Thursday, September 29, 2005

Churches of Exmoor #4

is a CCT church, and one of their early vestings. It stands at an awkward bend in the road on a steeply sloping hillside. The edges of Exmoor open out towards the Quantock Hills, and the church is small quaint and irregular, quite in keeping with the surroundings. Much is of indeterminate date, including the plain tower which could be C13 or just as easily C18. The external stair on the south side is obviously later and oh so tempting to climb. The door into the tower was as expected locked. Not so the church itself, a simple nave and narrower lower chancel. Between the tow a lovely coloured screen with the year inscribed don the frieze - 1632. Pevsner suggests the tracery is reused but in this part of the world it may well be contemprary with the date. What he did miss was the C13 north lancet with its C15 glass of the St Johns, Evangelist above and Baptist below.

Quite a scattered village, the church itself to the NE high on a hill with views all around. Tall tower, the buttresses without a lot to do it seems as there is not much to them! The church itself heavily restored in 1881-2. The interior has what seems a Victorian arcade and aisle, but could be retooled. The font is quite elegant and not of a common design. Octagonal it has shallow incised decoration, largely floral/foliage motifs, in small panels around the bowl and underneath in a lower tier of decoration, yet the stem is completely plain yet slim. Pevsner says Perp, it could be early C17 in my view. The screen is supposed to contain old bits, if so they are cleverly disguised! The reredos is Jacobean, with three typical blank arches, not mentioned by the master, nor is the C18 pulpit, nor a rather handsome stained glass composition of Fortitude, Justice and Godliness. Fortitude looks quite sweet, Justice has odd things coming out of his forehead and a long beard, whilst Godliness I think is a woman but I could be wrong! The Master does mention the most tedious of wall memorials (a draped urn) because it is signed by King of Bath who churned out such pap in vast numbers yet can surprise with an elegant composition of which this is not one. The PCC had the decency to hide it in the vestry.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Churches of Exmoor #3

By comparison to the earlier road to Stogumber, the road to Monksilver was broad and wide - and even had a dotted centre line marked in places! As a consequence Monksilver itself is littered with 30mph and Camera signs, which is a bit of a surprise and it must be difficult to do 30 on the bendy road which has regular lorries which force you in towards the bank and make you grit your teeth for the scraping of paintwork.......... well when the car is five days old it does!

is a Jekyll & Hyde church, from the churchyard gate (NE) this appears to be a small plain church which snuggles into the hillside behind with the ground dropping away to the east, and evidence of age is provided by a Norman window in the chancel north wall. Round the corner via the path and the south front is completely different (and completely hidden as you approach), an exuberant C15 Perp work with pierced battlements and large windows, the one west of the rood stair turret (which also has battlements) turned into square headed by traceried spandrels, and the porch a seemless continuation of the aisle at its west end. Inside much of interest, but Pevsner does not mention let at all explain the odd chancel arch within chancel arch. Lovely roofs, a simple wagon roof to the nave and a more ornate panelled ceiling in the aisle. The pulpit screen and bench ends all of the local style, but restored in part. My favourite feature was however the lectern, an oddly shaped eagle (I assume), not on a pedestal but on a swivelly scrolly iron bracket attached to the roodscreen. A closer look reveals that it is also secured by two bicycle locks to the mullions of the screen!

A church very much open and alive, yet it is tucked away on the lawn of the "big house" well away from any other houses. The Court is now a Field Studies Centre, so be prepared to give way to coaches of teenagers on the narrow road to the church - well I did three times, including a long reverse back up the road on leaving.
The church as a consequence is picturesquely situated but of unusual plan, with two transverse (and vaulted) bays off the south aisle. For the area the church is also quite large. The Victorians certainly came here and by them the clerestory for sure. The NE chapel has some old glass with complete figures, I suspect brought here from elsewhere and possibly from abroad. There is a handsome C18 pulpit and some interesting memorials, including the disintegrating effigies of early members of the Raleigh family in the outer bays of the aisle. The other prized posession is a Seven Sacraments font, one of only two outside of East Anglia (the other is in Farningham, Kent). It has been defaced but much of the carving other remains. The folklore explanation for this font being in Somerset is that it was a present to the church by the Duchess of Suffolk, whose grandmother was Lady of the Manor here. It dates from c1465-70 but only the bowl comes from East Anglia, the base is of local Ham Stone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Churches of Exmoor #2

