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The church of the Holy Cross, Highampton


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The Parish was also known as High Heanton (not to be confused with Heanton Punchardon near Braunton).

The Church of the Holy Cross is Norman and Perpendicular. Inauguration day was 3rd May 1270 and for many years the nearest Sunday to 3rd May was celebrated as the feast of the Invention of the Cross, but since the eighteenth century the parish feast was celebrated on the nearest Sunday to Holy Cross day (14th September).

The earliest known Rector is Robert Giffard who died in 1282; he was also a canon of Exeter. There is a complete list of Rectors from the time of the death of John Bele in 1407 until the present time. One of them, Stephen Townsend (1568-79), was Dean of Exeter from 1583 until his death in 1588. Among the long serving Rectors were Thomas Shutte who was appointed in 1606 and still there in 1641; John Rouse who was Rector from 1733-75, and Henry Woollcombe from 1810-61. He also rebuilt the Rectory in about 1834.

The patronage of the living went with the lordship of the manor for many generations through Moel, Fortescue and Cary until it came to Woollcombe in 1733, but was passed to the Bishop in 1972. In 1945 the living was united with Sheepwash and the Rectory was sold. In 1971 the parish became part of the Shebbear group and in 1984 was moved to be part of the Black Torrington Benefice.

There was a church house at the entry to the churchyard which was rebuilt as a village school in 1834. It continued as such until a new school was built further down the road in 1912.

The church was restored and enlarged in 1834 with the addition of a north aisle. Much of the 15th century building remains. The south porch retained its Norman arch of the late 13th century with decorated capitals, a frieze of leaves and a single order of colonettes. The font is also a survivor of the 13th century with a circular bowl and a band of Norman quatrefoil decoration, beneath a moulded rim, of crosses saltire, stars and circles. Beneath this is a band of cable moulding on top of a modern shaft and plinth, possibly dating from 1834. It is sometimes described as a Cornish Fowey type font. Most of the present nave dates from the 15th century with a good wagon roof. Two of the three bells are 15th century and the tenor dates from 1555. The tower is 48 feet high.

The chancel was further restored in 1869 with the ceiling being faced with wood. The Commandments, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer which had been engraved on slate, were replaced and mosaics, with the emblems of the four Evangelists, were placed on either side of the altar. The stained glass east window, executed by Clayton and Bell, was installed in 1871. The tower screen commemorates Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

The Church possesses a silver chalice and paten made in Exeter (by R. H.) during the reign of Elizabeth 1. The church registers have survived from 1653.

John Baker and Gerry Matthews