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For the video game, see Umberlee.

Coordinates: 50°59′43″N 3°59′02″W / 50.9953°N 3.9838°W / 50.9953; -3.9838

Umberleigh Bridge over River Taw, looking downstream
Umberleigh is located in Devon
 Umberleigh shown within Devon
OS grid reference SS6023
Civil parish Chittlehampton
District North Devon
Shire county Devon
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district EX37
Dialling code 01769
Police Devon and Cornwall
Fire Devon and Somerset
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament North Devon
List of places
The Georgian Umberleigh House, a Grade I listed building, a remnant of the grand 16th-century mansion of the Basset family, on the west bank of the River Taw, 1 mile NW of Umberleigh Bridge, now in the parish of Atherington. It was anciently the manor house of Umberleigh, site of the mediaeval Umberleigh Chapel, the ruins of which survive, and supposedly of the 10th-century royal palace of King Athelstan

Umberleigh is a former large manor within the historic hundred of (North) Tawton,[1] but today a small village in North Devon in England. It was historically an ecclesiastical parish of itself, but following the building of the church at Atherington it became a part of that parish. It forms however a part of the civil parish of Chittlehampton, which is mostly located on the east side of the River Taw.

Historically the manor of Umberleigh, which had its own entry in the Domesday Book of 1086, was entirely situated on the west side of the River Taw and was centred on the Nunnery which was given by William the Conqueror to the Holy Trinity Abbey in Caen, Normandy.

The site was later occupied by the manor house of Umberleigh, the present Georgian manifestation of which, a large and grand farmhouse, is known as "Umberleigh House". Next to the manor house in about 1275 was founded Umberleigh Chapel, now a ruin the single remaining wall of which forms the back wall of a farm implements shed.

Descent of the manor[edit]

King Athelstan[edit]

According to the Devon historian Tristram Risdon (d.1640),[2] Umberleigh was a royal manor held in demesne by King Athelstan (circa 893/895-939), King of the West Saxons from 924 to 927, and King of the English from 927 to 939. He built at Umberleigh a palace and next to it a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Trinity which served the royal family and household. Within the manor of Umberleigh Athelstan later founded two churches, at Bickington, now High Bickington and at Atherington, each of which he endowed with two hides of land.[2]


Immediately prior to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 the manor of Umberleigh had been held by Brictric, as recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. He was probably the great Saxon thane Brictric son of Algar.[3] A person named Brictric was also the pre-Conquest holder of the single possession in Dorset of the Church of the Holy Trinity of Caen, the post-Conquest holder of Umberleigh.[3]

Holy Trinity Church, Caen[edit]

In the Domesday Book of 1086 Umberlei is listed as the sole possession of the Eccl(esi)a (de) S(ancta) Trinitat(e) Cadom(ensis), the Church of the Holy Trinity of Caen, Normandy, the 12th-century Norman church of which survives today as the Abbaye de Sainte-Trinité, also known as the Abbaye aux Dames ("Abbey of Ladies"), due to the fact it was founded originally by William the Conqueror (1066-1087) and his wife Matilda of Flanders, before the Norman Conquest of England, as a Benedictine monastery for women. The building work began in 1062 and finished in 1130. It was clearly a special place to have been singled out by King William as his gift from Devon to his Norman foundation. Umberleigh subsequently became a holding of the feudal barony of Gloucester,[3] granted by King William II (1087-1100) to Robert FitzHamon (d.1107), whose daughter and sole heiress Maud married Robert de Caen, natural son of King Henry I (1100-1135).[4]

de Soleigney[edit]

Arms of de Soleigny: Quarterly argent and gules[5]

The first subsequent holder of the manor of Umberleigh identified by Risdon and Pole was Asculph de Soleigny (d.1171) or de Solarys, (Latinised as Halculfus de Soleinnio[6]), also lord of the manor of adjacent Atherington,[6] who lived at Umberleigh during the reign of King Henry II (1154-1189). He was succeeded by his son, either Gilbert de Soleigny according to Risdon, or Phillip de Soleigny according to Pole.[6] Both father and son were valiant soldiers who served King Henry II during his battles to succeed King Stephen (1135-1154). Gilbert/Phillip de Soleigny married Avis (or Hawis) de Redvers, daughter of "Baldwin de Redvers, Earl of Devon",[6] and according to Risdon the sister of "Richard Rivers, Earl of Devon", probably Richard de Redvers, 4th Earl of Devon (d.1193). For her dowry Hawis was given by her father the manor of Stoke Rivers, which thus passed to her husband.[7] Gilbert/Phillip de Soligny left a daughter Mabill de Soligny as sole heiress, who married Jordan de Champernon, into whose family Umberleigh therefore passed, and where they resided.[6]

de Champernon[edit]

Arms of Champernowne: Gules, a saltire vair between twelve billets or
13th-century effigy, originally cross-legged, supposed to be the crusading knight Sir William de Champernowne, now situated against east wall of north aisle, Atherington Church, removed circa 1820 from the Umberleigh Chapel. It is comparable to the 13th-century effigies in the Temple Church in London

