Ottery St Mary to Newnham on the Olde London Road (16 miles)

This is the continuation of Henry VII’s journey from Exeter to London in 1497, following on from yesterday’s Exeter to Ottery leg.

After a night in or near Ottery St Mary, Henry progressed to Newenham Abbey (alternative spelling), near Axminster. He resided at the Abbey for two nights, 4 and 5 November. Saturday 4 Nov was dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo and Saints Vitalis and Agricola, martyrs, in the Catholic Old Calendar. 5 Nov 1497 was a Sunday, the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, which presumably was the main reason for his not travelling on. Obvs. it was still 108 years before the Gunpowder Plot.

At the time, the Cistercian abbey was as large as Exeter cathedral and included its own church.  Henry VII’s son, Henry VIII would in time dissolve this monastery along with hundreds of others in 1539, but for now it was a lodging fit for a king.

John Leland described the first stretch from Ottery to Honiton:

Ther is a bridge off stone by the ford of Tale. From this ford of Tale I rode about [a 2. miles] farther to Veniton a Bridges, [where Oterey] Water is devidid into 4. armes by pollicy to serve grist [corn] and tukking [fullers’] milles. Apon 3. of these streames I roode by fair stone bridges. The first arme of the 4. was the leste, and had no bridg that I markid. On the north side of the first bridge was a chapelle now prophanid.

S. Marie Oterey town is [missing words] from Veniton bridgges. From Veniton bridges to Honiton a 2. miles on the est ripe of Oter River.

Honiton is a fair long thorough fare and market toun, longging to Courteney of Powdreham : beyng just xij. miles from Excester by est in the high way to London.

The Ottery road from the south meets the east-west Roman road at the milestone. Fenny Meadow was the site of another battle many years later, in 1549 (the Prayer Book Rebellion).

Going out of Honiton on the east side, the Axminster road is today known as the King’s Road.  Before reaching the top of the hill, the modern A35 diverges from the Roman Road (which still underlies Springfield Road) but the two are quickly re-united before passing north of Widworthy Park and going through the village of Wilmington.

The Umborne Brook runs under the road here, where the former Ford Cottages gave us a clue as to the more historical way of crossing. By 1887 there was Wilmington Bridge (see picture) passing over the brook, and a millstream feeding Widworthy sawmill.  This bridge is where the modern A35 diverges again from the Roman road.  In the picture of the brook below, the Ford Cottages were where the cleared area is now, and Wilmington Lane (the Roman Road) is leading off top right.

The Roman road traverses the modern A35 again and passes within 1-2 miles of the fortified manor house Shute House, occupied at the time by Thomas Grey, son of Elizabeth Woodville (therefore, step-son of Edward IV) and his wife Cecily Bonnville.  Henry may have stayed with them at Knightstone near Ottery the night before. It seems there wasn’t much trust between him and the king, but they must have been working on it. Grey’s son had a role a few years later at the marriage of Arthur, Prince of Wales and Catherine of Aragon.

Shute House in 1785, before partial demolition of the medieval/Tudor section

The two roads converge again at the village of Kilmington, south of Coryton Park. Then the modern road over the river Yarty is only a few metres south of the Roman route which was described by Leland:

Ther is a stone bridge on Artey about half a mile from the place wher it enterith into Ax.

This bridge of sum is caullid Kilmington Bridge, a village not very far from it.

The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543

Leland describes the Yarty as: “Yartey ryver, being sumtyme a raging water”

Today, the B3261 Trafalgar Way follows the Roman road, and crosses the river Axe at Bow Bridge, which is quite likely the one described by Leland thus:

Ax thens rennith thorowgh Axmistre bridge of stone about a quarter of a mile lower then Axmistre town. [skipping a few lines here] [Ax rennith] a mile dim. lower thorough [Ax bridg of] 2. archis of stone. This bridg servith not to passe over at high tydes, otherwise it doth.

The final stretch: bridges over the Yarty and the Axe in 1887, and the site of Newenham.

So, the bridge was impassable at high tide. The tidal range of the river further up above Axminster is normally between 0.37m and 1.60m. The modern bridge is much more recent and is open in all weathers. It’s Grade II listed and photograped on Geograph.

Then the final leg of the journey to Newenham Abbey is described by Leland thus:

About half a mile lower then Axmistre Bridge is Newenham, sumtyme an abbay of Bernardines [AKA Cistercians] … it stondith on the hither ripe of Ax to the est in Devonshire.

Clearly, Leland’s visit was in the first few years after the dissolution in 1539. No doubt the site had already been pillaged for building stone and roofing materials, but there were still ruins worth drawing as late as the 18th century (I will locate those one day, maybe post Covid).  Nowadays the remnants have been incorporated into Lower Abbey Farm.

This doorway on Church Street, Axminster, was reputedly once a window in the Abbey.

Another nearby property was Colcombe Castle outside Colyton, which was a residence of the Earls of Devon/Marquis of Exeter, i.e. the Courtenays who had recently assisted in the defence of Exeter.

The next stop would be Bridport.

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