Saturday, 20 October 2012

St George, Beckington

The attractive village of Beckington is, according to Pevsner’s Buildings of England, ‘uncommonly rich in worth-while stone houses’. It also has an impressive church, tucked away along a short lane from the village crossroads.

The village has a substantial entry in the Domesday Book, although there is no mention of a church. But during the Norman period a substantial church was built, with the impressive tower that we see today. The chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century and the nave rebuilt, and much of the fabric renewed, in the 15th century.

On entering the churchyard, the tower impresses by both its size and the quality of decoration on its bell openings, with paired round-headed arches within a wider arch with zig-zag decoration and blank arcading either side. Inside the tower there is a Perpendicular fan vault. The rest of the interior is rather scraped, although whitewash has been applied to the bare stonework in the chancel. Apart from a Decorated window in the chancel, most of the internal detail, including the elegant but low arcades and the clerestory, are Perpendicular Gothic.

At the east end of the north aisle is some stone panelling and a niche, doubtless once flanking a side chapel altar. The church abounds in interesting corbels, mostly in the form of human heads, but the north aisle has two in the form of seated beasts (one clearly a sheep). The nave roof has an interesting Queen post roof, with cusped struts.

The church has some excellent fixtures and fittings. The chancel has two tombs dating from around 1370: the larger has a knight and lady in a recess, decorated on the outside with vigorous blank arcading. Adjacent is a similar effigy, this time of a lady, under a simpler arched recess. On the chancel floor, a pair of remarkably well preserved brasses depict John St Maur (d. 1485) and his wife. An early 16th Century brass in the south chapel to the Compton family was inaccessible on my visit.

A further brass on the south aisle wall commemorates Thomas Webb (d. 1585), a local cloth merchant. Above is a separate brass with his merchant’s mark. Above the south door that is a real rarity - the Royal Arms of Elizabeth I, dated 1574, carved in stone and brightly painted. The font beneath is octagonal, with a plain circular stem ringed by eight further shafts. The adjacent south chapel has an attractive Jacobean screen. Back to the north aisle, the wall monument to Samuel Daniel (1562-1619), the poet laureate who was a contemporary of Shakespeare, is an accomplished early example of the then new Classical style.

The church has a very active parish, hosting both traditional and modern family worship, and on my visit the walls were screened with lovely examples of the children’s art work.

St George, Church Street, Beckington, Frome, Somerset BA11 6TG

St Philip and St James, Norton St Philip

The village of Norton St Philip, just south of Bath, is probably best known for its mediaeval George Inn, and its associations with the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685. But it has a charming mediaeval church with much to interest the visitor.


Although the village is mentioned in Domesday, the first reference to the church is in 1292, and the list if priests begins (unbroken to the present day) in 1331. Most of the existing church belongs to the 14th and 15th centuries. It was, however, much altered in the 17th century by a local man, Jeffrey Flower (d. 1644), and heavily restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1847, so dating much of it is difficult – not helped by the fact that Flower is said to have brought ‘odds and ends’ from Hinton Priory.

The oldest parts are the south porch and south aisle which, with the south nave arcade, date from the late 13th or early 14th century. Most of the rest of the church is 15th or 16th Century Perpendicular, although the tower is said to have been altered to the designs of Jeffrey Flower and the north aisle probably dates from the 17th century.

The church

The most striking external feature is the tower, which is broadly of the local Somerset design, but with an unorthodox arrangement of niches, windows and bell openings. It has a west doorway with a shallow porch (said to be one of Flower’s additions) with niches inside and out, and a ribbed roof supported on two large beasts. The south porch has 13th century features and a nice later wagon roof with carvings, and two doors with a staircase on the east wall, indicating that at one time it had an upper room.

Inside, the south arcade has square piers and is of early 14th century style: the north arcade has two panelled arches flanking a central arch with odd responds – possibly part of the 17th Century work. There is a tall and imposing Perpendicular west tower arch, but the tower vault is ascribed to the 17th Century. The nave’s magnificent (but Victorian) hammer-beam roof has large carved angels on the ends of each beam. The chancel arch and windows are all Perpendicular. Part of the north aisle has been tastefully developed to provide a modern meeting area in glass, wood and steel.

