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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

River Avon Moor to Sea 12

As promised at the end of Part 11, I now cross the next bridge travelling downstream into the parish of Loddiswell. This is the site of the old Avon Mill which is now a small Garden Centre. Part of the Garden Centre is housed in the old mill building.

On the map below you can see where I am, because it says "You are Here". I love to see this on maps, as quite often the sign is worn away right at that point where hundreds or even thousands of fingers have poked that very spot and worn away that point to destruction. Not in this case though, maybe this sign has not been here long enough.

Tha valley is quite hemmed in here by steep wooded sides but there is just enough room for one field and some horses. Behind me the route of the old railway line is now starting to rise higher and higher to the point where it leaves the valley through the now closed Sorley tunnel to Kingsbridge.

This is the ancient Avon Mill Bridge. In 1765 this bridge at Avon Mill was recorded to be six feet wide. This was the main route between Kingsbridge and Loddiswell and fruit from the Canary Isles and fertilizer from South America were pack-horsed along this route with wool and barley being returned to port.

If you look under the nearest arch on the right it is possible to see the original six feet wide arch under the later widened bridge. The bridge was widened by three feet when wheeled transport became common, this one as recently as 1809. Up until that time all traffic here was on horseback.

This bridge now forms part of Station Road although what it was called back in 1765, long before the railway arrived I don't know. Possibly Mill Lane?

Back in the Garden Centre is this beautiful Eucomis, also called the pineapple flower. Although very exotic looking, they are a bulb and quite easy to grow. They are native to southern Africa

On the Loddiswell side of the river stands the old mill, and Station Road continues around the back of the building where it climbs steeply up to the east end of the village where the church stands in pride of place, strategically guarding the river approach.

The church is not used that much these days and it is kept locked. Crows are in charge and a flock arose and swirled around as I approached. Sure enough on this visit back in October 2022 the church door was locked. It was not until last month, March 2023, that I sought entry to photograph the inside as I was by then close to featuring it in this next section of the River Series.

There is quite a coincidence involved in how I got to photograph the inside. First I rang the vicar to ask when the church was open, but it was not my lucky day, he was away all month so I would have to wait. As I was all ready to go out with my camera and it was a nice sunny day, I decided to photograph Aveton Gifford church instead as that is also on my list of gaps, to be included later on, in this river series.

I went to Aveton Gifford and spent some time there after which I explored the graveyard for interesting looking graves. There is a footpath through the churchyard which villagers use, and a man appeared with a Dachshund dog which greeted me like an old friend. I used to have a Dachshund when I was a child so I am quite fond of them. I got talking to the man and just in passing mentioned Loddiswell church being locked, hence my visit to Aveton Gifford. By an amazing coincidence he said "actually I happen to know that it will be open on Friday afternoon as I am attending a funeral there, why don't you come along right at the end and see if you can go in while it is unlocked." That is how I got my interior shots, and I was given a strict ten minutes to do it in, before the church was locked up again.

I like small details like this. On the old church gates someone has added some shiny new oak leaves as handles for opening the latch.

Loddiswell is an ancient settlement, predating the current church and probably with links to the nearby Iron Age settlement of Blackdown Rings. As with many old places that predate literacy and strict spelling rules, the name has changed over the centuries. In 1086 at the time of the Domesday Book it was Lodeswilla, while in 1552 it is written as Lodgewyll. It's latest iteration is Loddiswell which despite all the verbal corruption over hundreds of years, still points to its origin as the site of Lodd's Spring, or Loda's Well. We'll see more of the village in the next post, as for now we are going to look at the church and a lot of interesting history.

The church of St Michael and All Angels is a Grade 2 * listed monument. It is listed as 13th, 14th and 15th century. Although this church displays many of the standard Perpendicular (starting in the 14th century) elements one encounters time and again in Devon, it is a more interesting building than some because most of the surviving building is earlier. The older parts of the church are constructed of grey sandstones and siltstones while the Perpendicular work has been largely executed in granite.

The south porch below is of a later date (late 15th to early 16th century) built at the same time as the south arcade as the door leads into it on the right.

The furnishings and floor tiles in the Chancel appear to be late 19th century. There are two older features in the right hand wall.

The smaller arch is a piscina and the larger one appears to be a sedilia. If it is a sedilia, then it is on the small side. This was a seat for one of the priests officiating.

