Welcome to the Friends of St. James Church, Swimbridge


Spring 2019
Spring 2018
February 2017
May 2013

Click Here to see the biodiversity page

Click Here to see a PDF brochure for the Friends for you to print


Roofing work 2019



Nathan Spice and mate were doing minor repairs to the church roofs today as recommended by our architect, at  St James and The Old School Room.

Funded by the Friends.






Our Spring Q&As are in the Old School Room at 7pm admission £3 (Friends free).

Refreshments by donation.

We have a wonderful line up of speakers, to whom we are most grateful. Both Philip and Michael have entertained us before – this time they are joined by an old friend of the Friends, Dr Richard Westcott.

Be sure to keep Thursdays - March 7, 21 and April 4 free for these events!

Please click here for the full information sheet

Further info: Mark Haworth-Booth 07813 776349 markhaworthbooth@gmail.com


Village calendar 2019Some time ago our trustee Mary Fardon suggested that the Friends produce a calendar for the village. Thank you, Mary! The calendar has now been produced. Each month has a generous sponsor - thank you to all of them (some anonymous) for helping to defray the costs of production. The calendar has now been printed and is on sale for 5 at the Jack Russell - with thanks to Paul Darch. It will be available at Friends' events, coffee mornings and after most Sunday morning services. Those who live away are very welcome to email me with an order: a single calendar posted 2nd class will cost 6.60. Please buy them for all your family and friends. Each sale will raise money for the maintenance and enhancement of the church, churchyard, Streamside Garden and the Old School Room. Julie Whitton kindly emailed me to say that 'it is absolutely brilliant. It is one of those calendars that I will keep forever.'

Our autumn season starts with Gill Nathanson and John Surman on 'An Actor's Life for Me' - 7.30, Old School Room, Thursday 11 October - please spread the word! - Mark

Spring Newsletter 2018

Our latest newsletter is here! Click here - or to the top right.

AGM 2018

The Friends AGM is open to all members - do please come along to the Old School Room (at the top end of the churchyard beside the gate to Swimbridge High Street) at 7.30 pm on Thursday 15 February. We shall review the past year, look ahead to the future, discuss exciting developments with the Old School Room refurbishment project, and discuss adopting a new constitution appropriate to managing the larger income expected from our grant applications for the Old School Room. Please contact me for further info if you wish:
Mark Haworth-Booth at markhaworthbooth@gmail.com

Autumn Programme 2017

Our program is now available HERE and asks 'What shall we read this autumn?' We hope you will enjoy our suggestions, from John Gay in Georgian London to the Romantic Poets and Henry Williamson on Exmoor and Ted Hughes at North Tawton. Please note that we are meeting on Thursdays (26 October, 9 November, 23 November) so as not to conflict with choir practice. All meetings are 7 for 7.30pm in the Old School Room, with refreshments by donation.
Entry £3  (Friends free).  

Bestridge House

The Barnstaple branch of the Devon Widlife Trust arranged a visit to the grounds of Bestridge House in Swimbridge on 15 August, by kind courtesy of the owners Sue and Mick Wearne. The organisers have, as on previous walks in Swimbridge, kindly shared with us the marvellous species lists compiled by their experts. Many thanks to Mary Breeds, John Breeds and Tony Holwill for the lists of vascular plants and moths. The very names are a delight.

Species List | Moths List

New Newsletter

The Friends of St James Church and Swimbridge Pre-school Old Schoolroom Project 
We have put together another newsletter to keep everyone up to date with progress. 
Click for the August 2017 newsletter
Know someone who would like to receive project news, to sign up as a supporter or may be able to help? Please e-mail David Netherway, project leader: david.netherway@btinternet.com

Lichen survey

The Friends joined forces with the Barnstaple branch of the Devon Wildlife Trust on a lichen survey in the churchyard, held on the sunny morning of Saturday 18 February. The survey was led by a remarkable local expert, Maxine Putnam, helped by other very knowledgeable naturalists including Paul Madgett and Mary Breeds. It was entrancing to discover that what looked at first glance like slight discolourations on walls, pavements or gravestones were instead thriving communities of lichens. Maxine will be writing up a species list which we shall be adding to our other biodiversity records for the parish on this page.

Click here for a lichen list

Lichen survey 2017 Lichen survey 2017 Lichen survey 2017 Lichen survey 2017
Lichen survey 2017 Lichen survey 2017
Church clock repair 2016

Church clock repair 2016

A final thank you note: a framed information piece has been put in the nave close to the door to the tower (see photo).

This marks the completion of the project by The Friends of St James to restore the church clock for our community.

