so as stated above in your petition the same by these our present letters we intend moreover to be understood.:- that oblations  and other emoluments arising in any way to the said Chapel must at all times be paid to the Mother Church. To no one is it allowed to infringe this clause of our grant or should anyone presume, by foolish act, to oppose this, may he incur the wrath of God the Father Omnipotent as well as of the Blessed Apostles , Peter and Paul.

Dated at Rome at St. Peter, in the Kalenda of February (14-30 Jan) in the third year of our Pontificate. (1365)

Gyyarde ceased to be Vicar in 1375 . In the Calendar of Patent Rolls appears :- Westminster July 8. 1375. Presentation of John Gyffard, Vicar of the Church of Okehampton  to the Vicarage of the Church of Bradepol, in the Diocese of Salisbury , in the King’s gift by reason of the temporalities of the alien Abbot of Mounteburgh being in his hands on account of the war with France , on an exchange of benefices.

Robert Yonge. Westminster. 8 July 1375. Presentation of Robert Yonge, Vicar of Bradepol, in the Diocese of Salisbury, to the Vicarage of the Church of Okhampton in the Patent Rolls.

Yestbrook or Estebroke, Richard. In the calendar of Patent Rolls we read :-

10 Sept 1375 Presentation of Richard Yestbroke, Chaplain, to the Vicarage of Okehampton, in the King’s gift by reason of the alien Priory of Cowick being in his hands on account of the war with France.

The entry of his induction in the Bishop’s Register appears to have been lost.

At Chudleigh on Sept.1 1381 the Bishop (Brantyngham) granted license to the inhabitants of Okehampton to have celebrations in the Chapel there. Meaning St. James.  Reg. p. 432.

On Sept 7 1381 in the same Register we read:-Edward, Earl of Devon had, by his Countess Matilda (Camois) a daughter called Elizabeth, who died in childhood and was buried in Okehampton Church. To it’s Vicar, the Bishop directed his license for the body to be buried elsewhere, according to the wishes of the parents.

Yestbrook was appointed Confessor in 1385-6 and 1390. His will , a fascinating document can also be read in this History.

Newecum John L L B    Westminster 10 Dec 1413

Presentation of John Newecum, chaplain, to the vicarage of Okehampton. The presentation was by the King (Henry V) “racion guerre”.  (Calendar of Patent Rolls).

The presentation was seen followed by his institution, which took place on Dec.17.  (Staffords Register page 191)

In 1417 a dispute arose between Newcome and the Prior and monks of Cowick as regards repairs to the chancel of the Parish Church. The parties appeared before the Bishop at Clyst on June 3, 1417,  The Priory being represented by John Hathfield, chaplain.

The Bishop set forth that between the Prior and monks of Cowyk the appropriators of the Parish Church of Okehampton on the one part and John Newcombe, Vicar thereof on the other part, grave differences had arisen touching the repair of the chancel and the provision of office books therein. After a hearing the Bishop decides that the Vicar is to keep the Chancel and provide office books – the Priory to pay a moiety (a portion) of any subsidy and procuration.  It is also agreed that the Prior remits 6/8 (6 shillings 8 pence  – 34p)

Out of an annual pension of 2 Marks payable by the vicar to the Prior.

The Bishop granted Church and Castle chapel to the Prior,with the consent of Courtenay, reserving to the vicar all the obventions of both, the glebe with the buildings etc. The Vicar is to provide daily service in the Castle chapel. (Stafford’s register. Pg. 267)

(Obventions are an occasional religious offering)

We are now to learn that Newcombe becomes a “pluralist” . 3 Martin (Pope) 5.
4 July 1420 : To John Nywcomme, perpetual Vicar of Okehampton, in the diocese of Exeter, bachelor of common law .Dispensation to be held for 2 years with the above Vicarage , value not exceeding 40 marks, any other benefice with cure or otherwise incompatible , even if a parish church etc. within the said period he is to exchange, as usual, or thereafter remove the vicarage. (Calendar of Papal Letters)

A Mark was worth 13 shillings and fourpence or £0.66p . It was not a coin but an accounting tool as ½ a Mark was worth  6s 8d or 1/3 of £1. ) Thus 40 Marks would be worth £26.8 shillings)

Judging from the following dispensation from a succeeding Pope, it would appear that Newcombe had his license renewed two yearly .
8 Eugenius 4.  1438/9  3  Non. January. To John Newcomme, perpetual Vicar of Okehampton, in diocese of Exeter, Bachelor of Common Law . Dispensation to him (whom Martin 5 dispensed to hold for 2 years, about to end , with the said Vicarage any benefice with cure or otherwise incompatible, even if a Parish Church; after which he obtained the parish etc. of Shogbroke in the said Diocese, which he still holds with the said Vicarage) to hold together, even after the said 2 years and for life, the said Vicarage and Rectory. Besides which he holds a Canonry and Prebend of Holy Cross, Crediton, in the said Diocese, value not exceeding  40, 30 and 20 marks sterling respectively, and to resign etc. (Cal. Papal Letters) From Bishop Stafford’s Register we learn that Newcome was very often appointed      “ Penitencer”.  In Oliver’s “ Monasticon”  we are told that Okehampton Church was handsomely rebuilt in 1447, mainly at the expense of the Vicar, John Newecum. This was the building which was burnt in 1842.
From old documents it is clear that there were Newombes in the town who owned property. It seems possible that the Vicar was a local man and evidently a man of means . Allowing for his different benefices of which the pay seems small , he could hardly have provided the funds for rebuilding without private means.

