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Poughill church

St Michael and all Angels, Poughill, Crediton, Devon EX17 4LA

and part of the North Creedy Team (east) in the Diocese of Exeter.

Its Rectors are known back to 1278 when it was staffed from St Nicholas Priory, Exeter and the register dates from the year 1567 [Kelly’s 1893]. Some documents [Kelly’s] refer to the church as “St Mary’s”. This parish is not to be confused with Poughill in Cornwall, near Bude. The present building is 15C, the north isle perhaps 50 years later, a small blocked-off window in the bell tower staircase is evidence of this.

Walls are of purple mudstone and volcanic trap, with volcanic ashlar, Beerstone and Bathstone details and slate roofs, in the Early Perpendicular style. Gable ends of nave, chancel and aisle have C19 shaped Beerstone kneelers with coping and originally had Fleuree crosses on apex but only nave cross now remains.

Tower built of crudely squared stone blocks laid to rough courses. 2 stages with chamfered plinth and embattled parapet. Stair turret projecting square from north side rises a little above tower with its own embattled parapet. Restored Beerstone belfry windows; square-headed, 2 lights with cinquefoil heads. Some of volcanic hoodmoulds may be original. West side of tower has a restored plain arched doorway with a restored 2-light Perpendicular window above which retains the original mullion, right jamb and labels to hoodmould. Restored narrow single light windows to ringing floor on west and south sides, both immediately above moulded dripcourse.

South side of nave is built of similar roughly coursed masonry but also includes a portion of volcanic and limestone ashlar towards centre. 2 windows, both replacement 3-light Beerstone with Perpendicular tracery and hoodmoulds.

South porch, between the 2 windows, rebuilt in C19. It is gable-ended with chamfered 2-centred outer arch, and includes a white marble World War I memorial under gable. A ceiled wagon roof with moulded ribs and carved bosses, some of which may be C15. South doorway is a C19 volcanic 2-centred arch with simple chamfered surround and contains a C19 studded plank door with ornate wrought iron strap hinges with side scrolls and fleur-de-lys finials.

The nave interior of ceiled wagon roofs, moulded ribs, carved oak bosses (relatively plain and several featuring roses), carved foliage wall plate interrupted by small carved bosses under main trusses, window shapes and 4-bay arcade of painted moulded piers (Pevsner's B-type) are typical. The western most capital features a green man carving: Can you find it? A disused stair turret, visible as a buttress without the north wall shows there was once a substantial rood screen, which still existed there in 1844, [Kelly’s 1902]. The eastern fourth arch overlaps the chancel. Wall here is thick and 2-centred arch has chamfered surrounds with 4-leaf enrichment to present vestry (presumably a former chapel) in north aisle. Contemporary wainscotting at east end. Soffit and sides lined with Beerstone panels cinquefoil heads.

A big restoration in 1856 transformed the interior, especially the chancel, which is a good example of its period. Floor of nave of volcanic flags and large quarry tiles (possibly C17 or C18) and a number of C17 and C18 grave slabs including a white marble memorial to the former minister, William Frank the Elder, d.1675, and notable for the crudeness of the lettering. Chancel floor includes good quality 1856 encaustic tiles. Much of the church retains the 1856 scheme of painted decoration, much of it stencilwork. On the tower arch and arcade the capitals are highlighted and outer moulding of arcade is decorated. Text over chancel arch now painted over. On the chancel roof the bosses and ribs are painted, the rest is stained with painted fleur-de-lys on soffits of minor ribs and gold stars on the painted boards behind. In arch from chancel to aisle upper panels have fleur-de-lys and sacred monograms on blue ground, lower panels have roses in circles on fleuree crosses on pink ground, and outer arch is painted. Reveals of south chancel window similarly painted. Texts around shafts of east window now painted over. 1856 gothic-style carved Beerstone reredos is similarly painted and flanked by high commandment panels with crocketed pinnacled ogee arches. To right of altar an orange marble credence on carved Beerstone bracket. Most furnishing are circa 1856, including: oak altar rail on wrought iron twisted stems with ivy leaft brackets; gothic-style oak choir stalls, and a semi-octagonal oak pulpit, 1897, with open panels under trefoil heads and the stiles and top rail carved with acorns and foliage and including original brass desk and candelabra [Kelly’s 1914]. A ring on the wall above is from where a sounding board was suspended. Oak lectern and nave pews are probably contemporary. East chancel window by Drake of Exeter in memory of Thomas Melhuish, d.1875. The walls were intensively painted with stencil decorations, including texts around the arches and nave walls (which were mostly painted over in the 1960’s): See how much you can discern through the white paint.

