The Minster and Parish Church of St Mary the
Virgin is in the town of Axminster, close to
the Dorset border. The town is famous for its carpet-making
heritage, but long before that began in 1755,
Christianity was reintroduced into Axminster in AD 786, and was
focused on a 'minster', or monastic community which provided the
means of local worship. The
years after the Norman Conquest of 1066 saw large tracts of local land
granted to the powerful de Mohun family.
It was the de Mohun family who funded the
building of the current church. It was built near the de Mohun castle (which was more of a
fortified house than a castle). The location of the previous, Saxon,
church is unknown, but it was presumably on the same site. The region's loyalty to
the crown saw its people brutalised during the English Civil War,
and the minster tower was damaged. That thirteenth century tower is
now the oldest part of the church.
The Parish Church of St Gregory the Martyr is in Seaton,
around eight kilometres south-west of Axminster. The first church on
this site was a wooden building, but as with many wooden Saxon
churches, this one was replaced by a stone building, although the
date is uncertain. The first mention of Seaton was in a Papal Bull
by Pope Eugenius in 1146. Before that date it was the medieval town
of Fleet, founded by a Saxon Charter of AD 1005.
At the time of Domesday Book both Fleet and Beer
belonged to the Priory of Horton, which later became a part of
Sherborne Abbey. The stone church was erected in the late twelfth or
early thirteenth century and is now a Grade I listed building. For many years
it was also the
parish church for Beer, with Beer's current church serving as a
chapel-of-ease. The churchyard is the resting place of Jack Rattenbury, the famous smuggler,
born in Beer and buried here in 1844.
The Church of St Michael in the village of
Beer faces out from a very
narrow plot on Fore Street. On the site where the church currently
stands, there was a chapel from at least 1600 until 1876,
which was probably built by the Walrond family, the lords of the
local manor. According to White's Devonshire Directory of
about 1850, the village itself was formerly notorious for
smuggling, and was the birthplace of celebrated smuggler, Jack Rattenbury, the 'Rob Roy of the West'.
The Devonshire Directory also sates that,
'great quantities of fish are caught at Beer, and many of the women
and girls are employed in making lace'. The present church was consecrated
just twenty-eight years after that passage was written, in 1878. The
cost of the building was borne by the Honourable Mark Rolle, who was lord of the manor. It was originally built with a
spire, but this was removed in 1964 for safety reasons, and replaced
with the current tower.