Abbotsham Archive Welcome to the Archives The basis of the archives is the Richardson Collection which is to be found in Barnstaple Library in the local records section. This comprises a wealth of material collected by Mrs Naomi Richardson in the 1960's and 1970's. This has been supplemented by material collected locally since that time As a result the archives now consist of many hundreds of items, both written and pictorial, reflecting the life of the village and parish of Abbotsham throughout its existence. Only a very small selection of images of these items has been included in this section of the website, although this will grow over time. It is also planned to include an index to the archive in the future, so you will be able to see what is held.
The archive is constantly growing, with several projects ongoing and planned. Currently these include expanding the St Helen’s school sub-section, improving the recording of memorials in the Church and Churchyard and researching the background of those in the parish who died or served in WW1.
Most of the actual archives can usually be seen at the regular monthly Wednesday coffee mornings held in the Village Hall, but if you have any questions concerning the archive or perhaps things to add to it, please contact Philip Marlow on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abbotsham and the Links With Tavistock Abbey Which Gave The Village It's Name
Tavistock Abbey was an Old English royal foundation established by King Edgar. Tavistock lay within the royal hundred of Lifton. From a reference in Alfred the Great’s will, and from later documents it appears that a substantial portion of the King’s demesne (his land holdings) in Cornwall was attached to Lifton for administrative purposes under an officer who bore the rank of high-reeve. In 974 the high-reeve was Ordulf, King Edgar’s brother in law. To him fell the task of supervising the beginnings of the new house. He was also expected to supplement the royal endowments from his own estates. Thus Ordulf and his wife Aelfwynn became major benefactors to the Abbey when it gained its charter from the boy-king Ethelred, Ordulf’s nephew, in 981.
A group of four holdings mentioned in the charter have been ascribed to Aelfwynn. These were the Abbotsham, Orleigh, Annery and Worthygate, for they are all in the vicinity of Alwington which is named after Aelfwynn, being ‘Aelfwynn’s tun’.
Therefore in 981 Abbotsham passed from the ownership of the royal family to that of Tavistock Abbey but retained the name Hama or Hame (Old English for enclosure), which is how it is described in the Domesday Book almost a century later.
At this stage the local Church was not the responsibility of Tavistock Abbey but the endowment remained with the Bishop of Exeter. In 1184 Bishop Bartholomew of Exeter confirmed the endowment of the Church to the Abbey as follows.
To all the sons of Holy Mother Church likely to read this document, Bartholomew, by God’s grace, Bishop of Exeter, greetings in the Lord. Know ye that having considered the poverty of the monastery of Tavistock, .............................we do give, appropriate and, for the perpetual memory of the matter, by this writing confirmed, the Church of St. Helena of Abbedsham with all things belonging to them. In testimony whereof the seals of the Bishop and Chapter are affixed to this deed.
This confirms that by 1184 the name of the hamlet had already changed from Hama to one closer to today’s name, reflecting the ownership of the land by Tavistock Abbey.
Initially the income from St Helens at Abbotsham was appropriated to the Abbey sacristan to provide the Abbey church with lights. In 1246, when the sacristan had acquired an income from rents in the borough of Tavistock, the Abbot transferred the St Helens endowment to the Prior and convent. In return they should supply the refectory, cloisters and infirmary with hand towels and napkins, rather than the Abbot.
In 1265 the then Bishop Bronescombe of Exeter requested John Chub the Abbot of Tavistock to prove ownership of Abbotsham, together with other Churches. The Abbey’s ownership was indisputable but the Abbot ignored the request. The Bishop then sequestered all revenues and the cathedral proctor, supported by retainers of the Earl of Gloucester, raided the village removing livestock and selling off the tithe corn (10% of the total crop). Apart from this incident and a boundary dispute with Alwington there is no record of the village under Tavistock Abbey between 1184 and the dissolution of Abbey in 1539.
The existing Church was built during the period when the parish was controlled by Tavistock Abbey but the records were lost. The original Church would have been a simple Celtic Chapel and was probably located on the seaward side of Cornborough Road overlooking Bideford Bay. The 1840 Tithe Map still refers to a field in that area as Chapel field.
The Parish Church and Primary School are both dedicated to Saint Helen, but which Saint Helen? Saint Helena of Constantinople, mother of the Emperor Constantine is one possibility. The second possibility is Saint Helen of Caenafon in North Wales. Given that the Church in Abbotsham was originally a Celtic Chapel it is most probable that the dedication refers to a Celtic Saint. This means that the Abbotsham Saint Helen was Elene wife of Magnus Clemens Maximus who aspired to be, not only King of Britain, but also Emperor of Rome. He defeated Gratian and was, for a short time, Emperor of the West; but he was defeated and slain by Theodosius in AD 388. In Welsh tradition, Queen Elene is known as ‘Elene of the Hosts’ and in the Tavistock calendar she is recorded as ‘Sancta Elena Regina’.
It is interesting that the nearby Church of Saint Helen on Lundy is dedicated to neither of these saints. Lundy’s Church is dedicated to Saint Endellen the sister of the famous Saint Nectan of Hartland who left Wales seeking peace and solitude and settled in Stoke.