The text describes the repair work, with  photographs showing what was involved - so that no one has to climb the steep ladder, negotiate a trap door, negotiate some more steps and then balance on a wooden platform in order to view the work.

Renewed thanks to all the donors and to project leader David Netherway, without whom it would still be ten past three in Swimbridge.

Mark Haworth-Booth, Secretary,
Friends of St James

Wildlife Surveys

In 2016 the Friends initiated a survey of the wildlife in the parish. This followed talks given by John Bradbeer of the Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) and Tom Hynes of the North Devon Biosphere. Two events were organised in association with the Barnstaple branch of the DWT. A walk at Hearson on 10 May, led by Paul Madgett and Mary Breeds, produced a list of over 120 vascular plant species. The survey also revealed the presence of otter, dormouse and badger. On 16 August, an evening at Middle Hearson devoted to bats and moths was led by John Breeds: 27 species were identified. Warmest thanks to Paul, Mary and John for sharing their extraordinary expertise. The surveys plus some photographs are available here.

The next event is a survey of Lichens in the churchyard to be led Maxine Putnam of the DWT from 11am - to 3ish on Saturday 18 February 2017. All are welcome but, because detailed looking with lenses is involved, places are limited: please contact the survey leader Maxine Putnam by email to maxieput@talktalk.net or phone her on 01271 865 569.

The Swimbridge Q&As Autumn 2016

Three exceptional talks on some of the things that make North Devon so special – the art, craftsmanship and symbolism in our churches, and the great tradition of farming. Our distinguished lecturers are all giving their time and expertise to help the Friends of St James Church, Swimbridge, fundraising for improvements to the Pre-School and heritage listed Old School Room.

Dr Sue Andrew

At St Paul’s, Landkey, on Wednesday 21 September, 7 for 7.30

Talk and church tour with Dr Sue Andrew:

‘Curious Carvings: Medieval Roof Bosses in the churches of North Devon’
Sue is a wonderful speaker and expert on the extraordinary legacy of medieval carvings of men and beasts surviving in the roofs of North Devon parish churches. High up in the darkened roof spaces are bishops, birds, saints, sows, Green Men, devils, dragons and deer. After the talk we will look at the bosses by torchlight.

John Bartlett

At St James, Swimbridge on Wednesday 5 October, 7 for 7.30

John Bartlett on ‘Changes in North Devon farming over 50 years’

John is a well-known and respected Swimbridge farmer. Both of his grandparents (on his mother and father's side) started farming in the parish of Swimbridge in 1903 and 1913.

John’s father farmed all his life at Coombe Farm, Swimbridge, now farmed by John’s brother. John will describe the changes in farming since he was a boy at Swimbridge Primary School.

Hugh Harrison

At St James, Swimbridge on Wednesday 12 October, 7 for 7.30

Hugh Harrison on‪ ‘The magnificent Gothic and Renaissance wood carvers of North Devon’

Hugh, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, is a brilliant conservator of wooden monuments in the great cathedrals of Britain and the United States.
His workshops are on Exmoor. His talk will bring out the superb skill of the craftsmen who created works like the roodscreen in Swimbridge with its remarkable whale-like creatures and possibly inebriated faces. 
Photo: Hugh working on a project in Russia.

Old Schoolroom Project

Old Schoolroom Project

The Friends of St James Church are leading on an exciting project to provide an accessible toilet and baby change facility for the church congregation, our visitors, disabled people, Swimbridge Preschool and  Old Schoolroom users.

Consultation is underway and support and ideas are being gathered from our community

Photo: Syd Pring-Ellis in the post office decribes the Old Schoolroom project to David Hillman.

Annual report and AGM 2016

Please click the links below to read these reports:

Summary of AGM of The Friends of St James, Swimbridge

Friends of St James, Swimbridge Annual Report 2015

AGM 2015

AGM 2015

Friends of St James, Swimbridge

Minutes of AGM held on 21 January 2015 in the Old School Room

Chair: Rev. Shaun O’Rourke     Minutes: Mark Haworth-Booth

Please click here for the full minutes of the meeting


Richard Fardon and Nick Arthur

Richard Fardon of the committee of the Friends handing Nick Arthur, PCC treasurer, a cheque for 3,000.

Some money has been kept back to have a Friends brochure printed this year.


(click to enlarge)


The Swimbridge Q&As

...raised £435 last autumn, with exceptional presentations by Jonathan Edmunds on the Redv. John Russell ('Parson Jack'), Ald. Ray Liverton on Swimbridge life in the war years and their aftermath, plus Bill Hedge on monastic life and the craft of pottery, with choice organ playing by Janet Patton.

