About Simonsbath and the Simonsbath Festival
The Simonsbath Festival has evolved from a programme of concerts organised in the past few years to raise funds for the restoration of St Luke's Church. It is a non-profit making community venture offering a wide range of events and activities.
But where and what is Simonsbath, what is special about St Luke's and what else is there in the area? Please read on .........
Simonsbath and the Forest of Exmoor
The village of Simonsbath lies in the heart of Exmoor. The history of Simonsbath and St Luke's Church is directly linked to the enclosure of the ancient Exmoor Forest, and particularly with the pioneering Knight family.
The Exmoor Forest refers to the ancient Royal Forest, at the heart of the existing National Park, an area of 20,344 acres, centring on Simonsbath. The Forest was an area of wild, uncultivated moorland, previously owned and subsequently leased by the Crown.
The boundary of the Forest is 32 miles long and in many places the original boundary wall can be seen and followed. Each year a brave (or foolish) bunch of walkers take on the Exmoor Perambulation around all 32 miles of the boundary: for 2103 the Perambulation takes place on Saturday 22 June - the last day of the Festival on which there is the Mid-Summer's Day Event.
In 1814 John Knight, an industrialist from Wolverley, near Kidderminster in Worcestershire, bought the Exmoor Forest. Knight saw an opportunity to become a significant landowner and to tame the moor, using the modern agricultural methods of the day and to create a viable farming community.
During the early years of John Knight's ownership he faced enormous difficulties, not least the harsh climate and high landscapes. When Knight bought the land there were few large trees, no walls, hedges or windbreaks, hardly any inhabitants, only one dwelling and no roads.
In 1841 John Knight's eldest son Frederic took over the running of the estate and under his management more farms were built and more hedges were laid. The area of the Forest was surrounded by a wall and a school, shop and Post Office opened in the growing hamlet of Simonsbath.
By 1852 as many as 281 people were living on Frederic Knight's Estate and 30 children attended Simonsbath School. By that time 14 farmhouses and cottages had been built, and miners were also living in the area. Frederic requested permission to build a church.
For more see the Wikipedia article on Simonsbath
Work originally began on building St Luke's in 1855, and the church was consecrated the following year.
The first incumbent Rev William Thornton is described as "a vigorous personality - both physically and intellectually". He enjoyed country pursuits, was an excellent horseman and fisherman, and both walked and rode prodigious distances.
Although William loved the area, the isolation of Simonsbath was not easy for his wife and young family. When one of his children fell ill he rode his horse to South Molton in under one hour with a broken stirrup. After the especially severe winter of 1860/61 when Simonsbath was cut off and food nearly ran out, the Thornton family moved to a village just outside Exeter "so as to be nearer to a town and a doctor".
St Luke's Church has recently been renovated to create a welcoming and attractive performing space which is ideal for concerts and other events. With its excellent acoustics, St Luke's has already become a popular venue for professional and amateur concerts.Today St Luke's is still a working church with regular fortnightly morning services, to which everyone is welcome. Details of services can be found in either the parish magazine or on the church gate. The present incumbent Rector David Weir, who can be found at the Rectory in Exford, would be happy to provide any further information.
The Simonsbath Festival is grateful to the Rector and the Parochial Church Council for the use of their lovely church.
Parking and Facilities
There are only a few parking spaces at the church itself and we prefer to reserve these for visitors with limited mobility. There is some roadside parking (at owner's risk) but the best option is to use the Exmoor National Park's Ashcombe car park which also has toilets. The church is accessible to wheelchair users and has its own modern toilet facilities.
The Simonsbath Sawmill was built for John Knight (1767 – 1850) and was refurbished for Viscount
Ebrington in 1898. It was bought by Exmoor
National Park Authority in 1996 and restored over 2002/03 – with Heritage Lottery
Funding. It ceased being used for regular work in 2010 and is now looked after primarily by a volunteer group. It is a nationally significant building – one of very
few estate sawmills with evidence of systems of power and contemporary
sawbenches. For more details see the sawmill website.
Parking and Facilities
There is no public parking or public toilet facilities at the Sawmill. Visitors are advised to use the Exmoor National Park's Ashcombe car park which also has toilets. Parts of the Sawmill are accessible to wheelchair users and arrangements can be made to welcome people with disabilities (ring 01398 323202 between 10.00 and 16.00 on the day).
Exmoor National Park – one of Britain’s breathing spaces
Park covers an area of 267 sq miles (692 sq kms) - a unique landscape of
moorland, woodland, valleys and farmland shaped by people and nature over
thousands of years. High cliffs plunge into the Bristol Channel and cosy pubs
and tearooms offer delicious local produce.
On Exmoor it is still possible to find tranquillity and peace as well as rediscover a sense of adventure; to catch a glimpse of wild red deer, be amazed by dark skies full of stars and explore villages full of character.
Last year Exmoor National Park became the first place in Europe, and only the second in the world, to be awarded the prestigious designation of International Dark Sky Reserve. The award recognises the fact that Exmoor has some of the darkest skies in the country and also recognises that we work hard to make people aware of how important this resource is.
There are National Park Centres at Dunster, Dulverton and Lynmouth with knowledgeable staff on hand to offer advice and assistance. For more information visit the Exmoor National Park website.