Our Village History

The Parish of Swymbridge in North Devon.

Compiled by Mervyn C. Dalling.


The village of SWYMBRIDGE (Swimbridge) is 4½. miles East South East of Barnstaple. Prior to boundary changes that came into effect in February 2003, it was one of the largest Parishes in North Devon, containing 7,280 acres of fine agricultural land. The name comes from Sawin Birige. Sawin was one of the clergy of South Molton, who founded a chapelry at Swymbridge in the days of the Saxon King, Edward the Confessor (1041 – 66 ). Sawin held lands here, the name of which was Birige.


The Parish Church of Saint James has been described as a “Treasure House,” because of the fine carving, and memorials that it contains. The Tower, with its Spire, is the only part left of the Church which immediately preceded the present one, and is dated about 1310. The height of the Steeple is 90 feet. The Nave of the Church is generally considered as being built from 1460. The Font is of lead, cased in plain oak, above which are elaborately carved doors forming a cupboard. These are surmounted with a canopy, giving it somewhat the appearance of a pulpit. The Stone Pulpit is of Early Tudor date, about 1490. Traces of the old colouring and gilding can still be seen. The five figures on the Pulpit represent St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and St. Jerome.

The Rood Screen is the outstanding feature of the Church, with a remarkable amount of carving on the Western side. A Stained Glass Window depicting “The Ascension” is a Memorial to The Rev. John Russell; Vicar of this Parish from 1832 to 1880. He is remembered for being a Hunting Parson, and for the breed of Jack Russell Terriers, but his work in the Parish is often overlooked. He was instrumental in building two Churches; St. Thomas at Travellers Rest (1866-7), and The Holy Name, at Gunn (1873). Swymbridge School was built during his time in the Parish (1866) as was Cobbaton School (1876.) Swymbridge had its first Wesleyan Chapel, in Chapel Court, in 1816; it was replaced by the Methodist Chapel in 1898. There was also a Wesleyan Chapel at Cobbaton, built in 1838. The Swymbridge Baptist Chapel was built in 1837, and the Gunn Baptist Chapel in 1909. These Chapels, and Travellers’ Rest Church have all been converted into dwellings.


The Jubilee Hall was built in 1938 and was so named to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The War Memorial, in the Churchyard records the 21 men from Swymbridge who fell in the Great War, and the 5 who fell in the Second World War. Six Inns were trading in the parish in 1866, but only one remains, namely “The Jack Russell.”

Bydown House is a large, and imposing mansion, in the Classic style, formerly owned by the Mayne and Chichester families. Dennington House was the home of Admiral Bury, whose daughter Penelope married Rev. John Russell. John Russell lived at Dennington House for a time, and also spent part of his time in the parish at Tordown House. Ernesborough, now Irishborough was the birthplace in 1554 of John Cowell, Master of Trinity Hall Cambridge, and author of “The Interpreter,” a well known dictionary of law terms. Stowford is the traditional birthplace of St. Urith, who was Martyred at Chittlehampton in the 8th. Century.


Leather was made at Swymbridge, from very early times until 1965, when the Tannery closed. Lime was worked at Bestridge, Marsh, Irishborough and Tower, and old lime kilns are still to be seen. There was a Mill at Riverton, and also one at Mill Court, both powered by water wheels driven by the River Venn. The last Village Blacksmith left in 1954. The Railway line through Swymbridge was opened for traffic on 1st. November 1873, and closed on 1st. October 1966.

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