A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1978.
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The parish of Whitestaunton, known as Staunton until the earlier 14th century, (fn. 1) lies on the southern boundary of the county, 3 miles NW. from Chard. It had an area of 1,937 a. in 1883, (fn. 2) and extends just over 2 miles from east to west and about the same from north to south. Its western boundary with Yarcombe (Devon) is formed by the river Yarty and its southern marked the division between Somerset and Dorset until Wambrook was transferred to Somerset in 1896. (fn. 3) A stream and lanes mark the northern and eastern boundaries with Combe St. Nicholas.
Whitestaunton lies in the dramatic terrain of the Devon—Somerset border, with steep-sided hills and narrow valleys, the thickly-wooded high ground affording extensive views over the surrounding district. The parish occupies the valley of a tributary of the Yarty, and stretches up to high ground on both sides, reaching over 700 ft. on Cinder hill and Longlie common in the NW., to 771 ft. on the east, and to over 825 ft. on the southern boundary. The geology is extremely varied. In the north the soil is Lower Lias, Upper Greensand, and Rhaetic Beds, in the SW. Keuper Marls with alluvium along the Yarty, in the NE. and central areas further Upper Greensand with chalk outcrops, and in the south and SE. principally clay. (fn. 4) Quarries at Longlie and south of the manor-house were formerly worked for limestone for both burning and building, (fn. 5) and the same stone may give the parish its name.
Traces of prehistoric settlement survive in an oval camp south of Howley and a barrow north of Northay in a field which was called Burrow Close in 1838. (fn. 6) A Roman villa was discovered c. 1845 near an ancient well in the grounds of the manor-house in Whitestaunton village. The building contained hypocausts, mosaics, and painted wall plaster, but has never been satisfactorily excavated. The well, known as St. Agnes well, presumably indicates why the site was chosen for both villa and manor-house and suggests continuity of settlement. The water is slightly warm and reputedly good for sprains. (fn. 7)
Whitestaunton village and Northay lie in small coombes at the head of the dividing stream in the north-east of the parish, and Howley (Holleway in 1479) (fn. 8) is on the steep hillside above the Yarty in the south-west. Cleave and Nash both occur as settlements by 1327, and Lapse, Pyle, Brownsey, and Woodhayes by 1479, indicating scattered settlement probably originating in woodland clearings. (fn. 9) There may have been some open-field system around the village, (fn. 10) and there was a park, then a wood, to the west of the manor-house by 1479, which survived as fields called Park Hill and Horse Park in 1838. (fn. 11)
The road system is irregular, two present principal arteries bypassing all the areas of settlement. The main Chard—Honiton road runs from east to west through the south-east of the parish, while the Ilminster—Honiton road cuts off the north-west corner. From these two roads access lanes run north and south to serve the various hamlets and farms and other roads link the parish with Yarcombe (Devon), Combe St. Nicholas, and Wambrook.
The houses in 1791 were stated to be 'thinly scattered and very mean, there being many cottages or huts of only one floor and a single room for the family'. (fn. 12) At Northay two houses close to the crossroads are of traditional 17th-century form, most of the others being of the 19th century, and ¼ m. to the west the house at Nash Hill appears to be 17th century. At Howley, Browns Farm is a long plastered and thatched house of the 17th century (fn. 13) with later additions, and adjacent to it there are a granary on staddle stones and a farmyard partly enclosed by tall buildings with open timber fronts. Cleave Hill Cottage may also be of the 17th century, but the other houses in the southern part of the parish appear to be of 19th-century or later origin. None of the other scattered cottages and farmhouses in the parish seem earlier than the 17th century, and 20th-century development has been concentrated on Howley.
