The church & the charity
FORMATION OF THE CHARITY
The Friends of St Thomas were formed in 1997. A story was gaining ground that St Thomas Church would be closed following a partial roof collapse. A subcommittee was formed from Kenton Parochial Church Council and one of the measures to be adopted to prevent the closure was the formation of the Society of Friends for the church. This was considered important to widen the support to all villagers and townsfolk who recognised the long history involved as part of our heritage.
In 1998 the church was closed. A major appeal was made to raise the £25,000 which English Heritage required before providing a further £65,000 to meet the cost of work to ensure the integrity of the fabric. In particular the damaged roof was repaired, enabling the church to re-open. The project found favour and services were resumed on Easter Day in 2000, and on 23rd October 2003 the 'Friends' gained charitable status.
Concerning the history of the church, much is open to conjecture. The present church may well be a reconstruction on an earlier foundation, since Bronescombe's register of 1263 mentions one Nicholas de Dunden, the earliest recorded rector. Most of the building dates from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries.
Originally the church had a screen and rood loft; these have disappeared apart from five panels, painted with the figures of various saints, which at one time formed part of the screen. These panels now form the doors of Mamhead pew in the south transept.
Much work was carried out about 1830 by Sir Robert William Newman while the new Mamhead House was in the course of erection. The chancel and chancel arch were rebuilt at this time and the former has a ceiling in panels and bosses painted and gilded. Some of these bear the initials R W N and M J N for Robert William Newman, the first baronet and his wife Mary Jane Newman. Dr Oliver states that in 1830 the south porch was converted into a pew but the general proportions and situation of the porch make this seem unlikely.
At the turn of the year 1913-14 the old pulpit was removed and a new carved oak one erected in memory of the late Lady Newman. Some of the original plaster had to be removed and traces of the fifteenth century arcade were noticed. Sir Robert Newman, the then Lord of the Manor, had all the plaster removed and the whole of the red local stone arcades and other fifteenth century construction of the interior of the church were discovered including the original south porch doorway in alternate courses of red and white sandstone, the doorway to the rood loft and remains of the stair thereto in the north wall of the south transept. Two unusual squints were also opened up. According to a local press report of April 1914 the nave floor was at this time restored to its original level, the deal floor being replaced by stone slabs. It seems more likely however that the original floor was brought into use again. One of the tomb slabs in the floor bears the date 1569.
The church is a small Grade II listed building having a nave, north aisle, south transept and chancel. The aisle is of three bays with octagonal piers surmounted by octagonal caps. The tower is separated from the nave by a carved screen over which stood the organ set in a gallery, thus blocking the plain tower arch. The roof is a plastered waggon vault with timber beams and bosses of plaster.
The oldest part of the present building is the two-stage embattled tower which dates from the fourteenth century. The plan is basically of the two cell Celtic type with added north aisle and west tower, the south transept being added at a later date. The tower has buttresses set at an angle and a semi-octagonal embattled turret on the south side, with circular stair giving access to the organ loft, belfry and roof. Access to the church is by the main door at the west end under the tower, with a secondary entrance by means of the south porch doorway in alternate courses of red and white sandstone, the doorway to the rood loft and remains of the stair thereto in the north wall of the south transept. Two unusual squints were also opened up. According to a local press report of April 1914, the nave floor was at this time restored to its original level, the deal floor was at this time restored to its original level, the deal floor being replaced by stone slabs. It seems more likely however that the original floor was brought into use again. One of the tomb slabs in the floor bears the date 1569.
The whole church is built of local stone rubble, windows and other trims being carried out in Beer stone and red sandstone. The west doorway under the tower is trimmed in granite. The internal doorway to the south porch is interesting, the quoins being formed in irregular courses of red and white stone. The nave arcade is of red sandstone, piers and caps being octagonal in shape. The chancel and tower arches are also of red sandstone.
The nave and aisle ceilings are waggon vaults formed in plaster on oak roof trusses. All roofs, including the tower roof, are slated but the quarry is not known.
Mamhead derives its name from the Celtic words "Maim" meaning a rock or cliff and "Hexed" a head; and from its position at the southern end of Haldon Ridge. Before the Norman conquest the manor belonged to Algarus but had passed into the hands of Baldwin, the Baron of Okehampton and Sheriff of Devon, by the time of the Domesday Survey, when it was held under Baldwin by Ralph de Pomaria (Pomeroy).
Subsequently the manor passed to the Peverells and afterwards to the Carews. Sir Peter Carew sold the manor with the advowson (patronage) of the living to one Giles Ball, who appears as patron in 1581 and whose son Sir Peter Ball erected the original Mamhead House. This family held the manor until 1749 when, on the death of the last member, the estate was left to connections named Aprice of Washingley, Hunts. The Aprices subsequently sold it to Joseph Gascoyne Nightingale whose heiress married the Honourable Wilmot Vaughan, afterwards Lord Lisburne. In 1823 the the trustees of the third Earl of Lisburne sold the estate to Sir Robert William Newman, MP for Exeter, who extended and improved the park and erected the present Mamhead House, designed by the architect Salvin, a pupil of Nash. He also carried out additions and restorations to the church and the Newman family held the manor until the middle of the present century.