Bratton Clovelly
... our Parish History

Bratton Clovelly - A Brief History

The area around Bratton Clovelly has been inhabited since the Neolithic period.

At the edge of the parish to the north, on Broadbury, there are several barrows and Castle Cross had a Roman signal station, hence its name. The stones of this building were still visible up to the middle of the 19th Century. This cross-roads is the highest non-moorland road in the county, being 928 feet (281 metres) above sea-level.

The land within the parish is Culm Measures (unique to the north Devon and North Cornwall area, this is heavy clay and not good quality, but has a wide variety of interesting flora and fauna) and much outside the village itself was moorland. If you stand in the churchyard and look across to the large field on the hill opposite it is obvious that this was originally several smaller ones. Originally fields in Devon were of only a few acres but modern machinery has necessitated removal of some of the hedges. In certain lights you can still see the lines of the old hedges and ditches.

There are no valuable mineral resources as on Dartmoor or in Cornwall. During the early centuries Bratton Clovelly was the cross-road for pack-horse routes from north and south Devon and from Cornwall in the west to Exeter and beyond. In the 17th Cent. it was a thriving place owing to the wool trade, but since then the area has never been particularly prosperous and the (often absentee) landlords made no improvements. Perhaps we have been lucky in some respects as we still have so much of the past available to us that has not been 'modernised', particularly the Church that still shows its Saxon and Norman origins.

Some of the place-names are Celtic and the hamlet of Boasley was mentioned in a Saxon document in 1050. In 1086 the manor of Bratton was held by Baldwin 'The Sheriff' and paid taxes on 1 virgate (about 30 acres, sufficient for 15 ploughs). Bratton was in two parts separated by a strip of land at Thrushelton (now Broadwoodwidger), this continued until at least 1840.

A family named D'eaudon held the manor in the 13th Cent., a daughter of whose married Sir Roger Clavill which gave the name 'Clovelly' (the name Clavill being corrupted over time). They died without issue and the manor passed to her sister who was married to Sir Baldwyn Malet. Their great-grandson was Walter Meriet, Chancellor of Exeter 1322. In due time it passed to the Somertons, whose daughters married into the Francis and Kirkham families. The name of the village was then changed to Bratton Francis until the male line ran out in 1547. The joint heirs were called Langford, Pengelly and Coryndon and the name reverted to Bratton Clovelly.

The Langfords were Cornish in origin with several seats in Cornwall as well as at least four in Devon, one of the latter being Swaddledown - which can trace seven generations of this family. Swaddledown is to the north-west of the village and the present house was built in the early 17th century on the site of an earlier medieval building.

The Burnbys of Burnby also were living in the village for seven generations and recorded their marriages in stained glass windows, the remains of which can be seen in the vestry of the Church. They were obviously very generous to the church and contributed to the building of the aisle. Many of the earlier family names in the village continue through the centuries to this day.

Bratton Clovelly had no 'gentry' houses but several substantial farmhouses (now Grade II* listed buildings), Wrixhill, Chimsworthy and West Burrow from the early 15th Century, Great Burrow, Swaddledown, Morson and Court Barton from 16th and 17th Century.

Many of the joint lords of the manor over the years have been Cornish gentry who did not necessarily live in the village and did not go in for extravagant or showy buildings. There was some building in the 19th Cent., Eversfield Manor was placed on the site of an older farmhouse (known as Culmpit) and the (Old) Rectory in 1902 replaced the original thatched one at Domons which burnt down. Domons itself was also rebuilt at about the same time. The rest of the buildings are 20th Cent.

Many of the village cottages are built of cob, formed of clay, straw and small stones mixed and, by repute, trampled by cattle. Originally the roofs would have been thatched. One of the indications of a former thatched roof is seen by looking at the chimney stack. Look for fillets of slate embedded in the stonework, these were overlaps to keep rain water away from the joint between the thatching and the stonework.

Bread ovens were mostly inserted into the cottages after the buildings were erected. Externally there is a 'hump' at the outside base of the chimney which was put there to house the bread oven (the most noticeable one in the village is at Town Farm Cottage). Within the cottages it will be noticed that the stone and plaster work is discontinuous with the fireplace. The oven itself was a cavity that housed a cloam (earthenware) shell and its lid with a metal outer door. The oven was warmed by putting in a lighted faggot and closing the door. When the cloam casing turned white with heat the remains of the faggot were scraped out and bread and other baking products were put in. Inattention to the combing out of the faggot constituted a hazard to the cottage from the sparks flying everywhere.

Most of the cottages would have been divided into two or three dwellings but despite this they would have housed not only the cottagers but also artisans and trades people. It is only in recent times that they have been enlarged to their present sizes. The church is of 'dressed' stone and granite and the roof is of slate.

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A Brief History (pdf)

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