There were four licensed victuallers in 1735 one of whom, John Meacham, evidently held the Rising Sun at Howley, first mentioned by name in 1766. This has been the only licensed house in the parish since the early 19th century. There is a single reference to the Bush inn in 1770. (fn. 14)
The population of Whitestaunton was 259 in 1801 and rose to 327 in 1821, continuing fairly stable until 1841 when it was 321. Thereafter it fell to 261 in 1851, remaining at that level until a further drop to 208 in 1881 and 187 in 1901. (fn. 15) A rise to 205 in 1911 was succeeded by an abrupt decline after the First World War to 121 in 1921. Since 1931, when the population numbered 169, there has been little change, the figure in 1961 and 1971 being 164. (fn. 16)
Charles Isaac Elton (1839–1900), lawyer and antiquary, was lord of the manor and M.P. for West Somerset. He wrote a variety of monographs on archaeological, legal, and literary subjects and was founder member of the Selden Society. (fn. 17) Patrick Reynolds Mitchell, dean of Wells from 1973, was born at the manor-house in 1930. (fn. 18)
In 1644 during the Civil War while Charles I stayed at Chard the Royalist troops were housed at Whitestaunton manor-house and, presumably, in the grounds. (fn. 19) Two parishioners were suspected of complicity in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. (fn. 20)
The overlordship of WHITESTAUNTON manor was held in 1086 by Ansgar (I) Brito (d. c. 1092–5) under the count of Mortain. (fn. 21) It then evidently descended with the barony of Odcombe, passing in turn to Walter (I) Brito (last mentioned 1108), Ansgar (II) (fl. 1126), Roger (d. by 1157), Walter (II) (d. 1179), and to the son of the last, Walter (III) (d. 1199). On the death of Walter (III) without issue the barony was divided between his two nephews Walter Croc and John de Longchamp, who in 1200 and 1202 surrendered their shares to Richard Briwere (d. 1215). (fn. 22) The latter's brother William Briwere (d. 1233) was said to be overlord in 1234, and subsequently his lands were divided amongst his sisters and coheirs. (fn. 23) The Briwere heirs still held the overlordship in 1284–6, but before 1321 it had passed, possibly by descent, to Aubrey wife of John Hyngaud, who had granted it to William de Montacute (cr. earl of Salisbury 1337, d. 1344). (fn. 24) Subsequently it descended with the earldom of Salisbury, although the manor is sometimes described as being held of Donyatt manor, one of the Montacute properties. (fn. 25) The overlordship was last mentioned in 1618 when it was held as of the earldom of Salisbury. (fn. 26)
A mesne lordship held by William de Percy (d. 1245) in 1234 was probably created on or after his marriage with Joan daughter of William Briwere, then overlord. (fn. 27) Their son Henry (d. 1272) was succeeded by John de Percy, whose heirs possessed the mesne lordship in 1284–6. (fn. 28) It is not mentioned thereafter.
The terre tenancy was held in 1066 by Alward, and in 1166 Robert (I) of Staunton occupied two fees of Mortain under Walter (II) Brito. (fn. 29) By 1234 the manor had passed to Robert (II) of Staunton and by 1284–6 to Sir William of Staunton (d. 1311). (fn. 30) In 1312 it was conceded by Thomas of Staunton to Sir William's son Roger (I), and Roger's heirs were in possession in 1316. (fn. 31) Robert (III) of Staunton, a minor, held it in 1321 and Roger (II) of Staunton (d. 1351) in 1344. (fn. 32) Roger's son William was probably holding the manor in 1370 but by 1397 a life interest had passed to Nicholas Rede of Pole Anthony in Tiverton (Devon) and his wife Parnel, possibly widow of William of Staunton. (fn. 33) The Redes were still holding the manor in 1433–4, but by 1438 the advowson and probably the manor were in the hands of the overlord, possibly during the minority of the heir. (fn. 34) An enquiry into the ownership of the advowson in 1447 stated that the manor was 'long ago' given by William of Staunton to Thomas Hugyn in tail. On Thomas's death, his son John being a minor, it was granted by the overlord to John's mother Roberta, widow of James Harington. (fn. 35) An interest in the manor, however, had been retained by John Brett of Thorncombe in Bicknoller, cousin and heir of William Staunton, (fn. 36) and the Brett and Staunton coats of arms appear together on a tomb in Whitestaunton church. It seems likely that the Bretts and Hugyns represented coheirs of William Staunton, each with half the manor and the alternate right of presentation to the benefice. John Hugyn and John Brett were described as joint lords of the manor in 1449 and 1473 and Brett's daughter Joan married John Hugyn's son and heir Thomas. (fn. 37) One half descended from Thomas Hugyn to his son John (d. 1485) and subsequently to his grandson John (d. 1493). The last was succeeded by his daughter Joan, then a minor, who was later probably the first wife of Simon Brett. (fn. 38)
