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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

River Avon Moor to Sea 8

From Avonwick Bridge to Diptford Church on Titanic discoveries by river and rail.

After heading south east on leaving the town of South Brent, the river valley opens up into a small floodplain and meanders from one side to the other. It meets the road at Avonwick Bridge. This isn't the only meeting point here. I mentioned in South Brent at the disused station on the South West Mainline that a branch line once split off there to head to Kingsbridge. This branch line was nicknamed The Primrose Line.

In this photo below is a major historic meeting point. In the middle is a Toll House built when the new bridge and road were constructed to the left of it. This is the main road today. To the right of the Toll House where my car is just visible, is the end of the Cobbly Walk shown in Part 6. That is the old packhorse road. In the right half of the photo is the stone parapet of the The Primrose Line going under the road, and on the left you can just see the main road to Diptford.

Diptford is the ancient parish on the east side of the river, while Avonwick and North Huish parish is on the west bank, we saw those in Part 7. In this section we are travelling down the road to Diptford where the valley now narrows to a tight squeeze. This means that the railway criss-crosses both the road and the river looking for bits of land to occupy, on it's way to the sea at the Kingsbridge Ria.

Kingsbridge branch line was a single track branch line railway in Devon, England. The railway, which became known as The Primrose Line, opened in 1893 and, despite local opposition, closed in 1963. It left the Exeter to Plymouth line at South Brent and ran 12 miles (19 km), following the route of the River Avon, to Kingsbridge. A proposed extension to Salcombe was not constructed.

This is the disused track bed looking up the line to South Brent.

This is the flooded track bed looking down the line to Kingsbridge. Admittedly it looks more like a canal today and there would probably be some delays to the timetable were it still running.

Just a few hundred yards down the Diptford road and already the railway makes it's first crossing of the road, it now ran between the river and the road. Here some major diagonally placed supports are still in fine condition although the bridge itself was removed years ago.

The designers and builders of this line could never have dreamed that their huge construction project made from dressed granite would only serve its purpose for a mere 70 years.

This is the so called Avonwick station, a full three quarters of a mile from Avonwick, the first point at which a gap opens up between the river and road, that is wide enough to fit in a small station.

There may have been enough space for a small station but there was no room to park anywhere so I had to stop in the road and take these photos through the window. Like many former stations this is now a private residence. The platform and track bed are still there on the other side of the building. Again you can see that this was a structure that was meant to last.

In my attempt to include every bridge on the Avon I include this unremarkable example only illustrative of how mundane modern structures are, built as they are with economy in mind. This bridge replaces an earlier one and this road leads to North Huish the neighbouring village and parish which featured in part 7.

There was a strange arrangement here originally as the road first went under the railway bridge and turned a sharp right and then a sharp left to cross the river on a much smaller bridge. As a consequence I suspect that this modern replacement was built after the railway bridge was removed completely in the late 60's or early 70's. There is no sign left of this one. Prior to the railway being built there was no bridge as this was marked as a ford.

Here is the earliest map I have showing the ford.

Here is the arrangement after the railway was built. Two right angles zig-zagging their way across.

This bridge, the next one downstream is both a common sight and unusual at the same time. The design is an old stone arched bridge, but you cannot cross it. You can just see the top of a gate the other side which leads into the open field on the left. So why is it here and why was it built?

It features a beautiful garden of moss and ferns, but as you can see it also features a stone structure of considerable age, cost and effort.

As I am now wont to do I tried consulting the online map comparisons again, clicking through the layers until I came to a map dated between 1873 - 1878 when I found this detail of Oakenham Bridge showing what was even then a disused quarry. The bridge is an access bridge for something long forgotten and no longer visible. But it also answers a question raised by the last post I did on Avonwick church whose history states that some of the stone used in it's construction was from the quarry at Diptford. A quarry I had never seen. That church was dedicated in 1878, meaning that it may well have used some of the last stone produced from this quarry.

I have divided my Diptford story over two parts as it would have been a bit arduous to cover everything in one. So this part covers the bridges upstream as you've seen and some photos and history of Diptford church. The second part will feature what is quite a small village and the bridges down stream. I have a lot of photos of the church as I took some last July and recently in January this year, so I am going to make a seperate post just about the church, in more detail, later.

