|All Saints', Wrington
A History of the Church
by Hugh C. Smith (2)
There are no records of the building of Wrington church either in Glastonbury Abbey records or locally, but the interior, as we see it today consists of the chancel, the oldest part of the present building. This dates from the l4th century. The tower built in the first half of the l5th century was added to the original nave. The nave was then rebuilt, with aisles and clerestory, later in the l5th century. At the same time the chancel was altered at the western end to accommodate the greater width of the new nave.
One is immediately aware of the lofty and impressive dimensions of the church interior. The nave is of four bays only, and short, but this is largely offset by the height, and the fact that the north and south aisles have been extended to approximately half the length of the chancel to accommodate the Lady Chapel on the north and St. Nicholas Chapel on the south. This design has not always found favour with experts, some of whom contend that the blank east walls of the aisles destroy the harmony of the design as they intrude upon the line of the chancel roof when viewed from the exterior.
Why was the chancel of All Saints never enlarged to bring it into line with the rest of the building? It was altered, as mentioned, at the western end but no rebuilding was ever done. Possible answers are firstly a shortage of money and secondly it may have been desired to keep the original ground plan of the church which the chancel preserved. A further possibility is the fact that larger congregations would be as near the altar as possible. We shall probably never know the true answer.
The chancel of a Parish Church is often the oldest and least altered portion of the building. Often, in mediaeval times, it was the responsibility of the incumbent to keep it in repair, whilst the nave and screen were under the care of the parishioners. The nave was used, during this period, for a number of secular meetings, and little was often done to the chancel for generations, whilst additions in the form of aisles, chapels or clerestory were made to the nave. Here in Wrington this would not have been the reason as the building belonged to the Abbots of Glastonbury.
As mentioned the tower was built on to the existing nave, and, subsequently, the new nave and clerestory were built. The ancient roof line of the nave can be seen above the tower arch in the church.
The tracery of the east window of the chancel is an exact copy of a window of circa 1300. The original tracery was removed at the Victorian restoration and re-erected in the garden of a house at the Grove. The new stained glass window, depicting "The Good Shepherd", was the gift of the Revd. John Vane.
The pillars of the nave are of an unusual cross section and the outside shafts of each pillar rise up between the clerestory windows, to bear the figures of angels which carry the timber supports of the roof. Prior to the restoration of 1860, the pillars had been mutilated to make room for a motley collection of pews which had accumulated in the nave.
A Handbook of Wrington, published for the first and last time in 1861 by the Wrington Literary Society, described the interior of the church, before the Victorian restoration, as an "unmitigated disappointment" and said that "evidences of bad taste and lack of finish were everywhere perceptible". The restoration took place in 1859/60, and probably the last notes on the interior prior to this restoration have been left to us by Joseph Leech, an Irishman who lived at Abbots Leigh, who wrote for the "Bristol Times" under the pseudonym "Churchgoer". His articles for the paper described visits he made to churches in Bristol and the surrounding countryside, and whilst typically Victorian in their content, and full of sarcastic comments upon the various incumbents and their flocks, they provide fascinating glimpses of the social life of the villages he visited.
He attended Evensong at All Saints, in the early 1850's, entering by the chancel door to the ringing of the Sanctus Bell, rung, he tells us by "a little girl in a white bonnet with a red head", who was perched on a seat of a pew close to the screen. In the 1850's the bell rope hung down in the centre, not by the north pier of the chancel arch as it does today.
"Churchgoer" sat in a pew behind the reading desk, there were pews in the chancel then, and the reading desk was situated at the time on the south side of the nave in front of the screen. From his seat he was able to see the "collection of old printed papers, pack thread, and spectacle cases" which the parson had stowed away on the shelf. His observation on the only other occupant of the pew was that she was a lady with a world of artificial flowers in her bonnet, with something about her that discouraged any advance towards familiar conversation.
The Victorian restoration did see many changes made to the interior of the church, chief amongst them probably being:-
1. The walls, previously white limed, were plastered and stuccoed. There are recurring items in the Churchwardens Accounts associated with the whiteliming of the church. For example, the cost of the work in 1652 was £l.ls.Od. and cleaning up after the workmen cost a further 2s.6d.
Wrington Literary Society handbook
7. The floor of the chancel was covered with tiles. This obscured a number of interesting tablets, but in 1937 the tiles were removed and three of the most interesting memorials are now incorporated in the present paving. They are to the memory of the Revd. Henry
This happened during the incumbency of the Revd. Samuel Crook who was Rector from 1602 until 1649. After 1640, however, no further reference is made to the organ. Did it succumb .to old age or was there a more sinister reason for its disappearance from the records? Perhaps the clue lies in the Order in Council, issued in 1644, which decreed that all organs and frames or cases in which they stood should be taken away and utterly defaced, and none other thereafter set up in their place. And that all copes and surplices, superstitious vestments, roods and fonts were to be likewise utterly defaced.
This order sounded the death knell for many works of art in our churches; screens, fonts, rood lofts, altars and monuments were destroyed, and many churches lost their organs. The Revd. Samuel Crook was a rigid Puritan in outlook, and it is certain that the organ was removed during his incumbency. The Revd. Francis Roberts, his successor, did not apparently restore it.
During the next 100 years there is no record regarding any accompaniment to the singing but in the latter half of the l8th century there are shreds of evidence which refer to the band which took the place of the organ; such items as repairs to the Bassoon and Hautboy, books bought for the singers, and the acquisition of a Pitch Pipe in 1822 for 4s. 6d. What happened to these instruments is not recorded. It does not appear to have been clear even to the Churchwardens of the day, for an inventory of 1829 lists only one Bass Viol, and against the entry is written "Who has it?"
