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Additional Notes on Rousdon


Graham Jones <>

Church History

The first Chapel dedicated to St Pancras was evidently built by the father of one Aldred. A document dated from some time between 1155 and 1157 records that Aldred had, in the presence of his son (the incumbent) and the Bishop of Exeter, given St Pancras to the Abbey of Montebourg in the Diocese of Coutances in Normandy. The living belonged to the Priory of Loders near Bridport, a cell of the Abbey. When Henry V seized Axmouth and dissolved the Priory of Loders it passed to the Abbey of Syon in Isleworth, later to The Crown and then to local gentry. The list of known Rectors dates from 1279 when it is likely that Rousdon became a 'Parish within a Parish'. The Chapel was thatched, and about 25 feet long by 13 feet wide. By the late 18th Century the Chapel had ceased to be used, and it became a derelict farm building. In 1871-2 Henry Peek (see below) built a new St Pancras Church, very small as parish churches go but large enough for the locality, and this was used for worship for nearly a hundred years. From 1906 Rousdon and Combpyne shared the same Rector, becoming a United Benefice in 1936. Since 1982 Combpyne-Rousdon has been incorporated into the Axminster Team Ministry.

Nearby, between Rousdon and Whitlands, there was at Charton (aka Charlton) another small Chapel (also thatched, and 30 ft by 15 ft) dedicated to St Leonard. This was founded by Gilbert de Umfraville who 'gave the Chapel and appurtenances and 16 acres of land' to the Abbey of Montebourg. Monks living at Axmouth were to serve this Chapel three days a week and all feast days. St Leonard's passed to Loders, and thence to Syon, and the building became ruinous after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.


'Downralph, or Rousdon, although a distinct parish, and perhaps the smallest in England, containing two hundred and fifty-four acres and a population, in 1871, of sixteen only - a number which will ere long be considerably augmented - is described as "a Tithing within the hundred and manor of Axmouth.."......Rousdon is delightfully situated "lying open to the sea and albeit wanting water". In ancient times it belonged, with the adjoining estates of Downprior and Downhumphraville, to the family of Down, or Donne, who in the time of Henry II and subsequently, resided at Rousdon. Many of its members were called Ralph, and gave their name to their property, which in some deeds is called Down Rauffe, easily transposed to Rauffe-down and corrupted into Rousdon....' [From 'The Book of the Axe' - George P.R.Pulman, 1875 (&1969)]

This part of the coastline is very susceptible to landslips, and the great Landslip, which attracted much attention and many visitors, occurred between Rousdon and Axmouth, at Christmas-time in 1839. Henry Peek, MP for Mid Surrey, created a baronet in 1874, established his Estate at Rousdon from 1871. Sir Henry had made his fortune as an importer of spices and other groceries, and was a philanthropic man with strong Christian conviction. He first rebuilt St Pancras, built a village school in 1876, and then built the Mansion (where there had been a farmhouse) between 1878 and 1883 - 'a noble mansion of grey flints with Purbeck stone dressings, in the Queen Anne style, from designs by Messrs.George and Vaughan, architects, of London' [Kelly's, 1893]. In addition to the lodges and estate buildings an Observatory was erected in 1884 - Sir Henry's son Cuthbert superintended observations, assisted by Charles Grover who later became the Estate's Astronomer and published his records.

In 1937 the Rousdon Estate, and other local properties then owned by the Peeks, were put up for auction, as the Family were no longer in residence. The Estate itself was bought by Allhallows School, who moved there from Honiton in 1938. Allhallows closed in December 1998, and in 1999 the Estate was bought by developers for conversion to private housing. Also in 1999 East Devon District Council declared the Estate a Conservation Area, in view of its architectural value.


A pictorial map is available locally.

Rousdon School 1876-1939

This was the Village School built and endowed by Sir Henry Peek - the building is now the Combpyne-Rousdon Village Hall ('Peek Hall'). Almost certainly it was the first school in the country to provide hot dinners - Sir Henry decided that the children needed to be fed as well as taught and introduced 'penny dinners'. The first child in a family paid 5d each Monday, a second child 4d, and so on, and over a seven years' period it was calculated that 110,221 dinners were supplied at a total cost of 107,406 pence. Rosy cheeks and enthusiasm for 'roly-poly and bacon' are recorded in the press, as is a note of a mention in the House of Commons in July 1883.

Last updated: 12 Apr 2004 - Brian Randell

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