St Nicholas, Combe Raleigh
There will be NO SERVICES at Combe Raleigh Church
until further notice.
St Nicholas’ Church is very much the centrepiece of Combe Raleigh, the 1926 Village Hall being the only other communal building, and serves a population of a little under two hundred in a parish that covers about 1750 acres lying north of Honiton on the other side of the River Otter.
Approached via a 1909 lychgate the church is built from a mixture of local materials and comprises a C14th bell tower, C15th chancel, nave and wide north aisle. In common with many neighbouring churches the nave and aisle have typical Devon wagon roofs.
Despite no trace remaining there may well have been an earlier place of worship on the site since the list of Rectors dates from 1260. During a storm in 2009 a carved stone head was revealed inside the nave wall, which it is believed could be either late Saxon or early Norman in origin, thus adding credence to the theory of an earlier church building.
Until the 1780s the nave and north aisle probably had a thatched roof, records from that date showing that ‘14,700 slates were bought and a great deal of work was done’. Substantial alteration and restoration took place during the C19th when a vestry was built, a musicians’ gallery removed, and new pitch pine pews installed to provide seating for about a hundred.
A number of interesting and unusual features still remain. These include the tower turret which is attached in what is described as a ‘bold’ manner and the C14th oak door at the foot of the tower stairs which still has the original lock and key. The south door, also of oak, is extremely old and unique in design, being formed of two leaves that are hinged in the middle. The font and piscina are both C15th.
Although the clock on the east face of the tower is thought to be from around 1870, church records show it has been wound since at least 1837, indicating that it could be a replacement for one earlier in origin. The organ dates from 1886, an electric blower being added in 1973. A faculty in 1937 allowed for the installation of electric light at a cost of £30:9s:8d. The stained glass windows are mainly mid-C19th, apart from the beautiful window by the font which was commissioned by the village to mark the millennium.
There are a number of interesting memorials in the church, including several to members of families who were Lords of the Manor: the Bonville and Denys families who founded the Chantry, and the Bernard family who bought the Manor in 1792.
Mindful of modern expectations a composting toilet was built in 2016 and mains water will be piped into the tower during 2020.
Until 2018 the tower housed three bells, the oldest dating from c1430. In 2011 an ambitious project was proposed to restore the bells, augment them to a peal of six and construct a mezzanine ringing chamber in the tower. After a vigorous fund-raising campaign which realised £110,000 the bells and new ringing chamber were dedicated by the Bishop of Exeter in October 2017.
Within the old churchyard a yew tree, estimated to be between 900 and 1000 years old, is a significant feature. In 1956 a field bounding the north side of the church was purchased as an extension to the burial ground. It is still open. The whole of the churchyard is grassed and in the early part of the year snowdrops and primroses carpet the ground to the delight of villagers and visitors alike.