is situated on the west end of the Blackdown Hills, which occupy a
tranquil, beautiful, and relatively isolated landscape on the Devon
and Somerset border. Steep ridges, high plateaux, valleys and
springs create a stunning mosaic of countryside dotted with farms,
villages and ancient features. This special place is home to
wildlife and people, with valuable habitats existing alongside
living, working communities. Unique geology creates an exceptional
environment where rare plant, insect and invertebrate species can
flourish. The Hills have been protected as an Area of Outstanding
Natural Beauty (AONB) since 1991.
It is then a
largely rural area with farming still making a significant input
into the communities. There is some light industry, highly technical
in some cases, but a lot of people travel to work in Taunton,
Tiverton, Exeter and Wellington. We have families whose roots in the
area go back 300 or more years, and those who just use the area as a
dormitory, having little or no involvement with the community.
Likewise there is a wide range of incomes within the valley. Our new
priest will indeed have to relate to “all sorts and conditions of
rural nature at both ends of the Benefice links to the M5 motorway
are but minutes away, with mainline rail services at Tiverton
Parkway and Taunton within very easy reach.
relatively recent times the three parishes all had their own
priests, carrying on a tradition which has gone back to the time of
the Normans, and probably way beyond. Certainly there is evidence of
there having been a Christian influence in the valley in Saxon
times. The link between Hemyock and Culm Davy is of long standing,
probably dating back to the C15th. Ecclesiastically Hemyock and
Clayhidon were joined in a Church Commissioners scheme in 1982.
Culmstock joined the duo on the retirement of their Vicar in 1993
and the three parishes have slowly grown together since then.
Politically all three are in the area of Mid Devon District Council.
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in the Culm Valley at the crossing point of the road down the valley
from Clayhidon to Culmstock, with the road from Honiton in the south
to Wellington in the north.
For many years
it has had farming at its heart. The Culm Valley Dairy factory stood
by the river for over 100 years, latterly making St Ivel Gold, Young
Farmers’ Clubs originated here and still today agriculture is a
major component of village life.
closure of the factory and its railway connection the village has
changed; some light industry has come in, there are a lot of small
enterprises and where once milk churns were washed we now have the
Healthy Living Centre providing a range of services.
fairly static for many years, with families here for 5, 6, 7
generations, the village population has grown rapidly of late. The
present figure of 2211 is about 400 more than in 2001. Many of the
new-comers are retirees. The village has maintained its vitality
with a whole range of activities from sports clubs to music, drama,
and history groups and much more. There is at present though,
limited opportunities for teenage children.
There is a lot
of social care from several quarters; the surgery and the Blackdown
Support group, the Cameo Club for the elderly, and activities
carried out by the Baptist and Parish Churches.
St Mary’s Church
from about 1180 St Mary’s is another church which has been altered
in every generation. Originally cruciform in shape with the tower
centrally placed, today as seen it is more or less as "improved" by
the Victorians, but with fewer pews, more circulation space and
since 2000, a new screen between the nave and ringing room. Among
its hidden gems are the font which is part Norman, the clock, the
candelabra and the former chantry chapel, along with three of the
Norman arches and its whetstone pillared gateway which was not
removed for the war effort!
congregation whilst faithful, is ageing. Most are over 50. There is
provision for children to have separate input in the Ringing Room
during parts of our services. We also support the village Crusader
group for 5 -13s, which is run jointly with, but based at, the
Baptist Church. The children’s Holiday Club, now in its 43rd
similarly supported by St Mary’s.
The hamlet of Culm Davy lies
to the north west of Hemyock on the slopes of the Blackdown Hills.
It is believed to have got its name from the son, Daffyd?, of a
local lord, who was given land in this area by his father. This was
sometime in the C13th. Always an area where farming has
predominated, for many years it boasted a railway halt and siding at
Whitehall which was used for the receipt and dispatch of farm goods.
Clay for brick-making was also mined for a while.
The Chapel is seen very much
as the centre of this small community, even by those with no church
affiliation, and the care given to the building and its churchyard
is evidence of this.
Culm Davy Chapel
people of Culm Davy and Whitehall have been worshipping in the
Chapel for at least 500 years and maybe much longer. It is within
the parish of Hemyock but designated a Chapel of Ease as it enabled
inhabitants of the hamlet to avoid the hard and frequently flooded
walk of two miles to St Mary`s. The small flint-stone building was
extensively reconstructed around 1850. It is surrounded by a
charming churchyard whose gravestones record a recurring pattern of
local names. Many are from families who are still involved in
farming nearby and the present members loyally sustain their links
with the Chapel. It forms the focal point for a community of about
two dozen homes.
