Stogumber with the Quantock hills behind
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St Mary's Church Stogumber

FOR OVER SIX CENTURIES, THE CHURCH OF St. MARY THE VIRGIN has been the focal point of Stogumber, and even before this, in Norman times, there was no doubt a place of worship on this site, though every trace of the original church has now disappeared. Those who have gone before us and those who follow us in the generations to come are all part of its fabric.

The Church Today

The Rector is Reverend Prebendary Angela Berners-Wilson

The normal monthly service pattern is: 1st Sunday 11am Matins, 2nd Sunday 10:30am Benefice Communion; 3rd Sunday 6:30pm Evensong, 4th Sunday 11am Holy Communion.

To talk about weddings, baptisms or confirmation or if you would like a home visit or Holy Communion at home, please call Angela or contact the Benefice Office, email: a.bernerswilson@btinternet.com.

The benefice website is at www.quantocktowersbenefice.org.uk.

History and Architecture

THE TOWER, begun in the fourteenth century, is built of red sandstone. It leads into the church through a big arch with a triple chamfer, now filled with a wooden screen, and to the aisle a double chamfer. It has diagonal buttresses, transomed bell openings, with battlements and a higher stair turret. On the other side of the church the south porch is also red and embattled and, no doubt, of the same date.

One of the first objects seen on entering the church is the fine CHANDELIER. When its candles are lit on the greater festivals of the church the effect is very beautiful. It was made by Thomas Bayley of Bridgwater in about 1770 and discovered in 1907 in an upstairs room of the Vicarage Brew House (where it had lain for thirty-five years) by the Rev. Ambrose Couch. No part was missing and after much cleaning, it was re-hung.

THE FONT, where baptisms have taken place since the fifteenth century, is octagonal with quatrefoils and seems to have stood, at one time, against a wall. The wooden cover is Victorian.

THE PULPIT was first placed on the north side of the nave and was once painted. It is one of the two stone pulpits in West Somerset, the other being at Cheddon Fitzpaine.

THE REREDOS above which, in high relief, is the robed figure of Christ supported on each side by an angel, depicts the Ascension watched by the disciples. Note also the figure of a woman tucked into the top right-hand corner of the group. The four Evangelists are shown each holding a book and a pen and are accompanied by their symbols: a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle, for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John respectively.

THE BENCHENDS are all straightforward with close tracery. They are not perhaps so fine as those of other churches in the neighbourhood at Crowcombe and Bicknoller, but no two are alike and there is one of particular interest under the west window, the third from the back. This bears the arms of the Trevelyan family, of Nettlecombe Court, with the motto TYME TRYETH TROTH.

THE SOUTH ARCADE was built to go with a nave which no longer exists, though one pier survives, octagonal with plain capitals. The rest of the south arcade was continued in the fifteenth century in different stone with the standard form, hollow piers and small circular capitals to the shafts only.

You will find two ALTARS in the Church, the centres of the spiritual life of the parish. By the SIDE ALTAR is the AUMBRY, in which is reserved the Holy Sacrament for the communion of those unable through illness to come to church at service time. Here in the NORTH CHAPEL, under the window, is an old tomb, in which lies buried James Cade of Halsway, who died in 1655. On it, but not belonging to it, is a small brass to Margery Windham, 1585.

There was once a rood screen with a loft; this has now disappeared, but the small door at the foot of the stairs is original, with medieval foliage carving and ironwork. The door above is made of fragments of the panelling from the discarded screen.

We are especially proud of the NORTH AISLE, which is a fine example of the perpendicular architecture of about 1500. Notice the delicate capitals, richly carved, each of them different. On one of them is a representation of the "Instruments of the Passion", together with the five wounds, contained within small shields. The next two pillars dividing the north aisle from the chancel are stretched so much in depth that they both contain hagioscopes (DOUBLE SQUINTS). These are rare indeed, enabling those in the new aisle to see the high altar. Here may be seen the head of a "Green Man", a primitive fertility symbol evidently tolerated in local churches, as examples in wood exist elsewhere. This one is, unusually, in stone.

A little later in the sixteenth century, on the other side of the chancel arch, three more bays were added. They form an important family chapel and are, from the outside, taller than the rest of the aisle and have battlements and pinnacles. Two of the three light windows are blocked by later monuments.