Leaving Bicknoller for Stogumber is a real challenge in a car, especially one that was barely four days old! The road is particularly narrow and set the scene for many other routes on this short break as it climbed hills steeply, turned sharp corners and appeared to sink lower into the ground as the banks got higher and higher. Stogumber appears much more of a town in feel but definitely not one equipped for today's love affair with the car. The streets are very narrow and it was a challenge to park anywhere near the church thanks to a pub and shop opposite it.
is a church of contrasts and unusual features. The north side is regular and handsome, embattled and with beasts carved in stone around the parapets; large porch also of the same period. The tower however stands at the SW corner and the south front appears very disjointed with the tower, a large embattled porch, a plain aisle and taller larger wider south chancel chapel with fine detailing. Much is Perp, but with a Victorian embellished sanctuary and an oddly detailed north chancel arcade. The latter is like a double arcade, the piers joined and then pierced through with openings. The nave's north arcade is handsome with Devon foliage band capitals, one of which has a handsome green man. The south arcade in contrast is probably earlier work and of different periods as are the arches of different widths and heights. Then there is the handsome chancel with its Victorian decoration and rich reredos, but on the south side a big heavy-canopied tomb with two coffered arches above the effigies of Sir George Sydenham d1597 and his two wives - he lying centrally and comfortably whereas the wives are placed awkwardly on side shelves one step below him. Six pairs of fluted Corinthian columns support the entablature and superstructure. Other fittings also of good quality, font, a stone pulpit, some bench ends.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Churches of Exmoor #1

Back from a pleasant relaxing break on the edge of Exmoor, although you may not know I had gone! Over the next few days hopefully an account of my trip will unfold in words and pictures. I did not see as many churches as I would have liked - when you go with friends you have to compromise I guess - but hopefully you will get enough to whet your appetite for this western part of Somerset and a day trip to North Devon.

The idea for a break here came from our neighbours who have just bought a second home at Williton. In fact as a result we have spent more nights in their house than they have as contracts were not exchanged until the start of September. Speaking to them last night it seems they were a little jealous! We arrived on Sunday and began by just exploring the small rather featureless town, whose best buildings are the former workhouse, splendidly restored into apartments 2004-5, and the police station with a rather silly-looking centrally placed porch tower and flanking domestic looking wings left and right. People were queueing up to put fuel in their cars as threats of a fuel crisis loomed for later in the week thanks to Katrina (government) or Government taxes (protestors) as fuel soared to over GBP1 per litre.

The first church photographed was the Methodist church of 1883, on the Taunton Road leading away from the main street. It is a second pointed Gothic style complex, with a largish chapel and attached minister's house and schoolrooms. The front is divided into three by buttresses which continue up into spindly turrets. The sign proclaimed services at 1030 on Sunday but I thought I would try the door. It opened - and to my horror a service was in place although it was 3.30 in the afternoon! Luckily I did not interrupt the lady minister's flow and shut the door before heads could turn!

The church has to be signposted as it hides away along a quiet cul-de-sac along which is also situated The Bakelite Museum. It started as a chapel of ease to St Decuman's Church in Watchet, but at first glance appears to be entirely Victorian (1858 C E Giles). It has a west porch and a bellcote, as well as a rather rogueish (and ugly) north porch. The west porch in fact shelters a Tudor doorway and ancient door, and the windows of the south aisle were reused from the nave when the aisle was added in 1806. Inside the south arcade has roughly cut circular piers and pointed arches, the rest is of 1858, although the east wall of the chancel with its Perp. window is also said to be original. Not much to detain the visitor long inside but the odd font is dated 1666 and is made of local pinkish alabaster from the cliffs at Watchet. Giles apparently removed a medieval stone pulpit and a C15 rood screen, features which the church could use today to add some interest! [open]

Sometimes a church is visited which is architecturally nothing special, yet embeds itself into your senses so that you never forget it. For me this was one of those churches, a bit of an architectural oddity, a mucked about medieval cruciform church, which is almost as wide as it is long. The tower stands in the position of the south transept, and opposite is a deep north transept with big buttresses to the west. In fact these big buttresses with three set-offs seem to be a feature of the exterior - the chancel has them too - except for the tower which is unbuttressed! The interior preserves several interesting features but it is the embellishments of 1835 which makes the church so special. In fact the interior becomes something of a peice of confectionery, with ornate unexpected plasterwork decoration just like a wedding cake would have around the arches and windows. Yet the roof is C15 and rests on winged putti heads of 1835. The woodwork is classy, many of the bench ends are medieval, but one in particular is probably a little later and is situated at the west end where the pews are raised; it shows an exotic female figure flanked by two female pipers, reputedly recording the legend of Florence Wyndham who, having been placed in her coffin and buried only to then robbed of her rings by a graverobber, awoke from a coma during the robbery, and lived to a ripe old age having several children. (We were to see her monument later at St Decuman, Watchet). What happened to the graverobber goes unrecorded but he surely got a fright! [open]