The half held by John Brett (d. 1478) passed to his son Alexander (d. 1511) and then to Alexander's son Simon (d. 1530). (fn. 39) In 1524 Simon and his second wife Eleanor settled the reversion on Simon's uncle John Brett of South Petherton (d. 1532). (fn. 40) Both Simon and John died without issue and the property was inherited by John's brother Robert Brett (d. 1541) and, subsequently, by Robert's grandson John (d. 1588), son of Alexander Brett. (fn. 41) Efforts made by Simon's brother Robert to obtain the manor were evidently fruitless. (fn. 42) From John's son Sir Alexander Brett (d. 1609) the manor descended in turn to the latter's son Alexander (d. 1617) and grandson Sir Robert Brett (d. 1666). (fn. 43) Sir Robert inadvertently saved Whitestaunton from sequestration during the Interregnum, having settled the manor on trustees in 1636–7 to raise portions for his younger children. (fn. 44) After the Restoration he failed to secure this provision for his family and turned his eldest son Alexander out of the manor-house, disposing of much of his own furniture to pay debts. In 1669 Alexander brought an action of trespass and ejectment against his father and obtained possession of the house. (fn. 45) Alexander (d. 1671) was succeeded by his brother Robert Brett, a Jesuit, who in 1673 sold the manor to Alexander's widow, Elizabeth (d. 1713), by birth a Brett of a different family who afterwards married Dr. Henry Klee (d. 1677). (fn. 46) Elizabeth Klee settled the manor on trustees in 1697 for her niece Ann, daughter of Robert Brett of London, for Ann's husband Henry Brett (of yet another family of that name), and for their son Alexander, reserving a life interest for herself. Henry Brett sold the property to Sir Abraham Elton of Bristol, Bt., in 1718 for £11,642. (fn. 47)
On Sir Abraham's death in 1728 the manor descended to his third son Jacob (d. 1765) and thereafter in turn, during Jacob's lifetime, to his sons Abraham (d. 1762) and Isaac (I) (d. 1774). (fn. 48) It passed from Isaac (I) through successive generations to Isaac (II) of Stapleton (Glos.) (d. 1790), Isaac (III) (d. 1837), and Robert James Elton (d. 1869). The last 'unexpectedly' bequeathed the estate to his nephew Charles Isaac Elton (d. 1900), and Charles's brother Frederick (d. 1922) sold off most of the lands in 1920. (fn. 49) The manor-house and lordship were retained by Frederick's widow who sold them in 1925 to Lt.-Col. Percy Reynolds Mitchell. They were purchased by Col. Couchman in 1945 and by the present owner, Mr. A. E. Dobell, in 1947. (fn. 50)
The manor-house was first expressly mentioned in 1479, although the lords had been resident on the manor from the time of the Stauntons. Under the terms of John Hugyn's will of 1483 his widow Joan was to have a life tenancy of 'all the housing above the west end of the hall of Whitestaunton, and the occupation of the old stable, the kitchen and bakehouse to make her meat, to brew, and to bake', and underwood from the park. (fn. 51) Simon Brett (d. 1530) granted his second wife Eleanor a life interest in the house and demesnes if she continued to occupy them. On the death of John Brett in 1532 his brother and nephew, Robert and Alexander, challenged Eleanor's rights, (fn. 52) and in 1565 Alexander's son John acquired the house for a lump sum of £100 and an annuity of £40 a year, though subsequently reletting the property to her. (fn. 53) The Eltons, as successors to the Bretts, did not initially occupy the manor-house, the first Elton to be buried at Whitestaunton being Abraham (d. 1762). (fn. 54) In 1785 Isaac Elton leased the manor-house, Manor farm, and 500 a. of land, to a Whitestaunton yeoman, reserving the hall, parlour, the four bed-chambers over the hall and parlour, the cellar within the parlour, a little cellar taken out of the dairy house, the parlour green, coach-house, lower stable, and joint use of the kitchen. (fn. 55) The house has been occupied by the lords of the manor from the time of R. J. Elton (d. 1869). (fn. 56)
The house lies immediately to the west of the churchyard in a small valley from which the land rises steeply on the south and west. (fn. 57) It is of ashlar and rubble with slated roofs and has been enlarged on several occasions giving it a rambling character with principal fronts to the north and west. The earliest surviving part is a relatively small house of the later 15th century containing, within a single range, a passage entry and service rooms at the east end and a ground-floor hall with a great chamber above. The chamber has an arch-braced roof of three bays which was formerly open and is elaborately decorated with mouldings and cusped windbraces. In the later 16th century the house was more than doubled in size by the addition of a western range which contained three principal rooms on each floor and has a long symmetrical front to the garden. The panelling in the ground-floor room bears the date 1577 and the initials of members of the Brett family. At the same time as the western range was being built the old house was modernized. An entrance passage was formed across the western end of the hall and a new doorway and two-storeyed porch added to the north front and a staircase in a tower, which may in part have been older, set in the angle between the old and new ranges. The service end was extended southwards and the hall and great chamber were refenestrated, a twostoreyed oriel being constructed between the staircase tower and the extended service wing. There were internal alterations, probably of only minor character, in the 18th century but more extensive remodelling took place in the early 19th century. The roof of the hall range was raised on the south side to admit a new range of bedrooms which are partly over the oriel, and the first floor of the service end was extensively refitted. Later in the century the interior of the western range was modernized and by this time the former open court between the west and the service ranges had been largely built over for additional outbuildings.
