Chris Steed


LYNTON 16th February 2011 (for the September 2011 visit click here)

“The Licensing of the Rev Dr Christopher Steed as Priest-in-Charge (Team Rector Designate) of the North Devon Coast Ministry”. So said the title on the Lynton service booklet and we joined with Mike Callow and the bell ringers of Lynton and Combe Martin to herald the event. Hopefully others will describe the service and gigantic feast which followed, I will simply say that we were pleased to make the acquaintance of Chris James, licensed reader who had done so much to “hold the fort” in the last 18 months, and to see Avril and Allan robe up with the Devon clergy, including ‘our’ Rev. Wendy Mitchell, now of Woolfardisworthy. The Bishop of Exeter, the local Archdeacon, the Rural Dean, and many representatives of local organisations also took their part. Chris got the 3rd bell to sound five times, if anyone wants to draw a conclusion from that (an old saying is that it’s one year in office per ring, but as he is ‘Team Rector Designate’ and was next morning involved in interviewing for a Team Vicar to work with him, I don’t think the old saying helps much nowadays!)
As we walked down Lee Road next morning to take a photo of St Mary’s, Lynton, we came face to face with Chris and had a brief chat before he hurried off to his duties. For our part, we had decided that as the weather was holding fair, we would visit some of his other churches, especially the more isolated ones which we had not been to before. We drove Westwards through the stunning scenery of the Valley of the Rocks and duly paid our £1 toll at Lee Abbey to continue on ever-narrower cliff edge roads past Lee Bay and Woody Bay until we reached the 11th Century church at Martinhoe. With a stated population of 150, we noted that there were only 10 on the Electoral Roll. However, there was an electronic keyboard, and the tower held two ancient bells inscribed ‘Maria’ and ‘Sancta Maria’ so we wondered how the church “became conveniently dedicated to St. Martin.”
On through the steep ups and downs of King’s Lane and past Hunters Inn and, taking a ‘best road’ (!) diversion we eventually came to a very muddy Trentishoe – two farms, two houses, a bungalow, and St Peter’s church; very ancient and thought to be the smallest in Devon, seating about 40 at a push! The small organ came from the RMS Mauritania when broken up in 1965. Again there were two small chiming bells, but here no details of their inscriptions, if any. The church retains its Minstrels’ Gallery.
Retracing our route to Hunters Inn, we turned South to Parracombe which has two churches – a Victorian one, Christ Church, near the village centre and used weekly, and the Old Church of St Petroc now in the hands of The Churches Trust, with only two services a year. It retains its 18th Century box pews, reading desks and pulpit but any bells presumably went to form the light chime of 6 at Christ Church. According to a leaflet at Martinhoe, the ancient font at St. Petroc’s was originally at Martinhoe.
Incidentally, Parracombe had a station on the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway, but that has long gone, and at the time of the Lynmouth floods one elderly gent was drowned here when water built up in the old railway tunnel, burst through, and sent a six feet high wave of water through the village.
We were obviously lucky as we only had to contend with thick fog on our journey back home over the top of the Brendons.

MORE OF Chris Steed’s Churches in North Devon

On Thursday 22.09.11 we arrived for a few days stay in Combe Martin before going on to Wendy and Hamish Mitchell’s at Woolfardisworthy Rectory. Combe Martin seemed much larger than Yatton, though it is basically (as Yatton was pre 1960s) a long, one street village with a few offshoots. We wondered how Chris could get round all this village, let alone the other seven parishes his team ministry covers. Luckily he has team vicar Yvonne at Lynton Vicarage to cover the Eastern parishes. We rang with the local call change and method ringers on Thursday evening and Chris paid a flying visit before a special harvest choir practice. On Saturday the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway had a Steam Gala day so we spent the morning and early afternoon at Woody Bay Station and travelling down to Killington Lane station and back, first time single headed by ‘Axe’ and then double headed by ‘Lilla’ and ‘Axe’. Yours truly also had a go at driving the engine ‘Sid’ a short way and back. As misty rain began to threaten from the West we left there and made for Brendon, the Easternmost of Chris’s parishes. Here the church is on steep hills N/S AND E/W (2 miles west of village) so it was difficult to get a photo with all the church in. It has 4 bells and we had rung for Harvest in 1969 just after we got married, and again in May 1990 when Andrew requested a similar flying visit to ring at the Dedication Service following a rehang by Jack Wonnacot (of Bideford, we think). Onwards then 2 miles steep down into Brendon village, through Rockford, a sharp left hand turn and climb to the A39 and West again to Countisbury. Just a short walk on a lane leading to the South West Coast Path is St John the Evangelist Church, which neither of us has visited before. Entries in the registers started in 1606 here, but it is thought the church was built on a much older foundation. Indeed the nearby camp was thought to have existed “in 4000 BC”! One bell remains of the original 3, the 2 others had been sold in 1964 to fund restoration work. We also twice passed Barbrook Chapel of Ease (the first time unseeing, the second aware!) but as it was raining there and also in Lynmouth, both parishes covered by Chris’s team, we left a visit and photos until another day.

Sunday we went to Chris’s most Western parish Berrynarbour. Here the call-change ringers really put us through our paces for ¾ hour before a “Songs of Praise” service followed by coffee and chat. Later we visited Ilfracombe and its ancient lantern chapel (and the bank ATM!) all bathed in beautiful sunshine, before returning to Combe Martin for Harvest Thanksgiving Service and Harvest Supper – all very convivial and pleasant. Chris certainly has his time cut out here in North Devon and the crematorium is 40 miles away at Barnstaple so funerals take a lot of time and energy, as well as the daily round. It is obvious he is already well thought of though, and his pub ministry and whole presence especially following this tragic week at Parracombe*, is very much appreciated.

G R Marchant 25.09.11

* One murder and the village school partially burnt (Chris interviewed on local TV).

….and if anyone wants a fantastic B & B in Combe Martin, just ask us! (Hosts were from the Mendips area originally, and nothing too much trouble.)

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