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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Car Tour 2 Holbeton

Car Tour 2 started in Ermington and we have now moved south nearer to the coast, and nestled in a beautiful valley, is Holbeton.

To quote the book "The road arrives in Holbeton by The Mildmay Colours Inn." So I was already curious because I have rarely heard such an unusual name for a pub. I couldn't think of any logical reason for the name.

However, as soon as I saw the pub sign all became clear because the colours turned out to be what are termed "racing colours" of a horse owner, in this case someone called Mildmay. Where I used to live there was a pub called "The Why Not" which always puzzled me, until I discovered that "Why Not" was a famous local race horse from some years back.

The pub was purchased by a small group of villagers in November 2019. When pubs were closed in March 2020 due to lockdown we decided to refurbish, and after a lot of hard work including the installation of a new kitchen, the pub was reopened at the end of August 2020.

Originally a manor house built in 1617, and then renamed the Mildmay Colours in the 1960’s in honour of the late Lord Anthony Mildmay of Flete, an amateur jockey. His Grand National racing colours can be seen on display. The former brewery site was transformed into ensuite accommodation. The house beer (Mildmay Colours) is now brewed by Skinners. whatpub

So there you have it, the definition of an English village, a pub and a church, and if you are lucky a shop or Post Office too. Holbeton is very much in a steep sided valley so the church takes pride of place in the hierarchy of buildings at the top of the hill, a little closer to heaven.

Anthony Bingham Mildmay, 2nd Baron Mildmay of Flete (14 April 1909 – 12 May 1950) was a celebrated amateur steeplechaser, who raced in the Grand National. He also inspired the Queen Mother's interest in National Hunt racing. He fought in World War II, as an officer in the Welsh Guards, rising to the rank of captain. He succeeded to the title of 2nd Baron Mildmay of Flete on 8 February 1947.

Mildmay's most notable legacy was probably in kindling an interest in jump-racing in her Majesty the Queen Mother. At a dinner in Windsor Castle in 1949, Mildmay sat next to the then Queen Elizabeth and persuaded her that he should buy her a horse, to share with her daughter, then Princess Elizabeth. Mildmay's trainer Peter Cazalet selected Monaveen for them. Monaveen won his first race for them, at Fontwell Park, finished second in the Grand Sefton Chase at Aintree, and then took the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Chase at Hurst Park. The result was a passion for the sport that lasted the Queen Mother for the rest of her life.

In 1950, Mildmay suffered an attack of cramp while swimming off the south Devon coast. He drowned at the age of 41. He was unmarried and the title became extinct. Wikipedia

There was almost certainly a church on the present site in the early Norman period, but during the 13th century the present church with a short tower, superseded the older one and during the 15th century it was enlarged – the aisles added, the tower raised and the spire built, the total height being as present, nearly 120 feet.

You will notice that the clock has an appearance of being stuck on to the tower. It's worth remembering that although this clock is about 1880's in date, the tower is 1400's. This is the case in many English churches where you will see clocks that have just been added in odd positions to the side of the tower.

From 1885-1889 a great work of restoration was carried out by the munificence of Henry Bingham Mildmay, when £25,000 was spent on the general repair of the whole fabric.

Henry was Anthony's Great Grandfather. You can see his initials marking the project, here on the guttering. £25,000 was an enormous sum of money and to give you some idea of the generosity involved, it is the equivalent of over £2 million in today's value.

The much older sun dial is marked Joseph Phillips and dated 1767.

Joseph Phillips’ Sundials

Interestingly, two ancient parish churches in the South Hams of Devon, only about 7 miles from each other, both have surviving sundials made by Joseph Phillips.

This slightly later example is dated 1767, the year date is inscribed in Roman numerals. It is positioned in a most extraordinary (almost undignified!) position for a church sundial, awkwardly propped up high against the buttress of the south-eastern corner of the south aisle.

At Holbeton, it is the south porch which has always been the main entrance to the church. Was the sundial emplaced in its ungainly position because the porch was already adorned with a superb sculpture above its doorway? Or has the sundial been ignominiously moved in more recent times (as I rather suspect) in order to accommodate a later porch sculpture? Exploring Devon Churches

During this restoration the floor was lowered and the south porch added, the ‘Adoration’ over the wrought iron entrance gates being a feature. At the same time the clock presented by Mrs H B Mildmay and its special bell given by Lady Revelstoke, were placed in the tower.

