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The name ’Nymet’ is generally agreed to be of Celtic origin and there are three main theories as to its meaning; as each of them seems equally plausible we can take our own pick!

  1. Nymet means a pagan grove, or site of a place of worship.
  2. An ‘intake’ or clearing (in what would have been a very heavily wooded landscape).
  3. Wooded country, and that originally the whole district was known as Nymet; distinguishing names (Nymet Rowland, Nymet Tracey, Nicholl’s Nymet, Nymphayes, and so on) were added much later to show the boundaries of parcels of land.

We know that at the time of the Domesday Book (1086) the manor was held by Walter, a Norman knight. ‘Baldwin has a manor called Limet, Walter holds it of Baldwin.’ This manor would have been at the centre of any settlement at that time and it seems likely that its site was to the north of the present church, where the Barton was until 1867. The Norman lord of the manor would have been responsible for building a chapel in the 12th century, probably at his own expense, this being later enlarged and altered to form the church that we know today.

Throughout the Middle Ages the buildings of the village were chiefly centred around the church, with Hele Farm, Upcott and several cottages and the Mill to the north, and Pitt Court, Broadgate, and what is now Parsonage Farm to the east.

In 1625 the manor was dismembered and became Nymet Barton - at that time there were 14 dwellings and 6 unoccupied houses in the village.

For about 650 years the ownership of the Barton passed through several families until, in 1757, it passed to the Partridge family which came from Clannaborough.

In 1848 John Partridge moved into the Barton, behind the church, and made many alterations. Several cottages beside or near the church were pulled down, the road was straightened and hedges planted.

A visitor from 1800 to the Nymet of 1900 would have recognised most of the buildings from his own time, and been surprised by few new ones; Barton House (1868) which replaced the old Barton which burnt down, The Rectory (1876), and Nymet House (1888) were the only new dwellings built during the whole of the century, and this growth was balanced by the removal of Upcott, (where the gate to Nymet House now is), Town Place (by Orchard Lea), and five or more cottages near the church: so in effect there was a net loss of houses. During the 19th century the roads would have made little improvement, being tracks suitable only for horse-drawn carts and carriages both at the beginning and end of the century, and the main source of livelihood and employment was still agriculture.

Perhaps our only claim to fame came in the 1870s when national newspapers sent reporters to see the ‘Nymet Savages’, who were members of an unruly family that vandalised property and antagonised some of their neighbours. It was a complicated story and for a balanced account read ‘The True Story of the North Devon Savages’ by Peter Christie.

Every village in Britain has been shaped by social and technological changes, and the 20th century saw a great acceleration in these.

Although the changes have not been anything like as drastic here as elsewhere, a visitor from 1900 to the Nymet of today would have a lot more to contend with in the way of unfamiliar things: Tarmacadam roads, a telephone kiosk, street lighting (c1978) and other wonders of modern life, including more and more vehicles. Over these years, there has been a steady increase in the number of houses built, or converted to dwellings from barns, but despite this, the population numbers have remained remarkably static. The Village Hall, now an excellent centre for varied functions, was built by public subscription in ?

During this time many new families have come to live here. Some have stayed and many make substantial contributions to village life; others have found it hard to keep up with our frenetic pace of life and have gone away again. There are wonderful views from most parts of the village and these are much admired by visitors, many of whom come to see our Grade I listed church.

Just as Devon itself escaped the industrial revolution and remained largely unspoilt, so Nymet Rowland has been lucky to avoid an excess of development. Small can be beautiful.

Arthur Littlewood

A more detailed history, with illustrations, is currently being prepared.