This is called the SYDENHAM CHAPEL. It is separated from the rest of the church by a wrought iron screen. At present it is not part of the parish church, but is a relic of feudalism, where the Lord of the Manor of Combe Sydenham had his own private chapel attached to the parish church. Here will be found the tomb of Sir George Sydenham, father-in-law of Sir Francis Drake. Whilst the family worshipped here, the marriage of his daughter Elizabeth Sydenham to Sir Francis took place in Monksilver Church possibly because the latter is much nearer to Combe Sydenham. The inscription on his tomb is oddly executed, his name mis-spelt (Sr. Gorge Sidnum) and the year of his death (1589) omitted. His two wives are uncomfortably tucked in by his sides. At his feet are the small figures of three babies and their nurse. Above the tomb-chest the canopy rises in fine detail and the vaults formed by the columns are coffered. The arms on the tomb are Sydenham, Kittisford, Hertly and another which is defaced and possibly de la Lynde. There are other memorials in the chapel; the one to George Musgrave, 1742, has attractive rococo ornament and is attributed to Rysbrack. The south aisle window is straightheaded and has the pretty tracery characteristics of Dunster and other churches.

In the late nineteenth century the church was restored by Prebendary Edward Jones, Vicar of Stogumber from 1871 to 1907, at a cost of £2,400, a considerable sum in those days. The chancel was tiled and stencilled and the roof painted. Prebendary Jones was evidently a follower of William Morris. Before this restoration the roofs were covered with successive coats of plaster and paint and the arches of the nave arcade were also plastered and painted. This restoration was completed and the church reopened for worship by the Bishop of the diocese in May 1875.

The altar was renewed in 1949, as a memorial to Christine Leasor. This is an example of the work of the late Leslie Bex, the well-known Stogumber craftsman. The late Ralph Farrer, another local craftsman, made the small movable lectern for the Rev. Paul Ashwin, and both made other fittings. More recently Neil Creighton made the light fittings for the choir in memory of Gillian Tatlow. He also made a prie dieu and benches for the children's choir.

There is no ancient glass in our church, but there are three roundels of Flemish glass in the window beside the organ. The east window and that in the sanctuary are mid-Victorian and the other coloured windows date from the latter part of the nineteenth century. They were the gift of the Rowcliffes, a local family, whose graves are to be found at the southern end of the churchyard. The plaques on the north wall represent two of the "corporal works of mercy" and are copies in metal of Italian Della Robbia pottery. They were given to the church by the sister of a former Bishop of Bath and Wells. Attention may be drawn to the fine memorial in the south wall of the nave under the tower. The Latin inscription records that it was given by Margaret Hay to the memory of Thomas Rich, to whom she was betrothed. He was the squire of Hartrow and died at the age of 24 before they were married, making her his heiress. She lived at Hartrow and gave to the church a paten and flagon with the Hay coat of arms, 1733.

In addition, Stogumber church possesses other interesting plate, which is kept for safety at a bank. Also worthy of note is the 'Ambrose Couch chalice and paten', a private communion set which belonged to the Rev. Edward Jones. On the outside of the earliest register is the following: "Stogumber memorand. This yere of 1615 John Sweeting, gentleman, gave one fair challice of silver with cover double gilded and three fair pewter pottes ". The chalice bears the inscription "Dedicated unto God for his only holy servys in the church of Stogumber. An.Do. 1615". There is also a silver gilt paten and chalice given in memory of Paul Honeyboume Ashwin, incumbent from 1963-1967.

The church now possesses a fine two manual ORGAN. In 1968 the old instrument was completely rebuilt and a detached console placed within the arch of the north chapel. In front of the organ case stands the village BIER.

We are proud of our BELLS, which are rung regularly. There are six, bearing the following dates: 1624, 1687, 1745, 1880 and 1893, the oldest bell being inscribed with the words: "When oie cale in God rejoice all".

In 1792 a new church CLOCK was obtained at a cost of £I4. 5s. 0d., maker unknown. It was last repaired in 1931 and regilded in 1997.

The registers of the church started in 1559 and are almost complete and there is a list of vicars which goes back to 1249.

OUTSIDE THE CHURCH notice the fine carved heads on the north porch and the beasts carved just below the roof The heads are known locally as "Adam and Eve". There are interesting gargoyles (known here in Somerset as "hunky punks") on the tower and the south porch, including a large one high up on the north-west corner of the tower in the shape of a fish. An uncommon stone seat runs all round the exterior of the north aisle.

THE CROSS IN THE CHURCHYARD probably marked the place where the gospel was first preached, the base and shaft being ancient though the rest is Victorian. It has now been moved to the Garden of Remembrance near the entrance to the churchyard.

IN THE CHURCHYARD, near the south porch, is a smooth triangle of grass. Tradition has it that at one time there was a plague in Stogumber and that the dead were buried here in a common grave.

churchyard plan

churchyard map