A Short History of Christow
Words by Graham Thompson
Christow lies in the Teign Valley in Devon. The Valley starts at the end of the Teign Gorge near Drewsteignton and ends where the river joins the flood plain near Chudleigh Knighton. The terrain is hilly. Agriculture has been the mainstay of life in the Teign Valley since about 3500 BCE with evidence of hut circles still visible on Christow Commons. There was a small amount of mining in the early nineteenth century but a boom took place with an increase in population from the 1820s with an influx of miners. In the 1880s this boom was over and the population dropped dramatically. This may have coincided with the realisation by the Valley inhabitants that earnings were higher in the local market towns and possibly as a result of the nation-wide slump in agricultural economics which had affected other parts of the Country in the 1870s. Today the population of the parish is estimated at around 850 with 650 living in the village itself.
The early history of the Manors of Christow
The Manors of Christow and Canonteign, in the east of the parish, are always grouped together as one. Christow was not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 although all the surrounding villages have a mention. This suggests it was a very small development. By contrast, Canonteign was quite significant. There were 21 families comprising 16 villagers and 5 slaves. In 1066 the lord was Edric but by 1086 he had been ousted by Geoffrey of Trelly. The Tenant in chief was Bishop Geoffrey of Coutances, in Normandy. After the bishop’s death in 1093 the Manor passed to the de la Pomeroy family, remembered now in Pomeroy Castle. In about 1125 Jocelin de la Pomeroy handed the Manor which he had resurrected to the Augustinian Abbey du Val near Bayeux. Later the Manor was assigned to Merton Priory.
At the Dissolution of the monasteries (1536-1541), King Henry VIII granted Canonteign to Lord Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford who sold it to John Berry who was later executed after the Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549. As a result the estate passed to William Gibbs and later to the Gibbon family. In Christow Parish Church there is a memorial to Elizabeth Gibbon who died in 1660. The Manor then passed by marriage to the Davie family who owned it till they encountered financial problems and the Manor passed to the Hellyer family who held it till 1811 when Edward, 1st Viscount Exmouth bought it from the proceeds of his prize money from his escapades in the Royal Navy. By this time he was a Vice Admiral and Commander in Chief, Mediterranean.
Whilst away his wife bought Canonteign Estate in 1811. This was not particularly profitable (in 1873 the average yield for Devon was £1.90 per acre whereas the Canonteign Estate (2864 acres) earned just £0.96 per acre). Again in 1873 the estate consisted of 2864 acres.) In 1811 rents were falling, mining was declining but there were Snipe, Woodcock & Salmon. He had no intention of living at Canonteign Manor. He appears to have tried it but grew bored with watching the wheat grow! Edward later built Canonteign House for his son, Pownoll and the Manor House was occupied by a local farmer, William Beard, in 1841.
The Manor House fell into disrepair but was renovated by Maria, Lady Exmouth after which the family moved away, Since then it has had a number of owners and is again for sale (2018).
Canonteign House is now a private residence but Canonteign Estate Ltd. has some of the grounds where it has a tourist attraction, the Canonteign Falls with café and shop.
Christow Manor was originally in the hands of the Abbey du Bec, a Benedictine Abbey, again in Normandy. It passed to Tavistock Abbey in 1451. It is probable that both the manors were combined when sold to the Russell family. Its history thereafter is combined with that of Canonteign. The Abbey sub-let it to Cowick Priory in Exeter. Possible indications of the Manor’s connections lie in the name, Priory Lane. Southwood Farm, off Foxhole Hill (& just off the village map) was once called Pope’s House. This may have been because a Mr Pope owned it or may have indicated its Roman Catholic connections.
The Parish Church of St James was originally dedicated to St Christina which explains the name of the village: originally Christenstowe it has gradually contracted to today’s name. Christina’s origins are hidden in the mists of time but she may have been from 3rd century Bolsena, Italy. She is said to have defied her father who wanted her to be a pagan priestess. She underwent many tortures involving being burnt but refused to renounce her faith. Eventually she was executed. It is not known when the dedication was changed to St James.
The building has a 12th century font but most of the building is from the 15th century there may have been an older Saxon church on the same site. On the threshold of the main door is a memorial stone that tells of the death of the parish clerk who was said to have refused to hand over the church keys to the Roundheads in the Civil War:
‘Nathaniel Bussell 46 years clark here dyed 19th February, 1631.’
The date is either wrong or has nothing to do with the Civil War which lasted from 1642-51. Across the road and between Church Lane and Butts Lane was a large field called Churchland but this has been completely built on now.
A Baptist church was situated just off the top of Dry Lane opened in 1856(Pevesner) but closed in 2004. There are no early records.
A Wesleyan Methodist church building opened in 1861. It is likely that it was active before then and that the building was built on land gifted by the farm opposite – Hill Farm. It may have been started originally by the Cornish miners who had flooded into the valley in the 1840s. It also joined the Rechabite movement dedicated to abstinence from alcohol.
