The Book

(16/7/06 Note from Webmaster : Only some of the pages from the book are included at the moment. The missing pages will be added shortly)

The following pages are an adaptation for Internet viewing of the book about the village and parish of Sampford Brett. . The book, first published in 1991 and revised in 2004, was written entirely by parishoners. The prefaces to both these editions can be read here.


The Bretts, Courtneys and Ackland-Hoods

The Bretts

In 1066 the Saxon Manor was bestowed on Roger de Courcelles, a relation of William I. He and his underling Ogifus and his descendants lived in the castle on the hill. Margaret, who was a relative of a descendant of Ogifus, and an heiress, married a grandson of Sir Angarius the Breton, or de Brito, who came to England with the Conqueror, and so brought the title to Sandford. Their son is described in 1136 as being Lord of Sandford, Torweston, Hyde, Williton, Thurloxton and White Staunton.

One of Angarius’s descendants, Richard, became notorious in 1170 as one of the four knights “all distinguished by birth, renown in war and favourites at court” who murdered Thomas A Becket. The other three knights had even sworn fealty to Thomas, when he was Chancellor of England, and all held their lands through the patronage of Sir Hugh de Courtenay, whose ancestor seems to have held Torweston. The four never returned home but went to Rome to get absolution where they were told to end their days doing penance in Jerusalem. Legend has it, though, that they retired to Knaresborough, when the Archbishop of York, a friend of the Primacy, gave them shelter.

There were other repercussions. Sir Hugh de Courtenay founded a Priory at Woodspring near Kewstoke in honour of Sir Thomas A Becket and, in penance, Sir Richard’s daughter Maud bestowed in endowments a considerable area of land in Sandford and Bicknoller “for the good of their soul’s health in this world or the next” to the Priory.

Sir Richard’s brother, Sir Simon (1174-1202), was Lord of Sandford and Torweston and his son John inherited. He was the first to be called De Brett, instead of Le Brit, which means that by this time the village had taken the name. Sir John died in 1225 and is buried here.

Sir John’s son William, described as Knight of Sandford Brett, Williton, Watchet, Torweston, Thorncombe and Woolston, is the one whose effigy is in the vestry. He was Coroner of Somerset and died in 1295.

In 1306 Sir Adam de Brett, Knight of Sandford Brett, obtained a charter for a weekly market and an Annual Fair at Sandford Brett and a free warren at Torweston. He was buried here in 1326.

In 1344 Sir Adam’s successor, Sir William de Brett, got into trouble with the Ecclesiastical Authorities for having resisted an agent of the Bishop. Eventually he gave a bond for �20 and had to perform a public penance. He had to stand, barefoot and bare-headed, holding a candle weighing one pound and serve the priest at Mass; first at Wells on Ascension Day and Corpus Christi and then at Bath on the first Sunday after Easter, at Taunton on Whit Sunday, and finally, as the last humiliation, at his own church at Sandford Brett on the nativity of John the Baptist.

Sir William had several sons, William and Adam were designated Knights of Sandford Brett, Lawrence as Knight of Torweston and Sir Simon de Sandford Knight of Woolston and Thorncombe. Sir Simon married Cedwyda, daughter of Sir Henry Wayville of Bicknoller. Sir Simon and his descendants lived at Thorncombe for 10 generations. The estate was sold in 1608 to the Sweetings.

In 1359 his mother and her second husband, then quite old, with their son and grandson were prevailed upon to convey their properties to the de Courtenay family and it remained with them until 1765, in spite of much litigation by Brett successors to recover the estate. (Note that the latest descendant of the Brett family was baptised in Sampford Brett church as late as 1953.)

The Courtenays

There is an ancient association of the Courtenays with West Somerset. In Sampford Brett it began in 1359, when Edmund Brett of Sampford and Alice his wife disposed of their manors to Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon. For some 400 years the manor of Sampford Brett and Torweston were in the possession of the Courtenays. Margaret Courtenay, the last of the family, died a childless widow in 1743. She was a great granddaughter of a member of the Wyndham family of Orchard Wyndham. She presented to the Church the silver patten and alms dish which bears her arms. The arms were also in the west window where they were surrounded by an elaborate scroll until the window was destroyed by a bomb blast in August 1940.

