Church of England Diocese of Exeter Offwell

History of St. Mary's, Offwell

The parish church of Offwell is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Architectural evidence dates the core of the building to around 1200, characterised by the chamfered semi-circular chancel arch and the little window in the south wall of the chancel. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw a great wave of church-building in England, part of a larger pattern of religious revival in western Europe. In its original form the church would have consisted simply of the chancel and nave; the tower and north aisle were added centuries later. The church was built from local materials – flint and chert, dressed with Beer stone – and Lias limestone was used for the floors. Local stone was used for the many additions and repairs that were made in the 18th and 19th centuries.

We do not know whether there was a church at Offwell before the present structure was built, although this is likely, nor do we know who built it. The history of the manor of Offwell during the medieval period is a complex one but we do know that whoever built the church at Offwell would have been a relatively humble tenant of one of the great overlords and the earliest name that we have in this respect is that of Gervase de Offewell, in 1218/19.

Before about 1150, a parish church was the private property of the family who built it, but by Gervase de Offewell’s time, ownership of most churches had passed either to a monastic foundation or (as in this case) to the Bishop. Nevertheless, the owning family usually held on to the advowson: the right to appoint the Rector. This meant that the gentry retained a significant hold on the parish church – and the parish – for centuries to come, and this was certainly the case with Offwell.

The arrival of the wealthy Copleston family in the late 18th century as Rectors and patrons raised the parish to a new level.

All Offwell History publications can be found on the 'History of Offwell' page on the village website: www.offwell.org