St Giles in the Wood

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Coordinates: 50°57′04″N 4°05′13″W / 50.951°N 4.087°W / 50.951; -4.087

Parish church of St Giles, St Giles in the Wood
View of St Giles in the Wood, looking eastwards from the ruined terrace of Stevenstone House

St Giles in the Wood is a village and civil parish in the Torridge district of Devon, England. It was never a manor of itself and the parish church only came into being in 1309 when licence was obtained from the Bishop of Exeter to build a chapel of ease, the church at Great Torrington being then considered too far for the convenience of the local inhabitants. The licence was obtained by Sir Richard Merton, who then held the advowson of Great Torrington. Benefactors to the new church, dedicated to St Giles the Hermit, included Sir William Herward of Dodscott, and a member of the Pollard family of Way, Barry of Winscott, de Stevenstone of Stevenstone, and Dynant of Whitesley.[1] The parish church of St Giles was, until the rebuilding of 1863 by Hon. Mark Rolle of Stevenstone, of the Perpendicular-Gothic style, of which only the tower survives. Many monuments survived and were moved into the new church and include the monument and effigy of Thomas Chafe (d. 1648) of Dodscott, three monumental brasses, of Alenora Pollard (d. 1430), Margaret Rolle of Stevenstone (d. 1592) and a small brass of her husband John Rolle (d.1570). There exist also 19th- and 20th-century monuments to the Rolle family.[2] At Winscott was the estate of the Risdons where was born Tristram Risdon, author of the Survey of Devonshire.

Historic residences[edit]

There are several historic residences contained within the parish.


Main article: Stevenstone
Stevenstone House, St Giles in the Wood, built by Hon. Mark Rolle between 1868 and 1872, demolished
Arms of Rolle: Or, on a fesse dancetté between three billets azure each charged with a lion rampant of the first three bezants

The most notable historic residence within the parish is Stevenstone House, now demolished, the historic seat of the Rolle family, which when held by Hon. Mark Rolle (d.1907), as disclosed by the Return of Owners of Land, 1873 were the largest landowners in Devon with over 55,000 acres. The Rolle family had held the estate of Stevenstone since the 16th century. The parish church was largely rebuilt by Mark Rolle, who also built most of the Victorian terraced cottages in the village, situated on the east side of the church. Monuments exist in the church to members of the Rolle family, including a mural monument and stained glass window in the south aisle to John Rolle, 1st Baron Rolle (d. 1842), a mural monument in the south aisle, in mosaic depicting the Good Shepherd, of Mark Rolle (d. 1907), and two 16th-century monumental brasses combined together on the floor of the south aisle, of Margaret Rolle and her husband John Rolle (d. 1570), the eldest son and heir of George Rolle (d. 1552), MP, the founder of the family in Devon who purchased Stevenstone and built the first of the Rolle residences on the site. A memorial cross in memory of Mark Rolle, erected by the parishioners, stands in the churchyard to the east of the church directly in front of the lychgate.

Way Barton[edit]

Way Barton, St Giles in the Wood. The mediaeval mansion house formerly standing on this site was the ancient seat of the Pollard family
Armorial of Pollard: Argent, a chevron azure between three mullets gules
Sculpted reliefs of three faces, c. 1300, now set into wall of facade of Way Barton, St Giles in the Wood parish, Devon. Two females wearing wimples below, with a mustachioed male apparently wearing a coronet, above
Monumental brass of Alyanora Pollard (née Copleston) (d. 1430), grandmother of Sir Lewis Pollard (d. 1526). St Giles in the Wood parish church, Devon

Way was described by Hoskins (1959) as "the fons et origo[3] of the mighty tribe of Pollard" and had been acquired by them from the de la Way family even earlier before 1242.[4] One of the earliest members descended from this family to reach national prominence was Sir Lewis Pollard (c. 1465-1526), Justice of the Common Pleas, of King's Nympton.

