Tag Archives: Offwell

Colwell Wood and Colwell Wood Cottage

Colwell Wood Cottage

Colwell Wood Cottage

In a clearing in the heart of Colwell Wood, in the parish of Offwell, near Honiton in Devon, stands a seemingly insignificant cottage known as Colwell Wood Cottage.  This property, and the land around it, was the subject of one of our first ventures into house history back in the 1980s.  It proved a remarkably rich subject for research, yielding links with some of the most powerful landed families in medieval England, a Napoleonic war hero and a King.

Colwell was never a manor as such, but as a small estate its history can be traced back to the Domesday Book.  As part of much larger estates it passed through the hands of the great aristocratic families of de Courtenay, Hungerford and Hastings.  During the Wars of the Roses, and the period of Yorkist rule between 1461 and 1485, it was held by the ill-fated Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who finally became King Richard III.

The aristocrats were succeeded as landowners in Colwell by the local gentry – Franklin, Collins, Southcott, Marwood and Mayne – some of whose names live on in memorials in Offwell church.  This history of this period was a complex one, since the estate was fragmented, with different pieces of the jigsaw changing hands fairly frequently.

Admiral Sir Thomas Graves, who was second in command to Lord Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen (1801), bought Colwell Wood in 1798 for £1,210.  In 1805 he gave it to his daughter Mary, and shortly afterwards the Cottage was built.  The wood was a sound investment, for timber fetched high prices, but it had also acquired a new value.  Whereas natural woodland had traditionally been viewed with trepidation, full of danger and mystery, the Romantic age saw it with new eyes.  For those who had leisure, a ramble in the woods was now something to be relished, and the steep wooded dells of Offwell had already won the heart of the parish’s most famous son, Edward Copleston, Bishop of Llandaff, who in 1825 wrote to a friend:

Bluebells in Colwell Wood

Bluebells in Colwell Wood

Natural history is the food of my vacation hours, and I shall take your precious volume with me when I next go to saunter and ramble in my Offwell woods.  It would do my heart good to have you one day to join me in those rambles over the scenes of my infancy …

Thereafter, the dual functions of Colwell Wood can be traced more readily.  It firstly remained a valuable asset with its timber and cover for breeding game birds, and secondly it was a picturesque retreat.  In 1985 Colwell Wood was fortunate in being acquired by an owner who appreciates the natural beauty of the place over and above any commercial interests.  He has funded years of painstaking research, restored the Cottage, and striven to preserve its tranquility and natural habitat for the benefit of future generations.

The results of years of painstaking research are now available in our detailed, illustrated History of Colwell Wood and Cottage.  Pedigrees of the Graves, Mayne, Collins and Marwood-Elton families are included.  The volume will be of value to anyone with an interest in Devon history or in small English estates.  Above all, it demonstrates that no matter how small or apparently insignificant a piece of English property is, dig deep and a rich and varied history may emerge.

A History of Colwell Wood and Cottage is available via Amazon, and its companion volume A History of Offwell, generously sponsored by the same individual and sold in aid of Offwell parish church, can be purchased from Debrett Ancestry Research Ltd.

An eighteenth century choir loft

In 1729 eighteen singing men of the parish clubbed together to build a choir gallery in the parish church of St Lawrence, Gnosall, Staffordshire. The gallery or loft was situated next to the pulpit, rather than at the rear of the church.

Tucked away in the parish registers of Gnosall is the following Memorandum, dated 17 March 1729:

That the Loft in the Church of Gnosall by the Pulpit was by the Minister and church-wardens appointed for the use of certain Persons to sing Psalms there.

That it was fitted for that use at the expence of Thomas Fowke, John Stevenson, John Hicken, John Collier, William Collier, Thomas Ward, William Adderley, John Chilton, Humphrey Bayley, Thomas Sutton, Nathaniel Sutton, William Bromley, William Venables, John Parkes, John Lees, Adden Ashton, Richard Bernard, and William Reynolds, and that they are to enjoy the said Loft during their continuance to sing Psalms to demean themselves well.

That the expence in fitting the said Loft for that purpose did amount to the sum of one pound and sixteen shillings.

That four pence a year shall be allowed by every one of the above-named Persons for his sitting in the said Loft till the said sum of one pound and sixteen shillings shall be discharged.

That if any one of those Persons who are appointed to sit there shall leave his place, another Person, who can Sing Psalms shall be nominated by the Minister and Church-wardens of Gnosall to succeed him and that he who is nominated to succeed him shall pay to him, that resigns his place or Sitting, the eighteenth part of that which shall then be unpaid of the one pound and sixteen shillings.

This was approv’d by the Bishop and Mr Rider
Abrah. Peacock

Robert Reynolds and John Alderley were elected into the places of William Reynolds and John Lees by the minister and church-wardens.

Daniel Dean was elected into the place of [blank] Collier by the minister and church-wardens
June 23 1734

Elsewhere, galleries were provided by wealthier donors, such as John Ford at Offwell in Devon (who was patron of the living). The choirs in both parishes would have been singing metrical psalms, perhaps using Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady’s New Version of the Psalms of David (1696), which drew on Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins’ Whole Book of Psalms in English Metre, published in 1562 and still in use over a century later.

Psalms of David

Tate & Brady’s New Version

Like most Georgian galleries, the one at Gnosall would have been destroyed by the Victorians. The gallery at Offwell, which was at the west end of the church, was built in 1754 and removed exactly a century later. The loft at Gnosall, if it survived until 1820, would then have been swept away in the major rebuilding of the church which took place in that year.

Further Reading

Debrett Ancestry Research, A History of Offwell Church and Parish (2008: available for £18.75 with all proceeds to the church from Debrett Ancestry Research)

‘West Gallery Music’, Wikipedia

Gnosall Parish Registers, Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service (published online by Findmypast)