In the early 1900s there was a tradition of walking up and down the street on a Sunday meeting and greeting people before the church or chapel service. Services alternated so people could attend both and the animosity between church and chapel prevalent elsewhere does not seem to have predominated here.
In the 1700s there were reputedly about 200 ‘Friends’ living in Sticklepath. Visited by the Wesleys on several occasions (documented in Wesley’s diary) it had a strong Methodist tradition from the late 1700s, commemorated in the ‘White Rock’ and flag pole on the Mount looking down over the village. The Wesleyan Chapel, awaiting renovation as a private residence in 2021, and the ‘Quaker burying ground’ (non-denominational since about 1820) remind us of this religious heritage.
During the main timescale of this project 1770-1970 there were two main places of worship for the village – St Mary’s Chantry Chapel, known as ‘The Church’ and the Wesleyan Chapel.
St Mary’s was historically in Sampford Courtenay Parish, but after considerable to-ing and fro-ing was united ecclesiastically with Belstone in 1929, to be served by the Rector of Belstone. Historical research inevitably involves some controversy and investigation. For accuracy some of the contradictory ‘facts’ are spelled out here.
In 1147 Patent Rolls record that Robert Fitzroy, illegitimate son of Henry I and his wife Matilda d’Avranches, conveyed lands to Bricius the chaplain of my Lady the Empress for building the church of St Mary in Sticklepath in Robert’s Manor of Sampford. ‘My Lady the Empress’ was another Matilda, known as Queen Maud who contended unsuccessfully with her cousin Stephen of Blois for the crown of England. When Queen Maud had to flee the country, her chaplain needed a remote safe place to lay low – certainly a change from the turmoil and intrigues inherent in court life.
The Courtenay family came over from France with Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen to Henry II, in 1152. The Courtenay association with the Parish and village started about 1242 when Sir Roger Courtenay married Hawise, heiress to the great Barony of Okehampton. In 1282 the ‘Episcopal Records of the See of Exeter’, Sir Hugh Courtenay, presented Robert de Esse of Okehampton as priest to the “Perpetua Cantaria Beate Marie de Stikelpethe”. The Courtenays continued as Patrons, appointing chaplains to say prayers for the souls of their family for a great many years, about 20 chaplains. (In 1372 the Chantry was taken under the wing of Gilbert, Rector of Throwleigh, but most of the Courtenay appointees are likely to have been resident.)
The next Sir Hugh, his son provided ‘a messuage and one caracate of land’, an endowment for two chaplains to celebrate service daily. Perhaps Sticklepath became an important religious centre for the community? Though of course a chaplain influenced his flock, and bolstered support for the powerful person who appointed him…
(Wikipedia defines a carucate as the amount of land tillable by a team of eight oxen in a ploughing season. This was equal to 8 oxgangs or 4 virgates.)
The Chantry lands have been the subject of some debate. It may be that maps available in 2021 can assist in clarifying. Note: Information in this section has been gathered from a range of secondary sources which appear well researched but clearly viewing the original sources would be preferable.
The fortunes of the Courtenay family varied. As staunch Lancastrians during the War of the Roses, after their defeat at the battle of Towton in 1461, the Courtenay lands were forfeit. When the cause finally triumphed again Edward Courtenay was knighted by Henry VII on Bosworth Field and his estates, including the advowson of Sticklepath and Barony of Okehampton were restored.
In 1536 Sticklepath came under William Discourt or Dyscombe of Belstone. However his tenure was stormy. Henry, the last Courtenay patron, was executed by Henry VIII in 1539. The monarch then granted the advowson to his new Queen Catherine Howard. Having executed her, he passed the crown of England along with the Advowson of Sticklepath to Queen Katherine Parr.
Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries had begun in 1536. By 1549 the ban of the dissolution reached Sticklepath Chantry. This was only temporary however as the Chantry Rolls of Edward VI mention finding a priest to ‘mynystre in the Chauntrye’.
On Saxton’s map of Devon, published 1575, Sticklepath is marked only by four green bushes and two brown moleheaps – representing the Dartmoor hills. In 1620 Risdon, a historian, writes “Sticklepath in which some time there was a Chantry”. What had happened? It seems likely that it had been hidden by farm buildings, perhaps fallen into disrepair. However, services were again being held when Oliver Cromwell ordered his survey in 1649. Under Sampford Courtenay it recommends Sticklepath:
“ be united to the parish of Belstone as before.”