The former Way mansion of the Pollards is now represented by the farmhouse known as Way Barton. Reset into the front wall of the house are the stone heads c. 1300 of two ladies wearing wimples and above the smaller head of a man.[5] In 1309 Robert Pollard was granted by the Bishop of Exeter licence to build an oratory at Weye, of which no trace remains in the present house.[6] A monumental brass exists in St Giles Church of Alyanora Pollard (d.1430), of which only the original lower half of a female figure has survived, the top half being an accurate modern replacement, with the inscription below it:

Hic jacet Alyanora Pollard qui fuit uxor Joh(ann)is Pollard et filia Joh(ann)is Copleston qui obiit xxi die mensis Septembris Anno d(o)m(in)i Mill(ensi)mo CCCCXXX cuius animae propitietur Deus Amen.[7] ("Here lies Eleanor / Alianore Pollard who was the wife of John Pollard and daughter of John Copleston who died on the 21st day of the month of September in the One thousandth four hundredth and thirtieth year of Our Lord of whose soul may God look upon with favour Amen".)

John de Coplestone was of Colebroke, Devon and married Katherine de Graas, by whom he had Eleanor. There are two further inscriptions on the same slab made later to commemorate two distant relations:

  • Firstly, immediately beneath the above inscription, a small brass plaque with portrait of a kneeling lady, to commemorate Johanna Risdon (d. 17/5/1610), daughter of George Pollard of Langley in the parish of Yarnscombe and mother of Tristram Risdon of Winscott in the parish of St Giles in the Wood, the author of "The Survey of Devon" (c. 1630).
  • Secondly, below the last, incised in the stone slab on which the brasses are affixed memorial text to Margaret Risdon (d.1636), daughter of Tristram Risdon.

Risdon stated Way to have been the residence of the de la Way family temp. King John (1199-1216), and to have been granted by Walter de la Way, the son of William de la Way, to Walter Pollard temp. Edward I (1272-1307), which grant was witnessed by Sir Henry Sully and Sir Thomas Merton.[8]

Winscott Barton[edit]

Winscott Barton, St Giles in the Wood
Arms of Barry of Winscott: Barry of 6 argent and gules; crest: A wolf's head erased sable[9]
Arms of Risdon of Bableigh and Winscott: Argent, three bird-bolts sable
Heraldic achievement from the Risdon mural monument, St Giles in the Wood parish church. The arms are: Argent, three bird-bolts sable (Risdon) impaling Per party pale azure and gules, a cross flory between four lambs (wolves ?) argent (arms of the wife of William Risdon, of unknown family). The crest of Risdon above is: An elephant's head erased ermine eared and armed or[10]

The present large farmhouse is built on the site of the mansion house belonging to Tristram Risdon (d. 1635), the historian of Devon, who calls it both a "mansion" and a manor.[11] It is not to be confused with Winscott House in the nearby parish of Peters Marland, a Victorian mansion demolished after 1931.[12] The name Winscott is common for farms and hamlets in north Devon, the Anglo-Saxon word for the cottage of a cottar named "Wins".[13] By the time of the Domesday Book of 1086, some cotts had grown to attain the status of manors,[14] for example Winscott in Peters Marland. In the 16th century Winscott was the property of the Barry family, according to Risdon a branch of the ancient de Barry family which played a prominent role in the Norman conquest of Ireland under King Henry II (1154-1189) and was granted the titles Baron Barry in about 1261 and Viscount Buttevant (premier viscount in Ireland) in 1541. The family had large landholdings around Cork in Ireland. One of the Barons Barry gave all his English lands to his second son, and this branch of the family resided at Winscott according to Risdon.[15] Michael Barry (d. 1570) of Winscott married Johanna Pollard (1547-1610), the daughter of George Pollard of Langley, and had an only child, a daughter Thomazin Barry who became the wife of John Tripconey of Gulval in Cornwall. The marriage was without progeny. Thomazin's mother Johanna Pollard had re-married to William Risdon, after the death of her first husband, and had remained in residence at Winscott. William Risdon was the third son of Giles Risdon Esq., of Bableigh, in the nearby parish of Parkham. Their son Tristram Risdon was thus born at Winscott, and later it became his property when it was bequeathed to him by his childless half-sister Thomazin. Tristram Risdon married Pascoe (or Pascha) Chaffe, daughter of Thomas Chaffe of Exeter and Doddscott in the same parish. Their eldest son Giles Risdon (1609-1644) died without progeny when his heir became his brother William Risdon, who left as his sole heiress a daughter Mary Risdon. Mary married four times, but produced only a daughter Mary, from her first marriage to Joseph Prust, who died aged 4 and is commemorated in a mural monument in the parish church, jointly with her grandmother Mary who died aged 66 in the same unknown year. She married secondly Amos Rolle, a son of Sir John Rolle of Stevenstone, thirdly to John Holland of Sheepwash and fourthly to John Stafford of Stafford. After Mary's death Winscott descended into the family of Northcote, ancestors of Stafford Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh (1818-1887). Tristram Risdon's daughter Johan had married James Hearle of Tawstock, whose daughter had married Edward Lovett of Tawstock, whose daughter Penelope Lovett had married Sir Henry Northcote, Bart.[16]