Fittings include a wonderful effigy of a civilian dated c. 1460, and thought to be that of a lawyer; a Perpendicular font; simple stone sedilia in the chancel; three surviving screens; some mediaeval glass fragments in the top lights of the north aisle windows; and a Royal coat of arms of Charles II. In the tower are two ancient stone heads, and beneath an inscription based on Pepys’ diaries of 1668 referring to the ‘Fair Maids of Foscott’.

The church is clearly well loved: on my visit it was bedecked with flowers in almost every corner.

St Philip & St James, Church Street, Norton St. Philip, Bath BA2 7LT

Friday, 19 October 2012

St Mary the Virgin, Bruton

The picturesque village of Bruton has a magnificent late mediaeval church, with an impressive ‘Somerset type’ tower and an unusual Georgian chancel.


There has been a church on the site since Saxon times, replaced by a stone curch in the mediaeval period. This parish church was replaced with a mediaeval stone church, and the crypt and the tower over the north porch date from around 1350. In the mid-15th century a comprehensive rebuilding scheme was begun, beginning with the impressive west tower, which was built 1449-56. The nave was rebuilt a little later, and given a tall clerestory as well as being extended eastwards.

The chancel was rebuilt by Sir Charles Berkeley in 1743 and provides a bright but sympathetic contrast to the mediaeval church. The registers record visits by both Charles I and Charles II.

The church

The west tower is a tour de force, particularly on the path leading up from the town. Of the ‘Wells’ group of towers, which have a strong vertical emphasis, the arrangement of the west window, niches and bell openings delivers a particularly attractive composition.

Inside, the nave has an elegant arcade of Perpendicular arches, with a particularly tall clerestory rising to a magnificent wooden king-post roof, richly decorated with angels, tracery and bosses. The interior is sadly scraped of its plaster and therefore rather gloomy, but details such as stairs to long-vanished roods provide interest. The chancel is a complete contrast; whitewashed throughout with gilded ribs and corbels decorated with cherubs, there is a large classical reredos in place of an east window.

The church has almost an embarrassment of riches in its fittings: Pews with Jacobean bench ends and a Jacobean pulpit; a richly-carved Jacobean west screen dated 1620; 16th and 17th century heraldic glass in the apex of the chancel windows; a fine west window by Clayton and Bell; the colourfully panted Royal Arms of Charles II in the north aisle; the finely preserved tomb chest of Sir Maurice Berkeley (d. 1581) in the chapel, his armoured effigy flanked by his two wives (d. 1559 and 1585) and, opposite, the notable bronze memorial bust of William Godolphin (d. 1636), attributed to Le Seuer (sculptor of the mounted statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square).

The church has a busy parish life as well as serving the schools of Kings School and Sexey’s Church of England school, and strong links with parish of Bruton in Williamsburg, Virginia.

St Mary the Virgin, The Plox, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0QL

Christ Church, Frome

Christ Church lies just a short walk south west of the town's mediaeval parish church of St John the Baptist, set attractively in the centre of an extensive churchyard on Christchurch Street West.


The church was built largely to provide additional capacity at a time when the St John's was no longer large enough to cater for its congregation, and particularly to provide more free pews (as opposed to those which were rented, as was the custom at the time).

The church is an early and rather heavy essay in neo-Gothic, built in 1817-18 to designs by the local architect George Allen Underwood (1793-1829). It was much altered subsequently, most notably with new window tracery by Manners & Gill around the 1840s onwards, supposedly based on those of the church at Yatton, near Weston-super-Mare. The churchyard was originally shared with St John's, but is closed for burials. It has a fine long stone wall on Christchurch Street - which, alas, has lost its railings.

The church

The style is broadly Neo-Gothic (Perpendicular) and cruciform in plan, with a tall clerestory, low crossing tower and substantial aisles to the nave. An unusual feature is that the altar is under the crossing, with a later projecting Lady Chapel (now the Sacristy) added in 1929.

Furnishings are decent Victorian work, including a substantial carved reredos and a later Rood erected in 1910, and some brightly coloured stained glass. The church has had an Anglo-catholic tradition since the mid 1850s, and provides for a friendly welcome.

8 Christchurch Street West, Frome, Somerset BA11 1EH

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Holy Trinity, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol

The site of Holy Trinity in Westbury-on-Trym has an eventful history dating back to Saxon times, and has been closely associated with various Bishops of Worcester. The largely mediaeval parish church is well worth a look today.


