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Umberleigh Chapel .


(Read at Barnstaple, 23rd June, 1938.)

The ancient chapel of the Holy Trinity, Umberleigh, has entirely disappeared, and few are aware of its extremely early and interesting history. The manor is usually called Womber­leigh in the older records but the compilers of Domesday Book latinized it into the more harmonious Umberleia, which gave Risdon the opportunity of saying the name was derived from the umbrageous woods surrounding it. This large manor originally extended over the whole of Atherington, and part. of High Bickington. Tradition records that its first owner was King Athelstan: Risdon tells us : In the last days of King Athelstan all thjs circuit now called the Leet of Womberly was timbered with tall trees overshadowing the pastures, where he had a palace, and built a chapel dedicated to the honour of the Holy Trinity, which served him and his family and the assembly that then was. But when the country was more inhabited he founded two churches, Bickington and Atherington, which he endowed with two hides of land, that remain the possession of the pastors to this day. .

These churches. being on the hills some distance from Umberleigh, the village population settled near them, and eventually Umberleigh lost its independent dignity, and became part of the parish of Atherington, as it is at the present day.

Just before the Conquest all this property was held by Brictic Meau, Thane of Gloucester, whose tragic story has to be told so frequently in the history of Devonshire parishes, and need not be repeated here. - The Conqueror. bestowed Umberleigh upon the Abbess of the Holy TrInIty, Caen Mr O. J. Reichel suggests that the Abbess had here a rural oratory with the .same dedication as her convent, and includes Umberleigh among the Domesday churches of Devon.

The Abbess and her nuns are the first "Ladies of Umber­berleigh"- associated with this manor, which in the course of its history has had so many feminine possessors. It is improbable any of them ever saw the place, and they must subsequently have parted with it, perhaps in exchange for property more conveniently situated. In 1176 Bishop"Bartholemew Iscanus confirmed to Tewkesbury Abbey the church of Wimberleigh which Roger de Winkleigh held on behalf of the monks for 20S. This con­firmation may have been the result of some dispute between the monks of Tewkesbury and Gilbert de Solerys, whose father Hercules de Solerys died in 1171 lord of the manor of Umberleigh. Gilbert married Hawisia de Redvers, and had issue Mabil wife of Jordan de Carnpo-Arnulphi or Champer­noun. Their son Sir William Champernoun left as his heiress, Joan Champernoun who married Sir Ralph Wyllyngton, a gentleman of a Gloucestershire family.

The Lady Joan Champernoun (as she styled herself) was at any rate in her own opinion, a personage of great import­ance. She refused to relinquish her maiden name, and made her sons assume the arms of Champernoun. Her really important work as regards the history of Umberleigh was the: refounding, or rebuilding of the ancient chapel of Holy Trinity, which Risdon says 'lay long neglected until the Lady Joan Champernoun allowed lands for the maintenance of a chaplain.' . The Latin deed of foundation (given by Risdon) may be. thus rendered :- 'I Joan de Campo-Arnulphi in my widowhood inspired by divine charity, for the salvation of my soul and the soul of William my father and Eva my mother and Sir Ralph de Wyllyngton lately my husband, and of our children, have granted my whole estate of Wiara for the maintenance of a chaplain of our own presentation to celebrate divine service in our chapel at Umberleigh.'

Risdon writes that this document is without date, but' it is possible to give an approximate date for the foundation. Lady Joan was then a widow; she presented a rector to High Bickington in 1277. In the Register of Bishop Stapeldon (I308-1326) there is a mention of Richard de la Bere as

annularius in the chapel of Womberleigh; it would not be erroneous to assume that he was the first chaplain. In 1314 Lady Joan occurs as patron of Huntshaw_ On August 14 th of the same year Sir John Wyllyngton her son was patron of High Bickington; his mother must have died some time;, previously to that date. This Sir John Wyllyngton was granted license for divine service in his oratory, at Umberleigh 12th October, .'1331.' (Grandisson's .Register; Vo!. 11, p. 634.) In the mIddle of the 14th century the manor of Umberleigh was held by another strong-minded lady, Isabella relict of Sir Henry de 'Wyllyngton, 'grandson of Joan Champernoun. Unfortunately the pedigrees do not record her maiden name. A certain, Sir John Stowford presented to the rectory of High Bickington in 1347; Dame Isabella disputed his right of patronage, carried her suit into the Bishop's Court, and won her cause. In 1350 she appointed the rector, and in 1361 she was again patron of the living. In the record of the institution she is mentioned as the relict of Henry de Wyllyngton.

At the end of the 14th century Umberleigh again passed into feminine hands; Isabella de Wyllyngton inheriting the property as the heiress of her brothers John and Ralph, both of whom died childless. In 1375 Sir John de Wyllyngton had presented to the rectory of Atherington; from 1393 to 1422 rectors were appointed by the King, because he had the custody of the manor of Womberleghe and all the lands of John Wyllyngton, which, owing to minority, are in the hands of the king.'