To the east of the house, bordering the churchyard, there is a two-storeyed range of the 16th century containing stables and, added to its south end, a 19th-century building containing coach houses.
At the time of the Conquest the manor gelded for three hides. There was land for 8 ploughs but only 5 to till it. The demesne totalled 1¼ hide with 1½ plough and 6 serfs, and there were 18 villeins and 4 bordars with the remaining 1¾ hide and 3½ ploughs. There were 260 a. of woodland and 50 a. of pasture which rendered 4 blooms of iron, such a customary due being recorded for only five other manors in Domesday Somerset. (fn. 58) Finds of iron slag on the Roman villa site suggest that smelting was established locally in very early times. (fn. 59) Stock in 1086 included 16 swine, 59 sheep, and 13 she-goats. (fn. 60)
A dearth of references to open fields and the hilly nature of the terrain suggest that inclosure of the low-lying areas took place early, while the higher ground remained, as at present, predominantly devoted to woodland. The parish continued almost wholly in the ownership of the lord of the manor until the 20th century. In 1479, apart from the manor-house and appurtenant closes, there were 21 tenements occupied by 15 tenants lying at Benhayes, Cleave Hill, Howley, Lapse, Pyle, Brownsey, Woodhayes, Nash, Ford, and Northay. Among the demesne lands in 1479 references to 'Bryghtfurlong', Northfields, and Southfields (and mention in 1838 of North field and Cherry Furland) (fn. 61) suggest a former arable field system around the parent settlement. In 1493 tenements were also held of the manor at Whitehall and Weston in Combe St. Nicholas, at Leigh and 'Jakettes' in Winsham and Whitestaunton, and in South Bradon. (fn. 62)
Villeins on the manor were mentioned in 1434, when two were abducted by Nicholas Cleyhill, and again in 1473. (fn. 63) Customary works are referred to as late as 1534 when every tenement holder had to weed corn for half a day, mow and 'make' one acre of meadow, and rick the grass at the manorhouse; also to reap and set up 'stitches' on one acre of wheat. All tenants, including cottagers, had to work for one day at reaping corn, receiving meat and drink for their labours. (fn. 64)
The demesne was valued at 5 marks a year in 1493 and half the manor at £10 in 1511. (fn. 65) The manor continued to be valued at £20 between 1532 and 1618, (fn. 66) but when temporarily seized by the Parliamentary Committee in 1648 the leasehold and copyhold tenants were paying £130. In 1649 when let by the family trustees the rental rose to £283. (fn. 67) The last available valuation in 1674 was for about £300. (fn. 68)
In 1532 lands held with half the manor by John Brett comprised 24 messuages and gardens, 40 a. of arable, 100 a. meadow, 200 a. pasture, 200 a. woodland, and 100 a. furze and heath: (fn. 69) acreages which, while not necessarily accurate, probably reflect the land use throughout the parish. Common land is mentioned at various sites, usually on the higher ground. Howley common abutted east on the Park in 1534 (and thus evidently included most of Great Copse), when oak trees were felled there for house repair. (fn. 70) In 1746 the tenant of Brownseys farm covenanted not to plough the Higher common immediately west of his house, and Long lie in common in the north-west of the parish was mentioned in 1783. Land recently inclosed from Lapse common is referred to in 1796. (fn. 71) Few alterations, however, to the medieval agrarian pattern seem to have taken place and c. 1800 it was thought that the land was still 'capable of great agricultural improvement'. (fn. 72) If the 1532 figures are to be relied on, the amount of land converted to arable gradually increased. By 1838 there were 742 a. of arable, 705 a. of meadow and pasture, and 450 a. of woodland. (fn. 73) By 1905 the area devoted to grassland had risen to 881 a. while arable had fallen to 624 a. and woodland to 418 a. (fn. 74) This pattern continues relatively unchanged to the present day.