Services take place every 2
weeks and the usual congregation is around ten. Harvest and Carols
can draw more than 60 which is full capacity. It is the intimacy and
simplicity of the Chapel that many find particularly appealing.
Currently services use the Book of Common Prayer and worshippers
appreciate the link to the strong traditions of the Church. But the
building could lend itself to other forms of worship: recently it
was chosen for the first Taize service in the Benefice, which was
very well received.
to the east of Hemyock along the county border. Its farms and
dwellings are scattered across the plateau of the Blackdowns or
cling to the sides of the valleys of the Bolham River and the Culm.
It has no true village centre, the church and public house having
but twelve houses in close proximity. Part of the settlement of
Smeatharpe, some six miles from the church to the south-east, along
narrow winding lanes, lies within the parish. The scattered hamlet
of Bolham Water lies three miles south; a group of farms and houses
Garlandhayes in the north-east ; while Rosemary Lane, half a mile to
the south of the church, has the largest concentration of houses in
of Clayhidon are a mixture of long established farming folk and
commuters who work in Wellington, Taunton, and elsewhere, with a
proportion of professional and business people among them. There are
too a number of retired people. All these groups contribute to the
social and cultural life of the community, which has a little over
St. Andrew’s Church
records date from 1274 when Ralph de Hidon was presented to the
living; his effigy is in the south aisle. The font, perhaps the most
important architectural feature of the church also dates from the
C13th and is of Ham stone. Alterations have been carried out in
every century, with major work being done in the C15th by the Dynham
family, which included the erection of the tower and south aisle.
of the worship here are the regular "Special Services" which include
the annual Riders’ Service and Plough Sunday celebrations.
work has been done to replace doors and for 2000 an oak screen was
added to the vestry. Work has started to provide a toilet to the
west of the church. The church room provides space for meetings and
social occasions such as coffee after services.
The church has
stood not only as a physical landmark, but also as a solid witness
to the Christian faith for all the Clayhidon community.
at the west end of the Benefice. It has buses daily to Wellington,
Taunton, Honiton and the coast at Seaton. Once a week a service runs
to Exeter and to Tiverton. The population in 2001 was 851 including
four outlying hamlets, and is a typical mix of age groups. The
regular congregation is mostly over 65.
has a good primary school and, under the present Head has a good
relationship with the church. We have a shop/café, two garages, a
hairdresser, a pub with a growing reputation for food and a village
hall with excellent facilities. Organisations include the Culmstock
Society, Garden club, Evergreens, Blackdown MU, WI, Brownies (Cubs &
Scouts in Hemyock), pre-school group and a flourishing cricket club.
Residents have the choice of two surgeries, in Uffculme or Hemyock,
both around 2 miles away. The Blackdown Support Group provides
transport for those without a car. The council housing estate
contains 35 houses and there are a few Housing Trust properties. The
remaining dwellings are privately owned.
All Saints’ Church
church stands at the historic centre of the village. The C13th
Vestry are the oldest parts. The tower is 63ft high with a stair
turret to the southeast corner, and a yew tree growing out of the
top. The spire was taken down in 1776. A clerestory (unusual for
Devon) was built in 1824/5 to lighten the nave and with the internal
height produces excellent acoustics. The church is a popular venue
The reredos is
all that remains of a medieval rood screen removed in the 1824/5
building of the clerestory. There are fine 19th
stained glass windows. In the North aisle is a remarkable survival
from pre-Reformation days, the Culmstock Cope. We are indebted to
those brave parishioners who must have hidden it during the
persecution by Protestant fundamentalists under Edward VI. A kitchen
has been created out of the Baptistery and there is a meeting room
on the ground floor of the tower.
Quinquennial survey indentified a number of urgent repairs,
including replacing a lot of the roof lead. We were only able to
undertake the work, costing £80,000, by taking out a loan, £9000 of
which is still outstanding. Our services are a mixture of the BCP
and Common Worship and our approach to worship could be categorised
as liberal catholic. We run a Sunday School on each first Sunday,
that has a small but constant following. We tried a family service
in an attempt to attract new worshippers but it did not do so. We
remain open to new ideas that might increase the congregation
without driving away our long standing supporters. Lay members and
our Reader-in-training have begun to help taking services.