Drewsteignton in the past
The area around the parish has been inhabited for over 3000 years and the remains of a Neolithic burial chamber, known as Spinsters’ Rock, is the oldest evidence of man in the parish. At a later time during the Bronze Age, when the climate was warmer than it is today, stone circles and avenues were erected in the same vicinity. These were recorded nearly 200 years ago but have all since disappeared. A complex of three Iron Age fortifications lies astride the River Teign and one of these ‘castles’, Prestonbury, is in the parish. All these remains are strong evidence of a large local community in prehistoric times.
The parish of Drewsteignton is one of the oldest in Devon to have a recorded boundary. In 839 King Aethelheard gave a tract of land to endow Crediton Minster and the southern part of the word map describing this territory shows an outline which is almost the same as the present parish. Five manors, later described in the Domesday Book, lay in this land and the principal one, called Tainton, was in the centre of the present parish. After the Norman Conquest, all this property was given to Baldwin, a trusted friend of the Conqueror, as part of the honour (estate) of Okehampton. In time this estate was passed by marriage first to the Courtenays and thence to the Carew family who owned it until the end of the eighteenth century. At some time during the twelfth century a man named Drogo (Drew), was the sub-tenant of Tainton and the name became fixed as ‘Drogo’s Tainton’ otherwise ‘Teignton Drue’, meaning ‘Drew’s farm by the Teign’.
Natural resources in the parish have been exploited for a very long time. Apart from the fertile nature of the soil there are records of tin being taken from the south western part of the parish to the Chagford stannary during the sixteenth century and the largest limestone quarry, close to the village, was producing burnt lime at least by the next century. Several charcoal rings of uncertain date have been identified in the vicinity of Fingle Bridge and it is said that the bridge itself was used by pack horses carrying tan bark.
Apart from the church, built mostly from the fifteenth century in the Perpendicular style, there are other old buildings in the village. The sixteenth century Church House, originally used for church ale brewing, then as a school with resident master, is now the village hall. The oldest known dwelling, Lady House, has leases going back to 1542 and in later years an alms house was built as well as another seven houses for the poor. The village also managed to support three inns and a number of ale houses before 1800 as well as resident tradesmen.
Crockernwell lies on the ancient highway to Cornwall and up to 100 travellers in a year, of the mobile sort, were aided by the parish and recorded during the seventeenth century. The first stage coach passed through the settlement in 1795, after the road had been turnpiked, and the Golden Lion was one of the staging posts when dispatches about the Battle of Trafalgar were rushed by post chaise to the Admiralty in 1805. A plaque to commemorate this epic journey was unveiled in 2005.
Whiddon Down only developed after the turnpike from Moretonhampstead met the existing highway but grew large enough to support a school in Victorian times. Sandy Park is a smaller settlement on a crossroads but big enough to have had an inn for two centuries. Venton is a hamlet which represents the remains of a small estate given to support the poor of the parish in 1401, known then as the Parish Lands, only to be sold soon after the Great War.
For further reading a number of publications sold in aid of the church fabric are available from the Post Office Stores, EX6 6QN:-
‘The Drewsteignton Millennium Picture Book’. £5.00..
‘The Birth of a Parish’. The early history of Drewsteignton. £2.50.
‘Each in their Estate’. A study of 17th Century Drewsteignton. £2.50.
‘Five views of Drewsteignton’ The 19th and early 20th centuries. £2.50.
and to be viewed:-
‘Some notes about Drewsteignton during the 18th Century’ on The Friends of Devon Archives website: www.foda.org.uk -> projects -> Eighteenth Century Devon -> Volunteer projects.
Venton is a small hamlet in the Western part of the parish of Drewsteignton. Today it comprises 10 properties on the Northern side of the A382 which are nestled discretely in a small lane, the original Whiddon Down to Mortonhampstead Road, and on the Southern side of the A382 there are a further 4 homesteads. Of these properties, two remain thatched, though within living memory at least two others were thatched.
Two of the properties continue farming whilst a further three or four maintain some smallholding activities. There is a caravan park and a busy building business which probably has been in Venton for more than 100 years, a wheelwright was recorded in the 1851 census.
In medieval times, Venton, the name may mean spring or well, appears to have been a base for tin miners and Bradmere Pool on “Redlake Farm” was associated with tin streaming – which involved washing the tin rich stones, the shode, to remove unwanted material and retain the tin ore (cassiterite). The process required large quantities of water to be brought to site and could only be carried out on sloping ground.
Records mention that in 1544 Sir Richard Edgecumbe gave “certain lands and a tenement at Venton for maintenance of the Church and relief of the poor”. This amounted to 35 acres and was occupied by four tenants. This holding was finally sold off in 1930. It is possible that the tenement was Rose Cottage, now a Grade 2 listed building and thought to date from the 15th Century. The adjoining Middle Venton Farm, a Grade 2* listed property is almost certainly of the same era.
At the lower end of Venton lane there is a small triangular plot of land with a stone covered well. Mrs Dorothy Drew, who moved to Venton in the early 1960s remembers that she had to use this well for her water supply and it appears that the mains water was not brought into the hamlet until 1966, followed shortly by the electricity supply.
There is a bridle path (Merrivale Lane) leading from Venton Northeastwards towards Long Lane and eventually onto Whiddon Down.