The Church

Historians and enthusiasts through the ages have remarked that Saint Winifred's is one of the most interesting and architecturally important parish Churches in Devon. It is also one of the oldest.
There is clear evidence of three main stages of building, starting with the late Norman period and tantalising hints of an earlier, Saxon building on the same site. In the whole county of Devon only one other Church, Saint Giles' at Sidbury with its pre-Conquest crypt, can claim evidence of Saxon remains.
The image below shows a depiction of the Norman Church of Saint Winifred at Branscombe circa 1150AD.  It shows the square tower of Saint Winifred's which was built in the twelfth century with about 15 feet of the nave walls to the west of the tower.  The square-cut Norman stonework is quite distinctive when viewed from the outside and both the tower and nave section feature carved corbel-heads under the parapet and eaves.
It is thought that the this early tower would have originally housed a short, pyramid shaped spire, thatched like the main roof and shown in the image.  Some experts feel that the turret-stair by the tower is a later addition, others believe that it is the same age as the tower itself.
 The transepts are more correctly described as transeptal chapels and most experts agree that they were added fifty to one hundred years after the consecration of the Norman Church.  The transeptal chapels are fifteen feet square and alone would have almost doubled the available space in the Church and yet at about the same time, the nave was lengthened adding twenty-seven feet westward, nearly tripling the area of this part of the Church.  This fourfold enlargement may indicate the population of Branscombe was increasing.
The chancel is early fourteenth century, except for the east window and the chancels construction reflects a period when a fashion for enlarging and rebuilding the tiny Anglo-Norman sanctuaries was sweeping through the land, fuelled by an increase in the nation's wealth.
The sixteenth century was a turbulent time for the Church as the old order of universal Catholicism gave way to Reformation and the establishment of the reformed Church of England.  Among the Catholic traditions that were swept away were images, including crucifixes, rood screens, statuary and murals. Shrines, together with gold, silver and jewels that adorned them, were seized by the Crown.  
In more modern times, the Church underwent a total restoration in 1911 by WD Caroe under the watchful eye of Branscombe's new vicar and amateur historian, the Reverend A Steele King.  The renovations cost £3,000 and Saint Winifred's was reopened by Archibald, Lord Bishop of Exeter, on the 10th May 1912.  Twenty-five years later in 1937, the twentieth century finally caught up with Branscombe's Church when the switch was thrown on Saint Winifred's electric lighting.  In 1988 the Church lighting was replaced and expanded to include external lighting.

The photograph to the right shows "The Millennium Cross" commissioned to celebrate 2000 years since the birth of Christ and the start of a new millennium.  It was designed and sculptured by Stephen Budd using oak grown and seasoned in Branscombe.  It was dedicated by the Bishop of Crediton on the 2nd January 2000.
The school enjoys positive links with the Church.  We join the congregation at festival times e.g. Harvest and Christingle and have our own services at Easter and for Remembrance Day.  The Vicar comes to school each week to do a morning assembly and a group from the Church run an after school ‘Fish Club’ for the children.  A recent addition to our association with the Church is that each third Wednesday of the month the whole school goes to Church at 2.45pm.  We are joined by parents and members of the local community for a short service and refreshments are served at the end to allow everyone time to chat and meet new people.

The main additions to the Church in the fifteenth century can be dated within six years, as the arms of Bishop George Neville are carved into the great east window and are also found on a boss in the intersecting timber ribs of the nave.  Neville was what would be described today as a "high Flyer".  He was Lord Chancellor of England at the age of 25, Bishop of Exeter from 1458 - 1464 and subsequently Archbishop of York, the second highest Church office in England after that of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  This period may also have seen the construction of the rood-screen, which stood between the the nave and the tower. Pews are a late development in Churches, there are no records of any pews in Saint Winifred's before 1810, although pieces of late Jacobean oak panelling were found incorporated into the nineteenth century wall-panels and pews, which may hint at former seating, which would typically have been wooden benches with panelled ends.
What effect all this had on the parishioners of Branscombe, we can only guess, but it was not long before Saint Winifred's tragic losses began to be reversed with the building of the oak gallery at the west end of the nave that has been given a post reformation date in the sixteenth century.
Details from this page regarding the Church were taken from the "Guide to the Church of Saint Winifred" which is available at the Church for a modest sum.  It was written by Ronald Branscombe and illustrated by Angela Lambert.