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Rectors, Vicars and Patrons of

St Peter's Church.


The patrons of Ugborough church.

From the origins of the church in England, the rector or vicar of the parish has been appointed by the owner of the living, a right known as the advowson. Before 1121, the advowson was held by the lord of the manor of Ugborough, William de Warelwast. In 1121, he gave it to Plympton Priory, to allow the monks to appoint the rector of Ugborough and for him to collect the revenues of the parish, for his salary.


When Plympton Priory was dissolved in 1539, the right to appoint rectors passed to the Crown, who farmed it out to local gentry families. In the reign of Elizabeth I, the advowson passed to the Champernowne family, with lands based in Modbury. In 1785, the Savary family sold the advowson and a portion of the tithes to the Worshipful Company of Grocers, a Livery Company of London, who have held the patronage of the living ever since.


The Rectors.


Between 1121 and the Reformation of the sixteenth century, most of the rectors were also canons of Exeter Cathedral and most of them were pluralists, that is, they were also rectors, canons and chaplains of other churches as well. These were wealthy men, sons of important local and even national families, influential in the region. The first known rector was Nicholas de Plympton, who was replaced by Hugo de Plympton in 1266. All we know of Nicholas is that he was party to a land transaction with Richard de Baucombe in 1255, so presumably he was rector at that date.


The men who were rectors before 1400 have left little information. William de Kilkenny (rector 1302-1329) was in post during the major rebuilding of the church in the early fourteenth century. He was a Canon of Exeter Cathedral, where his brother was dean until 1302. We know more about Richard Norris, Kilkenny’s successor (rector 1329-1362). He was a Batchelor of Canon and Civil Law with an MA and again, he was a Canon of Exeter Cathedral. He held a dispensation from the papacy in Avignon to hold a prebend in Exeter and the living at Ugborough. He was often absent from Ugborough, for we know he held papal licences of non-residence ‘to study’ throughout the early 1330s and in the 1340s.


From 1400 onwards, we have more details. John Shillingford (rector 1405-6) was only rector for nineteen months, but we know that he was also rector of Rotherfield in the diocese of Chichester, chancellor of that diocese, then Canon of Exeter. He may have been a Devon man, however, for he exchanged Rotherfield for Ugborough and was buried in Widdecombe church next to his mother, in 1406. Richard Palmer (rector 1406-19) was Canon of Exeter. In his will, he left two Processionals (handbooks on processions) to be kept in the church at Ugborough.


The rector who may have been responsible for the rebuilding of the chancel and new roofs in the aisles – including the roof bosses – was William Browning (1422-1454). Browning was born in Ugborough, probably in the 1380s. By 1406 Browning had joined the household of Canon Tittlesbury of Exeter Cathedral, who was also rector of Ermington and the Canon provided for Browning’s university education in his will. Browning attended Oxford University, becoming a bachelor of Canon law. He had an important career in the Church – serving Archbishop Chichele of Canterbury and various functions in the royal administration - before moving back to Exeter diocese around 1430. Browning was a learned man – he owned books, including a manuscript collection now in the British Library. Before 1430, he was perpetual vicar of Modbury and Canon of Bosham in Sussex. In 1431, he resigned from Modbury as he was granted the rectory of Berrynarbour, which he held in addition to Ugborough. Mostly Browning resided in Exeter, where he attended cathedral services assiduously; during Lent, he went out as penitentiary to hear clergy confessions, to the deaneries around his parishes. In his will, Browning gave money to the poor of Ugborough, he left vessels to the church and asked for young scholars – some probably from Ugborough – to attend his funeral. He was buried in Exeter cathedral.


Two more important men who were rectors in the 15th century were William Silke (rector 1486-1508) and Bernard Oldham (rector 1508-15). Like Browning, Silke combined Berrynarbor with Ugborough; he had a living in Tarenton in Cornwall, was Canon of Exeter Cathedral, then Bishop Fox’s vicar general, running the diocese in the bishop’s absence. Silke is buried - next to William Browning - in Exeter Cathedral, with the only effigy tomb for a canon, in the form of a decaying cadaver. Bernard Oldham, a Lancashire man, was the younger brother of Bishop Hugh Oldham who succeeded to the see of Exeter in 1505. Bernard was already Rector of Crewkerne in Somerset and after his appointment to Ugborough went on to become Archdeacon of Cornwall in 1509 and treasurer of Exeter Cathedral in 1515.