Isabella, a minor at her brothers' death, married Sir William Beaumont of Youlston, and Umberleigh became the property of the Beaumonts. Their tenure of the manor did not last very long. Thomas, son of William and Isabella, married Philippa, daughter of Sir John Dynham, and left an heiress, Johanna Beaumont, who married John Basset of Whitechapel in the parish of Bishop's Nyrnpton, Devon, and Tehidy, Cornwall.

By this marriage the manors of Sherwell, Heanton Punchardon, and Umberleigh passed into the possession of the Bassets. Nearly two hundred years had elapsed since the foundation of Lady Joan Champernoun's chapel when the property came into the hands of the Bassets; but during all this time, and the passing of successive generations, the chapel had been duly maintained in accordance with the original desires of the foundress. The chapel had rights of sepulture, and three tombs with recumbent effigies commemorated forImer posses­sors of Umberleigh.

One of these was a cross-legged figure with the chain armour and flat helmet of the 13th century; possibly a representation of Sir Ralph Wyllyngton, husband of J oan Champernoun, who is specially mentioned in the deed of foundation as one of the persons to be commemorated in the chapel. The two other figures rest side by side; the knight's armour is richly decorated, and across his breast he bears the saltire vaire of the Champernouns which was adopted by the Wyllyngtons. The style of armour and the lady's costume are of the 14th century. These two most probably represent Sir Henry de Wyllyngton who died before 1437, and Dame Isabella, the last Wyllyngtons of importance who held the manor of Umberleigh.

Between the years 1422-1448 Sir William Poltone knight was residing at Umberleigh. He was probably a tenant of the Beaumonts, who also granted him rights of patronage, for he presented to Atherington in 1422. He also maintained resident chaplains at Umberleigh. These were instituted by. Bishop Lacy to the Perpetual Chantry in the chapel on the manor at Umberleigh, according to the form of the foundation and ordination of the aforesaid Chantry.' .

They were;- William Hele, on whose death

  • 1429 Dec. I5 Thomas Marys resigned
  • 1435 Jan. 12 Thomas Coombe resigned
  • 1439 Oct. 25 William Stephyn resigned
  • 1448 June 27 John Braas

The resignations may indicate that they obtained higher preferment. .

During the residence of Sir \Villiam Paltone a marriage took place in Umberleigh chapel. A license, dated 7th September, 1447, was granted by Bishop Lacy for the marriage of Thomas Grenville and Anne, daughter of Sir Philip Courtenay, in the chapel at Umberleigh. No reason for this choice of locality seems forthcoming. Anne died childless, and Thomas Granvjlle married secondlv Elizabeth daughter of Sir Theobald Gorges. He was the grandfather of Honora Granville, second wife of Sir John Basset, and, John Basset, grandson of John Basset of Whitechapel and Johanna Beaumont, made his home at Umberleigh. He was knighted in 1502 on the occasion of the marriage of Prince Arthur and Katharine of Aragon, Sir Thomas Grenville of Bideford being honoured at the same time. John Basset's first wife was Anne daughter of John Denys of Orleigh, who died leaving him with four daughters. He married again about 1516, Honora, fifth daughter of Sir Thomas Granville, whose stately tomb with its recumbent effigy still remains in Bideford church. He was a friend of Sir John Basset whom he appointed one of the trustees for land given to Richard his second son. In his will, dated 1512, he expressed his wish that Roger, his heir, should marry his sister Honor. This sounds startling in modern ears. It really signifies his wish that Roger should make a good match for his sister.

Roger found her a husband in his father's friend, Sir John Basset, an elderly widower with four daughters, who died in 1529 leaving her a widow with the care of eleven children, seven of her own, and the four step-daughters. A year or two later she was married again to Sir Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, who in 1533 was appointed by Henry VIII Deputy Governor of Calais. Of all the ladies associated with Umberleigh Honora Lady afterwards Lady Lisle Lisle is the most interesting. She emerges a vivid living personality from the dry-as-dust pages of the Lisle letters. printed in the State Papers, Domestic, of Henry VIII, letters which besides affording information about her life as an important lady at Calais, give many details concerning the­ manor of IJmberleigh and the chapel there.

Umberleigh had been assigned to Honora as her jointure after the death of Sir John Basset, and, although she had married again, the property remained in her hands. Frequent" letters were sent informing her about the management of affairs there, from the steward, John Davy. Domestic matters were supervised by Sir John Bonde, priest, the chaplain, sometimes called the vicar, a harassed and perplexed man, judging by his letters, who declared he was unable to sleep for anxiety, and troubled, as he well might be, from losing the sight of one eye. Also a constant state of friction prevailed between him and Mistress J ane Basset, Honora's. eldest unmarried step-daughter, who, when Lady Lisle "rent to Calais, returned with her sister Thomasine to Umberleigh. Lady Lisle evidently entrusted some of the family business to Jane Basset; she and Sir John Bonde each considered they should have the sole management of affairs. The chaplain did not like to be reminded of his duties. Lady Lisle wrote- to enquire about the "year's mind," the annual commemoration of Sir John Basset's death. She was told, rather peevishly, that it had been kept " before your­ letter came, as it hath been in times past." The obit was observed on the Tuesday before the Purification of Our Lady (2nd February), Sir John having died 31st January, 1528-29.

