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The Architectural History of Lympstone Church in Devon, Part 3

Documentary Evidence

Lympstone is featured in the Domesday Book, 1086: under Levestone. "Richard son of Count Gilbert holds Lympstone from the King, William Cheever from him. Saeward held it before 1066 Ten villagers, six smallholders and two slaves."

It was then a Saxon Manor, or manors. There is no mention of a church, but according to all the village histories, it is strongly surmised this existed. How could a settlement of 16 people plus two slaves firstly, afford church in 1086 and secondly, grow into a settlement could afford not one, but two or more churches?

The next record to throw light on this Manor is the 1244 ecclesiastical inquiry known as the "Testa de Neville". The records that "Reginald de Alba Mara holds Luvenestone of Muriel de Bollay and she of our Lord King..." Here we the Norman Lord of the Manor, but still no record of a church. Many churches were, however, being built in the 12th and 13th centuries and parishes being organised. Lympstone surely had one.

In 1251, Reginald de Albemarle, according to researches in the Cathedral archives, took the unusual step of dividing the Manor and creating Lympstone Rectory Manor, by which directors have the right to hold a manorial court. There is still no mention of a church, but rectors without a church make no sense. There must therefore have been a church by 1251 for certain. Why should Reginald create the Rectory Manor? He held onto the advowson, but must have lost quite an income giving away land. Now it is to be noted that Reginald de Albemarle also held the neighbouring Manor of Woodbury, in rich, fertile lands, through the gift of a former tenant's daughter, Muriel Hastings. He did not hold a church there. So perhaps this gift to the church in Lympstone was in lieu of founding a monastery or other way of paving his way to heaven, very common in the 12th and 13th century. This would support the view that churches were looked upon as magical objects and that the Middle Ages had innately spiritual qualities. Ambitious prelates do not figure here, though the Church as a whole was financially and politically interested in expansion. But was this the real reason for Albemarle's gift? We know he was a very litigious man, and did not care much for the authority of the courts. If he did the opposite of what most Lords were doing, was it because he wanted to retain power over the local church, and had a financial motive in retaining tithes and offerings? Here we may have an ambitious patron.

A further two inquiries shed a little light - one in 1274, returning that William de Albemarle holds the little Manor of Leievenstone in Serjeanty of the King... and was patron: and one in 1288, noting that "Ecclesia de Limenestone" was valued at forty shillings. But before this, we have the first mention in church records of a rector, Henry dictus 'Potel', instituted on 20th November 1275, the patron being William de Albemarle. Again we have record of 13th century church.

Next we have partial rebuilding, in 1329, the Rector, Richard de Doune and, requested Bishop de Grandisson to postpone the consecration of the building "in quandum sui parte nova est constructa" as there was doubt as to whether it had to be reconstructed.

In 1409, we finally have the consecration of the new church of Lympstone by Bishop Stafford: "1409 vicesimo quarto die Septembris, Dominus dedicavit Ecclesiam Parochialem de Limestone de novo constructam..." Why a new church so quickly? Had there been a fire? Or had the patron decided to finish off the rebuilding of the church of 1329 after the Black Death? Or was the new patron, a de Albemarle daughter who had married a William Bonville (died 1408), thinking also of her salvation and building a new church? It has been noted that the Manor of Woodbury likewise had a new church in 1409, consecrated by Bishop Stafford on the 23rd September, the preceding day, and likewise a partially rebuilt church around 1329. It looks as though the patron at this time was exceedingly active in both her manors, no doubt sustained, as were many of the West Country Lords of the Manor then, by the wealth of the cloth trade, if not of wool.

There is indeed much left to be researched in the Cathedral archives and elsewhere. (Hoskins says that indulgences form a valuable source for building works). However, the known historical facts do support my visually based findings that there have been several churches on the side, the builders of different dates using previous material, going back to the putative early Norman Arch. The Norman font is less indicative: one source says that it belongs to the old rule oratory of the Albemarles. So where was this?

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