The parish of Buckland Brewer is a rural one, encircled by fields, woods and moorland. The six miles between Buckland Brewer and the sea make it a year-round living community, rather than a holiday village. Historically, the economy of the parish was rooted in agriculture. The nineteenth century village, located in the north eastern corner of the parish, was largely self-sufficient, with a range of shops and craftsmen. A map of the village in 1851, showing who is believed to have lived where, has been researched and drawn by villagers and is sold in aid of local projects. There were small settlements towards the south of the parish at Tythecott and Bilsford. The remainder of the inhabitants lived in farms or cottages scattered throughout the parish. Equidistant between the towns of Great Torrington and Bideford, the Buckland Brewer of the past probably had stronger links with Torrington. The current route that most villagers take into Bideford did not exist until 1835.
People have lived in Buckland for over 1000 years. Hembury is thought to have been one of the earliest places of habitation in the parish, with evidence of Saxon settlement. Buckland Brewer History Group have conducted a survey of the hill fort at Hembury. Prior to the Norman Conquest, Buckland was owned by Edmer Ater. The manor of Buckland, containing 42 villains, 5 craftsmen, 3 swineherds and 7 labourers, was given to Robert, Earl of Mortain, by his half-brother, William I. Mortain then owned vast tracts of the country so Ansger Brito held it on his behalf. The value was £7 10/-. In 1086, Galsworthy was a separate, 120 acre, manor worth 10/-, held by Edwi. The ‘Brewer’ part of the name is taken from the Brewer family who acquired part of the manor of Buckland in 1202. By 1544 it was owned by the Rolle family of Stevenstone who remained as the principal landowners for the next three centuries.
Although not mentioned in the Domesday Book, a local manor house was Orleigh Court. This was granted to the Dennis family by Tavistock Abbey in 1198. When the male line died out, in 1684, the manor was sold to John Davie, of Bideford. The Davie family became significant land owners in the area, acquiring property from Lord Rolle. In the nineteenth century, the manor was let to the Spekes; the eldest son, John Hanning Speke, being famous for discovering the source of the Nile. In 1869, the Rogers family came to Orleigh. William Rogers wrote a history of Buckland Brewer in 1938.
In the mid seventeenth century, it is likely that less than 300 people lived in Buckland Brewer. Along with the rest of the country, the number of inhabitants rose steadily during the early decades of the nineteenth century, reaching a peak in the 1840s. This was followed by a steady decline. The 1108 people recorded in the census of 1841 had fallen to less than half that number (526) by 1931. Initially this was due, in part, to waves of emigration from rural North Devon in the mid-nineteenth century. In the first half of the twentieth century, lack of employment opportunities saw people leave Buckland Brewer for lives in the towns. More recently, car ownership, enabling villagers to commute and an influx of retired people has led to another upward trend.
For over a hundred years, there were six places of worship in Buckland Brewer. The Anglican Church of St. Mary and St. Benedict, stands on one of the highest points of the parish. The top of the tower is more than 600 feet above sea level and can been seen from several miles away. The church is believed to have been Norman in origin. After several disasters and renovations, only the south door remains from this period. The church was struck by lightning in 1399 and reputedly reduced to ashes. It was struck again in 1769, causing considerable damage. Lack of funds meant that the eighteenth century rebuild was of poor quality. Most of the current church dates from the extensive renovations of 1877, which were commissioned after yet another storm rendered the tower unsafe. The church bells were cast by local bell founder, John Taylor. The neighbouring parishes of Bulkworthy and East Putford were once chapelries of Buckland Brewer. The first known vicar was Sir Walter de Denetone, who was inducted in 1279. Today, the church is part of the Hartland Coast Team Ministry.
Methodism arrived in Buckland Brewer in 1808, when Mr Sleep preached in the Club Room of the Bell Inn, owned by Mr Daniels. Initially, Wesleyan Methodist services were held in the home of Robert and Alice Curtis. In 1827, a Mr and Mrs Curtis gave a cottage on their farm for use as a Methodist Chapel and Sunday School. Robert died in 1818 so this may have been one of his sons. By 1842, it was necessary to extend this chapel. The building later became the Village Shop (now closed).
