Church of England Diocese of Exeter East Portlemouth

A short history

The first known reference to East Portlemouth church was in July 1181 in a Bull of Pope Alexander III listing the churches owned by Missenden Abbey. It is not known when the Abbey acquired St Winwaloe's but Lady Alice de Dodbrooke successfully claimed it back in 1219.

The original church (marked blue on the plan) had the form of a cross (cruciform) with a nave, chancel and transepts but no tower. The accepted period in which churches were built with this plan is 1150-1220 so St Winwaloe's would have been built between 1150 and 1181. If it took around 10 years to build, it would have been started between 1150 and 1170, say c1160. It seems probable therefore that Hamo Fitz Ruald (born c1116), the father of Lady Alice, was patron before the church was acquired by Missenden Abbey and was presumably also its founder.

The tower was built between 1400 and 1450 and the two side aisles were added shortly after, followed by the porch. Other changes were made to bring the church into the perpendicular Gothic style. The church contains a beautiful late 15th century rood screen with 26 paintings of saints.

It seems likely that there would have been an earlier wooden church on this site. This may have been built in the early 10th century, perhaps during the reign of King Athelstan, King Alfred's grandson. Athelstan had close contacts with Brittany, the birth-place of St. Winwaloe (462-532) who was a Celt whose parent had fled to Brittany from Wales to escape the Anglo-Saxons. After St. Winwaloe's death, monks came to Devon and Cornwall and founded monasteries and churches although it seems unlikely that these included East Portlemouth's.


The Village

East Portlemouth used to be a much larger and more flourishing place than it is today; it was a port and ship-building was an important industry. It provided four ships and ninety men for the Crecy and Calais campaigns of 1346 and contributed at least one ship to chase the Spanish Armada in 1588. In 1879 the Duke and Duchess of Cleveland reorganised the whole village. Many fishermen's cottages were destroyed and their tenants dispossessed, while several farms and smallholdings were amalgamated into three 200 acre farms at East Portlemouth Village, Rickham and Holset. At its peak, the village had a population approaching 500 but this was drastically reduced by the reorganisation.

More information on the history of St Winwaloe's and the village is given in a printed leaflet which is available in the church. Further information is displayed in the parvis or priest's room which is the room above the porch.