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Newton St Cyres
Centre of Village
Village Scene

Through the Centuries in Newton St Cyres

Four miles north west of Exeter, the 2000 year old capital of Devon, the picturesque cottages of Newton St Cyres nestle together in a valley. Many of them are built of cob (the traditional clay and straw building material renowned for its good insulation) and have thatched roofs. There have been many changes from the days of industrial mining and cider-making to the present day with the production of award-wining cheese.

Newton (as it was originally known) lies on either side of the Crediton road where it crosses the Shuttern Brook, a tributary of the River Creedy. A ford is still there but is bypassed and the main road now runs in a 19th century cutting. To the north is a flat expanse of fertile red sandstone and in the distance lie the distinctive Raddon Hills, whilst to the south is a hilly area of heavy soil and woodland where deposits of manganese ran from Ford through Hayne to Woodley. Lead and silver ran in an almost parallel seam about half a mile to the south along the crest of a hill.

The 14th century church, with its 13th century tower, stands on a small hillside overlooking the village. The road to Crediton used to run uphill alongside but it is now in the cutting. The parish of Newton St Cyres is 17 miles in circumference and includes several small hamlets and many old farmhouses still bearing the same names as in the 16th century. It was a new farm or town in the Saxon times - an Anglo-Saxon charter still survives describing the southern boundary. St Cyres was a 14th century addition to the name - the church dedication being to St Julitta and St Cyr, her young son.

The village is mentioned in the Domesday (Book) survey of 1086 as being included in the lands of the Bishop of Exeter but it also had an entry under the name of the King's Thane Dunn. The manor had land for 30 ploughs, 21 villagers, 8 small holders, 6 slaves and a mill. It contained 28 acres of pasture, 20 acres of meadow and was valued at £6.

The parish was comprised mainly of the manors of Newton and Norton divided by the River Creedy. It is apparent that the See of Exeter must have retained Norton which descended to the Dean and Chapter of Exeter. There was a chapel there until the mid 18th century and it is said that wood for Exeter Cathedral was seasoned nearby.

For a while after the arrival of William the Conqueror the surviving English in the area retained their lands but later they passed to Norman successors. Newton was given by Robert de Pont Arch to the Augustinian Priory of Plympton, who in 1407, produced a description of the properties of 'Nyweton' in Latin but with many still familiar farm and place names.

After the dissolution of the monasteries in the early 1500's the manor of Newton was held by the Crown for 18 years but then it was sold to Walter Northcote, a rich cloth merchant from Crediton. There is an especially notable memorial to his grandson, John Northcote, in the church. There is early evidence of the Quicke family in the village with a burial in the church in 1549. In 1572 Thomas Quicke purchased a half share in the manor and the family have farmed here ever since, buying the other half share in the late 18th century.

The historic core of the village dates from the Middle Ages and is a Conservation Area. The earlier village plan was centred on the main road and the crossing of the Shuttern Brook but has been considerably modified by demolition due to road widening and fire damage. Nevertheless, the historic layout can clearly be seen on early 20th century Ordnance Survey maps.

There are more than fifty buildings in the parish listed as being of special architectural and historical interest. Many show 15th and 16th century features, with the traditional three-room-cross-passage plan and some even show signs of the original 'old hall' with smoke blackened roof timbers. Screens, fire places, ceilings and stairs were added later. Travellers of the 17th century record that the land was pleasant and fertile. Indeed it must have been a prosperous rural parish as in the 16th century it paid more tax than either Bideford or South Molton. Both Crediton and Newton suffered badly during outbreaks of the plague of 1571 and again in the winter of 1604-5.

The Civil War in the mid 17th century must have greatly disturbed the village because Crediton and Exeter lay on the frontiers of Royalist territory. Both armies used Lord's Meadow in Crediton to review their troops and Queen Henrietta Maria came to the comparative safety of Royalist Exeter for the birth of her 9th child. She was forced to flee to France via Falmouth and, when a short way on her journey along the Crediton road, it is said that she was forced to hide from Roundhead soldiers in a woodshed. Towards the end of the war the Roundheads under Sir Thomas Fairfax attempted to cut through Newton woods to avoid royalist troops at Alphington but had to abandon the attempt due to mud. They marched southwards from Crediton instead.

The 18th century seems to have been stable and reasonably prosperous for Newton. The Church rate books give an insight into parish affairs with details of who paid and how much. They contain an itemised expenditure on Church upkeep, payments to the poor and to the villagers for the killing of vermin. Whoops (bullfinches) that attack fruit blossom seem to have been particular pests. The parish was responsible for its own poor, and pauper children were apprenticed by the parish. The paper mill on a leat of the Creedy at Marsh Mills was operating from the late 1750'2 until the 1830's. It produced coarse paper for packing and attracted skilled itinerant workers.

Towards the end of the century, the Quickes built a new Palladian style house which was destroyed by fire in 1906 and the Vicar, John Hoblyn, built a new vicarage. In 1782 Dick the Plowman produced a good map of the village and plans of the mines. He tells us the ore was sent to Calais for extraction. This was probably lead with a little silver. Mining was suspended for a time when the Cornish mine captain died of smallpox.

The early 19th century picture is of a bustling almost industrial village with a population in 1831 of 1311 people. Mining continued with manganese mines around Hayne in addition to the earlier mines further up Sand Down Lane. The manganese ore was taken to a crushing mill in Exwick. Manganese was used in glass manufacture and in bleaching. The tannery at Coldharbour continued into the 1850's

There were three coaching inns in the centre of the village and three blacksmiths - one near each inn. Both a blacksmith and a wheelwright worked near the ford, so no doubt Shuttern water was used for cooling hot metal. Crediton was a boot making town at this time and there were also several boot makers in Newton.

The 1300 people lived in 232 dwellings, so many of the tiny cob cottages would have been very overcrowded. From then on the population declined until in 1921 it was only 610. Many cottages fell into disuse and disrepair notably in the Clay Hill Lane area. This was the steep lane that connected the end of WestTown with Sand Down Lane. It was finally ploughed up in the middle of this century.

Fire is always a risk to thatch and Newton has had perhaps more than its fair share this century, although on several occasions thatch was not involved. A case in point was a major fire at the Crown and Sceptre in the 1960's.

The road that once wound its sinuous way through the village centre and ran uncomfortably close to many cottages was straightened in recent years and some of the cottages demolished. Newton now has the benefit of a new green and many comfortable newer homes. Farming has been mechanised and a very small workforce now manages the village acres. Few orchards remain and cider making is no longer a local industry. Cheese production is, however, a different story and has gone from strength to strength. Thirty people are now employed and most of the milk produced in the parish and in the surrounding area is used.

The establishment of a new Recreation Ground in 1971 with many sporting facilities, and the continued growth of this, is surely a considerable achievement for a small village. Henry Gliddon, who was both a parish councillor and the parish clerk, initiated the project and was later awarded an MBE for services to the community. We now have two football pitches, two tennis courts, a cricket pitch, a children's play area and a comprehensive clubhouse. This venue with its delightful rural setting has proved popular with home and visiting teams alike.

This has been taken from the book 'Newton St Cyres A Village Story' compiled by the residents in 1999.

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