In 1815, William O’Bryan and James Thorne, founders of the Bible Christian Church, a Methodist offshoot, preached at Tythecott and dined at Holwell Farm, the Buckland Brewer home of the Reed family. James Thorne later married Catherine Reed. Four years later, William Reed and Samuel Thorne were arrested for preaching on the Village Green during the Village Revels. The Bible Christians also began meeting in private homes.
The Bible Christian ‘Salem’ Chapel opened at Thornhillhead in 1830, complete with Sunday School and graveyard. The gravestones have been recorded and photographed. The building is still open as a Methodist Church. This served the south of the parish but although Anglicans and Wesleyans were catered for, there was still no Bible Christian place of worship in the centre of the village. In 1832, a licence was granted for Bible Christians to preach in the home of John Hancock, a labourer. This house is likely to have been in a row of cottages known as New Buildings, also known as Smales Cottages.
The Baptists too could worship in Buckland Brewer. In 1840, Robert Heal granted land at Eckworthy for use as a Baptist Chapel, in return for a peppercorn rent of 4d a year. The first pastor was John Richards, formerly a town missionary in Barnstaple but later a grocer at Tythecott. Records state that Zion Baptist Chapel was erected in 1847, so it seems that either it took seven years to build, or the original chapel was quickly rebuilt. This chapel is now closed, although the graveyard remains. The gravestones have been recorded and photographed.
In 1842, another Bible Christian Chapel was opened, at Cannapark, Twitchen. This building closed in 1966 and is now derelict. Finally, the village got its own Bible Christian Chapel when a local stable, next to the Wesleyan Chapel, was converted in 1854. Three years later the Bible Christians purchased Ash House, which adjoined their existing former stable, from Ann Clarke and John Eddy. This became the Providence Bible Christian Chapel. The building fell into disrepair in 1900 and was rebuilt on the same site. Reverend Thomas Braund preached the opening ceremony in 1903. The Bible Christians became part of the United Methodists in 1907.
During the First World War, instead of worshipping separately in their adjoining chapels, the United and Wesleyan Methodists shared services. This predated similar unions elsewhere and Buckland Brewer was held up as an example. This is reflected in the close association between the Anglicans and the Methodists in the village today.
The formal union between the United Methodists (which now included the Bible Christians) and their Primitive and Wesleyan counterparts took place in 1932, creating the Methodist Church body of today. Between 1932 and 1939 all services were held in what is the current Methodist Church. The former Wesleyan Chapel was used for Sunday School and evening activities until it was sold in 1939 and converted into a shop. In 2015 the longstanding co-operation between the Anglican and Methodist communities in Buckland Brewer was cemented by the introduction of joint services, alternating between the Anglican and Methodist Churches.
The war memorial on the village green commemorates the villagers who fell in the first and second world wars. A great deal of work has been done on the lives of these men.
There is further information about the history of Buckland Brewer here.
© Janet Few
Books about the history of Buckland Brewer
Buckland Brewer by W H Rogers – originally published in the 1930s New edition published by BBHG in 2015.
Thornhillhead Methodist Church 1830-1980 by Diane Barron and Gillian Badcock
Buckland Brewer in the 1920s by Leonard Blight
When I was a Lad by Roy Blight M.B.E.
Buckland Brewer Methodist Chapel 1903-2003 by Marjorie Snetzler
CD Buckland Brewer in 1965 and 2015
The above booklets and CD are privately produced by local organisations and are available for sale within the village or from BBHG.
Lucy’s Dairy: the journal of an American girl’s visit to England in 1870 by Lucy Rodd includes an account of her visit to Buckland Brewer
Towards Quebec by Ann Giffard contains the journal of William Fulford of Buckland Brewer, recording his emigration to Canada
The Postman Poet by Liz Shakespeare
Edward Capern, The Postman-Poet by Ilfra Goldberg
Transcript of the parish registers are available Devon Family History Society as follows:-
Baptisms 1813-1840; Marriages 1754-1812 & 1813-1837 and Burials 1813-1837
These registers, together with others for Hartland Deanery, are also available on CD from Devon Family History Society.
Devon Family History have also transcribed the Buckland Brewer School Admissions’ registers in two volumes 1877-1889 and 1890-1911.
It is believed that the following privately published booklet is no longer available:-
A History of Buckland Brewer Village School 1877-1977 by Mrs Simpson