Several of the larger farms were apparently named after their tenants. Thus Brownseys may be linked with the Brownsey family, apart from the lord the wealthiest inhabitants of the parish in 1582 and 1641, (fn. 75) Browns farm with George Brown, gentleman, who kept tame deer there in 1681, and Parrisees farm with the Parris family, cousins of the Browns. (fn. 76) Tenements were usually leased for 99 years or three lives in the 17th century, but during the 18th century shorter terms at increased rents were introduced by the Eltons. A lease of Brownseys for 14 years was granted in 1746, the agreement including 500 bundles of faggots annually from the lord, and another for Woodhayes (20 a.) in 1783 for the same term. (fn. 77) Browns and Southay farms were combined in a seven-year lease in 1785, as were Pyle and Dymonds (65 a.) in the same year, and, for six years, Benhayes (27 a.) in 1787. Apart from Manor farm, which comprised 500 a. in 1785, the size of holdings was small, generally under 50 acres. The 18th-century leases often included manuring covenants. Thus at Woodhayes in 1783 the tenant agreed that on every acre in tillage he would spread 12 hogheads of lime or 180 seams of dung; and that he would not take more than two successive crops of corn or grain and thereafter sow grass seed. (fn. 78)
By 1814 the lands leased with Manor farm had shrunk to 420 a. (fn. 79) and by 1838 to 338 a., although in the latter year the lessee also occupied 53 a. of glebe. By 1838 the Eltons had extended the grounds attached to the manor-house to 434 acres. There were then, apart from Manor farm, three other farms of over 150 a., one of 84 a., and the remainder smallholdings under 50 a. (fn. 80) Redistribution of farmland to form viable units had resulted by 1851 in a five-farm parish: Manor (387 a.), Browns (250 a.), Northay (204 a.), Parrisees (200 a.), and Elms farms (200 a.). In addition there were a further 100 a. attached to Knapp House and 40 a. to Woodhayes. (fn. 81) In 1920 when the estate was split up and sold the nine farms were principally pasture land, while the woodlands had been greatly reduced by felling during the First World War. The largest holdings were then Northay farm with 280 a., Manor farm 255 a., Browns 196 a., and Woodhayes 121 a. The estate then included not only 1,679 a. in Whitestaunton (the whole parish excepting the manorhouse grounds and glebe) but a further 853 a. in the adjacent parishes of Combe St. Nicholas and Wambrook. (fn. 82) Since 1920 the farms have continued in the hands of the farmers with one exception. When sold in 1947 the manor-house had only 28 a. of ground, but purchases by the Dobells increased this to about 400 a. including Manor farm. Since 1965 much of this has been resold to other farmers or sublet. (fn. 83)
The parish had links with the cloth industry from the 16th century, probably supplying markets in Chard. Fulling mills occur in 1573, (fn. 84) two weavers in 1629 and 1668, and a tailor in 1657. (fn. 85) Thomas Ford (d. 1624) mentioned his looms in his will and bequeathed serge to provide suits and petticoats for his relations and friends. (fn. 86) John Harvie had a mill and a pair of weaver's looms in 1629. (fn. 87) A clothier occurs in 1789 and a tailor in 1813. (fn. 88) In more recent times virtually all the inhabitants have been employed in agriculture, although gloving as a cottage industry was pursued by eight women in 1851. (fn. 89)
A quarry (or quarries), presumably for the extraction of lias and limestone, were mentioned in 1479, 1513, and 1532. (fn. 90) In 1783 the tenant of Woodhayes had the right to dig limestone in several quarries on Long lie common and to burn the stone in the limekiln there. (fn. 91) The field-name Quarry close immediately north of Northay was recorded in 1838 and a second limekiln in the Warren south of the manor-house was mentioned as disused in 1903. (fn. 92) Limestone for the second kiln evidently came from closes called Lime Pits in 1838, south-west of the Warren. (fn. 93) Masons are regularly recorded in the parish in the later 18th and 19th centuries. (fn. 94) The right to take marl for Leigh tenement from a marl pit at Bromeley (located in Winsham but part of Whitestaunton manor) for half a year was granted by the lord in 1639, and another tenant received a similar licence for a marl pit in Court field in the same year. A marl pit was also recorded at Leigh in 1663. (fn. 95)
There was a mill in Whitestaunton in 1086 but it then rendered nothing as it ground solely for the manor. (fn. 96) This may possibly be identified with a blade mill held with the manor in 1513 and 1532. In 1532 John Brett also held half of another mill. (fn. 97) The manor was credited with two water-mills in 1527 and three grain-mills and three fulling mills in 1573. (fn. 98) John Brett at his death in 1588 left Howley mills to his fourth son Robert, after the death of the tenant. (fn. 99) Millers or mill-owners occur in 1615, 1619, 1629, and 1664. (fn. 100) The field-name Tucking Mill, immediately north-east of Lapse on the stream north of Howley, probably locates the site of the fulling mills once known as Howley mills. Similarly the field-names Mill Plot and Millers mead on the northern boundary along the road between Woodhayes and Northay (fn. 101) apparently indicate another mill on the same stream. Traces of a mill-leat and former buildings survive immediately south of the road there.
