I haven’t posted anything on here for far too long. (And I seem to write that quite often.) The rain is falling heavily outside as I write in August 2019, and it seems a good time to look back on last summer, when I made several visits to Lidwell Chapel, near Little Haldon, South Devon. I photographed it and its surroundings, wrote notes to myself about it and eventually hand-made a book from the photographs and the text. I hadn’t visited for a few years, even though it’s barely a mile from where I live in Teignmouth, holding memories of just how damp and unpleasant the grounds around the chapel remains can be. I felt that during such a dry summer they would be much more pleasant for walking. I was wrong!
Even local people often return a blank stare when I mention Lidwell Chapel. The majority do not seem to have heard of it at all and so it’s rarely visited or talked about. It’s nothing spectacular, with just a single wall still standing, and it’s rather challenging to get to, hidden inside woodland on a steep hill. Would anyone visit it at all if not for the legends surrounding it?
The path to the chapel grounds was bone dry through the summer, but the entrance to the chapel, as always, was thick in mud, overgrown with brambles and wretchedly wet. A logical place to dig the well that once was here, but was permanently sealed many years ago.
Through the gate and inside the grounds stands the only remaining (west) wall, like something that once lived but is now petrified in perpetual terror, daring people to enter.
A short but difficult walk across to the wall reveals an elaborate cross to the right of the door, and odd feelings of walking in are difficult to suppress, even though I know I am walking out. Beyond the door it is darker and still more overgrown. There is not much further to walk because of the iron fence just beyond the door, so the wall is suddenly quite close and consequently appears much taller from the other side. It feels vital to stay aware of what is behind, around, over my shoulder.
The legend(s): Early in the 14th century a monk named Robert de Middlecote settled here, having fled from Gidleigh (Dartmoor) under suspicion of killing his unborn child. Over a period of four or five years he offered weary walkers (usually heading from the coast at Dawlish and Teignmouth to the Haldon Hills) refreshment and rest. But the food he gave was laced with narcotic substances, and once they were powerless to resist he killed them with a knife, robbed them and threw their bodies into the well. Why he would pollute his own water supply is not really explained. Eventually a sailor defended himself against the monk, and threw de Middlecote into his own well, sent for assistance, then turned the monk over to the authorities. He may or may not have been hanged at Exeter prison in 1329. There are further rumours that many years later the bones of several women and children were retrieved from the well.
The siting of this place in such dense, saturated vegetation inside woodland effectively combines with the legend to produce real feelings of disquiet when walking here alone. All around there are fine Devon hills and open spaces, but none of the surrounding landscape is visible from here. The lone visitor feels that aloneness very keenly indeed. Brambles tug at arms and legs, insects are a real nuisance (on my last visit I was bitten by a horsefly that simply wouldn’t detach itself from my forearm) and ankles are easily twisted on unstable rocks hiding under the mud water. There is an overwhelming feeling of being physically and mentally smothered by it all.
When finally outside the gate and grounds and back on the path there is once more all the space needed to admire some fine Devon hills and other sections of the woodlands nearby, and wonder what the disquiet was all about. There were even bluebells still close by in the earliest part of the summer.
But there are always later additions to legends, and different versions; some parts of the tale are developed and others are discarded. The chapel grounds as they stand are in truth genuinely quite chilling, and it is hard to mentally separate what now remains from what is rumoured to have happened there, especially if you happen to walk that way alone. It need only be added that some say if you visit here at night you might see the souls of murdered 14th century victims flitting about through the grounds and around the chapel wall.
Several of these images are multiple exposures made in the camera during my visits and not in software. I also used intentional camera movement for a number of the images, sometimes combined with multiple exposures, sometimes not.
I wanted to make some kind of conclusion to last summer’s visits, so set about producing a hand printed and hand made A5 (landscape format) book containing around 60 photographs, which I completed in October last year. Ten months after making it I have decided I’m not entirely happy with it and am beginning work on an alternative (portrait format) version. I’m not sure if this fascination with the place and all the tinkering with the images will ever end. And of course I must return at some point when there is mist and fog.
We live at Lidwell Farm just below the chapel and would be interested in a copy of your book. It is said you can hear the souls of the murdered travelers on a stormy night although I’ve only heard the wind. It is a cold place with a presence,especially at night. One of the original windows was used in the cart store in the yard below our house and is still insitu.
Absolutely fascinating! Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. My books are very much handmade, single copy objects, and the costs of materials and the time taken to make them tends to render them non-viable as commercial items. But there may be a way of getting a smaller extract printed more cheaply. I’ll look into it and get back to you. Thanks again – would love to see a photograph of that window!
Will take a photo of the window in the next day or so and send it to you. You’re always welcome to call in and take any photos yourself
Looking forward to seeing it. Thanks for the kind invite, I may take you up on it when the autumn mists arrive! I’m still looking into options for a sensibly priced book, and will let you know if I decide on one! In the mean time I have added a Lidwell Chapel photo gallery to my website, with options to order handmade prints or greetings cards of any of the images, so if you’re interested, just use the link at the bottom of the blog piece.
Know it well from when I was a lad in Teignmouth 50 years ago, Grand pictures.
Many thanks John, glad you approve. I don’t think it’s so well known these days though, perhaps this will help!
We went up there about 20 years ago with the kids it really does give you the creeps I just wanted to come away from it and so did the kids
I am a bit sensitive to old places and it felt like someone was there but it wasn’t a nice feeling
Lovely that you have find this as I often tell people about it and no one has ever heard of it
Thanks Tracey – it’s a combination of factors: wetness, brambles, and just the enclosed feel of being within the grounds, blocking out the outside world. Unsettling enough without the legends, I think. Thanks again, perhaps you’ll be able to persuade other people it exists now!
Fabulous photography! Beautiful to read. Thank you
Thank you Julie, and it was a pleasure (eventually!).