A piscina is essentially a small sink or basin and was provided, usually near an altar, for the disposal of ablutions and other remnants from church ritual which, though unconsecrated, could not with reverence be carelessly thrown away. The drain usually leads to some inaccessible place, often in the wall, safe from future human interference.

The church was restored by subscription in 1868 when two stained glass windows were added. This is also likely to be when the chancel furnishings and tiles were installed. The chancel window is by Baillie of London and is a copy of West's painting of "Christ Blessing the Children"

The basic Early English form of the chancel chapel and transept arches implies the earlier 13th century church had chancel chapels as it does today. The organ is now installed in the north chancel chapel. Between the two arches pictured below, at a higher level, can be seen a cut out area making a small narrow doorway. This was done to allow access to the stairs from a now missing rood loft (a type of mezzanine).

In October 1924 a tribute was paid to Mr J Crouch who had just completed 50 years as church organist. Mr Hodder the church warden presented Mr Crouch with a silver rose bowl. Tributes were read out from the Bishop of Exeter and the Archdeacon of Totnes.

In the south chapel are 2 good marble and slate wall tablets, to Katherine Langworthy, 1659, very shallow incised lettering on damaged marble surround to a steep pediment, and, in Latin, another Langworthy, 1634. Both of these with some applied colour.

Over the entrance door, there remains a hand painted and naive in style, Coat of Arms for George III. George III (George William Frederick; 4 June 1738 – 29 January 1820) was King of Great Britain and of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until his death in 1820.

The eagle lectern is late 19th century.

The pulpit is High Victorian and dedicated on the 24th August, St Bartholomew's Day, 1893, constructed from different coloured marbles. It was given to the church as a memorial to Richard Peek a local man who moved to London to seek fame and fortune and succeeded. It was paid for by his family. I will give more of the interesting history of Richard Peek in the next part of this series when I cover the rest of the village.

The inscription in one of the arches reads, 'This pulpit is erected by surviving relatives to the beloved memory of Richard Peek of Hazelwood, born 3rd October 1782, died 7th March 1867. After rising by integrity and perseverance to high estate and office in London, he returned to his native parish where for many years he was an active and honoured county magistrate and a wise and tender friend to the poor'.

The pulpit is of 13th century gothic character and designed by Mr Parsons the architect of the renovations. It is octagonal in plan and carried by round and polished columns of black Ashburton marble. The inset panels and curved cornices around the top are English alabaster. It is lined inside with English oak and has integral brass book rest and candle sconces. All of the work was carried out by Messrs. Harry Hems and Sons of Longbrook Street, Exeter.

This is the north respond or supporting pillar, between two arches. A later squint or visual access point has been carved at an angle to allow sight of the chancel and the sacred ceremonies from the north transept. It is now serving as a makeshift bookshelf.

This is the view from the north transept and on this end some electrical equipment is placed there. What would church builders in the 13th century have made of wifi or PA systems?

The west tower, containing the bells, is part of the 13th century church, it rises in two stages with single openings in the upper stage for the sound of the bells and outward projecting battlements.

In December 1931 an occasion was marked for three bell ringers who had carried out their duties for 55 years. In their early days bell ringers had to be sworn in and that was done at the nearby Church House Inn, which was later burned down in a fire and was never rebuilt. The "swearing in" consisted of the young ringers treating the older ringers to a pint of white ale each. The young ringers proved such a success that the parishioners purchased a new set of bells. The ringers had also been regular choristers for 50 years, Mr Preston was 80, Mr Elliott 75 and Mr Hingston "about 74".

In addition to the ancient marble memorials from the 1600's there is this set devoted to members of the Peek family. The first is obviously a man who lived to a ripe old age while the third one is a man who died during the second World War in North Africa, Libya in fact. He was buried in the war cemetery in Acroma, Libya.

The memorial that raised my curiosity though was the central one of the three. What puzzled me was the date and the phrase "Killed on Duty". World War 1 had finished in 1918 so how was Roger Peek killed on duty?

The Strokestown Ambush

In March 1921 hostilities were at their height in Ireland as the final moves in the Anglo Irish war of independence played out. The British army were stationed there and their numbers were swelled by recruits of former army men nicknamed the Black and Tans, from the colour of their uniforms. The Irish Republican Army were fighting the British Army.

On the 23rd March an ambush took place on a country road in Roscommon. It was protocol at the time that the British Army should travel in a minimum of two vehicles, but that day there was a shortage of transport so a truck carrying nine men was travelling alone. There were six soldiers and three RIC prisoners who were being moved. The RIC, The Royal Irish Constabulary, was the Irish police force of the time.