North aisle includes series of C18 oak box pews with fielded panel doors and sides and includes original hinges. The worship space was once entirely furnished with box pews built to a common pattern, paid for by the local farms by whose names they were known. In a letter by Rev. M E Hewlett 23 May 1973, he states; “They are described in the architect’s report as of interesting local craftsmanship, and are of woods of varying quality according to the means of the local farmers who installed them, probably in the early 19th Century. They are however a serious hindrance to public worship, and for this reason one block in the main aisle [rear centre] was replaced about 1900 by normal oak pews on parquet flooring, and a second block [forward centre] had the tops lowered on the side nearest the main aisle to normal pew height – which incidentally makes them extremely uncomfortable in which to sit.” “It would be of benefit to the church as a place of worship if the block of pews including those which have been cut down could be replaced by normal ones.” Rev. Hewlett goes on to talk of “A local small Methodist church” in East Village that has just been closed and “contains pews of good solid construction” together with a list of requirement in feet and inches. A cheque for £100 was received from the Exeter Board of Finance Ltd dated 20th Dec 1974 for “lowering the floor in two places, replacing decayed joists and providing a new concrete base; moving the organ to a new position, and screening in both it and the enlarged vestry which will result.” “all re-used from existing stock”. (Faculty 31st May 1974). Pews to the rear of the church were brought forward to match those on the south isle and new pews brought in from the East Village chapel; and it is these that are in place to the rear. The floor to the southwest was never lowered as intended. The stone slab in the central floor area is where a wood burning stove once stood.

A particularly good marble mural monument was erected in 1809 in memory of Gertrude Pyncombe of Welsbeare Barton (this parish), d.1730, comprising white marble bas relief drum with dedication and obituary, vase with drapery above and cherubs below, all set on shaped black marble base. She is a benefactor of enduring legacy.

The subject of the window under the tower shows that the font once stood there among the ropes. A Beerstone cushion font with tops of semi-circular faces meeting on the corners and circular stem with attached shafts, moulded capitals and bases may be restored Norman work. Tower has probably C19 ringing loft floor of large intersecting beams and massive carved boss. The bells are known as “the sweetest peel in Devon”. The front five were cast by Thomas Mears in 1814 as a ring of five; an F# treble was added (Faculty 8th June 1922) but later scrapped and a 10cwt G tenor added in 1947 and the third flatted a semitone to bring them back into a major scale. The Mears bells have had their cannons removed and have been 1/8th turned; the tenor was cast without cannons and has not been turned. A cast iron on steel girder frame by Gillett and Johnston was installed at this time with all the gudgeons running in self-aligning ball races. This 1947 work completed to the sum of £717.

On 31st July 1957, the Exeter records office received “from Leonard Pike Esq., Churchwarden, The Old Bakery, Poughill, seven registers of baptisms, marriages, banns and burials, 1653 – 1909”.

A letter from Church Commissioners, 1 Millbank, London, SW1 on 18th Feb 1966 states that “St Michael, Poughill has been included in a list of buildings of special architectural or historic interest”.

There is a connection in popular memory, linking Poughill with cuckoos. This is the phrase:-

“Cadbury Cocks, Cadeleigh Hens, <span style="font-size: 1rem;">Poughill Cuckoos and Cheriton Men.” </span><span style="font-size: 1rem;">- devised, no doubt, by someone from Cheriton Fitzpaine. Known also are the terms “Kennerleigh Candlesticks” and “Crediton Bloody-backs”.</span>

However the real truth about the Cuckoos can be discovered in the Library of Westcountry Studies, where, preserved in a letter to the Times in 1937 from the Rev.E.M.Kelly of Oakford Rectory, reads the following: “it is ridiculous to claim that the cuckoo is released every year on April 14th from an old woman’s basket in Heathfield, Sussex. Everyone knows that all the cuckoos in England are set free from the church tower at Poughill, Devon, in time for Witheridge Fair.”