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St Stephen’s, Ashill

Support Our Church!

If you want this building to continue as a church, please show your support by attending these special services.

From Febuary 2017 a regular evening service will be on the first Sunday of every month at 6.30.pm.

Carol Service 4pm Sunday 18th December with the Culm Valley singers and Musicians, followed by Mince Pies etc. ALL WELCOME.

St Stephen’s Church is a simple but attractive red brick building in the centre of Ashill village. It was built in 1882 as a Chapel of Ease to the ancient parish Church of St Mary the Virgin which lies 1.5 miles away in Uffculme. St Stephen's services the communities of Ashill, Craddock and Hayn in the largely rural Eastern part of the parish.

In medieval times Ashill was a settlement of nine small farms with approximately 200 acres under pasture or cultivation. The pattern of the farms, their acreage and field shapes suggest the original community was based on an open field system with commoning rights on Hackpen Hill, Ashill Moor and Gaddon Down, gradually evolving into tenement farms of about 25 acres by the 18th century.

In the 15C there is a reference to Richard Wilkie as Vicar of Assehill but little else is recorded. However, in the 18C, the triangle nearly opposite St Stephen’s contained a ‘Chapel Cottage’ which suggests some lost chapel. About 50 yards away is the first religious building in Ashill, which can be definitely identified, as the Baptist Chapel (1842) closed in 1950’s and now a private residence. The members of the Church of England also used the Baptist Chapel from 1850 to 1880. Although relations were good for many years a dispute arose out of the tenure of the Ashill Chapel and this went before the then Bishop of Exeter, who decided that the tenure was with the Baptists. It was further decided by the Church of England to build a New Chapel in 1880. Today there are Baptist Chapels in Uffculme and Kentisbeare (Sainthill) and Hemyock.

St Stephen’s was built at a cost of about £736 with a further amount for the building of the Chancel, given by Rev. Marker. The cost of building the new Chapel would have been a heavy cost on what was a poor rural community and by 1882 the building was completed. It has changed very little since. The chapel, as it was then called, consists of a red brick exterior, with buff brick interior, stone chancel arch, a tiled chancel and other original fittings. A wood screen divides off the schoolroom, which has a separate entrance. The windows are original apart from the Marker east window of 1904.

St Stephen’s has some architectural interest in Devon as it was designed by Robert Medley Fulford (1845-1910) son of the Vicar of Woodbury, who was articled to Hayward before setting up on his own. Also working with William White and Ashworth, he gave up architecture on his ordination in 1891.

In the 1880’s, Fulford played an active part in many church restorations in Devon, including, Bickington, Cadbury, Chulmleigh, East Ogwell, Exbourne, Pinhoe and Merton. In additional to St Stephen’s in Ashill, his other completed churches were, Avonwick (1880), Poltimore (1879), Washford Pyne (1884) and Bow (1889). He also designed the large city church of St James in Old Tiverton Road, Exeter, but this was blitzed in 1941. In “Devon - The Buildings of England” 1989, the author, Bridget Cherry, notes that Fulford is admired for his inventive tracery and elaborate fittings, although she describes his style as “Quirky”

The interior of St Stephen’s was re-ordered by Reverend Geoffrey Fraser in 1970’s, when chairs were removed along with the defunct heating system which had gratings down the middle of the nave. Pews were brought from an abandoned chapel in Bangor, North Wales. An organ dating from 1912 was bought by parishioners for £25, but was then replaced in the 1920’s. Again, this was replaced in 1999 by the present organ which was obtained from a school in South Devon, restored and installed through a grant from Uffculme Trust and a bequest by Leslie George Wellington, a former parishioner.

A reredos painting by Eric Fraser, the father of the then Vicar, Geoffrey Fraser was presented to the church. Eric Fraser (1902-1983) completed the work in 1982 for the 100th anniversary of St Stephen’s. He is perhaps better known for his work on the Radio Times, Postage Stamps and Medici Christmas Cards. It remained in the church until 2001 when it was damaged by Bat droppings, being returned to Reverend Fraser in Great Malvern. A replacement in wood, made by a local resident Doctor Desmond Sergeant, now adorns the altar.

St Stephen’s is part of the Parish of Uffculme and is also part of the Culm Valley Mission Community comprising the parishes of Blackborough, Kentisbeare, Uffculme and Willand. The Mission Community leader is the Reverend Rob Wilkinson.
Although a Chapel of Ease, St Stephen’s is now licensed to perform weddings. It has for many years held Baptism and Funeral Services. The church can accommodate between 65 and 100 people.