Debrett celebrates Offwell's rich history

OFFWELL S heritage is celebrated in a new book published by Debrett.

OFFWELL'S heritage is celebrated in a new book published by Debrett.

Dr Susan Morris and Gervase Belfield, of Debrett Ancestry Research, were commissioned to write the book, a substantial history of the parish, which has now gone on sale.

Proceeds will be donated to the upkeep of Offwell parish church.

For reasons explained in the book, Offwell has never had a lord of the manor - meaning, for centuries, the church was the focus of authority, wielded not only by its rectors but also by the local gentry, who served as churchwardens.

Wardens' accounts provide a fascinating window onto parish life, in good times and bad, as well as documenting the physical evolution of the church.

The rich and poor of Offwell (and of farther afield) pass through the pages of the book.

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The authors disclose the names of the gallery musicians with their viols, clarinet and flute; they find out who project managed the building of Offwell's fine Georgian pews; and they show the humblest members of the community receiving gifts of shoes or breeches when in greatest need.

Royalist rector Thomas Jones provided some high drama in the 1640s. A benevolent and cultured man, whose Rectory House at Offwell was savagely plundered and vandalised many times, he rode off to join the royalist army.

When the Parliamentarians tried to drag the rector's father to prison, the women of Offwell rescued him.

Thomas Jones eventually fled the country and did not live to see the monarchy restored.

The arrival of the wealthy Copleston family in the late 18th century, as rectors and patrons, raised the parish to a new level.

The Coplestons provided a continuous succession of rectors from 1772 to 1954, including the distinguished Edward Copleston, Bishop of Llandaff, whose eccentric Bishop's Tower is just one of many architectural legacies in Offwell.

The parish's medieval estate history has been researched in detail from original sources and is set out in the book as an appendix.

A History of Offwell Church and Parish, which is illustrated in colour, comprises 150 pages and includes an index, bibliography and genealogical charts.

It is on sale, priced �15, from Offwell Village Shop, Sundial Nursery and Honiton Tourist Information Centre.