Risdon mural monument[edit]

Risdon mural monument, St Giles in the Wood parish church

A mural monument exists in St Giles in the Wood parish church, on the west wall of the north transept, inscribed with the following much faded text:

M(emoriae) S(acrum)[17] of Mary the wife of William Risdon of this parish , gent., who departed this life ..d of September An(n)o Dom(ini) 16.. aetatis suae[18] 66.o[19] as allso of Mary ye daughter of Joseph Prust, gent., by Mary his wife who dyed the 6th of August in the same year An(n)o aetatis suae 4.o.[20] Posuit Gulielmus Risdon amantissimus unius maritus lugens alterius avus

Translated as follows: "William Risdon placed (this), the most loving husband of the one, the mourning grandfather of the other". William was the second son of Tristram Risdon and the heir of his elder brother Giles Risdon (1609-1644).


Dodscott, about 3/4 mile NE of the parish church and 3/4 NW of Winscott, was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086. It was then one of 28 manors held by Gotshelm, who had sub-enfeoffed it to his tenant Walter of Burgundy. It was the cottage of the cottar Doda before 1066, and paid tax for one virgate of land, with land for 1 1/2 ploughs.[21] In the 16th century it was the residence of Thomas Chafe (1585-1648), the brother-in-law of his neighbour Tristram Risdon of Winscott. Risdon wrote a brief paragraph on the history of Dodscott but did not mention how it had come into the possession of Chafe. The Chafe family had originated at "Chafecombe" (modern Chaffcombe) 2 miles north-east of Chard in Somerset.[22] He was the third son of Thomas Chafe (1560-1604), notary public for Exeter and twice mayor, by his wife Dorothy Shorte, daughter of John Shorte (1524-1587). His eldest brother was William Chafe (d. 1604). His next eldest brother was John Chafe (d. 1619), a merchant of Exeter who married Anne May of North Molton (sometimes given as "Mayho",[23] thus possibly of the Mayhew family of Boringdon Hall connected by marriage with the Parkers of North Molton, later Earls of Morley), whose son was Thomas Chafe (1611-1662), MP.[24]

Monument to Thomas Chafe[edit]

Monument to Thomas Chafe (1585-1648), St Giles' Church, south aisle. Above in the centre is the heraldic achievement of Chafe, to the dexter are the arms of Thomas Chafe impaling the arms of Burgoyne, his wife's family: Azure, a talbot passant argent; on the sinister side are the arms of his brother-in-law Tristram Risdon: Argent, three birdbolts sable, impaling the arms of his wife Pascoe Chafe, the "Aunt Risedon" whom Chafe instructed his nephew in his will should be included within the monument
Thomas Chafe (d.1648), detail from his monument
Heraldic achievement of Thomas Chafe (1585-1648) of Dodscott. Arms: Azure, five fusils fesswise argent a canton of the last; crest: A demi-lion rampant bezantee azure armed and langued gules holding between its paws a fusil argent

