Rackenford's Saxon name was Rachenforda, which means a place between two fords - probably those at Old Bell to the north and Little Dart to the south. When the Normans came the parish consisted of six manors - Great Rackenford much the biggest with six ploughs and Little Rackenford, Sideham, Backstone, Bulworthy and Worthy all with one to three ploughs. The first of these became Rackenford Manor (known as Cruwyshay until its name was changed by a more snobbish owner in the last century) and the rest still survive as farms. The Domesday Book entries suggest 29 families - 12 smallholders, 6 villagers and 11 slaves - in 1086.
A Norman family called de Sideham owned the manor in the 12th and 13th century. Robert de Sideham made a successful application to the king in 1235 for the right to hold a fair every year on All Saints Day and a market every Friday. He must have hoped to develop Rackenford as a market town since he also had it granted borough status. However the project never took off, although annual sheep and cattle markets were held (in the field below Town End) right up to the second world war. There were also pony races in Cruwyshay meadow on the last Thursday in July.
The Sideham family ended with two daughters. One of these married a Cruwys of Cruwys Morchard and the other into a family that later merged with the Aclands. As a result, from the 14th century much of the parish was owned by these two big estates. In 1627 however the Cruwys family sold all their Rackenford lands, and from then on ownership was much more fragmented. After the Cruwys sale it became very rare for any family to own the manor for more than two generations. There are no other big houses in Rackenford except for the Rectory.
Perhaps as a result Rackenford became a parish accustomed to running itself, a tradition which seems to have persisted up to the present day. The farmers took it in turns to officiate as churchwardens and overseers of the poor; nearly all the property owners were farmers, although up to the 1950s there were shops, tailors, a blacksmith, a wheelwright/carpenter and a bootmaker. Until about 1930 Rackenford Mill ground corn on the Little Dart below the village.
Certificates in the Devon Record Office (DRO) show that between 1728 and 1844 123 Rackenford children were found places as parish apprentices (the parish paid the fee and saw to it that children from families too poor to feed them were apprenticed out at the age of 9 or so). Only one of these was not apprenticed to a farmer. Up to ten years ago farming remained the main occupation of the parish and in the 2000 Village Appraisal farming or farming associated work still provided the largest single group of jobs.
Church records show a small school in the village as early as 1743. A National School for 40 children was built by the Vestry in 1848 on the site of the old Poor House to the north of the Church. This is now the Village Shop. The National School had to be replaced by a much larger establishment when education became compulsory in the 1870 Education Act. The present school catering for 80 children in two classes opened in 1872. Its first schoolmaster was John Roden, who had started life as a shoemaker but managed to become a certified teacher. He entered many complaints in the School Log about the failure of parents to send their children to school at harvest times, but this picture shows how tidy they looked when they did get there.
There always seem to have been two pubs, judging by the 17th century licences (DRO). One was on the site of Old Bell. This moved up the road to become the New Bell Inn and a stop for changing coach horses on the toll road from Tiverton. It is now the Rackenford Club. The other is The Stag, believed to be one of the oldest in Devon, and run by the Turner family for several generations.
From the 17th century on there are constant complaints in the Quarter Sessions records about Rackenford's failure to maintain its roads in proper repair. Roads were a parish responsibility, but a turnpike trust built the road from Tiverton to South Molton in 1763, which must have greatly improved links with the outside world, although this involved paying toll at the Toll Gate (the cottage is still recognisably a toll house, just before the Clean Feed Mill on the way to South Molton). In 1873 the Taunton - Barnstaple railway was opened with a station at East Anstey. This closed in 1966 but had been used for much Rackenford farm traffic. Buses ran twice a week to the village from Tiverton and South Molton until the 1970s. There is now no public transport nearer than Tiverton.
The oldest building to survive is of course the Church. In the village The Stag and some of the houses (Myrtle Cottage, Baters and Nobys) are at least partly 17th century. The only listed buildings in the parish are The Old Rectory (17th/18th c). The Stag, Rackenford Manor (c1810 with a 1930s wing) and Middlecott (17thc). Most farmhouses were rebuilt in the early 19th century.
A very interesting and informative book written by Sarah Child in 2009 is available from the Rackenford Shop
The Old Church Room
£2.50 plus £1 p&p to the UK
£2 p&p overseas
or request an order online by clicking here