In days long gone the River Bray was forded at a small settlement and thus
the village name was formed as Bray-Ford, and is still pronounced that way
to this day. The ford became a part of a well-established pack horse route
and drover’s trail from Porlock to Barnstaple. By the mid 17th
century, Brayford was on the most important highway across Exmoor, from
Dunster via Exford, Simonsbath and Kensford Cross (Kinsford Gate) to
Barnstaple. The ford was replaced by a bridge, widened in the 1920s, and now thousands of
visitors pass over this on their way to enjoy the sights of Exmoor.
The Parish was created as a result of the 1974 boundary changes. The then
two parishes of Charles and High Bray were joined to become the new Parish
of Brayford. In 1850, the combined population of the two parishes was 676.
By 2000 it had fallen to 419.
The Parish has three active churches, including two Church of England at
High Bray and Charles. At High Bray, All Saints Church (in the Diocese of
Exeter) was established by the Normans and completed by the Victorians.
The Church of St John the Baptist at Charles, restored in 1891, was built
to replace the old chapel, dedicated to St Petrock in 1424, and later
converted to become the rectory. In the village of Brayford there is a
Methodist Church, the present building dating from 1927. The Baptist
Chapel, built in 1820 and the oldest in North Devon, is now sadly closed.
Smelting and the Romans
A long-term archaeological dig at Sherracombe Ford has identified a large
iron smelting site that would have been capable of producing far more
metal than was needed locally. Other smelting sites have been located at
Mill Lane and Bray Vale, which suggests that Brayford was a major iron
producing area 2000 years ago, and could have supplied markets throughout
the Roman Empire.
The Brayford Millennium
The Millennium Project involved the extensive landscaping and
planting of some previously derelict land by the River Bray bridge in the
village. After a great deal of effort by local people and contractors, the
project was completed in 2002 and has provided a very attractive focal
point and amenity.
Charles has close associations with the Blackmore family. The first
Blackmore to live at Charles was John, born in 1764, who later served as
curate at High Bray. His second son Richard became Rector of Charles and was
the Uncle of R D Blackmore who stayed at The Old Rectory as a child and
later wrote parts of his immortal book Lorna Doone there. There is a
memorial window in Charles Church installed to celebrate the centenary of R
D Blackmore in 1925.
Walter Scott visited a farmhouse in the Parish and made reference to it in
Kenilworth – "The ancient seat of Lidcote Hall".
Bray is derived either from the Old
English word breg meaning brow, in this case brow of a hill, or from the
Welsh and Cornish word bre meaning hill. The river was named after the
settlement. There are recorded references in the 10th century
to "Braeg", in the 12th century to "Brai",
and in the 13th century to "Hautebray". The name
"Hegebregh" has also been recorded. There are 16th
century references to "Brayforde" and "Braiford".
is thought to derive from the Old Cornish words carn lies (or lis, or les)
meaning a rocky court or palace. This evolved to Carmes, Charnes and
Charles – there are references to all 3 names in the 13th
century. There is now no trace of a Celtic palace.