In 1953 it was reported that a tomb was found beneath the floor of Edward the Confessor’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey. The experts decided that it was the tomb of Richard Courtenay, Bishop of Norwich, who died in 1415, and who was known to have been buried in the Abbey. He was the manorial Lord of Sampford Brett. Richard Courtenay, who was a son of the Earl of Devon, presented no less than six parsons to the church at Sampford Brett.

The Acland-Hoods

The lineage stems from John Hood of South Perrott, who lived in the reign of Henry VIII and the Hood baronetcy was created in 1809.

Sir Alexander Hood Bt. MP (1819-1892) married Isabel Fuller-Palmer-Acland in 1849. She was the daughter and heiress of Sir Peregrine Fuller-Palmer-Acland who owned the St Audries and Fairfield estates and who bought the Sampford Brett estate from the Courtenays in 1846. These were settled on Isabel when she married Sir Alexander Hood.

Sir Alexander Fuller-Acland-Hood was the fourth baronet. He was MP for West Somerset between 1892-1911 and succeeded his father in 1892. He was created Baron St Audries of St Audries in June 1911. His son, Alexander Peregrine, was the 2nd Baron St Audries and lived from 1893 to 1971. The Sampford Brett estate was sold in 1926. His niece, Lady Elizabeth Gass, lives at Fairfield, Stogursey.

The Church Buildings

The Church stands in a prominent position at the eastern end of the village. It is built of stone although parts are covered in pebble dash in order to prevent further erosion of the stone.

There was probably a church in Saxon times, but the first reference to one was in 1239, when the Rector Nicholas made an agreement with the Prior of Stogursey about the tithes of Aller. The north transept was probably built towards the end of the 13th century, probably as a Brett chapel, and the effigy of Sir William de Brett, which is now in the vestry, was probably here in the first instance. The two great windows are both 14th century, that in the north gable being earlier than that in the east. The nave may contain 13th century work, but none is visible except perhaps the blocked northern doorway (seen from the churchyard). The tower was constructed in 1360. The main roof is 15th century with the original bosses still clearly in evidence.

Originally the congregation stood or knelt and there were no seats in the churches except for stone ones on the walls for the aged. However, in the 14th century, the sermons began to have greater importance and about this time stalls were introduced into the naves. The first were very plain, but later were decorated. In Sampford Brett church some of these panels are evident, but all are enclosed in similar moulding based on the design of a famous 17th century carver. Most pew ends in Somerset are flat topped. The pew end next to the entrance commemorates Mrs Florence Wyndham who was about to be buried at St Decumans in Watchet in 1562, but was found by the sexton to be alive. She later gave birth to twin daughters, who appear with her in the carving.

In the 18th century, the Tanners, Humphrey and Thomas, who were Rectors for 90 years, spent a great deal of time in looking after the Church buildings and churchyard. The walls, roof and interior were repaired and restored. In those days there were only three communions a year, at Easter, Whitsun and Christmas, and only then was the brass cleaned and linen washed. Humphrey Tanner bought a gallon of wine from Torweston to last the year and also a two penny loaf at each festival. There was no lighting, no candles on the altar and no heating. In 1751, however, coal was purchased. Thomas Williams did the work. He also built the parish stocks in 1762.

A major reconstruction of the Church’s interior took place between 1835-1845 and was paid for by the Earl of Egremont which was probably due to the fact that one of the Earl’s daughters married the Rev John Tripp, Vicar of Spofforth. Their son, Charles, became Rector in 1832, and his younger brother, Henry, was manager of the Egremont estates.

During this time the Church must have been completely altered. We do not know what it looked like before alteration, but it must have contained a large number of Brett and Courtenay memorials. The north transept was a chapel and the entrance to the Church was from the south, underneath the tower. The font stood at the present entrance.

At this time the south transept, vestry, east and west gables were rebuilt. The Brett effigy was moved from the north transept to a new base in the vestry. The decorated arches in white plaster in the Strawberry Hill style were constructed, and raised pews on plinths were put in.

Mr Henry Tripp, who was Rector 1911-17, was the father of Mrs Bowden and was patron of the living when Mr Coleman came to the village. Mrs Bowden’s husband died in 1955 and the altar rails are a memorial to him.

In 1913 central heating radiators were installed and in 1935 electric lighting replaced oil lamps and candles. In 1957 Dr H E Davis of Monksilver put in new leaded glass into the 5 lights of the west window, the cost being met by the War Damage Commission. Fragments of the stained glass memorial to Margaret Courtenay were suitably arranged and attached internally and they included her coat of arms intact and the date 1744 pieced together.

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