Village Views Petrockstowe

Petrockstowe has been occupied since the Bronze Age. It is situated on a hillside just on the spring line with good views all around it . Little of note happened until, some time in the early 7th century when St Petrock arrived, having paddled his coracle up the Torridge from his home in Wales. He was the son of King Glynrys of Glywysing. He was noted for his exceptional piety but like many young saints, suffered severely from concupiscence( impure thoughts!), to the extent that he was often obliged to stand immersed in ice cold water beseeching the lord for strength ( more difficult in those days to take a cold shower). The villagers treated him rudely, scoffing at his claims to be able to save their souls and bring them closer to the One True Faith. They taunted him, saying all they wanted was a good drink of clean water. Angered, the Saint smote the ground with his staff. Immediately, a spring of the purest water spouted from the ground, and it still flows into the ancient stone basin just off the old toll road.

St Petrock later created another well. He is said to have been sheltering from the rain with a group of despondent disciples. To cheer them up he predicted that on the next day the weather would be better. The next day it was even worse. Some of his followers muttered amongst themselves, doubting his saintly abilities. St Petrock burst into tears, creating a stream which flows to this day. Then, declaring he had been presumptuous in predicting the weather, as penance he would immediately leave on a pilgrimage to Rome, the Holy land, and then to India and beyond. On his return, ten years later, he performed a few miracles and killed a dragon, though the exact location of this event is unknown.

Petrockstowe is one of a number of towns and villages in the ancient kingdom of Dumnonia. Undoubtedly it has the best claim to be where St Petrock ‘s spirit resides, (Petrockstowe meaning literally “St. Petrocks Place”), others include Padstowe and Bodmin as well as others as far away as Somerset, Dorset and Brittany.

Petrockstowe today would probably be recognised by St Petrock. A group of cob and thatch houses are clustered around the church which was probably the site where the Saint addressed his followers. The population has fluctuated between 400 and 600. Today there are about twice as many people living here as when the Doomsday book was compiled. The church is probably the oldest surviving building, dating back at least to the 11th century and might well occupy the site of an older, possibly pre-Christian building. It was extensively modernised in the 19th century, so that some architectural commentators now consider it completely lacking in character, though it retains its original font.
John Ogilvy’s map of 1675 clearly shows Petrockstowe on the main Plymouth to Barnstaple road. He gave its name as Petherickstowe (vulgo Padstowe). The Morden map of [1701] also gives the name of the village at this location as Padstowe. Even today the name of the village is a source of contention, one end insisting it be spelt “Petrockstow” without an “e”. Both spellings are used on the sign posts The village’s decline started when the road was rerouted through Meeth . The village’s fortunes improved when the railway was built to exploit the clay works. This carried passengers between 1925 and 1965, finally closing in 1982 and is now the Tarka trail. The clay works and agriculture have provided the livelihoods of the villagers until fairly recently. They feature in Henry Williamson’s “Tarka the Otter” when he describes how the young otter spends time in the flooded clay works, and later catches trout and frogs at the stream passing Town Mill just outside Petrockstowe. Maps from the beginning of the twentieth century show that Petrockstowe then boasted several shops, a bakers, post office, tannery, tennis courts, railway station and a school. A neighbour recalls how as a schoolboy in the 1950s, he was able to cycle to the station and be at school in Barnstaple within forty minutes. Today the station has gone, along with the shops and school. Only the pub remains and today’s students have to travel for an hour and a half to get to Barnstaple by bus.

Any one visiting today will find a pretty Devon village consisting of both traditional and more recent buildings. Tourists arriving from the Tarka trail for refreshment at “The Laurels” pub can view the church and see the graves of the casualties of a civil war skirmish when events in the out side world briefly impinged on the village.

Petrockstowe was near the epicentre of the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic. Many farms lost their stock and endured days of thick smog from the pyres. The ministry attempted to turn “Ash Moor” into a burial site for tens of millions of culled animals. However the site was never used and it is now a nature reserve.

Will Douglas – Mann

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