Westbury was the site of an early Benedictine monastery in the 9th and possibly even the 8th century. Under St Oswald, Bishop of Worcester, it became England’s earliest reformed house in 963AD, although the community of monks moved to East Anglia when offered more fertile lands there. The monastery was re-established in 1093 under bishop Wulfstan, and became a collegiate church in 1194 under Bishop Celestine.

In the mid-15th century Bishop John Carpenter made Westbury a joint cathedral with Worcester, to serve the needs of an expanding Bristol. He rebuilt the chancel and the north chapel. The south chapel was built by William Canynge, a famous Bristol merchant who was dean of Westbury 1444-76.

The Church

The exterior is dominated by Carpenter’s tower; his seated effigy sits in a niche above the West Door. Inside, the earliest parts of the church date to the 13th century, and include the arcades of circular piers with simple pointed arches, the south aisle itself and the chancel arch. The west window in the south aisle has 3 stepped Early English lancets, and there is a 3-arch Sedilia and Piscina, also from the 13th century, further along the south wall.

The chancel itself and the flanking chapels date from the 15th century, along with the clerestory and most of the remaining windows. The north chapel is of two bays and the south has three bays of tall, delicate Perpendicular arches. Remains of rood stairs can be found in both aisles.

Monuments include the cadaver of Bishop Carpenter himself: the original tomb was desecrated in the time of the Commonwealth, but now lies under a Victorian monument between the south chapel and chancel. In the north aisle is a painted memorial with a skull to Miles Wilson (d. 1567) and his daughter, Elizabeth Revell (d. 1581). In the south aisle on the east wall is a charming memorial to Rose Large (d. 1610), shown kneeling at prayer, erected by her son.

The church is the centre of a busy parish life and hosts daily worship.

Holy Trinity, Church Road, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol BS9 3EQ

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Priory Church of St James, Bristol (RC)

St James's Priory claims to be the oldest building in Bristol. Recently restored, it has well preserved Norman arcades and an early rose window. It is now part of a charitable project offering support to  people struggling with addiction. The church has regular services led by a priest from the nearby Roman Catholic church of St Mary on the Quay.


The Priory was founded as a Benedictine house by Robert, Earl of Gloucester (1100-1147), in 1129. Robert was the illegitimate son of Henry I and a key player in the conflict between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda. He is buried in the church. The church was made parochial in 1374 and the bell tower was erected in 1375, paid for by the parishioners.

The priory continued until the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, after which the west end of the Priory Church became the parish church. Alterations included the rebuilding of the south aisle in 1698 and the north aisle in 1864. The church was declared redundant and closed in 1984. In 1993 it was reopened by the Little Brothers of Nazareth, and a project for people in need established. The church was substantially restored in 2009-11.

The church

The west front is in many ways the most interesting: above a rubble wall (now rendered), are a row of Norman interlaced rounded blind arches, surmounted with an unusual (and very early) example of an oculus, or rose window. This consists of a circle surrounded by eight outer circles, with inter-twined rope decoration. At te east end, the rather plain tower forms a prominent landmark from the Haymarket. The south porch (towards the west) has a short tower and is an 18th century addition.

Inside, the nave has arcades of five bays of rounded arches on round columns with attached shafts and cushion capitals, dating from the 12th century, albeit much restored. The roof corbels are in the form of mediaeval heads, brightly painted. The neo-Norman west wall is 19th century as is the inner north aisle of polished pink granite columns (the outer aisle has been separated off to provide exhibition and seminar rooms). The south aisle is more interesting and contains most of the monuments, beneath a row of large 4-light windows and more colourful corbels.

The church has some interesting monuments: pride of place goes to that of Sir Charles Somerset (d. 1598), found through a modern door at the west end of the north aisle. There is a late 12th or early 13th century mediaeval effigy on the south wall under a large moulded arch: well preserved, it is not clear whether this is in fact the tomb of its founder, as claimed on a wall plaque: his tomb of polished jasper was at the east end, which makes it unlikely. Among the numerous 18th and 19th century wall memorials, there is an interesting earlier brass, surrounded by strap-work, commemorating Henry Gibbes (d. 1636) and his family on the east wall.

The church is open during weekdays for private prayer, and there are regular masses.

St James's Priory and Project, Whitson Street, Bristol BS1 3NZ

Monday, 15 October 2012

St Michael's Without, Bath

St Michael's Without is one of Bath’s most prominent city centre churches, dominating the view along Northgate Street. Recently re-ordered, it also houses a busy café, just one aspect of an equally vibrant parish life.


