History of the Ownership & Governance of Crediton Parish Church

Talk by Robin Langhorne on the Ownership & Governance of Crediton Parish Church (CAHMS event)

Robin Langhorne (seated) after the talk, with (l to r) Michael Lee, Mary Nation and CAHMS Chairwoman Sandra Cooper

When: to January  2015
Where:Boniface Centre, Church Lane, Crediton
Who:Robin Langhorne

Life member and Church Governor Robin Langhorne – who older Kirtonians will remember taught history at Queen Elizabeth school for many years – addressed over 50 members and friends of Crediton Area History & Museum Society on 12 January on the history of the Ownership and Governance of Crediton Church.

Mr Langhorne's extensive knowledge of history, both local and national, enabled him to talk widely on the influence of national politics on the church from the 12th century. He described how the monarch sometimes regarded the church and leaders of it, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, as 'the enemy'. The monarch depended on the church to implement his laws and collect the income he required.

The biggest change resulted from Henry VIII's break with Rome. He planned the demolition of the church but his son Edward VI was willing for the local people to purchase it for £200 and in his Charter of 1547, all the property and land belonging to the church was vested in 12 Governors. The break with Rome meant that suddenly 30 abbeys and over 46,000 churches were to switch from Latin to English and Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism. Some vicars revolted, significantly Sampford Courtney, where the Prayer Book Rebellion started in 1549. The 12 Governors of Crediton Parish Church laid low, whilst the Bishop of Exeter declared for Protestantism but Lord Russell’s troops were defeated in 'the Battle of the Barns' outside Crediton. However, reinforcements were brought in and the rebels were defeated at Exeter.

Initially it was thought that the Crediton Governors, which have always included members of very well-known local families such as the Trobridges, Bodleys, Mortimores and Daveys, were all powerful. Their wealth was considerable, with income from 12 Prebendary farms in the area and local tithes. There were only a dozen or so such Collegiate churches in the country. In Crediton 18 Cannons and 18 vicars were supported, some of whom lived nowhere near, and others who lived mainly in Dean Street. In 1620 it was calculated that the Governors income was double what it had been assumed it would be and the Governors were summoned to a special court to account for what had happened to the extra income. It was alleged that they had not been helping 'the poor' as much as they should have done. Consequently, the Governors gave up many of their powers to the Bishop of Exeter and the current position regarding their powers is very unclear. They certainly have major responsibility for administering the selection of the incumbent and continue to administer a number of local charities. However, most of these have been transferred to Crediton United Charities.

Mr Langhorne said that the question of how the parish of Exminster became a responsibility of the Crediton Governors is interesting. It may be the result of that church having originally been a part of the Plympton Priory, dissolved by Henry VIII, perhaps making it necessary for him to attach it elsewhere and he chose Crediton! This later allowed the Governors to sell land in Exminster to use towards the cost of building Haywards School but the present involvement of the Governors in Exminster Church is only to act as 'patrons'. 

Governors are appointed locally and when vacancies occur, the remaining Governors appoint suitable local persons. Mr Langhorne informed the audience that it took 400 years for there to be a female Governor and there are now 2. Sandford was originally not attached to Crediton and as a result of it then becoming part of the Governors’ responsibility, 3 of the 12 Governors must now reside in Sandford.

Thanks are due to Mr Langhorne for an interesting insight into the history of Crediton’s historic church.

 Keith Mortimer