The manor court of Whitestaunton was described in 1629 as court leet with view of frankpledge and manor court, and was held twice a year in 1639. (fn. 102) No court rolls have been traced, but suit of court was demanded of a tenant in 1766. (fn. 103) No overseers' records survive but in 1812 it was evidently the custom for bread to be distributed to the poor at St. Agnes well. (fn. 104) The parish joined the Chard poor-law union in 1836. (fn. 105)
The church of Whitestaunton is first mentioned in 1291. (fn. 106) The living was a rectory in 1297 and the advowson was held with the lordship of the manor by 1321, (fn. 107) when the patron was Robert de Bernyll by grant of the overlord during a minority. (fn. 108) Richard Montacute, earl of Salisbury, presented as overlord in 1438, and Roberta Harington as mother and guardian of John Hugyn in 1447. (fn. 109) The patronage was exercised in 1449 by William, Lord Bonville, and William Stafford by grant of John Hugyn and John Brett as joint lords, and between 1489 and 1500 the alternate patrons were Alexander Brett and Joan Hugyn. (fn. 110) Robert Tedbury and William Cabell presented in 1517, John Alyn in 1544, and Nicholas Wootton in 1578, all by grants from the Bretts. (fn. 111) Subsequently presentations were made by the lords of the manor or their trustees until c. 1928 when the advowson passed to Lt.-Col. William Marwood Elton (d. c. 1932–3), the lord's cousin. His widow held the patronage until her death c. 1965, when she was succeeded by her son Group Capt. N. W. D. Elton, the patron in 1974. Since 1949 the rectory has been held in plurality with Combe St. Nicholas, where the incumbent lives. (fn. 112) The united benefice of Combe St. Nicholas and Whitestaunton with Wambrook was created in 1974.
The value of the living was £5 6s. 8d. in 1291 and £14 15s. 1d. in 1535. (fn. 113) Subsequently it rose to £40 c. 1668, nearly £100 in 1727, £255 net in 1831, and £257 in 1851. (fn. 114) In 1535 predial tithes were worth £5, those of sheep and lambs £2 16s. 4d., and oblations and personal tithes £4 10s. 9d. (fn. 115) No later valuation has been found until 1838, when the tithes were commuted for a rent-charge of £222. (fn. 116) The glebe lands were valued at 47s. in 1535, and in 1617 and 1635 were extended at c. 38 a. (fn. 117) The same lands were estimated to contain 54 a. in 1838 and valued at £65 a year in 1840. (fn. 118) Their income had fallen to £50 by 1851, but the extent remained constant at 50 a. between 1861 and 1939. (fn. 119)
A rectory house was mentioned in 1534, when it was occupied by Alexander Brett, son of the lord of the manor. (fn. 120) In the 17th century it had 'an entry with a hall upon the left hand, with one house within the hall with a loft over, and on the right hand . . . two little house(s) with three little chambers over'. There was also 'a kitchen without the backer court with one other little house'. Outbuildings included a barn and stable, a little barton by the barn, two small courts, and a herb garden. (fn. 121) In 1670 the hall, study, great and little butteries, the buttery chamber, the hall chamber, and the bakehouse are named. (fn. 122) The house was described as unfit for the rector in 1815, and was not occupied by his successor in 1833. (fn. 123) The building includes the kitchen, cross-passage, and hall of the 16th-century house. The parlour and the roof were renewed in the later 1830s when W. T. Elton took up residence. (fn. 124) The old house then became the service end and the new block housed the principal rooms, entrance hall, and main staircase. It was sold c. 1967 and subsequently divided into two dwellings. (fn. 125)