There has been a church on the site since at least 1180, the original being outside the city walls. This was rebuilt between 1370 and 1400, although we know little of its design. By the 1730s this was both too small and dilapidated for the existing congregation, but an offer of a design by the architect John Wood was turned down and the third church was built in 1742 to plans devised by its churchwarden John Harvey. Wood inevitably criticised the design, and it was said that that it was so ugly that a horse would refuse to be taken past it unless blind-folded!

It was not long, however, before this church followed the fate of its predecessor (being both too small and structurally unsound). It was demolished in 1835, and the present church built to designs by G P Manners, and completed in 1837. To make better use of the site, the new church was orientated north-south, with ritual east to the north.

The church

The church is an early essay in neo-Gothic, but the style is somewhat eclectic: Pevsner calls the tall, slender tower ‘crazy’, with its spire perched atop an octagonal lantern, with extraordinarily tall stepped lancet windows. The interior has similar windows, but is more conventional, with an aisled nave leading to a polygonal apse and plaster rib-vaulting. This is picked out in cream and is perhaps the church’s most attractive feature. The interior is light and airy, though there are few fittings of note.

The interior has been re-ordered with chairs and the tower room and rear of the nave are now used for a café and bookshop. The church has a strong emphasis on mission, described in displays at the back of the church.

St Michael Without, Broad Street, Bath BA1 5LJ

St John the Evangelist, Bath (RC)

St John’s tall steeple and spire is one of the landmarks visible from the train as you go through Bath: at 222ft high, it is the tallest in the city. This large church is a confident statement of faith, and an equally emphatic lesson in the Gothic Revival in this otherwise large Georgian city.

The church was commissioned by the Benedictines and built in 1861-63 to the designs of Charles Francis Hansom (1817-1888) and his son Edward Joseph Hansom (1842-1900). They adopted a flamboyant Decorated Gothic design, almost French in character – exemplified particularly by the rose windows in the transepts - yet the spire owes more to English precedents.

The church is built of rough-faced Bath stone, and has a large aisled nave, with clerestory, transepts, an apsed chancel and side chapels. The interior has pink Devon Granite piers with foliated capitals. The decoration throughout is of high quality, with extensive use of marble and alabaster. The glass and the impressive iron screen in front of the chancel are by Hardman. In the north-west apse is a eliquary, also designed by Charles Hansom, containing the relics of the martyr, St Justina, donated in 1871 after many years in the possession of the Borghesi family.

St John the Evangelist, South Parade, Bath BA2 4AF

Saturday, 6 October 2012

St Winefride's Well and Chapel, Holywell

St Winefride’s Well – often referred to as the ‘Welsh Lourdes’ - is reputed to be Britain’s oldest continuously visited pilgrimage site. The unique well-head and St Winefride’s Chapel above constitute some of Wales’s best 15th century architecture.


Shrouded in legend, the site is said to date from the 7thcentury, when Winefride, daughter of a local nobleman and a devout Christian, was decapitated by the local Chieftain Caradog for resisting his advances. Through the prayers of her Uncle, Saint Beuno, her head was restored with only a faint scar, and a spring flowed from the spot where her head had fallen. Whatever the legend, the historic Winefride became a nun and ultimately abbess of the foundation at Gwytherin, and died there in 660AD.

The well has since been a popular pilgrimage site, especially through the middle ages. Royal visitors have included Richard I, Henry V, Edward IV, and Richard III. James II and his second wife, Mary of Modena, visited in 1686 and it is said their prayers for a child were answered by the birth of their son, James Stuart.

The present well-head and chapel were built in the early 1500s, although the shrine of St Winefride was destroyed in the reformation. Despite the best efforts of the authorities, the well continued to be a popular place of pilgrimage and was associated with the Catholic recusancy. The well was rented by the Jesuits in 1873 and is now in the care of the Catholic Diocese of Wrexham. St Winefride’s Chapel is in the care of Cadw.

The well and chapel

The well complex includes a modern entrance building, museum and shop, with attractive lawns fronting the well-head. There is a large modern pool beside the well, where bathing is still permittedat certain times.