His curate was called Galfrid. Newcombe died in 1451 (Lacy’s Register p. 36)

Carvanell Michael LLB

Okehampton. On the death of Master John Newcume,  Master Michael Carrvanell, Bachelor of Laws, Chaplain, was instituted at Exeter on April 17 1451 by collation  of the Ordinary.

At the time he was Vicar of St. Piran Zabule in Cornwall, which he resigned as being incompatible . (Lacey’s Register, where his resignation is given in full, pg. 360)

St Piran, patron saint of Cornwall, came from Ireland where the heathen Irish tied him to a mill-stone, rolled it over the edge of a cliff into a stormy sea, which immediately became calm, and the saint floated safely over the water to land upon the sandy beach of Perranzabuloe in Cornwall.

He also held the living of Baunten in the Deanery of Tiverten. The Patrons of Okehampton were the Prior and Monks of Cowick. His pluralities would seem to have troubled Carvanell; he made a petition to the Pope for rehabilitation, which was granted.  7 Nicholas 5.   (7th year of the Papacy of Nicholas V.)

To Michael Carvinell. 1452 (rect 1453). On his petition , fearing he has incurred the penalties of  “Execrabilis” the Pope hereby rehabilitates him. (Calendar of Papal Letters )

Wyndegate John. This name appears next in the list of Vicars . Nothing has been found regarding his appointment. His term of Office must have been short and his name is not mentioned in the Town Documents . He died in 1458.

Stephens Thomas   Provost and Fellows of Eton on June 19.1458 presented Thomas Stephens to the perpetual Vicarage of Okehampton, void by the death of John Wyndegate (Oliver’s Monasticum p.155)

It is noticed that the Patronage of the Living has changed. The original patrons were the Prior and monks of Cowick; as an alien community their rights of appointing to the Vicarage were placed on the King during the frequent wars with France.

The reason of the change was that Cowick Priory had been given up. In the reign of Henry 5, a great inundation of the River Exe had caused great injury to the buildings, stock, etc. thus impoverishing the Community.   The Community had barely recovered from this loss when a devastating fire broke out on Palm Sunday 1444/5, causing a loss in buildings, cattle and stores computed at £177:12:4, a very large sum in those days. (Lacey’s Register Folio 256) This loss was felt to be irreparable and the Prior, Robert de Rouen, resigned and surrender was made in the Provost’s chamber at Eton on 22 Nov. 1451. The full deed is given in Lacey’s Register folio 380.

It is probable that Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon, influenced the gift of the Priory revenues and it’s right of patronage to Eton. He was the Patron of Cowick and a generous benefactor to the new College of Eton.  (Oliver’s Historic Collections p.123)

Some 13 years later King Edward 4 transferred the revenues etc. to his favourite Abbey of Tavistock in whose hands it remained until the dissolution of the Monasteries when Henry 8 gave it to John, Lord Russell, 4 July 1531.

Stanbury John.     1489 July 6 . John Stanbury appointed Vicar of Okehampton on the death of Thomas Stephens. Patron: Abbot of Tavistock.  (Fox’s Register)

Stanbury Henry.   No appointment of this Vicar can be found. His death is recorded in the appointment of the following vicar.  It is presumed there was only one Vicar Stanbury and an error arose by a slip in the Christian name.

James (Janes?) William   1493 April 3 . Mr William James A.M. Appointed Vicar of Okehampton on the death of Henry Stanbury. Presented by the Abbot of Tavistock (King’s Register)

Nans John   The appointment of this Vicar cannot be found . His term must have been a short one as he resigned in 1497.

Fulford John   Appointed Vicar 1497 . This Vicar’s name , with that of John Anthony , Chaplain of Brightley, appears in a document in the town chest, dated 20 Jan. 3rd year of Henry 8.

For the previous 50 years there had been no mention of Vicars in the Town Records. During the Wars of the Roses, the town must have been in a very unsettled state as the Courtenay Lords took a very active and fatal part both at the time and afterwards.  There can be no doubt that many of their retainers were called up for active service, resulting in less interest being applied to local matters.

Holwyll John M A   1515 June 16   John Holwyll  MA appointed Vicar of Okehampton on the resignation of John Fulford. Presented by the Abbot of Tavistock (King’s Register).

Holwyll was Vicar at the time of the separation from the Church of Rome and he appears as Vicar in the Valor Ecclesiasticus  26 Henry 8
(26th year of the reign of Henry V111  A survey of the finances of the Church by Royal Decree. )

The Living is put down as worth £20 per annum. He must have resigned or died shortly after this as Mrs Rose-Troup supplied the following (1931) :-

In a return made by Bishop Vesey in 1540/41 of the stipendiary priests in the diocese of Exeter, under the heading  “In the Parish Church of Okehampton”

Appears Mr. Lawrernce Godfey, employed by Thomas Hole “ Fermer” , Mr Edward Smalle, employed by the Wardens of the Chapel of St James of the same.  The term “ fermer” does not apply to agriculture  but to Thomas Hole having the presentation of the Living which, owing to the Dissolution of the Tavistock Abbey, had fallen into lay hands . (ie. Not clerical)

The Rev. Mr. Hennessy, in hs list of the Vicars of Okehampton refers to two others , viz. Arthur Yardley and Robert Sadler, the latter being inducted in 1559/60 on Feb 17th.

There appears no further record of them and their names do not occur in local records.

March 10 1584 Richard Bowden was instituted as Vicar.

The times were very uncertain for the Church and one can understand the scantiness of entries relating to the Vicars. There were many Catholic plots and to be a clergyman was fraught with danger as accusation of being a Catholic could lead to torture and death !