The Church and Religion
The Established Church too, was feeling the pinch. The Baptists had arrived in 1672 and in 1690 built their chapel in Luke Street, and during the eighteenth century built up a sizeable congregation taken from the parish church. Added to this, although later in the century, was the steep decline in the wool trade with the resultant loss of money for upkeep and repairs of the church fabric. Many travellers of the time noted the poor appearance of the town and the bad state of the church, all victims of the defunct wool trade. Another victim of the slump was the chapel of St. Katherine at Dipford in Shillingford which had become dilapidated by the 1790's and was never repaired. A small part of one wall is all that still stands - a Grade II Listed building!
St. Petroc's chapel at Petton and St. Katherine's at Shillingford held monthly services until 1790, when St. Katherine's fell into decay. The Rural Dean had his comments about St. Katherine's in various reports. In 1745, the surplice was worn out. On 12 September 1748 the floor under the seats northwards was broken up and full of pits; also, the Bible needed re-binding. In 1750 part of the wall over the west window was very ruinous. In April 1788, the desk needed a ledge to be nailed on, the communion table wanted repair, the north side seats were broken down, and the south floor was defective. On 24 May 1806: "chapel in state of dilapidation". St. Petroc's is still in regular use.
It was to help compensate for the loss of the wool trade to Bampton that Mrs. Penton and her sister Suzanna Webber were so generous to the town in the early nineteenth century, giving it a free school and money for parish church repairs. They were daughters of a successful eighteenth century sergemaker, John Webber, of Doddiscombe near Shillingford.
The glebe lands in Bampton were lost to the Church from 1539 until 1751. During that time such as remained of them were the vicarage, containing three under rooms and two chambers with gardens, a stable for horses, a meadow estimated at a little over an acre, and an orchard of about ½ acre. Robert Lucas was Lord of the Manor in 1751 and owned the erstwhile Glebe Lands. He sold 32 acres (the original acreage was 35) to the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty for £200, although the land was worth £400. Queen Anne's Bounty was a fund set up in 1704 to pay small sums to impoverished clergy to supplement a low income; doubtless the clergy at Bampton were very glad of it.
The Churchwardens' Accounts show that the gallery was built in the parish church in 1731 - the licence from the bishop was dated 29 November 1731 - in the Classic style for £80.0.0., to seat 128 people in three blocks of twenty two rows. One seat was reserved for the householders in the parish who followed the Anglican religion. The seating was arranged hierarchically; the front row seats paid upwards of 7d. per year, the second row from 5d. to 6½d., the third row from 4d. to 5½d., the fourth row 3d. or 3½d., the fifth row 2d. or 2½d., the sixth row 1d. or 1½d., and the seventh row 1d. The rest of the family sat with the other parishioners in the nave. The gallery was demolished in 1887, after which seats were reserved in the nave. The houses in the parish which had seats in the gallery are shown in Appendix 1. The same accounts show the following:
Also in 1731 the floor and seats were repaired, and in the following year it was arranged for a new floor of broad stones to be laid in the church. The seats in the south aisle were to be repaired, and the outside path leading to the chancel door was to be laid, also in broad stones.
A Vestry Meeting on 20 May 1734 agreed for new gates and posts to be fitted in "ye Mary Lane", and two hanging gates and a new post were to be fitted instead of the "whirligog gate" which was to be removed. It was still there in 1735 however, for it had to have more repairs. On 2 August 1735 a Vestry Meeting agreed "That ye coverage be taken down over the two hanging gates and that there be one large swing gate and one very good hanging post to be put up in the rume of the two gates which it is agreed shall be taken down". A new window was to be fitted in the wall on the east side of the porch, to match the one on the opposite wall, the cost not to exceed £1.0.0. At some point the porch became the baptistry, entry to the church then being via the tower door. In 1745 the Rural Dean reported the chancel floor and the roof needed repairs. In 1747, Richard Taparell was paid for cleaning the King's Arms. In 1753 the roof timbers were repaired and the whole re-leaded. 10/6d. was paid for the hire of nine horses to take the old lead to Tiverton, and a further 17/6d for fifteen horses to bring the new lead. That worked out at 1/2d. per horse. Quite what happened at the funeral of Mrs. Prowse in 1757 is not known, but the following repairs were necessary after the service: "repairing ye seat, paving ye floor, and cleaning ye rubbish".
In 1743, 16/4d. was paid for a path to be laid from "ye parsonage house" to the church. In 1767 the chancel window needed repairs. In 1770, extensive repairs were made to the roof which was then plastered in brown and white, and a desk made for the parson's clerk all of which cost £23.10.0. The roof cornices were painted at the same time at a cost of £6.13.9d. In 1786 the roofs of both aisles were repaired. In April 1788 the Rural Dean reported that the north side battlements were broken down, the vestry window was broken, the flooring in the south aisle and in the north-west were defective. In 1789 John Pearse, mason and hellier [tiler] took down the battlements and part of the wall on the north side, sealed the wall and laid "a wall plate 12" x 2½" of Hart oak and rafters, best quality materials". Despite these and earlier repairs, Rev. John Swete described the church as being in a ruinous state and the seats rotten in 1801, but the collapse of the wool trade and the resulting lack of money accounted for the lack of recent repairs.
In September 1725 a dispute arose regarding the ownership of two seats by the Rood Loft stair. One belonged to East Holcombe, and the other to the Barton of Rill, both in Shillingford. The upshot of this is not known. Two pews at the front of the north aisle had been reserved for the use of Tristrams' House, (and later, Castle Grove), since 1728, the front one for the owners and the second for their servants. The faculty for the seats was granted by the Bishop on 14 May 1728 to Robert Lucas "who pays considerably to the Church". He owned the capital mansion, Tristrams House, the forerunner to Castle Grove. In August 1786, a licence was granted to Richard Melton for a pew on the south side of the church near the chancel. The pew was 7 feet long by 6 wide and 5 high. In 1731 the Churchwardens paid 1/3d. "for taking down Mr. Edberry's seat and for nails to put it up again".
A brief history of the Baptists in Bampton was compiled by Thomas Thomas in 1841, from which most of the following is taken. The Baptists had a troubled history in Bampton. In the seventeenth century the ministers had to keep in hiding in "safe houses". Arthurshayne was one such house, with a cellar inaccessible to all but the few with the secret of its access - a door under the stairs made the trapdoor impossible to open when it itself was open. There was also a cleft within the Church; on one side were the Anabaptists (re-baptisers), and on the other were the Paedobaptists. In Bampton were Anabaptists, a derogatory term for those who practised the baptism of adults, and the Paedobaptists, who baptised only infants. Efforts were sometimes made to allow both sides into the same service which caused yet more trouble. In 1777 a row broke out over some Paedobaptist Presbyterians who wished to share a service. The row eventually led to the minister resigning his seat at Bampton, and he moved to Honiton. For over half a century from the later 1700's ".....there was also very little else than broils and quarrels, wrath and contentions amongst the members". It seems that the internal problems caused the keeping of records to be abandoned some years earlier, for in 1729 Daniel Badcock was one of the seconders of a motion to revive the keeping of records, and he was appointed to restart the practise. The original 114 members had been expected to grow significantly; in fact they did for the first few years - in 1744 10% of the families in Bampton belonged to the Baptist Church - but the numbers gradually fell to just 26 in 1830.