HISTORY OF ST JAMES' CHURCH
Written by John Barnes
This is a fine and ancient structure in the Perpendicular style being of some 14th but mostly 15th century architecture. Its origins are that of a late Saxon minster of which only the windowless north wall remains.
The south face is embattled and the massive west tower is surmounted by a good spire. The Church comprises nave, chancel, north transept, south aisle, west tower and south porch.
The wagon roof is thought to be 14th century; it contains many beautifully carved bosses but most notably, seven "Green Men” and two women in wimples. If these carvings have not been repainted then it is remarkable that such a good amount of colour and gilding is still visible. Take a good torch!
The pews at the western end of the nave are tiered up to the tower arch and there may have been a wooden gallery above this for musicians.
The pulpit is 18th century.
There are several tablets mounted on the north wall, one in particular records the passing of seven Furse men named John, each the son of the one before. The Furse family lived at Broomham for many hundreds of years.
This contains some of the older high box pews
and hung on the walls are a series of injunctions
which may have originally been in the nave.
Some of the floor is made of Furse gravestones
and below, down a few steps (now hidden) is
the Furse vault although it was recently
discovered that the entrance is sealed by the
stone of Robert Johnson, a surgeon.
Immediately noticeable is the stunning ceiling which was painted by in the 18th century by the Reverend Lewis Southcomb and depicts a huge golden cross in a sky of clouds and stars. The altar rails are Jacobean and the imposing reredos is 18th century. There is a Tudor door leading to the vestry.
The ceiling was restored by Marion Farmiloe, wife of the then incumbent rector Rev James Farmiloe. Their daughter Catherine remembers the process:
I was born in 1961 (in London) and my parents didn't move to Kings Nympton until the end of 1962 (my father became Incumbent Rector on 14 Dec 1962).
I clearly remember my mother painting this so I'm guessing I was between 6 and 10 years old. I feel a date of the late 60s would be more accurate rather than the originally stated date of 1960.
I remember being quite scared and concerned when she was at the top of the rickety, old ladder. As a young child, I suppose it was a long way up! I would often be in the church with her, as it was the school holidays and it seemed to take the whole of one summer! It may have taken even longer because she probably continued when I had gone back to school.
As far as I remember, she just used ladders to access the ceiling but perhaps I only saw the sides of the ceiling being restored. I do remember that there were lots of conversations re how the central part would be accessed. I think access from the Rood Screen was possibly considered but there were concerns re the fragility and weakness of that.
It seems to ring a bell that two ladders were placed vertically with a ladder/plank or platform which was positioned horizontally across the two ladders. Perhaps the ladder that wasn't next to the wall was secured by the pews? It would be interesting to find out. However, I'd like to think that she only did this when there was another person around! Our Health & Safety of today is very much different from those times!!
Separating the nave from the chancel is one of the finest 15th century screens in North Devon and one is instantly struck by its beauty and intricacy. It is quite evident that the fan vaulting, cornicing and "Exe Valley” style tracery has been expertly carved by master artisans. The rood loft is not present but a very narrow flight of steps leading to it (for a boy?) is at the north end. The loft would have contained a large cross with statues of Mary and St. John to the left and right of it.
The screen was extended across the south aisle in the 16th century. On close inspection one may see subtle differences in the workmanship, most especially the introduction of carved faces and an armoured head amongst the fan vaulting.
South aisle and arcade
When the rood screen was extended across the south aisle it formed the Pollard chapel but only a small stained glass coat of arms in the south window remains in memory of that family. It is said that a window in this chapel once depicted Sir Lewis Pollard, his wife and their 22 children! The Pollards sold the manor to the Northcotes and buried here is Sir Arthur Northcote, part of his funeral achievement (a helmet) is on the wall above.
The glass in the east window of this aisle now commemorates the Tanner family who owned Kingsnympton Park; the panelling in this area is Jacobean.
In this aisle the visitor will find photographs of the Elizabethan communion silver which is now on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The font is 18th century.
A lovely little 15th century wagon roof with 41 carved bosses and a niche above the door which may have contained a statue of St. James. The threshold step below the niche is said to be the shaft of a Celtic cross, the base of which lies in the churchyard.
West Tower and Spire
The tower is massive and unbuttressed with its origins lying somewhere in the 14th century however, a recent survey has revealed two distinct periods of construction. There is a replacement window (19th century) in the west wall and in the loft, a ring of six bells.
The bells were cast in 1724 with the exception of the treble which was added to the original five in 1902. All the bells were taken down and repaired, tuned and re-hung 1995/6.
The spire was originally clad with oak shingles and then with lead but when it was severely damaged during a storm in 1915 it was taken down and reduced to what became known locally as The Stump. It was finally rebuilt by public subscription in 1931 and is now clad in copper.