Andrew de Staunton, rector in 1297, was probably related to the lords of the manor. (fn. 126) John Jordan alias Stoke, rector by 1425 until 1438, was pardoned in 1425 for having himself tonsured without mentioning that he was illegitimate. (fn. 127) William Lumbard, rector 1449–89, was instituted after his deprivation at Marston Bigot and was not ordained deacon until 1450. (fn. 128) William Wyett, rector 1576–8, occupied the living while subrector and fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and rector of Tawstock (Devon). (fn. 129) Joseph Greenfield, rector 1615–?51, was imprisoned during the Civil War until released by the royal Cornish army. (fn. 130) The intruded minister, Richard Smith, rector 1651– 62, removed to Dinnington after his ejection. (fn. 131) John Chase, rector 1670–84, held the rectory with a fellowship at Wadham College, Oxford, and Michael Marlow, rector 1789–93, with one at St. John's College, Cambridge. (fn. 132) Joseph Attwell Small, rector 1799–1814, held the living in plurality with a number of other benefices including a chaplaincy to the King. (fn. 133) Robert Pearse Clarke, rector 1814– 27, was non-resident and successively curate of Culmstock and Churchstanton. (fn. 134) W. T. Elton, rector 1827–74, was son and brother of successive lords of the manor and with his son-in-law, H. A. Cartwright, rector 1874–1909, occupied the rectory for 82 years. (fn. 135)
Thomas Snaydon, a Whitestaunton clerk also described as a thatcher, was imprisoned in 1511 for the theft of sheep. (fn. 136) An assistant minister was mentioned in 1532 and 1572–5 (fn. 137) and assistant curates were regularly employed by rectors during the 17th century. (fn. 138)
A service was held each Friday in 1588, and the parishioners complained in 1612 that the Bretts had built two cross walls adjoining the chancel and tower so that they could not go about the church. (fn. 139) There were usually only 5 or 6 communicants c. 1776. (fn. 140) Single Sunday services were being held in 1815 and 1827 and, in 1843, alternately morning and afternoon. (fn. 141) Holy Communion was celebrated twice a year in 1840 and four times in 1843. (fn. 142) In 1851 the Census-Sunday congregations totalled 55 in the morning (with a further 21 Sunday-school pupils) and 76 in the afternoon. (fn. 143) By 1870 there were two Sunday services and Holy Communion was being administered six times a year. (fn. 144)
A light of the Blessed Mary was recorded in 1492 and by 1548 there was a guild of Our Lady at the church with 23s. 5½d. in the hands of two wardens. There was also a cow valued at 20s. in 1548 given to maintain obits in the church. (fn. 145)
The church of ST. ANDREW has walls of Ham stone ashlar and rubble and comprises chancel with north and south chapels, nave with south porch, and west tower. The walls of the narrow chancel may be in part of the 13th century; those of the nave are at least as old as the later 14th century when the two doorways and the porch were built. The whole building was refenestrated in the later 15th century, probably at about the same time as small north and south chapels were added to the chancel. The tower, of three stages with a projecting south-east stair turret, was built in the early 16th century. Also in the 16th century a rood screen, with a loft approached by a stair projecting from the north wall, was put in and the chancel arch was rebuilt. Later in the century the south chapel was widened and an external doorway was put into the west wall under the will of John Brett (d. 1588). (fn. 146) The roofs were renewed in the 19th century when the building was thoroughly restored. The fittings include a 12th-century font and some 16th-century bench ends.