Very like the ancient church of North Huish across the river, Diptford church is on an elevated position which gives some clue as to its age. The older the churches are, the more defensive the site. Churches were more easily defended and doubled as refuges during troubled times.

St Mary the Virgin in Diptford is a medieval structure and the first Rector was appointed in 1226, with the 19 year old monarch Henry III as patron. For almost 800 years the village of Diptford has had a church at its centre. The granite pillars and arches of the main body of the church, and parts of the tower are some of the oldest features, dating from around the 13th century.

Diptford is a village in the county of Devon, England. It is perched on a hill overlooking the River Avon. The name is believed to come from "deep ford", referring to the local site of a river crossing. The village is mentioned in the Domesday Book as one of the settlements in the Hundred of Diptford.

A hundred is an administrative division that is geographically part of a larger region. From the 11th century in England, and to a lesser extent from the 16th century in Wales, and until the middle of the 19th century, the annual assemblies had varying degrees of power at a local level in the feudal system.

The graveyard in Diptford is quite picturesque if a little dangerous and uneven underfoot as stones lie half buried and overgrown. There are some interesting gravestones and some quite ancient ones which are listed by English Heritage.

This one is unusual, being the final resting place of a man who travelled the empire and who retired to this sleepy corner. Captain Cuthbert Vickers of the 13th Rajputs.

The 13th Rajputs (The Shekhawati Regiment) was an infantry regiment of the Bengal Army, and later of the British Indian Army. They could trace their origins to the Shekhawati Regiment raised in 1835, as part of the Jaipur contingent of the Honourable East India Company and were taken into the Company's service as a local battalion 8 years later.

The 13th Rajputs were formed in 1903. During World War I they were part of the Imperial Service Infantry Brigade assigned to the Indian Expeditionary Force B that was sent to British East Africa. They fought at the Battle of Tanga, where although initially deployed in outdated formations, the regiment subsequently showed steadiness in street fighting with the defending German colonial troops.

The Battle of Tanga, sometimes also known as the Battle of the Bees, was the unsuccessful attack by the British Indian Expeditionary Force "B" under Major General A. E. Aitken to capture German East Africa.

November 1914- By evening on 3 November, the invasion force was ashore. At noon on 4 November, Aitken ordered his troops to march on the city. Well concealed defenders quickly broke up their advance. The fighting then turned to skirmishing amidst the coconut and palm oil plantations by the southern contingent and bitter street-fighting by the harbor force.

Noon November 4th - The 98th Infantry were attacked by swarms of angry bees and broke up. The bees attacked the Germans as well, hence the battle's nickname. British propaganda transformed the bee interlude into a fiendish German plot, conjuring up hidden trip wires to agitate the beehives.

There had been a dusting of snow on this particular morning, quite a contrast with the day last July when I started this project in a heatwave.

The aisles are thought to date from the 15th century and the altar table in the chapel is probably the oldest furnishing of the church.

This is the base of the tower, housing the bell ropes.

This is the finest monument in the church, dating from the late 18th century. It remembers Charles Taylor, his wife Ann and their daughter also called Ann who died at 16.

Charles Taylor FRS (c. 1693 – 1766), of Maridge, near Totnes, Devon, was an English barrister and politician. He was the eldest son of attorney Charles Taylor of Ugborough and Totnes, Devon, and educated at Wadham College, Oxford. He entered the Middle Temple in 1710 to study law and was called to the bar in 1717, becoming a bencher in 1749.

He was appointed a deputy remembrancer in the Court of Exchequer from 1729 to his death and was deputy recorder of Totnes from 1728 to 1736. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1722. He was a Member of the Parliament of Great Britain for Totnes from 1747 to 1754.

The Remembrancer was originally a subordinate officer of the English Exchequer. The office is of great antiquity, the holder having been termed remembrancer, memorator, rememorator, registrar, keeper of the register, despatcher of business.The Remembrancer compiled memorandum rolls and thus “reminded” the barons of the Exchequer of business pending.

