BRANSCOMBE PARISH

The Vicars from 1269


There were probably Vicars of Branscombe from about 995 AD, but records prior to the thirteenth century have been lost. So the list begins, appropriately, with Bishop Bronescombe's Register.

Laurence de Sydebery		1269
Sir Thomas Faitcoul 1283
Sir Walter Lovecoke 1318
Robert Hamounde 1362
John Taylour 1401
Sir John Houndeburghe no record of date
Master Henry Webber B.D. 1421/22
Sir Hugh Balle (Chaplain) 1428
Sir Richard Dobyne " 1447
Sir Richard Martyne " 1449
Sir John Cruys " 1463
Master Richard Mayow 1481/82
Master John Atwylle M.A. 1500
Master John Rugge M.A. 1503
John Tailour (Cardemaker) B.D. 1539/40
Master Gregory Bassett B.D. 1554
Sir John Vele 1557
Sir John Carpenter 1580/81
Anthony Turner B.A. 1621
Edward Pynne M.A. 1641
{Robert Drake B.A. 1650} Puritan Ministers
{Edward Nosworthy B.A. 1656} not legally instituted
William Pring B.A. 1660/61
Thomas Vaughan B.A. 1713
William Beele B.A. 1735
John Anthony Foote B.A. 1758
John Kingman B.A. 1784
Thomas Puddicombe B.A. 1794
Whittington Landon D.D. 1827
George Landon M.A., B.C.L. 1829
Sydenham Henry Peppin B.A. 1837
Henry George Tomkins 1868
Robert Swansborough B.A. 1872
Arthur Steele King M.A. 1910
William Horace Raymer M.A. 1924
Frederick Charles Butters L.TH 1949
D'Arcy William Ward M.A. 1955
Anthony Thomas Allwork M.A. 1958
Wilfred Elliott Henn M.A. 1962
Emlyn Floyd Drew 1968
Harold William Tremlett Stamp 1972
Michael Monlas Courtney (team Vicar) 1976
Gordon Hope McNeill Shelford (Honorary Vicar) 1984
Nigel Howard Freathy B.A. 1986

According to Bronescombe's Register, Lawrence of Sydebery (Sidbury - a priory four miles west of Branscombe) received all altillage of the parish, that is, one in ten of all small things such as turnips, eggs and sucking pigs, along with a tithe of beans and peas. Lawrence lived in the manse that had by then been constructed at La Ford, later known as Vicarage, and now called the Square. The meadow called Personhegh (Parson's Field) and the great, or corn tithe, were reserved for the benefit of the Chapter.

In the report of an inspection of the parish in 1307, Sir Thomas Faitcoul was said to be diligent in church and out, a good preacher, speaking from his heart, a lover of his church. He had donated, at his own expense, a "pair" of organs and a long roll of music. He had also paid for a new Antiphoner and Psalter (books) worth five marks. In other respects, though, the glimpse of life in medieval Branscombe afforded by the report was far from idyllic. According to Elijah Chick:

`The document is a sad story of neglect and mismanagement, of forced labour, of favouritism. Of usual food and payment withheld from the labourers, of houses in ruins, sheds and mills in disrepair, of cattle turned off the commons before time and thriftless or poor hay-selling tenants.'

John Tailor was the last warden of the Exeter Grey Friars (1534-8) before its dissolution, became Vicar of St.Bride's Fleet Street in 1543, Chancellor of Wells in 1547 and later on, Reader of St.Paul's, London. His fanaticism went unpunished during the years when St.Winifred's was vandalised, but he failed to see the political weather-vane turning, and to adopt a more moderate tone. Eventually, his lectures gave such offence to the Roman party that his safety was endangered. After vainly trying to escape to the Continent, he was cited to appear before Bishop Gardiner, convicted and deprived of his preferments. He was burned at the stake in London's Smithfield, on 26 May 1555.

His successor, Gregory Bassett, had also at one time been suspected of "heretical" leanings, and was subjected to persecution, but he is described by John Foxe (a Protestant writing in Elizabeth's reign) as a "rank papist".

John Carpenter, of Exeter College, Oxford, was a theological scholar and author of some note.

The names of Robert Drake and Edward Norworthy, two parochial ministers during the Commonwealth, are not recorded in the Bishop's Registers as they were not appointed by the Church. At the institution of William Pring, it is distinctly stated that the benefice was then vacant.

More has been written about Thomas Puddicombe (1794-1827) than any other of St.Winifred's vicars. It's said that he was a benevolent autocrat. A story concerning him and his choir was that, because they refused to sing at the proper time, he warned them he would ban them forever. They evidently didn't heed his warning, as it's said he always afterwards led the singing with his violin.

He apparently compelled an erring man and woman to do penance, by clothing them in white sheets and cursing them in at one door of the church, and blessing them out the other. If the church was a bit thinly populated for a service, it's said he would start the congregation on singing a long psalm and go out and round up the absent flock.

In exacting tithe, he is said to have demanded a tenth of the honey produced by his parishioners. One evening, so the story goes, a disgruntled bee-keeper called to see him, bearing a skep of bees under his arm. He was shown into Parson Puddicombe's study and without more ado, exclaimed "here's your tenth part of my bees", and emptied the lot into the room, closing the door behind him! Puddicombe's records in the Burial Register are often accompanied by frank details, especially when death was brought about by suicide, accident, or alcoholic excess.

But Puddicombe's feistiness was more than matched by that of Henry George Tomkins (1868-1872), the only Vicar of Branscombe to take his organist to court. The dispute was the result of a growing tension between him and some of his flock, which blew up into a storm two years after his appointment. At its hight, a policeman was drafted into the church to prevent certain people from taking their accustomed places in the pews. It was reported at great length in Trewman's Exeter Flying Post.

At that time, the organ in Branscombe church belonged to Miss Ford, who played it. The parishioners paid a small annual fee for its use.

After the Harvest Festival on the 15th September 1870, she and the entire choir were dismissed, due to what appeared to be a misunderstanding about the order of service, which led to confusion about which music was to be played and sung. There is more than a suggestion that it was the culmination of an antagonism that had been developing for a while between the vicar, his organist and choir, about who should choose the music for the hymns and psalms.

The case eventually came before Honiton Magistrates, and was dismissed when it was revealed the vicar's choice of music had not been passed on to Miss Ford by the sexton's son, before the service. But trouble rumbled on in the parish. In May 1871, another dispute arose over the appointment of the two churchwardens, in which the Archdeacon had to intercede.

There must have a been a collective sigh of relief in the village when Tomkins was replaced the following year by Robert Swansborough (1872-1910), but he turned out to be just as controversial if less litigious. The church is in possession of a comical paper dunce's cap he made, to be worn by those he caught acting inappropriately during his service. On one side is written:

`A despiser of God's Presence in God's own House'

On the other are quotes from Genesis, Ecclesiastes and Isaiah.

But there were other aspects to the Reverend Swansborough's character. He was an enthusiastic patron of John White, probably Branscombe's most famous artist. White lived in the village for about 20 years from the end of the nineteenth century. He painted many local scenes, using villagers as models when he wished to add human interest. His pictures were exhibited at the Royal Academy and elsewhere, helping to make the charms of the area more widely known. When the Reverend died in 1910, having been Vicar of Branscombe for 28 years, an inventory of the vicarage's contents was made and it contained several local views by John White, including a water colour: Branscombe Church - Sunday Morning, and an oil: Branscombe Beach.

Whittington Landon was also Dean of Exeter Cathedral (1813-38). He was succeeded by his third son, George, in 1829.


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