There are five bells: (i) 1696, Thomas Purdue; (ii) 1695, Thomas Purdue; (iii) earlier 16th cent., Thomas Jeffries; (iv) c. 1380, Salisbury foundry; (v) 1779, T. Pike, Bridgwater. (fn. 147) Apart from modern plate there is a silver cup of 1658. (fn. 148) The registers cover baptisms from 1659 to 1666 and baptisms, marriages, and burials from 1692. (fn. 149)
The Brett family, lords of the manor, probably resumed the ancient faith c. 1591, on the second marriage of Sir Alexander Brett (d. 1609) with Ann daughter of John Gifford of Weston Subedge (Glos.). (fn. 150) Lady (Ann) Brett (d. 1647) occurs as a recusant at Whitestaunton in 1605. (fn. 151) She was convicted of recusancy in 1609, was heavily fined, and in 1625 was deprived of a quantity of 'old arms'. (fn. 152) John Yates alias Hopton, admitted a Jesuit in 1604, was partly educated at Whitestaunton by his uncle Alexander Brett, esq., 'a Catholic in Somerset', and Alexander Cotton, admitted a Jesuit in 1655, was the grandson of Lady (Ann) Brett and was born at Whitestaunton. (fn. 153) Of Sir Alexander's children his heir Alexander married into the Kirkhams, a recusant family at Blagdon (Devon), and two of his sisters similarly married Roman Catholic gentry. Sir Alexander's younger brother Robert Brett (d. 1665) rose to be a Benedictine prior on the Continent. (fn. 154) Some of the lands of Alexander's son, Sir Robert Brett (d. 1666), 'a papist in arms', were sequestered during the Interregnum, and in 1651 it was ordered that his children have nothing 'till it appear that they are brought up Protestants'. (fn. 155) Sir Robert's younger son Robert (d. 1678), who inherited Whitestaunton on his brother's death, was a Jesuit and was involved in the Popish plot. (fn. 156)
The Bretts evidently attracted to their house and parish other Roman Catholics seeking refuge from persecution. In 1605 there were four recusant servants in the manor-house, (fn. 157) and Thomas Suttle, the Bretts' bailiff, and Ann his wife were repeatedly presented for recusancy from 1612 until 1626 as were other inhabitants in the parish. These included in 1623 a woman who kept a dame school and one Agnes Harvey 'lately turned a recusant'. In 1641 there were six recusants including three servants at the manor-house. (fn. 158)
The house of John Kerley and two rooms in the house of Thomas Locock were licensed for Baptist meetings in 1804. (fn. 159)
Richard Parker of Whitestaunton, 'sometime schoolmaster' to Sir Alexander Brett's children, was mentioned in 1607. (fn. 160) Between 1623 and 1630 a school was kept in the parish by Mary Prescott, a recusant then living in the almshouse. (fn. 161)
In 1786 Roger Summerhayes gave £1,500 to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, out of which £10 10s. a year was to be paid to a poor person to teach 11 boys and 10 girls, orphans, or other poor children of the parish or from Yarcombe (Devon). (fn. 162) This school was still open in 1819 but did not satisfy demand. (fn. 163) A Sunday school was added by the rector in 1818 and in 1835 it had 20 boys and 20 girls, attendance at the day-school having risen to 30. (fn. 164) By 1846–7 both schools were being run together in two schoolrooms taught by two mistresses who had housing provided. (fn. 165) A new school with a house for the mistress was built by the Eltons south of the churchyard in 1863–4, and by 1894 had an average attendance of 26. (fn. 166) In 1903 there were 48 children on the books and attendances averaged 37. The school had been in 'a lamentable state' but a change of teacher had caused 'a pronounced improvement'. There was then one teacher helped by a monitor and the school was supported by £14 18s. from the Summerhayes fund, with additional help from R. J. Elton and small subscriptions. (fn. 167) In 1937 children over 11 were removed to Combe St. Nicholas school leaving 15 on the books. The school was closed in 1966, the seven children remaining being transferred to Buckland St. Mary. (fn. 168) In 1974 the former school was a private dwelling called the Old Schoolhouse.
CHARITIES FOR THE POOR.
John Brett (d. 1588) left £10 a year subject to a life interest from a tenement called Jacquets and lands in Yarcombe (Devon) to support four poor impotent persons in an almshouse. Until the almshouse was built Brett's heir was to continue the distribution of two loaves of bread to each of the ten poorest householders of the parish every Friday, provided that at least three attended morning service on that day each week. (fn. 169) The almshouse occurs in 1623 and 1644 (fn. 170) but not thereafter.
Thomas Ford of Whitestaunton left £5 in 1624, the interest from which was to be distributed to the poor on St. Thomas's day. (fn. 171) Stephen Brownsey of Whitestaunton, by will proved in 1657, left £5 to the churchwardens and overseers for the same purposes, to be distributed 'at every year's end'. (fn. 172) Similarly Humphrey Warren of Whitestaunton, by will proved in 1648, gave £5 for the relief of the poor. (fn. 173) None of these three charities is expressly mentioned after their foundation. They may, however, be represented by an income of 10s. a year held in 1787–8 by the overseer for the benefit of the unrelieved poor. (fn. 174)
In 1786 Robert Summerhayes gave £1,500 to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital from the income of which £10 10s. was to be distributed weekly in seven sixpenny loaves to the unrelieved poor. The money was so used in 1926, and in 1953–5 bread was purchased for one person and 'grants' made to two others. (fn. 175)