Until 1860 there was no organ in the church, but then as mentioned, it was placed in the lower space of the tower. The Revd. Harry Mengdon Scarth became Rector in 1871 and in the following year he suggested that the instrument should be moved to the Lady Chapel.
1644 Puritan abolition of organs, vestments, &c
The 16th century Oak Screen almost became a victim of the "restorers". At a meeting in October 1859 it was debated whether the screen should be retained. Legend says that it was saved by the intervention of the Revd. John Vane, who leapt upon his horse at Burrington, and galloped to Wrington, where he protested to such effect that it was decided to retain the screen in its present position. It was, however, stripped of the paint with which it had been thickly daubed prior to restoration.
The screen, beautifully carved, which is comparatively complete up to the head beam over the lights, extends the whole width of the church. Originally it would have had a projecting canopy which would have extended westwards towards the nave. The canopy would have been held in position by a bressumer or beam, probably carved, supported at either end by the angel corbels which remain upon the west side of the piers of the chancel arch. The angel on the north holds a shield carved with the five wounds, but the shield of the angel on the south side is blank. This was probably the so called "Cherub Corbel" which was renewed in 1855 and carved by the sculptor of the Reredos.
Access to the Rood Loft was by way of the door and stair, carefully built, inconspicuously, into the north wall, immediately behind the screen.
The Reredos is of Caen stone. "Churchgoer" referred to it when he wrote of an elaborate Altar screen ... "Which if not new, has been recently repaired". It was, in fact, fairly new when he saw it, as it was designed in the Neo Gothic style by Sir Charles Barry and erected in 1832. The work was carried out by a local craftsman, John White, and the design was said to be inspired by a screen in Lichfield Cathedral. Originally on either side of the Reredos tall pinnacles reached almost to the roof line, but these were removed in recent years when they became unsafe. Incidentally, no record appears in the Churchwarden Accounts of any payment for the Reredos.
The Pulpit is also of Caen stone, and was placed in the church at the Victorian restoration. It had been planned by the restoration committee to have a new stone pulpit, but funds ran short and it was decided to obtain an estimate for an oak one. The Revd. John Vane intervened and gave the present pulpit. No details regarding the pulpit it replaced are available, but the Revd. Henry Thompson, curate of Wrington in the early 19th century, and a biographer of Hannah More, stated that a previous Rector had removed the beautiful stone pulpit and substituted a "wooden box and unsightly sounding board", besides cutting away a large portion of one of the chancel piers to make room for the door to swing back. No confirmation is, however, available for this report.
In a note concerning the goods in the church in 1662, two altar frontals are mentioned "one greene clothe one and one stripte one". They were in use for a number of years and this
is curious because it is normally thought that the post-reformation
church used red frontals.
The chapel to the north of the chancel is the Lady Chapel, now almost entirely filled by the organ, whilst that on the south side is dedicated to St. Nicholas. Prebendary Scarth assumed that it was dedicated to St. Erasmus, basing his assumption on the l6th century will of Edmund Leversage, but later research disproved this theory and confirms a dedication to St. Nicholas.
When the new pews were installed at the restoration a new Reading Desk was supplied "most beautifully carved in English Oak". This desk faced west and stood between the screen and the front pew on the south side of the nave. The desk was removed, probably in 1880 and the two ends, carved with emblematical figures of a wheatsheaf and a vine now form the two ends of the pew immediately in front of the tower. The angled grooves which held the top of the desk can be seen on the inner faces of the pew ends.
The Eagle Lectern was given in 1887 by L.E. and Mrs. Scarth as a thank offering for their daughter Eleanor Margaret and in Commemoration of the 50th year of the ministry of the Revd. Preb. Scarth, father of the donor. The old reading desk was apparently given to Chelvey Church, as a brass plate on their present lectern reads "Presented by the Rector and Churchwardens of Wrington to the Parish of Chelvey, Advent, 1887.
The Font is Perpendicular in style and octagonal in shape and has been dated between the years 1460 and 1540. According to an old newspaper cutting, it was from Henry VIII's day until the early years of the l9th century covered with whitewash and filled with rubbish. Preb. Scarth mentions that it was well known on account of the plaster models of it sold by the vendors of images. There are two plaster models of the font in the vestry.
The books which constitute the Chained Library were bequeathed to the Church and parishioners in the l7th century by a former Rector, the Revd. Francis Roberts (Rector from 1649 until 1675), whose memorial can still be seen in the chancel. Some time before his death he had the books "set and chained in the church". Rutter, the historian, mentions that in 1829 the old reading desk on which they rested were fastened to the walls of the chancel. Over the years the books have been mutilated, title and other pages have been abstracted, and it is to prevent further damage that they are now kept in a locked case at the
A number of interesting monuments have been erected in the church, but few of these are now visible. Some, as mentioned, were covered by tiles laid in the chancel, whilst others were removed to the south porch at the restoration.
Today the most interesting monuments remaining in the church are :
2. The monument to Hannah More, a plain three part tablet, is over the south door. Hannah More lived for many years at Cowslip Green and Barley Wood, both houses being in the parish. She was a writer and philanthropist, and is remembered in the district for her work among the Mendip villages, and her foresight in founding the female benefit societies and schools in the area. She died in 1833 and is buried in the churchyard together with her four sisters.
A comment on the memorial in the mid nineteenth century refers to "an immense tablet, in which I am afraid to say how many square feet of white marble, and all the English language are used up to commemorate her genius, her learning, her piety, her liberality.
Monuments formerly in the south porch included those to the Leeves family, (William Leeves was a former Rector); The Harfords of Barley Wood; Alexander Maine and his wife who lived at Haydens and provided the derivation of Maines Batch; The Cockburn family
Two busts in the south porch are of John Locke and Hannah More.