The Church House and Sexton's Cottage


The information shown here is taken, with permission, from The National Trust leaflet about The Church House.

The National Trust

Sextons Cottage

Widecombe in the moor

Devon TQ13 7TA

Telephone: 01364-621321

The Church House is thought to have been built around the same time as the Church Tower, c. 1540.

EXTERIOR

The Church House is south-facing, two-storey, single pile, set with the east gable wall just in the church yard and the single-storey east extension butting onto the lych gate. The front has a gabled central dormer window and a ground floor arcade supported by seven granite pillars.

In July 1980 work commenced on reproofing the Church House. This work included realigning the roof in its original plane. Also the Welsh slate which was put on in the 19th century was replaced by more local Delabole (Cornwall) slate.

The guttering and down pipes were replaced back to the original style in the 1990’s and are of oak copper lined.

The front loggia on granite posts are c.1540. The pillars are four-sided with wide hollow chamfers (a small furrow in wood), the octagonal capitals are similar, they support the wooden arcade plate and the rafters. The walkway is cobbled, the cobbles are set in lime.

GROUND FLOOR

On entering through the double doors (20th century) the fireplace opposite has the village stocks above.

The fireplace (16th century) to the right of the entrance has an open hearth with an oven angled across the south east corner. The mantel is particularly worthy of note, there are 2 pot hangars and 2 trivets surviving

The ceiling – a magnificent cross-beamed ceiling with counter-changed joists, all moulded. A few of the joists have been replaced; the massive beam across the east end is probably modern, inserted but reused. The mouldings are (from the side) small cavetto (a hollow moulding, usually quarter round in section), fillet (a narrow flat band or member separating curved mouldings), and large flattened bead which runs onto the soffit (the lower surface of an arch, architrave, or overhanging cornice) of the beam. Almost all the moulded timbers are original and early 16th century.

There are some very large bellows housed in the open hearth of the 16th century fireplace. These bellows came from Glebe House opposite Church House.

FIRST FLOOR

The first floor is open to the roof construction. 11 jointed cruck trusses are visible. The ends of the purlins (a horizontal beam in a roof which supports the rafters) lodge in the gable walls. Some trusses have carpenter’s marks, 11 and 1111 can be seen. It is worth mentioning that the roof on the Sexton’s Cottage is the same construction and the Church House has therefore a virtually complete 16th century roof.

There are 3 fireplaces on the first floor, one in the main room with a plain granite lintel, smaller granite blocks, possibly 19th century. Two main fireplaces are hidden behind the kitchen units, the hearths survive, they can be seen from the ground floor.

In the kitchen above the work surface is a box containing the parish papers & on the opposite wall is a rolled up full length (floor to ceiling of the church tower entrance in church) parish painting on material done by ladies from Widecombe, to cover the entrance whilst the tower was being renovated.

STRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT

  • First half C16: The Church House is thought to have been built around the same time as the Church Tower, c.1540.
  • 1608: Known to have been in use as a Church House from a lease of 21 May 1608 in which it is granted to John Baker.
  • C18: Used as an almshouse for aged men and women of parish.
  • Early C19: The building became the Workhouse or Poor House. Part of it, the first floor, was used as a school.
  • Late C19: The cottage was constructed in the west end to house the Sexton.
  • 1911: Church House sold to Widecombe School Board.
  • 1932: School transferred to new building.
  • 1935: £1200 raised for the Parish to purchase the Church House from Devon County Council. It was subsequently presented to the National Trust.

Church Houses were probably in existence in Britain from about 1450. They were built in most parishes to accommodate parish festivities and to enable liquor to be brewed for public feasts.

In the 13th century, ale for such occasions was brewed in the lord’s brew house and the profits belonged to the manorial lord but, after Church Houses were built, the brewing was done there with the profits being used for the upkeep of the church.

Most Church houses were built to much the same plan with two large rooms, one above the other. The lower room was used for brewing and the upper for Parish meetings or feasts. Customarily they were owned by the Parish and adjoined the churchyard walls, or were even within their boundaries; and this location led to a Mr Nashe writing in 1593 “Hath not the devil his chapel close adjoining Gods Church?”

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The information on this page was last modified on December 10 2007 15:10:00.


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