The Parish of Cullompton extends some seven miles along the valley of the River Culm, covering nearly 8000 acres, with about 8000 inhabitants. Columtune was probably a Saxon settlement. The Saxon word ‘tun’ means town or settlement. Columtune simply means the town on the Culm.
In 549 AD St Columba, an Irish Saint preached the Word of God in the area. It is highly likely that the name St Columba has been preserved in the name of the town – Columba’s Town. (Columba is the Latin for dove).
Columtune became part of the personal property of the House of Wessex by the time of Alfred the Great. In 872, the Saxon king, Alfred the Great, bequeathed Columtune and its lands to his son, Ethelward.
In 1020, the manor and lands of Cullompton, which was then known as Colitina, belonged to the Lady Gytha. She was a Danish Princess who was the widow of Earl Godwin and the mother of King Harold. King Harold was later to be defeated and killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
In 1066 William the Conqueror invaded England. The following year, 1067, he passed through the ‘villa’ of Colitina, on his way to besiege Exeter. Lady Gytha fled to Exeter where she owned much of the land (including St Olaf’s Church). The city fell 18 days later to the superior Norman soldiers of William I. William then divided up the land he had confiscated and gave it to his Norman barons. The manor of Cullompton (Colitina), together with Langford and Ponsford, he gave to Baldwin, the favourite nephew of his wife. It was later granted by King Richard 1 to Richard de Clifford and by King John, in 1199 or 1200 to his brother, Walter de Clifford. The Earls of Devon held it for many years, and in 1278 Amicia, Countess of Devon, willed it to the Abbot and Convent of Buckland Monachorum. This bequest was confirmed by her daughter, Isabella, and by Edward I in the eighth year of his reign. At the dissolution it was surrendered into the king’s hands and purchased by Sir John St Leger. At some stage it was sold by Sir George St Leger to Thomas Risdon, and later to the Hillersdon family from whom the Hillersdon estate takes its name. It was later held by Francis Coleman, David Sweet (1822), J Baker and W.C. Grant. Also in 1278 the market was granted to Baldwin de Insula, Earl of Devon, to be held on Thursday, together with a fair for three days at the festival of St John the Baptist. In 1317 the Abbot and Convent of Buckland had the grant of the market to be held on Tuesday, together with a fair of three days at the feast of St George. Various alterations have since been made to the rights in connection with the market. On 6 May 1356 a water course was conferred on the town. It was given by the Abbot of Buckland and flowed through the town for 600 years until November 1962.
Building work is said to have begun on the main aisle in the Parish Church in about 1403 and finished round about 1430 from when the present structure dates. A church has stood on the present site, however, since Saxon times. Subsequent to the Norman Conquest it belonged to Battle Abbey in Sussex and then to the Priory of St Nicholas at Exeter (a daughter house of Battle Abbey) who were patrons until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. Lane’s Aisle was added to the main structure in 1527. The Tower was begun in 1545 and completed in 1549.
The Manor House in Fore Street was probably built in the 16th century sometime, although it bears the date 1603 on a panel inside with the initials T.T. This is probably when it was refurbished; the initials being those of Thomas Trock, an early occupant of the house. The name ‘Manor House’ was given by Mr J S Upcott in 1850. The Upcott family first lived there in 1828.
Cullompton was visited by various sections of the troops during the Civil Wars. His Majesty King Charles the first with soldiers were here on 20 September 1644, and on 12 October 1645, Sir Tomas Fairfax marched from Honiton to Cullompton. On 5 November 1688, the Prince of Orange landed at Brixham with 6000 horses and 10,000 foot soldiers. He advanced northwards leaving a small force at Tiverton, Honiton and Cullompton. In 1745, Thomas Bilbie moved to Cullompton and established a bell foundry in 1746 in Shortlands Lane. Relatives of his lived at Veryards, next to the Manor House. The Bilbies were a Somerset family and famous bellfounders throughout the Westcountry. The Bilbie family cast 400 or so bells at the Cullompton bell-foundry including a peal of eight bells for St Andrew’s Church, the church now has 10 bells. The business continued until 1815 when Thomas Castleman Bilbie (grandson of Thomas Bilbie) sold the business to a local tinman named William Pannell who moved the foundry to his house in the New Cut. His son Charles Pannell later moved the business to Exeter in 1850.
There are several other denominations in Cullompton. The Wesleyan body was formed between 1740 and 1750. John Wesley preached ‘in a little meadow near the town’ and at the end of New Street a year later, as recorded in his journal of 9 September 1748. The Baptists were probably established about 1700. In 1743 a meeting place was erected where the present one now stands. The Quakers had a meeting house in 1837. The Brethren met in Higher Street for six years until they moved to their meeting house in Fore Street in 1870. The Roman Catholic formerly met at the rear of the Walronds. The present church was built in 1929, the gift of the de Las Casas family who lived in Bolealler.
In 1816 two schoolrooms were built on the site of the car park in Gravel Walk, one for poor boys and one for poor girls. In 1872 a new school was built on the site of the car park adjacent to The Hayridge Centre at a cost of £2,315. It was later modernised and used as a Secondary Modern School until 1964 when it was knocked down. The new Secondary Modern School was opened in September 1964.
Cullompton also had a large number of charities applicable to many and varied purposes dating back to 1624.In 1921 the Cullompton United Charities was set up and the funds of the charities pooled.
There have been a number of fires in the town over the years. In 1725 there was a fire in the belfry in the church. In 1839 a fire at the ‘Boot Inn’ opposite the end of New Street caused some 260 cottages in New Street, Crow Green and the Lower Bull Ring to be burnt. In the 18th century the parish possessed two fire engines, both kept in the south porch in the church.