The Friends of St James, Swimbridge, will be giving the church £3,500 at the end of the year, thanks to the generosity of our speakers, Friends and all who attend and help. The money will help the PCC in the expensive business of keeping our beautiful Gothic church well maintained.

Mark Haworth-Booth, Secretary and Treasurer, Friends of St James

Report on Spring 2014 Swimbridge Q & As

Three Swimbridge Q&As were held this Spring - two on church music, one on gardening.

Where would be without our North Devon doctors? – especially the retired ones, like former Barnstaple GP and musical maestro, John Marston. Dr Marston, director of the much-admired Artavian Baroque, gave a master class on the art of the organ at St James, Swimbridge on St George’s Day. What a treat! We learned that the invention of the organ dates back to Alexandria in the first century BC, that the earliest recorded one (1361) is at Halberstadt in Germany, that it had 20 bellows worked by ten men, that small hand-held, ‘portative’ organs are known in Indian music as well as in portraits of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music, that an 8 foot pipe gives the Middle C note, that stopping a pipe doubles its length and changes the timbre of the note, that there is a swell box, trackers and couplers, that pipes imitate the cello, oboe and trumpet and that you can usually tell an organist from the shiny seat of his trousers as playing involves a lot of sliding around. Dr Marston played beautiful pieces by composers from John Stanley to J.C. Bach. We are most grateful to him for pulling out all the stops for us.

On Saturday 26 April, RHS Rosemoor Gardener David Squire gave a talk on the theme of the cottage garden in our Streamside Garden, which was created in 2010 from an unused part of the churchyard. Volunteers then set to with trowels and donated plants to create an area of the garden, with Dave’s guidance, in the ‘cottage’ style. The aim is to have this part of the Streamside Garden full of colour and alive with bee- and butterfly-friendly traditional, mainly hardy perennial, favourites. We planted Aquilegia, Artimesia, Aster, Buddleia, Cyclamen, Helianthus, Nepeta, Polemonium and Sedum. We coped with some rain at the beginning by sheltering under a gazebo erected for the purpose. The team finished the morning with a well-deserved lunch in the nearby Jack Russell Inn.

Bell Ringing

James Clarke, the Diocesan Adviser on Bells, learned bell-ringing from his father as a boy in the parish church at Sidbury in East Devon.
He now lives at Fairy Cross and rings at Alwington and Littleham. James gave us the benefit of his vast knowledge of church bells and – with a crack team of North Devon bell-ringers – a rousing demonstration of the art of change ringing.
We heard that the five oldest bells in Devon look like flowerpots and sound like them. The typical church bell shape dates back to the 14th century, when the tower at St James was built.
Many of us love the very English sound of church bells but it was not until James had educated us that we realised what an important role the tenor bell, the heaviest, plays in keeping the beat – much like the bass in a band. James and his team put our bells through their paces.
The evening included hearing tapes of method or scientific ringing. By the end we had a new appreciation not only for the music of church bells but that striking phrase ‘going like the clappers’. Warm thanks to all our speakers, who gave their wit and wisdom to help fund our beautiful medieval church of St James.


Friends of St James Church, Swimbridge
From the first annual report by Mark Haworth-Booth, Secretary and Treasurer,
22 January 2014

The Friends were set up as a Small Charity on 20 February 2013. Lady Arran kindly consented to be Patron. The trustees are Shaun, David and myself. The purposes of the charity are ‘To preserve, maintain and enhance for the public benefit the church of St James, Swimbridge, its churchyard and Streamside Garden’. The Friends are recognised by HMRC as a charity for tax purposes. 

Nick Arthur receiving cheque

There are 24 members (now 25, as of 28.2.14). Members pay a discretionary sum of at least £10.00 p.a. The annual subscriptions currently bring in £2,272 per calendar year. With other generous gifts from well-wishers and the income from our talks series, the Swimbridge Q&As, we were able to pass on £2500 to the PCC's Treasurer Nick Arthur after the service on Sunday 8 December. A photo was subsequently published in the North Devon Journal. The Journal has been a valuable means of communicating with the public about Friends’ activities in its first year and we owe a debt of gratitude to Dr Richard Westcott for his good offices in helping with this. We also spent £69 on two tea/coffee urns for church, kindly suggested by Mo and Mike Clift. 

The Spring season of the Q&As was on photography, featuring excellent and well-attended talks by Robin Ravilious and Chris Chapman. It realised £346.50. The autumn series was expanded from two to three talks. Two were on Exmoor, by John Burgess (with recordings of Exmoor characters) and Hugh Thomas (on the management of red deer), and the third was Ray Liverton on ‘A Swimbridge Boyhood.’ This season raised £425.00. Our current account’s stands at £257.00.