During the 12th and early 13th centuries the law was taught, in the City of London, primarily by the clergy. The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known simply as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers.

The Middle Temple is the western part of "The Temple", which was the headquarters of the Knights Templar until they were dissolved in 1312. There have been lawyers in the Temple since 1320. Much of the Middle Temple was destroyed in a fire in January 1679, which caused more damage to the Inn than the Great Fire of 1666. The Thames being frozen over, beer from the Temple cellars was used to fight the fire, which was eventually only contained by blowing up some buildings with gunpowder.

Much has been changed and added to St Mary’s in the last two centuries, the tiled area by the choir, the stained glass windows and the clock tower, the addition of the organ chamber to the side of the chancel followed by the carved oak screen at the front of the church and the altar rail.

Strangely the later oak carved screens have some painted and gilded areas. I am not sure if this is a work in progress or someone who got so far and then had second thoughts. In any case they have been beautifully carved.

On the north wall of the north aisle hangs a framed piece of calligraphy which names all the rectors of the church back to the first in 1226. The church were notorious record keepers.

Of great interest is one rector in particular. About half way down the list on the right in 1786 is William Gregor. William has gone down in world history and will be forever remembered not as the rector of the ancient church of Diptford, but as the discoverer and identifier of the twenty second element of the Periodic Table, Titanium.

William was born at the Trewarthenick Estate in Cornwall, the son of Francis Gregor and Mary Copley and the brother of Francis Gregor, MP for Cornwall. He was educated at Bristol Grammar School, where he became interested in chemistry, then after two years with a private tutor entered St John's College, Cambridge, graduating BA in 1784 and MA in 1787. He was ordained in the Church of England. He became vicar of St Mary's Church Diptford.

After a brief interval at Bratton Clovelly, in 1793 William and his family moved permanently to the rectory of Creed in Cornwall. Here he continued his remarkably accurate chemical analysis of minerals, most of which came from Cornwall, but he is best known for one of his earliest discoveries: in 1791, while analysing the minerals in a black sand he had discovered in the Manaccan valley, he isolated the calx of an unknown metal which he named manaccanite. Later in 1791, Martin Heinrich Klaproth discovered what is now known as titanium in the mineral rutile. Believing this to be a new discovery, Klaproth named it titanium after the Titans of Greek Mythology, but eventually it was clarified that Gregor made the discovery first. Gregor was credited with the discovery, but the element kept the name chosen by Klaproth.

Never letting his scientific work interfere with his pastoral duties, he was also a distinguished landscape painter, etcher and musician.


The granite pillars and arches of the main body of the church, and parts of the tower are some of the oldest features, dating from around the 13th century.

The western tower tapers towards the summit and is covered with a stone broach spire, one of the few stone spires in Devon.

Above the porch you will find the sun-dial, made in 1694, it reminds us that 'As time and hours paseth away, so douth the life of man decay'.

Churches liked warning the members of the congregation how little time they may have left, especially on Sundays, on their way in.

Like all solar technology it doesn't work so well on an overcast winter's day. However, very handy on a sunny day if electricity has not yet been discovered.

I am finishing this post with two contrasting carvings in slate. This example from 1694...

...and this more recent example from 2000, a mere 306 years later. This piece of slate stands in the centre of the village outside the former Rising Sun pub. Will this still be standing here in 306 years time.

If you haven't been following the journey of the River Avon in this series then you can find Part 1 right here. Part nine is here.

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John Durham
John Durham
Jan 31, 2023

A monumental series - worthy of a book or a video documentary, I'd say. Narration by Anthony Hopkins for the documentary. Exceptionally well researched, written and superb photo documentation.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Jan 31, 2023
Replying to

Thanks John, you are very generous.


Unknown member
Jan 29, 2023

Some one has been quite busy. I love the stained glass captures and St Mary the Virgin in Diptford photo. The angle/view makes it a perfect composition and of course the clouds in the sky adds a ton.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Jan 29, 2023
Replying to

Thanks. When I put up the post about the church you will see how different it looks on a summer's day. Can't believe I have now been on this project for 7 months.

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