St Winifred's Church, Branscombe, Devon
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: 1583 Joan Wadham memorial
The location is interesting; rather than stand atop a hillside where the church would be visible over a wide area, St Winifred's is set on a terrace that cannot be seen from the sea. It is possible that the isolated spot was chosen so that the church could not be seen by Viking raiders sailing along the Devon coast. It is also possible that the church was built on the site of an earlier pagan holy place, a common practice when Christianity was being introduced into Britain.
The name Branscombe may have been derived from Brannoc. Records suggest that the church held St Brannoc's arm as a relic, though it was taken to Milton Abbey in Dorset in AD 933 on the orders of King Athelstan. A 15th century document says that the saint's body was held in a stone coffin, like the one that lies outside the south porch. Unfortunately for romance, a Victorian rector records that the coffin was brought to Branscombe from Otterton.
Curiously, the tomb shows a likeness of Joan behind a statue of each of her husbands. This double appearance is thought to be unique in family tombs in England. On the pediment above the effigies is the Wadham badge of a red rose. We do not know who had the tomb erected, but it may have been Joan's son, Nicholas Wadham, the founder of Wadham College, Oxford.
In the chancel is a very finely crafted memorial to Anne Mychell, who died in 1606. This grandiose tomb is a beautiful example of neo-classical work, in Renaissance Corinthian style. In the south transept you can see a rare (in England) Maltese Cross carved into a Purbeck marble floor slab, thought to be 15th century. The slab is inscribed with a Latin verse which translates as 'pray for the soul of John Hedmunt'. It is possible that the cross means Hedmunt was a priest. Another slab, near the altar, also bears a cross and is thought to commemorate a medieval priest.
Here lieth a blossom of the worlds
great tree which was as fare as buds
of Roses [be] She died an infant
Heaven was made for such
Live like an infant thou shalt
have as [m]uch'
The grave commemorates Anna Bartlett of Hole House, who died in 1699.
Almost as moving is a plaque to the memory of Mrs Edith Bartlett, who died at the age of 16 in 1704. As the 'Mrs' indicates, she was married quite young, and though the cause of death is not recorded, it seems possible that she died in childbirth.
There are 3 sundials, one of which is thought to be unique in Britain. The first, possible Saxon sundial, is set into the south wall of the tower. The second is set into the south chance wall, and below it is a very unusual linear scratch dial. Most medieval scratch dials are semi-circular, with a radiating series of marks scratched into the wall below a gnomon, or marker hole. This sundial, however, is not circular, but linear, with Roman numerals scratched in a row, so that the southernmost buttress of the chancel casts a shadow on the correct hour mark.
About Branscombe, St Winifred's Church
Address: Branscombe, Devon, England, EX12 3DA
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On the western edge of the village, on the minor road towards Street
Website: Branscombe, St Winifred's Church
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Branscombe - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
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Blackbury Camp - 2.3 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Salcombe Regis, St Mary & St Peter's Church - 2.9 miles (Historic Church)
Southleigh, St Lawrence Church - 3.2 miles (Historic Church)
Axmouth, St Michael's Church - 4.1 miles (Historic Church)
Sand - 4.1 miles (Historic House)
Northleigh, St Giles Church - 4.6 miles (Historic Church)
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