A monument with lively recumbent effigy exists in the parish church of Thomas Chafe (1585-1648) of Dodscott, whose sister Pascoe Chafe was the wife of his neighbour Tristram Risdon (d. 635) of Winscott. He married Margaret Burgoyne (d. 655), which family Lysons (1822) states to have been from South Tawton: "A younger branch of the Bedfordshire family of that name, continued (in Devon) for several generations, having married the heiresses of Sheldon, Stoning, and Courtenay. The heiress of the Burgoynes married Jackson, of Exeter. William Courtenay Burgoyne, Esq., died in 1750. Arms: Azure, a talbot passant argent on a mullet or a crescent sable for difference".[25] A monument to Robert Burgoyne dated 1651 exists in the church at South Tawton and shows the arms of a talbot dog. Their 16th-century manor house at nearby South Zeal is now the "Oxenham Arms" public house.[26] The monument was directed to be erected by his executor and nephew Thomas Chafe (1611-1662), MP for Totnes in 1660, in the will of the deceased, dated 24 September 1648, for which the sum of £30 was allocated by him. He directed especially that his nephew should "inscript in my monument some memory of his good Aunt Risedon", which was apparently effected by showing the Risdon arms on the monument. During the rebuilding of the church in 1862 by Mark Rolle, the monument was moved from its original position of great honour in the chancel within the altar rails,[27] and was replaced against the south wall of the tower. Two female figures forming part of the composition were accidentally destroyed during the move, having crumbled upon being dislodged.[28] It was reported by Hoskins in 1954 to be "now pushed into the tower and dirty and neglected".[29] In 1987 it was restored, repainted and repositioned in the south aisle in the newly created chapel enclosure financed by a bequest from the parishioner Mary Withecombe. The Latin text of the monument is as follows:

"In piam Thomae Chafe generosi memoriam ex perantique Chaforum de Chafe-Combe familia in comitatu Somerset oriundi ex collegio Exon(iensis) in academia Oxon(iensis) artium magistri; viri probitate virtute ac ingenio insigis qui in apostolica fide constante versatus in beatae justorum resurrectionis spe animam expiravit XXVto die Novemb(ris) anno salutis 1648 aetatisq(ue) suae climacterico magno. eXVVlas sVas eXVlt MeDICVs. Uxorem relquit Margeriam filiam Philippi Burgoyn e clarissima Burgoynorum prosapia orti matronam religiosissimam bonorumq(ue) operum plenissimam quae et obdormivit in Domino die .. anno a Chr(ist)o nato 16.. aetatis vero suae ..
Abstulit a nobis misere quem flem ademptum,
Abstulit e vivis mortis iniqua manus,
Nec cecidit solus namq(ue) et providentia virtus,
Candor, amor, pietas, interiere simul,
Teste vel invidia vita est lethoq(ue) beatus,

Vivus erat Domini mortuus in Domino".

Which may be translated thus:

"In pious memory of the noble Thomas Chafe arisen from the very ancient family of the Chafes from Chaffcombe in the county of Somerset, Master of Arts from Exeter College in the University of Oxford; a man remarkable in probity, virtue and character who having been devoted in constant apostolic faith breathed out his spirit on the 25th day of November in the year of grace 1648 and in his grand climacteric year, in hope of the blessed resurrection of the Just. "The doctor rejoiced exceedingly at his loud howlings". He left a wife Margery, daughter of Philip Burgoyn sprung from the most famous stock of the Burgoyns, a most religious matron and most full of good works who too went to sleep in Christ on the (left blank) day of (left blank) in the year since the birth of Christ 16..(left blank) of her age (left blank)"
He took away from us misery.....,
He took away from the living the unjust hand of death,
Neither did he fall alone, for prudence, virtue
Honesty, love and piety perished at the same time,
With envy as witness ....(?)

