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St Andrews Church

The present church is the third to be built on the site, the first church was Saxon. Apart from the tower, the church was rebuilt in the early 1860s. Various monuments in the church commemorate the different owners of the manors of East and West Dowlish. The oldest and finest is the lady lying in the recess to the left of the steps leading to the Speke Chapel, with a little dog at her feet and beautifully carved heads looking down at her: she is Isabel Wake, who died in 1359, and who brought the manors to her husband John de Keynes.


The Speke Chapel lies beyond this tomb and was built by George Speke, who died in 1528, and who is commemorated by the small but fine brass effigy in armour, set in the stone floor of the chapel. The border legend (much damaged) refers also to his wife, Elizabeth but her figure is gone.


On the north wall of the Speke Chapel is a large monument to John Hanning Speke, the great explorer, who is most famous for discovering the Source of the River Nile. Born is 1827 and living most of his life at Jordans, the family house just outside Ilminster but no longer standing, he discovered the Source of the Nile in 1862. He was tragically killed in a shooting accident whilst climbing a wall on his cousin’s estate in Wiltshire. His funeral was attended by Dr. Livingstone and took place in the newly built church of St. Andrew’s Dowlish Wake. There are booklets for sale in the church which summarise his life, for those who wish to learn more of his amazing exploits.

Near John Hanning Speke's tomb hangs the Union Jack which used to fly on the British Embassy at Junja, very near the spot where Speke first saw the Nile. After the independence of Uganda the flag was handed to the church at Dowlish Wake by the High Commissioner fro Uganda in London, at a service in the church in October 1963.

The earliest object in the church is a very early Saxon font, now damaged, which stands at the top of the steps leading to the Speke Chapel. Apart from the grave stones, this is all that remains of a parish church at West Dowlish which was destroyed by fire sometime before 1600. The suggested date of 1600 is based on a case heard in the Chancery Court in 1692 about rating matters when it was stated that there had been neither church nor parochial officers for ‘time out of mind’ nor ‘within the memory of man’. 

The churchyard is still officially open, and burials still take place there. The Members of the Parochial Church Council for St. Andrew’s are also custodians of the churchyard at West Dowlish (now known as Moolham). An annual service is held in the churchyard on the Sunday nearest to the Patronal Festival of St. John the Baptist (24th June)


St. Andrew’s church has a peal of 8 bells, the oldest of which was cast in the 15th century in Exeter and these bells are rung regularly and much enjoyed by everyone.

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