The well-head itself (effectively forming the crypt of the chapel above) is an intricate structure, the stone-lined pool covered with an elaborate octagonal late Perpendicular vault. A profusion of elaborately carved bosses include depictions of St Winefride’s legend, the likely patron of the building, Lady Margaret Beaufort, and scenes of healing. Nearby is a modern statue of St Winefride, complete with neck scar.
The Chapel above is a delightful example of Perpendicular architecture, with a fine wooden roof and wide windows filled with clear glass. Corbels and bosses abound with yet more carving, depicting saints and angels, heraldic devices, beasts, dragons, hunting scenes and grotesque faces. The Chapel hosts occasional festival services.
Plessington House, Greenfield Street, Holywell, Wales CH8 7PN

St Mary, Cilcain

Cilcain has one of Clwyd’s most interesting double-naved churches, best known for the astonishing hammer beam roof decorated with large carvings.


First mentioned in 1291, the church is probably of late 12th or 13th century origin. The oldest part is the north nave, now used as a meeting area. The tower and south nave were added in the 15th century, at which point the windows of the north nave were also renewed in Perpendicular style. The south nave probably replaced an earlier aisle.

The origin of the south nave’s roof is uncertain: the bays do not match those of the arcade, and the scale of the angels implies it was almost certainly intended for a loftier building, but there is little evidence for a local tradition that the roof came from Basingwerk abbey. The north nave was burned down in 1532, possibly during a service of plygain, a Welsh night-long carol service, traditionally lit with large numbers of candles brought by the congregation. It remained roofless until 1746 when it was rebuilt at the expense of the incumbent.

Restoration was carried out in 1786-7, 1845-5 and again in 1889, when the walls were scraped, the south porch rebuilt and the north nave screened off from the south nave. Brickwork at the top of the tower was also replaced with stone.

The church

The main part of the church is now the south nave: the north nave or aisle is not generally open to the public. Immediately the visitor is struck by the stark nature of the scraped walls, which render the interior dark: as one’s eyes grow accustomed to the gloom, the amazing ceiling reveals itself. It is carried alternately on hammer beams and braced arch trusses and moulded throughout.

The beams are decorated by angels each carrying shields depicting the instruments of the passion: roof bosses and the trusses have more carvings, including grotesque faces, animal heads, a pair of monkeys and a delightful pair of men in 15th century secular dress, possible the craftsmen who built it. They stare coyly from with side of a corbelled buttress, like a comedy duo.

To the north, the former Decorated arcade has been filled with wooden glazed panels. The East Window has 16th century glass panels depicting the Crucifixion. Other fittings of interest include a fragmentary Norman font, and a collection 14th century sepulchral panels at the West end, one of which depicts, rather crudely, a lady with an elaborate medieval headdress.

Cilcain, Mold, Wales CH7 5NH

Thursday, 4 October 2012

St Lawrence, North Hinksey

St Lawrence lies at the end of the village, next to the modern offices of the Diocese of Oxford. The largely 12th century church has a pretty wooded churchyard with a much-weathered 14th century cross.


The church guide claims that the oldest part of the church is chancel and suggests a possible pre-Conquest date: however, the earliest surviving details point to a foundation around 1100, with the tower added in in the 13th century and the porch in the 17th century.

A restoration by John Macduff Derick in the 19th century replaced a much earlier and very narrow chancel arch with the present arch with flanking squints in the Norman style, which complement the south door.

The Church

The church consists of nave, chancel, porch and tower, with exterior walls are of rubble with ashlar dressings. The tower has a simple pyramidal cap, and all is roofed with stone slates. The best architectural feature is the very fine 12th century south doorway, now inside the porch: this features elaborate zig-zag carving, scalloped capitals, red stone flanking columns and animal-head stops.

Inside, the interior has a peculiar pale coloured limewash, which emphasises the white-washed chancel arch. The nave and chancel have an interesting collection of windows, covering the 12th to 16th centuries, including simple round-headed arches, Early English lancets, a 15th century east window with cinquefoil tracery and an unusual late 13th century window with lozenge tracery. There is a staircase in the north wall of the nave to a long-vanished rood screen.

The furnishings include a lovely 15th century octagonal font, with different tracery designs on each face, and some nice monuments. The north-west nave window contains stained glass fragments brought from Ypres after the First World War.

The church is open during the day in summer and there is a regular Sunday morning service.

St Lawrence, North Hinksey Lane, North Hinksey, Oxford OX2 0LZ