According to Risdon the tenure of de Champernon (Latinised to de Campo Arnulphi ("from the field of Arnulph") was short as Jordan de Champernon left by his wife Mabill de Soligny no male heirs but an only daughter Joan de Champernon as his sole heiress. Pole however extends the descent by two generations, giving Jordan and Mabill two sons, Richard de Champernon, who died without progeny, and his brother Jordan II de Champernon, the father of William de Champernon, who by his wife Eva was the father of Joan de Champernon, sole heiress of Umberleigh. Joan, who lived during the reign of King Edward I (1272-1307)[8] married Sir Ralph Willington, of Gloucestershire. Joan retained her maiden name of de Champernon, which she used in various of her charters and grants, seen by Risdon. One of the (undated) grants during her widowhood, confirmed by "Peter, Bishop of Exeter" (apparently Peter Quinel (reigned 1280-1291), gave land to Umberleigh Chapel as was recorded by Risdon thus:

"Johan de Campo Arnulphi salut(ate) noveritis me in viduitate mea divinae charitat(e) intuit(a) pro salut(ate) animae meae et antecessorum meorum nec non pro salut(ate) animarum Domini Will(ielmi) de Campo Arnulphi patris mei et Eve matris mei et Domin(i) Ralph de Willington, quondam viri mei et puerorum nostrorum conces(ssi) totam terram de Wiara ad sustentationem capella ad present(atio)nem nostram et haeredum ad celebrand(um) divina in capella nostra de Umberley. Hiis testibus: Joh(an)n(is) de Punchardon, Nicholao de Filleigh, Roberto Beaple, Matth. de Wollington, milit(ibus)"

Which may be translated thus:

"Joan de Champernon, greetings. Know ye all that I in my widowhood, inspired by divine charity for the good of my soul and of the souls of my ancestors and not least for the good of the souls of Lord William de Champernon my father and Eve my mother and of Lord Ralph de Willington, sometime my husband and of our boys, I have granted all that land of Wiara ("Wear"?) towards the support of a chaplain, the presentation of whom to belong to us and our heirs, for the celebration of divine service in our Chapel of Umberleigh. With these witnesses (present): John de Punchardon (originally de Pont Chardon, lord of the manor of Heanton Punchardon; Nicholas de Filleigh, (lord of the manor of Filleigh); Robert Beauple (probably lord of the manors of Landkey and Knowstone); Matthew de Wollington, knights"

Champernowne family[edit]

The Champernowne family descended from Jordan de Champernowne's brother Richard de Champernowne survived and prospered during many centuries and in many branches in Devon, certainly until 1925, albeit via a female line, when Arthur Melville Champernowne (b. 1871) sold Dartington Hall near Totnes out of the family.[9] His great grandfather was Arthur Harrington (d.1819) who had married Jane Champernowne, the sole-heiress of Arthur Champernowne (d.1766), the last male Champernowne of Dartington,[10] whereupon in accordance with the terms of his inheritance he changed his family name by royal licence to Champernowne.

The Dartington line had been founded by Sir Arthur Champernowne (d.1578) who had acquired the manor of Dartington in 1559.[11] Sir Arthur himself was a younger son of the Champernowne family of Modbury, which manor had been inherited from the Okeston family during the reign of King Edward II (1307-1327)[12] and which was retained by the family until 1700 when it was sold by Arthur Champernowne of Modbury (1671/2-pre1717), who died without issue.[13]

The Modbury family was founded by a younger son of The Champernowne family of Ilfracombe, which manor had been inherited during the reign of King Richard I (1189-1199) by Henry Champernowne of "Clist Champernowne" from his wife Rohais.[14] The Ilfracombe family was itself descended from The Champernowne family of "Clist Champernowne", descended from Richard de Champernowne who with his brother Jordan II de Champernowne of Umberleigh were sons of Jordan I de Champernowne by his wife Mabel de Soligny of Umberleigh.[15]

de Willington[edit]

Arms of Willington (ancient): Party per pale indented argent and gules a chief or. All the sons of Ralph de Willington and Joan de Champernon abandoned their paternal arms of Willington (ancient) in favour of a differenced version of their maternal arms of Champernon.[16] These ancient arms are shown in 19th-century stained glass in Atherington Church impaling the arms of Champernowne
Arms of Willington (modern) of Umberleigh, Devon and Barcheston in Warwickshire: Gules, a saltire vair. These arms of Willington a saltire vair are shown on the tomb in Barcheston Church, Warks., of William Willington (d.1555), of Willington manor and his wife Anne, whose alabaster effigies lie on top of the tomb.[17] Also the same arms are listed in the Heralds' Visitation of Warwickshire, 1619 (Wellington de Hurley): Gules, a saltire vair. The Dering Roll of Arms lists the arms of Rauf de Wiltone as Gules, a saltire vair