Of the Lord he was alive, he died in the Lord".

The apparently enigmatic phrase Exuulas suas exult medicus contains the cryptic chronogram XVVIVXVIMDICV, shown in capital letters, which when added together as separate numbers (and treating L as I) equals 1648, the year of his death. Such devices are also present in the near contemporary Dennis monument at Buckland Brewer and the Fortescue monument at Weare Giffard. His wife Margery died in 1655 and was buried on 30 March 1655 as is recorded in the parish register, yet no one remembered to inscribe her date of death and age on her husband's monument in the blank spaces left for that purpose.

Woodleigh Barton[edit]


The parish includes a number of hamlets such as High Bullen and Kingscott.

Rosemoor RHS garden[edit]

In the southwest of the parish is the Royal Horticultural Society's Rosemoor Garden.


  1. ^ Risdon (1810 ed.), p.273
  2. ^ Pevsner, N. (1952) North Devon, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books; p. 84
  3. ^ Latin: "Fount/spring/source and origin"
  4. ^ Hoskins, W. G., A New Survey of England: Devon, London, 1959, p. 470
  5. ^ Pevsner, N., Buildings of England: Devon
  6. ^ Coulter, James, Ancient Chapels of North Devon, 1993, p. 64
  7. ^ "St Giles in the Wood Monumental Inscriptions". Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  8. ^ Risdon, p. 274, Torrington
  9. ^ Thomas Robson, The British Herald
  10. ^ Thomas Robson, The British Herald, Risdon of Harberton, Parkham, Sandwell, and Winscot
  11. ^ Risdon, 1810 ed., p. 275
  12. ^ Such a confusion is contained in Pevsner, 2004
  13. ^ c.f. Sannacott, Upcott, Mornacott, Whitcott, Bickingcott, Yealmacott, Hummacott, Uppacott, Trittencott, Whippenscott, Narracott, Collacott, all in the vicinity of North Molton and South Molton
  14. ^ Padel, O. J., "Place Names", published in Kain, Roger et al., (eds.), The Historical Atlas of South-West England, Exeter, 1999, pp. 88-95
  15. ^ Risdon, p. 275
  16. ^ Descent of Winscott per 1810 Additions to Risdon's "Survey of Devon" (c. 1630), 1810 edition, pp. 421-422
  17. ^ Latin: Memoriae Sacrum, "sacred to the memory of"
  18. ^ Latin: aetatis suae, of his age
  19. ^ Latin: sexagensimosexto, sixty-sixth
  20. ^ Latin: quarto, fourth
  21. ^ Thorn, Caroline & Frank, (eds.) Domesday Book, (Morris, John, gen. ed.) Vol. 9, Devon, Parts 1 & 2, Phillimore Press, Chichester, 1985, chap. 25, section 4
  22. ^ Per text on his monument
  23. ^ "Chaffe/Chaffey Lineage in England". Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  24. ^ "History of Parliament Online - Thomas Chafe". Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  25. ^ Lysons, Samuel & Daniel, Magna Britannia, volume 6, Devonshire, 1822, Families removed since 1620, pp. II-CCXXV.
  26. ^ "Oxenham Arms, South Zeal Originally the manor house of the Burgoyne family. The building was built i…". Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  27. ^ The effigy is described in detail in Charles Worthy's Devonshire Wills, published in 1896: "In accordance with his uncle's injunctions, Thomas Chafe erected in the chancel of St. Giles, and within the altar-rails, a high tomb to the memory of deceased, with his effigy thereon", quoted in rootsweb.ancestry
  28. ^ Worthy. ""The Effigy of Thomas Chafe of Dodscott"". Retrieved 25 November 2014. The two female figures then disappeared and I understand that they fell to pieces and could not be put together again 
  29. ^ Hoskins, Devon, 1954, p. 470

External links[edit]

Media related to St Giles in the Wood at Wikimedia Commons