I should like to offer my sincere thanks to the Rev. Shaun O’Rourke and David Netherway, my fellow trustees, and to all those who have very kindly helped to ensure that events have run smoothly – especially Vera Knight, churchwarden, and also my wife Rosie who has gallantly organised the refreshments, which are always donated.  Our speakers have all given their time and expertise free of charge, for which we are most grateful. Finally, sincere gratitude to all those who joined the Friends and thus given our church the extra support it sorely needs. 

Report on first Annual General Meeting, held on Wednesday 22 January in the Upper Room at 7pm

David Netherway took the chair as the Rev. Shaun O’Rourke was unwell. Present: Arnold Bradbury, Mike and Mo Clift, Jessica Duncan, Mary and Richard Fardon, Mark Haworth-Booth, Anne and John Hayes, Christopher James, David and Ros Jordan, Ray Liverton, Ruth Moore, David Netherway. Apologies: Vera Knight, John and Barbara Squire.

The first Annual Report was presented by Mark Haworth-Booth, Secretary/Treasure and accepted unanimously. The forward programme was outlined. Two upcoming events are on church music:
Wednesday, 23 April at 7.00 for 7.30: An Introduction to the Church Organ by Dr John Marston, Director of the Artavian Baroque.
Wednesday, 30 April at 7.00 for 7.30: An Introduction to Church Bells and Bellringing by James Clarke, Diocesan Adviser on Bells, and a team of North Devon Bellringers.

The Friends present offered many valuable ideas for future events, which will be discussed by the trustees. We also fruitfully discussed ways to build the membership.  

In accordance with our constitution the trustees (the Rev. Shaun O’Rourke, Mark Haworth-Booth and David Netherway) resigned at the year's end. Arnold Bradbury chaired while the trustees were re-elected, with the addition of a new trustee, Richard Fardon. Thank you very much, Richard! Further ideas were discussed under AoB, including a Streamside Summer Party. The meeting closed at 8pm.

Report by Mark Haworth-Booth, Secretary/Treasurer, The Friends of St James Church

About St James Friends

The Friends of St James Church was formed in February 2013, with Lady Arran as Patron, to preserve, maintain and enhance for the public benefit the church of St James, its churchyard and its Streamside Garden.

We hope you'd like to join. The annual subscription is anything you are happy to give, from a minimum of £10.00 p.a. Membership brings free entry to Friends' events through the year, but the real point of becoming a Friend is to help keep the church and churchyard as special parts of the village community.

Jack Russell kneeler

Even though many maintenance tasks are carried out by volunteers, the costs of insurance, regular inspections of the fabric and artisanal building work, when required, are high. The loyal church congregation can no longer manage these costs on their own.

To become a Friend of the church, please download this form, print it out, complete in ballpoint and send to:
Mark Haworth-Booth, Secretary, Friends of St James, Barn Cottage, Swimbridge, Devon EX32 0QH

Try to imagine Swimbridge without its church. St James has been here for some 800 years. The tower is thought to be 13th century, with the broach spire added in the 14th century. The rest of the church was rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries. St James has been listed as a Grade 1 ancient monument by English Heritage. It features in Simon Jenkins's England's Thousand Best Churches and Todd Gray's Devon's Fifty Best Churches. In his volume on Devon in The Buildings of England series, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner praises the church's superb furnishings including its rood screen - 'one of the most glorious of Devon screens'.

St James is a conduit of our shared history – from the monuments in the church to the gravestones and war memorial in the churchyard. It is, in the words of the poet Philip Larkin, 'a serious house on serious earth'. The delightful kneelers illustrated here were made by villagers in a community arts project in the 1990s.

Red deer kneeler

Swimbridge Q&As

The late and much-missed Mervyn Dalling launched the Swimbridge Q&As in autumn 2011 with talks on the village and on the Rev. John Russell ('Parson Jack'). The series continued this spring with two distinguished speakers on the exceptional photography Devon has inspired:
Chris Chapman (24 April) and Robin Ravilious (on James Ravilious) on 8 May. 7.00 for 7.30 pm. Entry £3, Friends free - you can join on the night.

The autumn 2013 programme features two excellent speakers on Exmoor:
John Burgess will present highlights of his sound archive of Exmoor characters and Hugh Thomas will speak on the management of Red Deer on Exmoor. In addition, Ray Liverton will speak on 'A Swimbridge Boyhood'.

To read an article about the first Swimbridge Q&As held in Autumn 2011 - click here.

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