Sidbury’s connection to Julian Fellowes

Julian Fellowes’ predecessor was vicar at St Giles Church during 19th century

A FEW weeks ago, Lord Julian Fellowes, creator of TV’s popular Downton Abbey, filled Sidmouth’s Kennaway House’s cellar bar when he talked about his life and work.

The Sidmouth Herald report of his visit prompted Sidbury historian, Alan Softly, to write in about another Fellowes with connections to the Sid Valley.

Alan, whose late wife Barbara published a history of Sidbury Church*, writes: “It brought to mind his approach to Barbara and myself some years ago requesting any information he might have about one of his family predecessors, the Reverend Henry Fellowes, vicar of St Giles, Sidbury, from 1813 to 1864.

“Apparently, Henry started his clerical career in the household of the Prince Regent and finally was offered the parish of Sidbury.

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“As the vicarage was in a dreadful condition and Henry had a growing family and he persuaded the authorities in Exeter to have it repaired, but had to accept a thatched roof, in common with all the other houses in the village at the time.

“As workmen had to rebuild or repair damage to the chancel in St Giles, Henry had all the church silver, records and anything else of value, removed and stored in the vicarage.

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“During a violent thunderstorm the vicarage was struck by lightning and the building was burned to the ground.

“The only recognisable objects which survived the subsequent inferno were three pieces of a valuable Civil War pewter tankard, a tankard which has a very interesting story of its own and now lies safe and sound in the church safe.

“The dramatic genes which have marked Julian’s successful career were very much in evidence in Henry’s own behaviour.

“He would ‘parade’ through the village dressed in full clerical style, proceeded by two enormous, black servants, probably ex-slaves from the Fellowes’ sugar plantations in the West Indies. They each carried a cushion on which were a bible and a purse.

He, it was, who purchased, in Honiton, a clock, which he had placed on the west gallery facing the chancel, probably to enable him to time his sermons from the top of the three-storey pulpit opposite without having to consult his pocket watch in full view of the congregation.”

*Henry was not the only Sidbury vicar with a tale to tell, but he was one of the village’s most colourful and likeable clerics. You can read about his time at St Giles in detail in Barbara’s book: Sidbury’s Church of a Thousand Years.

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