The chapel was getting dilapidated, and there was an intimation that "the repairs of your chapel will be a great charge". Another letter concludes :-" remember the lamp at Womberly," probably indicating that the payments for the oil were in arrears. On her part Jane Basset wrote :-"send me word of your pleasure as to the lamp in your chapel, he never burneth never day in the weke, and scant on holy days unless I do light him myself." Jane appears to have looked about for another chaplain who would be more amenable to her demands. On 12th March, 1535, she wrote :"Your chapel standeth unserved saving the vicar causeth one mass a week there­to be said which is of his devotion. [his duty.] But there is an honest priest hath guaranteed to serve there for 40/- by the year because he will be quiet to serve God, and he will. mend your bedding and other stuff as is needful, if it shall so please you to take him. A middle-aged man. I have stayed him until the time I must know your mind in it.". John Bond was not so easily to be got rid of, although he expressed a wish to resign as his sight was failing. In 1536 he seems to have received some complaints from Lady Lisle; on 10th January he wrote :-" I am sorry your Ladyship is somewhat moved about my lying in your parlour. I lie sometimes in one chamber sometimes in another and move my bed every six weeks." He may have felt it advisable to keep the rooms aired, we can imagine complaints being made that he slept all over the house. In the Valor Ecclesiasticus of Bishop Veysey, 3rd November, 1536, his name occurs as chaplain :-" Cantaria de Umberleigh infra parochia de Adryngton J ohannis Bonde." One more letter from him is preserved dated 26th November, 1538. It is in a more cheerful tone but short, only referring to the game and the fishing at Umberleigh; there is no mention of the chapel; he promised to send rents and profits to Calais where he hoped to visit Lady Lisle after Christmas. That visit was never paid. John Davy the steward wrote to Lady Lisle 25th January, 1539 :_"Sir John Bonde hath not been out of his chamber since All Hallows Day. He knows no man by sight. Your Ladyship wrote to him that he should continue the next half year. I desire to know if Mrs. Jane should have the sight (supervision) of your stuff for Sir John will not deliver it without your letters." Thus the old chaplain drops out of the story of Umberleigh Chapel, and he and Jane Basset were at war up to the end.

He was not the last chaplain; Richard May was appointed in August 1547, just before the suppression of the chantry. Umberleigh chapel was suppressed under the Chantries Act of Edward VI ; it is recorded in the Chantry Rolls as :­ Adryngton. The Chantry there called Umberleghe founded by Johan de Campo-Arnulphi. To fynde a pryste to pray for her sowle and the sowle of Lord William de Campo-­Arnulphi her father, with the sowle of her mother and Rafe Welyngtone her husband, in a chapell distant from the church of Adryngton half a myle, fynding a lampe yerely with 20s to be continually burning in the said chapell. The yerelye value of the landes and possessions vjl xixs." The" lands and possessions" were seized by the King's commissioners, and the light went out of Lady Joan's lamp, never to be re-kindled.

Risdon describes the chapel as he saw it at the end of the 16th century :-"In Trinity chapel, which still stands, many of the Wyllyngton's were interred, this being their principal dwelling, where they had fair sepulchres, on whose tombs some of their proportions were curiously cut. Now only two of them remain, upon one of which is the effigies of a knight and his lady adorned with their armories and other noble families their allies richly gilded, which did not long since appear. On the other was a proportion completely armed, lying cross-legged after the manner of such as in elder ages went to war in the holy land, but none of them have any inscription to testify who they were.'

Dean Milles, in his parochial collections, gives a very detailed account of the chapel in the 18th century; the house was then also standing :­" Near the house is an old chapel kept in repair but long since used as such. It is 22 paces long and 8 broad. It is lighted with lancet windows which shows it to be of consider­able antiquity. The roof is vaulted but not ceiled, nor does the door appear very ancient. Near the entrance to the chapel on the south side is the statue of a crossed-legged knight, raised a little above the ground. Towards the north­east corner, on a raised tomb, the figure of a man in armour with a shield, his feet resting on a lion, the figure of his wife lies on the inside. The front of the tomb adorned with niches, on each a shield which has had arms painted on it. Under the south wall the figure of a knight cross-legged with a loose vest over a suit of chain armour, his left arm bearing a long painted shield; it appears to me more ancient because the stone is broader .at the head than the foot.'

In 1800 the chapel was finally dismantled, and, considering the period we may be very thankful that the ancient tombs were sufficiently venerated to be taken to the parish church. Only three effigies were preserved, the knight and his lady and one-crossed-legged figure. Was the other lost, or broken? The manor house was also demolished, and the chapel turned into cottages. Kelly's Directory for 1893 states that of an old chapel formerly at Umberleigh only small portions of a wall and an ancient window then remained. At the present day, as far as I am aware, nothing exists to show even the site of a locality 'Once peopled with those whose characters and actions imagination can re-awaken into vivid and stirring life.


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