History of Branscombe village
The Manor Mill
Originally one of four mills in Branscombe, the Manor Mill is the only one that still works. It is powered by water from a leat which you can see running from the Old Bakery to the Mill. It is likely that the flour was used to bake the bread of the whole village. Abandoned by the time of the Second World War, the Manor Mill soon fell into disrepair. Thanks to the driving force of enthusiastic volunteers, the National Trust restored this wonderful local landmark to full working order in the early 1990s, with the machinery, the millstones and the waterwheel itself all as good as new. They can be seen in motion during regular demonstrations.
The Old Bakery
Run by Gerald and Stuart Collier until its closure in 1987, the Branscombe Bakery was the last traditional bakery in the whole of Devon. Baking was a hard life with the Colliers rising each day at 4am to light the ovens. It would take 3 ½ hours just to get the oven hot enough to bake an ovenfull of bread. Up to 1946 even the mixing of the dough was done by hand. The goods would originally have been delivered around the village by horse and cart, but later a van was used.
In the late 1980s ill-health forced Stuart Collier to retire and his elder brother Gerald was unable to continue on his own. Baking bread under modern health and safety regulations would have meant radically altering the bakery which would have ruined its traditional character. The National Trust therefore decided to keep the baking room much as it was when the Colliers lived and worked here, whilst the rest of the cottage is now a tea-room.
Branscombe Forge is believed to be the only working thatched forge left in the country. Built around 1580, it has been home to a succession of blacksmiths for at least the last two hundred years. The current blacksmith, the award winning Andrew Hall, keeps these traditional skills alive producing a range of modern and traditional ironworks as well as restoring antique pieces. Outside the forge you can still see the bonding plate used by the local wheelwright to clamp down wheels whilst iron tyres were attached.
St Winifreds Church (not National Trust)
Appearing in Simon Jenkin’s book, England’s Thousand Best Churches, St Winifred’s is definitely worth a visit. Built between 1133 and1160, the church possesses something from every century since Norman times. You can admire the remains of a medieval 15th-century wall painting and the unusual round stair turret and central tower which date from the late Norman period. There is also an example of a rare three-decked 18th-century pulpit. The non-religious organisation ‘Friends of St Winifred’s’ have been responsible for the up-keep of the church since 1997, and welcome new members. More information is available in the church.