We know almost nothing of the vicars of the middle ages – the employees of the rectors who provided services and pastoral care at Ugborough during the rectors’ frequent absences from the parish. Plympton priory appointed a vicar or proxy for Hugo Splott (rector 1274-1302) during his absences and seems to have done this down to c. 1379, charging the rector £8 a year for the vicar’s salary. John Cheyne (rector 1379-1403) seems to have been the first to appoint his own vicar, and one Robert Brouning, clerk, served in this role. John Shillingford had two proxies during his short period of office, Richard Skidmore and Nicholas Fox, poor scholar of Ugborough, who was licenced to hear confessions in Ugborough, Bowcombe and Filham.


The last rector to be appointed by Plympton Priory was Adam Travers (rector 1517-55). The tower may have been constructed during his time. In 1539, Plympton Priory was dissolved by the commissioners of Henry VIII and the right to appoint the rector passed to the Crown. Travers was confirmed in post until his death, with the right to the parsonage house, garden, orchard, 100 acres of land and £20 payment per annum. 


Tudor and Stuart vicars.

The first post-Reformation priest appointed was John Carel (vicar 1555?-71) who was succeeded by Humphrey Elie (vicar 1571-77/78) who was ordained priest at Exeter in 1564. The men who served as rectors into the seventeenth century seem to have been local men, ordained in and around south Devon and Exeter. Thomas Parre (vicar 1593-1600) was ordained at Ugborough on the same day he received the vicariate; he left the parish to become rector at Lawhitton in Cornwall, schoolmaster at Launceston, then rector and schoolmaster at Coryton, Devon, where he died in 1622.


The incomes of priest at Ugborough declined from the reign of Elizabeth I, reflected in the appointment of men of middling sort rather than the grand men of the later middle ages. Peter Kayes (vicar 1601-29) had the vicarage, garden, orchard and £20 per annum We know that in 1623 he grew barley and apples in his orchard which were worth £10; he was also described as old and poor-sighed and obliged to contribute £4 per annum to employ a curate to take services and preach. The parish had to pay the rest of the curate’s salary as Kayes was described as ‘poor, with a wife and five children’.


The troubles of the reign of Charles I and the Civil Wars touched Ugborough. The vicars were of Puritan sympathies. Francis Barnard (vicar 1629-53) was born in Totnes and held a university degree. He was brought before the High Commissioners in 1633-36 for professing Puritanism and resisting Archbishop William Laud’s policies. Nathan Jacob (vicar 1653-60) signed the Articles of the Association of an Exeter meeting of Presbyterian ministers 1656 and in 1662, he refused to take the oath of the Act of Uniformity to the re-established Church of England, so he was deprived of his living. He continued to be employed in the parish as a curate for two years, then he went to be a minister in Plymouth where he died in 1690.


We know little about the vicars of Ugborough from the mid-seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth century. Most were still local men. Most held B.A.s from Oxford University. An exception was Francis Hodder (vicar 1677-1730). In 1692, the patron of the church at South Pool tried to appoint him to that living as well, but Bishop Trelawny refused the nomination on the grounds that Hodder was insufficiently learned in Latin and Greek. The case went to the Lords on appeal, where it was proved that Hodder had forged his priest’s letters, although he was properly ordained subsequently.


Nineteenth and twentieth century vicars.


The vicars of the nineteenth century were active restorers of Ugborough Church and some were innovators in styles of worship. John May (vicar 1845-69) was responsible for a major refurbishment of the church in a gothic style and the installation of a new font. William Windle (1889 – 1922) was ordained in 1884 and became vicar at Ugborough in 1889, having previously been a curate at St James, Picadilly. He resigned in 1922 because of poor health. In the 20th century, we start to see a new pattern of appointment, where men ministered in Ugborough for some years, then moved to other posts. These men were sometimes career churchmen, sometimes they had other careers first.


In 2001, the first woman vicar was appointed to Ugborough, Nicola Hunt. In 2009, Ugborough joined six other parishes in the Three Rivers Mission Community, administered by a team of priests. The costs of ministry and the smaller size of congregations makes the pooling of resources necessary in the present age. John Ough was the first team leader of the combined benefice, assisted by Caroline Luff, resident in Harberton, and Harry Jevons, resident in Ugborough. This joint benefice will continue, with the role of the laity in ministry increasing, assisting the professional priests. In October 2015, David Sayle will become priest-in-charge.



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