The Parish of Broadwoodwidger

Reportedly to be the second largest in Devon, Broadwoodwidger is made up of many Hamlets developed originally from the need to house the workers on the larger farms of the area. The Parish is roughly pear shaped, the distance around the boundary being twenty three miles, the length five and a half miles, the widest part across is four and a half miles and the narrowest part one and a half miles. In 1967 it is recorded that “the acreage of the Parish to be 10,655 acres.”

From 1894 to 1966 the Parish was a rural district in the administrative county of Devon. The rural district comprised of six civil parishes: Broadwoodwidger, Northcott, North Petherwin, St Giles on the Heath, Virginstow and Werrington. Part of the rural district lay west of the River Tamer, forming a salient surrounded by Cornwall on three sides. The county boundary was realigned when the district was abolished in 1966 and Broadwoodwidger passed to Holsworthy Rural District.

Broadwoodwidger village stands on a steep hill above the wooded valley of the river Wolf, with splendid views of Dartmoor from the Churchyard.

In the nineteenth century a pub, post office, blacksmith, tailors shop and carpenter’s shop all thrived, but by the end of the twentieth century, with the closure of the post office, all were gone.

Through modern excavations in the Parish, with the building of Roadford Reservoir, Archaeologists from Exeter Museum recorded the historic farmsteads and hamlets dating back to the middle Ages. This helped to piece together the story of the valley’s environment going back some 5000 years to prehistoric times. Traces of prehistoric activity stretching back as early as 2550 BC were discovered.

In 1987 – 88 excavation of the “lost” village of Hennard Mill took place, this medieval settlement, originally part of the Doomsday Manor of Southweek, had only a single cottage still standing in 1987. Excavation revealed the well-preserved remains of as many as nine buildings including two mills. One mill was a grist mill whilst the other was used for fulling cloth, one of Devon’s great historic industries. The cottages at Hennard Mill were very small buildings with cobbled floors and cob walls. One was a longhouse with space for the farmer’s family and his livestock under the same roof. The cottages were grouped around an open “town place” or village green.

Compiled by A. Worden (2012)

The Parish Church of St Nicholas

First dated to 1257 with the appointment of the first Rector (Elyas) as recorded in the Diocese Registers. The font and chancel arch are thought to date from that period. In 1288 the Manor was owned in fief by the Wyger family and Sir John Wyger was patron of the church. He sold the Manor to Richard de Stapleton in 1319. In 1332 the Priory of Frithlestock was given the manor of Brodewodewyger by Thomas de Stapleton. The basic structure of the church is little changed from 1531 when the South Aisle was added and the arcade of granite columns and arches erected. As much as possible of the original woodwork was incorporated, which is evident in the bench ends, one of which bears the date 1529 the same date as the rood screen. Major restoration work was done in 1871 when the interior was completely refurbished and redecorated.

In 1965 the roof was found to have been severely damaged by death watch beetle and the church closed for a period while the whole roof was renewed in the old barrel-vaulted style. The re-dedication of the church took place on the 10th June 1966. It might be suggested by the dates on the bells that originally there were four bells with two bells added at later dates. The second, third, fifth and tenor are dated 1775, the fourth bell is dated 1872 and the treble 1904. In 1977 the six bells were taken to Whitechapel Foundry in London to be re-tuned and the fourth bell recast, when returned in 1978 they were installed on a steel frame. In 1997 the Upcott Arch was strengthened and in 2001 the top third of the tower was repaired. Outside of the church is an old Celtic cross found at Buddle supporting an out building and moved to its present location beneath the rare fern leaf beech in 1891. The beech tree bears both fern shaped (serrated) and normal beech leaves and is believed to be c 400 years old. Also close to the church is the site of the old ruined rectory which was given by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for the use as a school room, when the school closed, this was and is used as the Church Hall.

Extracts from a letter in 1967 reveal that it is thought that monks from Frithelstock Priory came to plant oak trees on the land they owned at Slew. In those days oak bark was used for tanning leather and the monks made part of their living by selling the bark. The fact that the woods were once owned by the monks is the reason for the little well in the wood being called “Lady well” from “Our Lady’s well”. It is also thought that the monks from Frithelstock Priory oversaw the building of the original or part of the church and lived in the valley at or close to Rexon Cross.

In 1288 the church of Bra’wodwizer was taxed £13 on its first fruits, in the deanery of Tavistock, the highest taxation of the time in the district. The name later appears as Brodewodwidger of the priory of Frithelstock. Broadwood was appropriated by this Priory and paid it annually £10.17s.6d

The church originally a chapel to St Nicholas was described in early years as St Nicholas de la More. The St Nicholas concerned is probably not he who is the patron saint of sailors and travellers, but one of those early monks who took refuge in Devon and Cornwall from the persecution in Ireland of the Christians of the early Celtic church.

The Ivyhouse Mission Hall was built in the hamlet of Westweek in the nineteenth century, as it was part of the civil parish of Lifton for a period of time. However in 1884 it was incorporated into Broadwoodwidger which completely surrounded it. In 1908 according to church magazines, it was part of the Parish church. The Hall was closed in 1937.

In Whites Directory 1850 there were two chapels in the Parish one a Bible Christian and the other Wesleyan. There are still two Chapels, Rexon Cross which dates back to 1860 and was built as a Bible Christian Church and Broadwoodwidger Chapel at Grinnacombe Moor which was built originally in 1844 and rebuilt in 1898. However in the nineteenth century other chapels were built in the Parish, Thorn Cross was built in 1881 as a Baptist Chapel and Downicary Methodist Chapel was thought to have been built in the mid nineteenth century. Thorn Cross and Downicary are both now closed and on the 2nd December 2013 Rexon Cross closed after 153 years of worship.

Compiled by A. Worden (2012)

Roadford Reservoir (Roadford Lake)

Roadford was selected as a site for a Reservoir in July 1975. A public inquiry was held in March and April 1978, when local residents, the District Councils and the National Farmers’ Union were among the objectors. The inquiry was briefly re-opened in September of the same year to hear evidence about seismic activity, but the Inspector was subsequently satisfied that it posed no danger to Roadford. The story took another turn in April 1982 when a third reopening of the public inquiry was ordered - this time into the size of the reservoir. SWW argued its case for the original proposal - a larger reservoir of 8,120 million gallons. After further delays Government approval was given in 1983 but for a smaller reservoir, only two-thirds the size of the original. However the drought of 1984 brought SWW back to ask for the larger reservoir and dam, which was approved by the planning authorities in 1985.

Improvements to the roads around the site began in January 1985 and work on the dam began in early 1987 and took two years to complete. Impounding from the River Wolf began in the autumn of 1989.

Completed in 1990 Roadford holds 8,140 million gallons of water when full, has an area of more than 730 acres (1.9 square miles) and is more than 120 feet deep. The dam also houses hydroelectric turbines to produce electricity.

When excavating a fishing lake at Rexon Cross downstream of Roadford in 2005 trees were found preserved in clay with roots and branches still attached. As a result of SWW having found several similar ones on the excavation of the basin of the Reservoir, it was decided to have one large tree carbon dated and this was found to be 4000 years old. This would suggest that some sort of catastrophic event must have taken place to uproot grown trees in the Wolf Valley and leave them buried all in one direction.

Compiled by A. Worden (2012)