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Cowick is a suburb of the City of Exeter in Devon. Historically it was a manor situated in the parish of St Thomas, Exeter, within the hundred of Wonford. It was formerly the site of a Benedictine monastery.
The manor of Coic is listed in Domesday Book of 1086 as the 106th of the 176 Devon landholdings of Baldwin the Sheriff, otherwise known as Baldwin FitzGilbert and Baldwin de Meulles. He held it in demesne. He was William the Conqueror's Sheriff of Devon and also held lands granted to him personally by that king in Devon which comprised the feudal barony of Okehampton. These included Exwick.
Granted to Bec-Hellouin Abbey
On Baldwin's death his son and heir William FitzBaldwin made a gift of the manors of Cowick and Exwick, both in the parish of St Thomas, to the Benedictine Abbey of Bec-Hellouin in Normandy. A cell of the abbey was set up in Cowick with a Priory Church dedicated to Saint Andrew. Cowick Priory was endowed by its founder with tithes, rents and advowsons of Exwick and other nearby manors, including Spreyton. In St Michael's Church in Spreyton survives a lengthy Latin inscription carved into the timbers of the chancel roof, erected by Henry le Mayne, the last vicar presented by the prior and convent of Cowick, who held the advowson, instituted 23 August 1451. He rebuilt the chancel with aid from Richard Talbot, lord of the manor of Spreyton, and from "Robertus de Rouen de Recdenne, the last Prior of Cowick, and both their names are recorded in the inscription as follows:
Henricus de Mayne presbytre vicarius huius ecclesiae me fecit fieri anno domini 1451, Robertus de Rouen de Becdenne et Ricardus Talbot, armiger, dominus de Spreyton, ded(erun)t de bonis suis ad me faciendum. Orate pro animabus earum". ("Henry le Mayne, presbyter, vicar of this church made me (i.e. the roof) to come into existence in the Year of Our Lord 1451. Robert de Rouen de Becdenne and Richard Talbot, Esquire, gave from their goods towards making me. Pray for their souls").
During the reign of King Henry V (1413-1422) when England was at war with France, Cowick Priory, together with all other alien priories controlled from France, was suppressed in 1414 and the monks were expelled back to Normandy. In 1440 it was refounded by his successor King Henry VI (1422-1461) and was granted in 1451/2 to his new foundation of Eton College. Following the seizure of the throne from Henry VI by Edward IV in 1461, the new king removed Cowick Priory from the possession of Eton and re-granted it in 1463/4 to Tavistock Abbey. In 1467, with the deposed Henry VI still living and three years before his final short come-back of 1470, it was restored to Eton. Tavistock Abbey however maintained that the priory had held conventual status and ought to be served by "religious men yf eny coude be founde" and in 1478 it secured confirmation of the king's earlier grant to it.
On the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII in 1537/8, Tavistock Abbey was surrendered to the King and the monastery estates, including the manors of Cowick and Exwick, were granted in 1539 to John Russell, 1st Baron Russell (1485-1554/5) (later created 1st Earl of Bedford).
Russell, Earls of Bedford
A part of the old priory building survives today as Cowick Barton, now a public house, the modern address of which is Cowick Lane, St Thomas, Exeter. The priory building was rebuilt by Lord Russell in the 1540s, possibly as a residence for the bailiff of his vast Devon estates granted to him by the king, consisting chiefly of the lands of Tavistock Abbey. The present building is made from red Heavitree stone and is shaped in the form of an E, characteristic of the Elizabethan period. It retains most of its period stone mullioned windows. A stained-glass window formerly in the house depicting King Edward VI as Prince of Wales is now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Some period plaster reliefs also survive, one showing a nun caring for some children and another of a long-haired maiden, both standing on the head of an obese friar. A surviving fireplace with heraldic arms is inscribed with the date "1657".
In 1641 The Earl of Bedford sold the property to the Pate family. Robert Pate (d.1677) bequeathed it tio his son, but charged with an annual payment of 20 shillings to the poor.
Prideaux, Speke, White
By marriage the property passed to Amy Fraunceis (d.1703/4), daughter of John Fraunceis of Combe Flory, Somerset, and wife of Edmund Prideaux (1634-1702), MP, of Forde Abbey and from her to her daughter Katherine Prideaux, who had married in 1679 at Exeter Sir John Speke of Whitelackington, Somerset. Katherine had no children and bequeathed it to Mr James White. White continued to make an annual payment to charity and gave 30 shillings to maintain a schoolmistress to instruct in reading four poor children of the parish of St Thomas. In addition the property was also charged with the obligation to pay annually the sum of six pence to forty needy persons in the parish. Cowick was the birthplace of the painter John White Abbott (1763-1851), grandson of its purchaser James White, who restored the building.
In 1920 75 acres of the estate was sold. In 1960 the house was derelict, and in 1963 whole property was purchased by a brewery and converted into a public house.
- www.exetermemories.co.uk (based on: Worthy, Charles, The History of the Suburbs of Exeter: With General Particulars; & The report of the Commissioners concerning charities
- Gray, Todd (Ed.), Travels in Georgian Devon: The Illustrated Journals of the Reverend John Swete, 1789-1800, 4 Vols., Vol.1, 1998, Tiverton, p.54
- Gray, Todd (Ed.), Travels in Georgian Devon: The Illustrated Journals of the Reverend John Swete, 1789-1800, 4 Vols., Vol.1, 1998, Tiverton, p.54-5
- Thorn, Caroline & Frank, Domesday Book, Vol. 9, Devon, Morris, John, (general editor), Chichester, 1985, Part 1 (text), Part 2, (notes) :16,106 (Cowick)
- Risdon, Tristram (d.1640), Survey of Devon, 1810 edition, p.117; Cokayne 1916, p. 323; Richardson I 2011, p. 538
- Risdon, p.117
- The Earl is said to have withdrawn from Exeter to concentrate on draining the Fens
- Vivian (ed.) Heralds' Visitations of Devon, 1895, p.621
- The derelict Cowick Barton in the early 1960s. Photo Dick Passmore