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Otterton History - History of St. Michaels Church

Church 2012

The Saxons settled in the Otter Valley and established a community around the haven at Otterton in the 8th. century. A Church was built on the high ground above the harbour and in due time a prosperous port developed.
300 years or so later the Normans conquered England and granted the Manor of Otterton, which included Sidmouth, to the Abbey of Mont St. Michel in Normandy, in return for his use of their vessels to transport his army from France. In 1125 Henry II granted the southern part of East Budleigh Manor, also to the Abbey lands at Otterton. The northern part was granted to Polsloe Priory, Exeter. 27 years later a Priory was established at Otterton, adjacent to the existing Church. The Abbot of Mont St, Michel came to Otterton and inducted Nicholas, a priest, as the first Prior with 4 monks. The Priory was built where the School, Churchyard and St. Michaels Close are today.
It is believed that the Saxon Church was rebuilt as a Priory Church with a separate nave & altar built for the village to the west end, leaving the newly built tower, believed to be late 11th.century, in the centre.

During the 14th, century and the “100” years  War, the Prior and monks had been expelled from French Priories in England and in 1414 Henry V closed all of them. The Otterton Priory lands were granted to the new Syon Abbey, Isleworth . The Priory Church and buildings fell into disuse, leaving the west end nave as the village Church.

For the next 100 years, building material from the Priory ruins were used in buildings elsewhere including a transept chapel against the Tower and later a South Aisle to the remaining Church.(see Print by Spreat 1842). After the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1539) the new Lord of the Manor, Richard Duke, built himself a Manor House from the remaining ruins, alongside the village Church.

By 1800 a visitor had reported that the Church “had fallen into a sad state of disrepair and neglect” and the 1820’s saw a number of repairs being made.

Between 1801 and 1841 the population of Otterton had increased by over 300 persons. A faculty was granted to demolish part of the north side of the Church and erect a transept with 21 pews to seat the village school children at a cost of £300 paid by Lord Rolle, the Lord of the Manor. About 50 skilled workmen were lodged in the village to carry out the work.

The Church served the village adequately for the next 30 years, while the population decreased by 150 persons. Then unexpectedly, in 1869, Lady Rolle decided to demolish it and had built a much larger Church at her own expense (£12,000), also pulling down part of the Manor House and a barn of the Barton in the process, but retaining the Tower.

In 1879 a new organ was installed. The old Church had only had a barrel organ.

The new Church had only one stained glass window- at the west end – which provided excellent lighting through the clear glass windows. In 1907 a further stained glass window was installed over the altar commemorating Hon. Mark Rolles life. Electric lighting was fitted in 1939. In 1921 a side altar was erected in the North Transept by Lady Clinton.

Clocks & Bells

There had been a clock in the Tower before 1738, when 10/-was paid for cleaning it. The present clock was installed in 1891. The previous clock faced east and was transferred to its position facing north in 1870 as the miller could not see it from his Mill.
Of the 6 bells that reside in the Tower, three were hung in 1777. But there had been  bells in the Tower dating back to the 16th. century. The others were hung in 1824, 1846 and 1890.

Gerald Millington 2012

1840 Faculty & plan     (DRO Diocesan/Faculty causes/Otterton 2)
History of the Church at Otterton by E. M. Harrison 1983 and leaflet
All About Otterton by G. Millington & Bob Jones 2000   Keverel Press

Church 1842
Drawn by W J Spreat c.1842
Lithograph Printed by C. Hullmandel.

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