“HAPPY birthday to you, happy birthday St Swithun”, sang the Brown Paper Bag Mummers in Sandford Parish Church on Saturday, July 15 - St Swithun’s Day.

That was what the day was about, celebrating 500 years since the church was rebuilt.

Sandford 500 was the name of the church Heritage Day which was organised with Sandford Heritage Group, led by Jean Hope. 

There were fascinating history displays about the wool trade, the coming of mains water to the village and how it got its water before then. Sandford fire of 1891, work by pupils of the village school about King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth II plus lots of other interesting things to learn about Sandford. 

There had been a religious establishment there probably ever since the village evolved in Saxon times. 

That church was eventually razed to the ground and re-built, dedicated to St Swithin, nowadays spelled Swithun.

He was the Bishop of Winchester from 852 to 862 and, it is believed, he influences the weather for the 40 days after July 15.

At least everything at Sandford was going on inside the church, so people stayed dry on that somewhat un-summery day.   

Information about the church through the centuries could be read, for today’s church it was said that it wants to make sure it continues to meet the community’s needs for the next 500 years. Sandford 500 was part of the fundraising. 

Among the aims are to create wheelchair access into the church, re-lay the cobbled path from the Fanny’s Lane entrance so that it is flat and safe, redecorate the church inside and replace the wooden doors in the main porch with glass doors.

Refreshments - tea, coffee, sandwiches, cakes - was organised by Rita King with Sandra Ragalsky.  Members of Sandford Heritage Group gave the food and were around the church to talk with visitors while a band of helpers served through the day. 

Mugs with pictures of the three churches in the parish - Sandford, Upton Hellions and Beacon at New Buildings, were for sale.  So were commemorative tea towels, cards and copies of Daphne Munday’s book of Sandford and Michael Lee’s books about Dowrich. 

The Brown Paper Bag Mummers, based in Crediton, gave a display and members of the Tudor Dancers gave two displays.  

They were formed 35 years ago, meet in Exeter once a month to rehearse and on Saturday showed the court dances of the time.  They regularly dance at Totnes through the summer.  

More members would be welcomed, especially men.  They also give displays of dances from other periods of history and can be booked to appear at all sorts of events from fetes and fairs to weddings.

“If you like to dress up, like social gatherings or if you are handy with a sewing needle, we usually make our own costumes, you could find this a lot of fun,” said chairman Jilly Collins. 

Visitors included people who had lived at Sandford in the past including a current resident, a descendant of one of the four men who had installed the church organ in 1910.

The afternoon ended with a keyboard and organ recital “Bach and the Boys” by Rodney Drew. 

The Sandford 500 Celebrations came to an end on Sunday morning with a Service taken by the Rt Rev Jackie Searle, Bishop of Crediton, based around the Patron Saint St Swithun.

Bishop Jackie told the Congregation that she will be standing in for Robert, Bishop of Exeter, when he retires in September until his successor is finally appointed some time the following summer.

Thanks went to Team 500 and Jean Hope at St Swithun’s for putting together a fitting Celebration for this memorable anniversary in both Church and Parish life.

In the weeks before the celebration there had been a concert with local musicians, another with Exeter Chamber Choir as well as QE Jazz Band giving its first public performance since the start of covid.  For some it was the first time they had played in public.  

On Sunday, July 30 Evensong will be with the Archdeacon of Exeter and the West Gallery Quire.

Sponsors of Sandford 500 included: R Cheriton and Sons, Conibear Bros, A J Cox Butchers, Dowrich Farms, Graphic Plc, Meadowside Garage, NFU, Peck and Strong, Sandford Gate Milk Company, Sandford Orchards and Sandford Parish Council.