Other Churches in the benefice
St James is part of a benefice - a partnership of churches all served by the same rector. Our daughter church is the Chapel of the Holy Name at Gunn. The two other churches in the benefice are St Paul, Landkey, and St Peter, West Buckland.
The Church of the Holy Name, Gunn
Originally when built in 1873, founded by the Reverend John (Jack) Russell, the chapel was named The Chapel of Ease, but is now known as The Church of the Holy Name, Gunn and is a daughter Church to St. James Church Swimbridge.
The chapel consists of a slated roof building with gable ends and traditional church pews to accommodate approximately fifty people with an additional extension which can accommodate a further thirty people when opened up to the main body of the church.
Gunn is a small hamlet and rural community lying five miles north-east of Barnstaple in the direction of the Exmoor National Park. Apart from the fifty or so buildings in the village the Chapel attracts congregation from neighbouring farms, villages and other homes within a five mile radius.
The congregation meet each second Sunday in the month for a Communion Service, linking in with the other three churches in the Swimbridge Benefice, as well as additional Benefice Services from time to time. The average service attendance is around twenty five. After each service the congregation stay on to meet socially and to be kept informed of, and involved with decision making in current issues, as the congregation form a well established group of people who willingly support others in the community at all times whatever the need. Members of the congregation hold Coffee Mornings / Evenings, open their gardens and from time to time, hold auctions to raise funds for the Church and help to support The David Rundle Trust, an organisation which provides care and education in Rwanda, Africa.
Gunn Chapel acts as the prime and only meeting place in the village.
The tranquil village of Landkey is situated just three miles from the busy market town of Barnstaple in North Devon. With a growing population in excess of 1800, a strong sense of community exists within the village and, of this, the church is an important part. As well as offering regular Christian worship, the church provides valuable links to other areas of the community such as the local Primary School and the Mothers' Union.
Located in a shallow valley in which green fields and neat hedgerows abound, Landkey is surrounded by the beautiful rolling green hills for which this part of North Devon is renowned. A similarly scenic landscape is likely to have greeted Saint Kea when he arrived here in the 5th century AD and established a church for the first time in this area. It is from Saint Kea, that Landkey takes its name. The present-day St Paul's is built on the site of the original church and still provides an imposing presence in the village.
St Kea was a Celtic monk who spent a part of his life in the great abbey at Glastonbury. While there, he evidently felt called to proclaim the Christian Gospel and eventually gave up his sedentary lifestyle in order to embark upon a period of missionary travelling. Recent research has revealed that St Kea was present in the area that we now know as Landkey sometime between 450 and 490 AD.
As far as fate of the first Landkey church is concerned, it is likely to have been of a simple wooden construction and would not have withstood the test of time. Several centuries later, though, a second church was built on the same site. Exactly when this occurred is uncertain, but what is known is that there is a mention of a church in Landkey in the foundation documents of the Deanery of Exeter in 1225.
At some time during the lifetime of the second church, the Manor of Landkey was occupied by a Sir Robert Beaupel. Sir Robert and his wife, Dame Elizabeth, are thought to have been buried within this church and were commemorated with beautifully carved effigies on their tombs. While no other trace of the second church remains, these effigies are still with us and have recently been restored.
The church was again rebuilt on St Kea's enclosure during the second half of the 15th century. This building still stands today and has remained substantially unaltered in the 500 years that have since elapsed.
Further information available on the St Paul's, Landkey website
One of the real charms of St Peter’s Church is its simplicity. This is a church that very well fulfils its function as a place of quiet contemplation, prayer and worship and sometimes, these days, coffee mornings, musical events, flower displays and art competitions. It is a church without any of the elaborate and sometimes maybe rather ornate designs that you might find in other churches.
There has been a church on the present site in West Buckland for more than 700 years. However, sadly, very little is known of the early church(es) on this site. We can only say that when the current church was built, almost from scratch, in the 1860s (less than 150 years ago), the design architect rejected a beautiful carved wooden screen (now to be seen in St James’ Swimbridge) as he felt it would not be in keeping with the very simple but handsome design that he had in mind and that we see today.
The fact that St Peter’s is not an ornate or richly carved church does not detract from the fact that this is a church that is really worth visiting. The design is interesting; the acoustics are good and the building is, on the whole, in good condition. There is some damp (that has to be contained) and the West Tower - which is original (see below) - does need watching. It will need a lot of work at some time in the future, but on the whole this is a church that with care will stand the test of time.
One of the most striking things that you’ll see when you go inside is the list of rectors. It is almost unbroken since 1261 – more than 740 years – when the Living was presented, by the then Lord of the Manor – one Wm. De Punchardon – to the first recorded rector, Geoffrey Sauton. That list of rectors is worth a few minutes glance. In fact someone from near London called in a month or so ago to have a few quiet minutes and to record the fact that a distant relation of his had been the rector here some three hundred years ago!
Since that first rector the history of St Peter’s has been somewhat tumultuous. There are many stories and rumours – it is said that it has been burnt down twice; that it was the last thatched church in North Devon; that the West tower, which dates back to the 14th century is falling down, etc etc.
The facts though are these. In 1860 the Church was pulled down and a new, larger church was built to abut the original 14th century West Tower. This supports six bells (five of which were cast in the mid 18th century) which were re hung in 1948. You can often hear those bells being rung on a Monday evening and of course at some of our services. As a footnote, I might add that if anyone is interested we do need extra bell ringers – even if you have never rung a bell before you will be very welcome.
There are a number of other notable points. Look at the font – it’s 15th century and is said to be a good example of its style. Next, as you walk down the centre aisle look up and you’ll see, resting on the roof beams a colourful, superb statue of Christ with attendants. This is special. It was installed in 1975 and was from the Church of St Thomas at Travellers’ Rest, Swimbridge. There are two attractive stain glass windows with the most recent, in the south-east nave, being dedicated by the Bishop of Crediton in 1960.
Finally, as you walk round and look at the small number of brass war memorials that we have, it is worth remembering that the rector in the mid 1860s founded, with the 3rd Earl Fortescue, Devon County School - now known as West Buckland School.
St Michael, East Buckland
St Michael’s Church is in the middle of East Buckland , a tiny hamlet, on a hill and commanding a view down the valley towards Charles Bottom, with Exmoor and the ‘Bamfylde Clump’ in the distance. This famous copse gave its name to West Buckland School in ‘To Serve Them All My Days’ – the novel written by R F Delderfield about the School and the First World War, in memory of his time here as a student.
The hamlet consists of about 20 homesteads and some scattered farmsteads and is within the parish of West Buckland. The church is the traditional place of worship for West Buckland School, which is just half a mile away. The School Chaplain takes most of the services.
Although East Buckland is a small rural community, St. Michael's Church is supported by the local public school and has strong links with its neighbouring churches.