There is a surprisingly large number of listed buildings in Christow & this may be due to the enthusiasm of Jim Short who lived at the time at Hill. He apparently went round the village assessing buildings which would be suitable for listing. It is a testament to the building skills of workmen in the distant past that their buildings have lasted so long. All buildings were modified as years passed to keep up with what were then modern trends & practices so there are lots of older buildings which cannot be altered. Where the modification has taken place in the distant past these are accepted. The result is that all the buildings listed in the village will have features of different centuries.
Listing can produce controversial results. If a feature wears out should it be replaced, which could result in modern pastiche, or restored exactly as it was using expensive techniques? If an inappropriate repair was originally carried out before listing should the exact repair be maintained or would a repair more in keeping with the age of the house be better bearing in mind that all these houses have been modified constantly through the ages? For example, there is an old wooden window frame in my house which was repaired using a metal angle plate but I am not allowed to replace it. The modern view is that we should all be trying to save energy but double glazing is not allowed in listed buildings unless of the secondary & less efficient type. If a window has to be replaced because it is beyond repair would it be acceptable to replace it with a purpose-built double glazed unit of the same basic appearance? There needs to be more discussion on this & similar points although I suspect the two opinions will never be entirely reconciled. I believe that if evidence of a previous design feature can be produced the planning authority may look more kindly on proposed restitution.
On a separate page I have shown an abridged version of the National Heritage List for England.
The parish land is now largely pastoral with with a mix of beef and sheep farming. In the 19th century the main landowners were the Pellew and the Palk families and the land was worked by tenant farmers. Many of the historic farms and farm buildings have been converted to private dwellings, (for example, Pitt Farm, Newhouse Farm, Waterwell and Pale Farm) and the land bought by neighbouring farmers or built on.
Originally transport relied for heavy goods on oxen or men dragging a toboggan. Later came the horse and cart and then tractors in the 20th century, a move thought by older farmers to be disastrous. The Teign Valley Road was originally a toll road and was probably built around 1830. Prior to that the main access was via the road from Canonteign past Hill and Bennah descending down Butt Lane and up Dry Lane to Bridford.
A railway along the Valley was opened in 1882 with terminuses at Heathfield (Newton Abbot) and later at Exeter. There was such prolonged discussion on the exact route that, when it opened, the chief raison d’etre, to transport ore from the mines along the Valley had disappeared although some ore from the barytes mine ( Wheal Augusta) continued to be moved. It was used by people visiting or working in Exeter and Newton Abbot and as a more convenient way of moving farm stock to market. There was a small livestock market at The Teign House Inn. The railway struggled to be a success and closed to passenger traffic in 1958 and freight in 1968.
In the 20th Century several quarries sprung up along the valley, the largest of which was at Trusham. The main product was Blue Elvan. At Scatter Rock mixed metamorphic rock was mined. Some of the rock is so hard that it was useful in providing the base of roads. The sites of other smaller ones are still visible.
The village continues its agricultural tradition but also includes people who commute to neighbouring towns, work from home thanks to recently installed high speed broadband or who have retired but who contribute greatly to the large number of voluntary organisations. The small-scale industrial units at Gidley’s Meadow include food and beer manufacturers, wooden shed and greenhouse manufacturers, a construction and maintenance firm and a pet crematorium. Within the village the main businesses are The Artichoke Inn, Christow Stores (which took over the Post Office in 2016) and a taxi service.
Teign Valley Tales is a book of recordings of villagers’ memories of life in the village in the 20th century & is available at Christow Stores
This is just a selection of the vast collection of books relating to Devon and local history
Brooks, T. Great Rock, Devon’s Last ‘Metal‘ Mine, Cornish Hillside Publications,2004 Burt, R. Devon and Somerset Mines, University of Exeter Press, 1984 Burt, R. Mining in Devon and Cornwall, Mines and Men, University of Exeter Press, 2014 Coward, B. Social Change and Continuity: England 1550-1750, Seminar Studies in History, Rev. Ed, Longmans 1997 Dibb, M, Dartmoor Into the Wilderness,The History Press, 2011 Englander, D., Poverty and Poor Law Reform in 19th Century Britain,1834-1914, Seminar Studies in History, Longmans, 1998 Fox, H. Dartmoor’s Alluring Uplands, University of Exeter Press, 2012 Fraser, I., The Palk Family of Haldon House and Torquay Harris, H., The Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor, Peninsula Press, 1992 Mills, D. R., Lord and Peasant in Nineteenth Century Britain, Croom Helm London,1980 Newman, P, The Field Archaeology of Dartmoor, English Heritage, 2011 Osler, E. The Life of Admiral Viscount Exmouth, Dodo Press, Rev. Ed. 1854 Reay, B. Rural Englands, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004 Slack, P. The English Poor Law,1531-1782, New Studies in Economic and Social History, Cambridge University Press,1995