The ambush by the IRA was carried out by thirty nine volunteers, the attack itself carried out by fourteen men. The IRA was armed with 13 rifles, 20 shotguns and 2 or 3 revolvers. The ambush site was carefully prepared.

A trench had been dug at a sharp bend in the road and a neighbouring farmhouse also occupied by snipers. The army base was only a mile away in Strokestown House. At 7am. the truck appeared and the IRA opened fire and immediately killed the driver. The Hotchkiss gun mounted on the truck as it's main defence only managed to get off a few rounds before it's operator was badly wounded. The two officers in charge were both hit and Captain Roger Grenville Peek already wounded, ran down the road trying to gain cover when he was hit again and killed. The surviving soldiers surrendered.

The IRA destroyed the lorry and took the two surviving RIC men away, they were both later shot as it was feared they could identify the perpetrators. It was revealed later that the RIC men were under arrest for petty crimes, one for robbing a store and the other for breaking a stained glass window.

The Funeral of Captain Peek.

It is likely nothing of it's like has been witnessed before or since in Loddiswell. His body lay in the school room at the family estate of the nearby Hazelwood House just outside the village on the banks of the river Avon.

His coffin was laid to rest at the church with full military honours. The coffin was transferred from the house to the church on a gun carriage drawn by six military horses preceded by a troop of the 9th Lancers on foot, a distance of nearly three miles. It was draped with the Union flag and surmounted with Captain Peek's cap and sword. Lances, with pennants flying, and rifles were carried at the rear until the procession reached the church over an hour later. At the church all the troops present formed two files and rested on their reversed arms forming a ceremonial entrance through which the coffin was carried. The principal military mourner Lt. Col. Cavendish of the 9th Lancers led the mourners into the church.

After the service, several hundred people surrounded the grave in the tiny church yard. The grave was lined with moss, daffodils, primroses, magnolias and lilies provided by the gardeners of Hazelwood. There were three volleys fired at the grave side by 14 of the Lancers followed by the triumphant notes of "Reveille" sounded by four trumpeters from the 4th Dragoon Guards.


On display inside the church are the old village stocks.

Here is a better view of the south respond, also cut through with a squint, this time allowing views of the chancel from the south arcade.

The arches of the south arcade are much later additions, their style hinting at late 15th or early 16th centuries at a time when the church probably needed enlarging due to population growth and increased prosperity.

These arches for church arcades appear in up to a hundred or more South Devon churches at this time, suggesting that they were being mass produced.

Here it is possible to see that the nave or main body of the church and the south arcade both have separate barrel vaulted roofs.

This detail is from the window by Beer of Exeter featuring the patron saints of the diocese.

On display in a glass case in the south arcade is a Bible. This so called "Breeches Bible" dates from 1583 and was an edition printed by Christopher Barker, the printer to Queen Elizabeth I. It is dedicated "To The Most Vertuous and Noble Ladie Elizabeth Queen of England, France and Ireland."

It is a "Breeches Bible" so called, in that it translates part of Genesis 3:7 as "they sewed figgetree leaves together and made themselves breeches". "Breeches" is translated in subsequent Bibles as "aprons". The Bible was in the possession of Lt. Col. D W Wise of Alleron and presented to the church upon his death by his son and daughters.

The barrel roof is 19th century.

The simple rounded font is Norman in origin, and features a frieze of carved saltires around the top and shallow spiral patterns lower down on the bowl, above a plain stem.

This is the porch door into the south arcade, and by the look of its construction and the lock mechanism, it could well be original in period to the construction of the south arcade.

This is the village of Loddiswell as viewed from the church, with what I term a "basket of eggs" appearance. This is a common appearance for very old settlements in the South Hams, with properties nestled close together in a dip in the landscape. We'll have a look at the older parts of the village and discover if there really is a Loda's Well, and there will be more history of the Peek family in Part 13.

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Unknown member
Apr 11, 2023

I had to put my glasses on to fully understand what was going on in photo #2.

The chapel photo where the organ sits...what are those colorful block on the right side? Books? So much character and so much to see in this little chapel, really neat. The last photo is a frameable one, looks almost like a painting with the grey clouds and the view of the buildings.

Unknown member
Apr 11, 2023
Replying to

OK thanks that makes sense now.

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