The Willington family originated at the manor of Willington near Repton in Derbyshire. They were later seated at Yate, Gloucestershire.[18] During the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272) Ralph de Willington (died pre-1242) married Olympia (died post 1242), heiress of Sandhurst, in Gloucestershire, granddaughter of a certain Wymark, widow John Frenchevaler. In about 1200 Wymark had granted to St Peter's Abbey, Gloucester, (now Gloucester Cathedral) 6 acres of land in Longford, within the manor of Sandhurst, for the purpose of mending the "ironwork of horses" belonging to visiting monks. The grant was later confirmed by Ralph Willington, husband of Olympia.[19] Between 1224 and 1228 Ralph Willington and his wife Olympia built the Lady Chapel in St Peter's Abbey, Gloucester.[20] Ralph also held (from Thomas de Beaumont, 6th Earl of Warwick (1208–1242) as overlord) the manor of Poulton in Awre, Gloucestershire.[21]

It was another Ralph de Willington, the descendant of Ralph and Olimpia, in the reign of the next monarch, Edward I (1272-1307), who married Joad de Champernon, heiress of Umberleigh. Their descendants were as follows:

  • Ralph de Willington (eldest son), called by Risdon "a worthy warrior",[22] was governor of Exeter Castle in 1253 and Sheriff of Devon in 1254 or 1257.[23] (The seat of the Sheriff of Devon was the royal castle of Exeter). He married Juliana de Lomene, daughter and heiress of Sir Richard de Lomene of "Lomen" (modern Uplowman,[24] near Tiverton) and Gittisham.[25]
  • John de Willington (d.1338/9), eldest son and heir, who on 8 August 1299 obtained a royal licence to crenellate his mansion at Yate.

Rail transport[edit]

Umberleigh railway station lies on the Tarka Line north of Portsmouth Arms and south of Chapelton. The service offers a direct connection to both Exeter and Barnstaple. All train services are provided by First Great Western.


  • Pole, Sir William (d.1635), Collections Towards a Description of the County of Devon, Sir John-William de la Pole (ed.), London, 1791, pp. 422–3, "Aderington"
  • Risdon, Tristram (d.1640), Survey of Devon, 1811 edition, London, 1811, with 1810 Additions, pp. 316–8, Atherington


  1. ^ Thorn, Caroline & Frank, Domesday Book, Vol. 9, Devon, Chichester, 1985, part 2 (notes), chap. 13,1
  2. ^ a b Risdon, T., Survey of Devon, 1810 edition, pp.316-7
  3. ^ a b c Thorne, part 2, 13,1
  4. ^ Sanders, I.J., English Baronies, Oxford, 1960, p.6
  5. ^ Pole, Sir William (d.1635), Collections Towards a Description of the County of Devon, Sir John-William de la Pole (ed.), London, 1791, p.446
  6. ^ a b c d e Pole, p.422
  7. ^ Pole, p.411. Stoke Rivers descended to Willington and Beaumont, and thence to the Chichesters with Shirwell
  8. ^ Pole, p.411, re Stoke Rivers, a manor also held by Joan de Champernon
  9. ^ Burke's Landed Gentry, 1937, p.384
  10. ^ Vivian, Heralds' Visitations of Devon, 1895, p.164; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1937, p.384
  11. ^ Pevsner, Devon, 2004, p.311
  12. ^ Risdon, Survey of Devon, 1810 edition, p.187; Vivian, p.160
  13. ^ Vivian, p.165
  14. ^ Risdon, Survey of Devon, 1810 edition, p.345
  15. ^ Vivian, Heralds' Visitations of Devon, 1895, p.160-165, Champernowne pedigree
  16. ^ Risdon, Tristram (d.1640), Survey of Devon, 1811 edition, London, 1811, with 1810 Additions, p.317
  17. ^ Victoria County History, Vol.5, Warwickshire, Kington Hundred
  18. ^ Robinson, W.J., West Country Manors, Bristol, 1930, pp.203-206, Yate Court
  19. ^ Gloucester: Outlying hamlets', A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4: The City of Gloucester (1988), pp. 382-410 [1]
  20. ^ Gloucester: The cathedral and close', A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4: The City of Gloucester (1988), pp. 275-288. [2]
  21. ^ From: 'Awre', A History of the County of Gloucester (VCH): Volume 5: Bledisloe Hundred, St. Briavels Hundred, The Forest of Dean (1996), pp. 14-46 [3]. "Pulton" in the 1242 inquisition post mortem of Thomas de Beaumont, 6th Earl of Warwick (1208–1242) was shown as held from him by the widow "Olimpia de Wilinton"(Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, Volume 1: Henry III (1904), pp. 1-6, 25 Aug. Inq. Wednesday before St. Michael, 26 Hen. III,
  22. ^ Risdon, p.317
  23. ^ Ralph de Willington Sheriff in 39 Henry III (1254) per Risdon, List of Sheriffs, p.9; 42 Henry III(1257) per Burke's A genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain, 1838, vol.4, Willington of Hurley, p.526 [4]
  24. ^ Pole, p.212
  25. ^ Pole, p.166

External links[edit]