Lysons writing in 1822 remarks that services were only held twice a year when the Rector of Sampford offered the Sacrament, on the Sundays after Michaelmas and Easter. The Pearses also noted that only a single service was taking place, after which the Vicar dined with the farmers at the Inn and collected his tithes.
(Sampford Courtenay Parish records 1653 – 1910, 1004 files including registers, churchwardens and vestry, overseers surveyors and constables records, held by Devon Archives and Local Studies Service,South West Heritage Trust should be checked for further confirmation and information).
White’s Directory 1850 tells us that the early ‘Chapel of Ease’ burnt down and was rebuilt in 1875, at a cost of £700. The Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould did not appreciate the change. In his Book of Dartmoor he writes:
“At Sticklepath was a curious old cob thatched chapel, but this was un-necessarily destroyed, and a modern erection of no interest or beauty has takeouts place”
Elsewhere he wrote “Here was a very early and unique cob chapel, thatched, but it has been pulled down and an insipid and unattractive modern structure substituted”. Time has perhaps mellowed our criticism of its looks.
The memories of some of the oldest Sticklepath inhabitants in 1955, recalled their parents talking of the Church fire, but did not have any reason to suspect there was any malicious intent.
The new church was funded by subscriptions and the generosity of John Cook, farmer, butcher and licensee of the Cornish Inn. The change included demolition of the pig styes and ugly sheds which had hemmed in the Chantry, and a pleasant garden instituted which included at one time one of the 1953 WI Coronation trees, until the road widening.
The recommendation of Oliver Cromwell almost 3 centuries earlier was finally put in place in 1929 – Belstone’s rectors once again became responsible and from 1949 two services as well as a Sunday School Class were being held.
The WI 1955 booklet “The Story of Sticklepath” wryly notes that when Sampford Courtenay was only able to provide one service on a Sunday many Sticklepath folk went to South Tawton – the only neighbouring Parish with which it had never had official ties. That changed in 1982 when the livings of Belstone and South Tawton were merged.
Loss of the village priest in 1549, must have left quite a religious void, perhaps contributing to the Prayer book revolt. People must have been quite uncertain or perhaps in strongly opinionated groups. It is not until almost 100 years later that George Fox began what became the Quakers or Society of Friends in Lancashire. The movement spread quickly despite strong opposition. George Fox organised quarterly and more local meetings in 1660s and 1670s. He travelled widely and was in fact imprisoned in Launceston Castle for over a year. Many other Quakers, especially from Okehampton and North Tawton, were in Exeter Bridewell at the same time. It has been suggested that quite a number of Quakers travelled regularly between the two areas, and to do so they would have passed through Sticklepath. Whatever the reason, it is suggested that 200 Quakers lived in Sticklepath in the early 18th century, a huge proportion of the village population. The Sticklepath Quakers were said to meet in North Tawton, a 7 mile walk or horse ride. It has also been suggested that some of the Sticklepath Quakers travelled with William Penn, helping colonise Pennsylvania.
It is hoped that perhaps after some time, not an initial aim, that I will be able to look into this further.
What we do know is that by 1713 the Sticklepath Friends had established a burying ground which remained in their use for over a century, before it was purchased by Thomas Pearse for use by the village.
Mr Thomas Pearse, the sergemaker of Skaigh or Cleave Mill paid £14 for the ground. No volunteers were forthcoming so he had to appoint 8 of his relations as trustees, with himself as treasurer. The ground was now for the use of the villagers and so became non-denominational. Mr Pearse performed many burials in the village and was himself buried in the graveyard in 1875 aged 81 years. It continues to be managed by a village committee.
John Wesley’s journals note 5 visits to Sticklepath, punctuating his visits to Cornwall, starting in 1743. Initially these are very positive, a Quaker man recognised him and welcomed him to his home. Wesley preached here on several occasions. Later however theological differences caused some difficulties and Wesley avoided Sticklepath. However, a strong Wesleyan movement resulted, initially meeting in each others houses with the chapel being built 1816. It is unusual in having a decorated belfry and gothic windows. The ancient cross on the roof is of unknown origin. For some time Sticklepath was actually head of the circuit. At least 7 ministers were bred in Sticklepath. Influence of the non-conformist attitudes will be interesting to explore.
See also: Some Reminiscences Respecting Methodism in the Okehampton Circuit 1743 to 1861 by Thomas Pearse