So now we know the South Porch was added in modern times, so it is quite possible that the sun dial was moved at this time.

The magnificent east window, designed by Heywood Summer is an excellent example of Victorian workmanship. It depicts the Ascension & commemorates John Crocker Bulteel & his wife.

The most imposing feature of Hele chapel is a large monument showing 23 effigies. Over the arched pediment are the arms of Hele. Arthur Mee in his book says this is a ‘striking 17th century monument to an unknown family’, although the inscription has worn away we can identify the effigies fairly accurately. At the top are Thomas Hele of Exeter, Sheriff of Devon 1600 & his wife Julian. Kneeling behind the father are his younger sons, Nicholas & Lewis and behind the mother, their 4 daughters, Joan, Grace, Judith & Penelope. Below are Thomas Hele of Flete, eldest son of Thomas & Julian. Behind the father kneel the 5 younger sons, Francis, Henry, Nicholas, Samuel & Richard & behind the mother 3 of their daughters, Bridget, Elizabeth, Honor & Dolzabell.

Probably the most interesting feature to visitors is the beautiful carving of the benches, the work of the craftsmen at the major restoration in 1885. Each of the bench ends is different and the panels contain animals, birds, flowers, fruit, berries in lovely and intricate patterns. Each is a work of art in itself and well worth a detailed study.

Could this be the work of the Pinwill sisters mentioned in Car Tour 2 Ermington?

Alexander was a son of Henry who carried out the restoration.

In the Battle of Blood River Poort on 17 September 1901 a Boer commando force led by Louis Botha crushed a British force commanded by Major Hubert Gough during the Second Boer War.

Gough led his MI (Mounted Infantry) from Dundee to De Jaeger's Drift, a ford on the Buffalo River. Dismissing the intelligence report as exaggerated, he led three companies on a reconnaissance across the river. Through his field glasses, he spotted 300 Boers who dismounted at a farm near Blood River Poort. Leaving his colleague Lieutenant-Colonel H. K. Stewart with 450 MI in the rear, Gough moved forward into a plain in the early afternoon, planning to surprise the Boers at the farm. Unknown to Gough, Botha was moving around his right flank with 700 men. Botha's mounted attack completely swamped Gough's outnumbered force. Lieutenant Llewellyn Price-Davies of the King's Royal Rifle Corps won the Victoria Cross for valiantly defending the field guns. Gough was captured, escaped, captured again and finally escaped on foot in the darkness. On the British side, four officers and 19 other ranks were killed or mortally wounded. Wikipedia

The 2 modern stained glass windows by Hugh Easton, depict (in the Mildmay window) Mary Magdalene at the feet of Jesus after the Resurrection, commemorates Francis Bingham, the 1st Lord Mildmay of Flete & his son Anthony Bimgham, 2nd Lord Mildmay of Flete. The Bulteel window, shows our Lord after being taken down from the cross mourned by His Mother, commemorates John Crocker Bulteel, his wife Doris & their daughter Diana Mary.

The small niche on the right is a squint and it's original purpose was to allow congregants in the side aisles to see the proceedings in the chancel.

A bit too early for lunch or we would definitely have tried out the Mildmay Colours Inn. On to part 3 which takes us up to Shaugh Prior on Dartmoor.

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Unknown member
Jun 23, 2022

You will end up becoming a realigious man, after studying all these churches and places of worship.......or maybe not 😉

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Jun 23, 2022
Replying to

I can't see that. I really just love all the old stuff and the history. They are such an important source of local history. And they're free and make good photo subjects.


David Nurse
David Nurse
Jun 20, 2022

Another interesting blog. Very interesting to me as I have an interest in the history of The Grand National. Aintree racecourse has two distinct chase courses. The first is the famous Grand National course and the second is the Mildmay Course. The Mildmay course was the named in honour of Lord Mildmay who originally envisaged a mini Grand National course to encourage future National runners. Now with more normal birch fences it's used for most of the racing at Aintree with the Grand National course only normally used for one race per race day.

Nice church and A lovely looking village.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Jun 20, 2022
Replying to

I had never heard of the course at Aintree until I researched this. As you say, it's amazing what you find on your doorstep if you look.

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