St Mary Magdalene

Our church dates from the 12th century and is a Grade I listed building. To the casual visitor, the things to look our for are: the Jacobean pews and the stained glass windows; also, of note is the gallery, which would have been used for singers and musicians before organs were introduced. Gallery is accessed by steps at the rear of the church. Also, easily missed is the Mass dial to the left of the porch. This form of sundial was used to mark the ‘variable’ time of services in the medieval world, in a time when people were illiterate.

Although the building has been much modernized it still retains features of great interest. The shell of the Church is very early Norman or possibly pre-Norman. A good deal of herring-bone masonry is visible on the nave walls, north and south, and on the north side there is a blocked-up doorway. partly covered by the transept, which has a very early appearance.

The Church seems to have been en­larged in the first half of the thirteenth century, when the nave was lengthened to the west and the tower added. There is some fine Early English derail in the tower, and it is possible that the influence of Hinton Priory was felt there. ']'he probable date of the tower is about 1240. The west door is very good, the label containing a fine ornamental dog-tooth, and the seg­mental head, recessed in two orders, should be noted. A little quatrefoil light surmounts the lancet window over the door, and may be regarded as a very early experiment in tracery. The tower is saddle-backed and has been very little altered, except that the modern slate roof spoils its appearance.

The buttresses are noteworthy, raking to the ground level, with the bold string-course of roll-section. The string and plinth are carried on to the junction with the earlier nave and there the plinth is returned inwards with a square mitre. A similar return of a plinth is visible near the north end of the east wall of the chancel and may point to a widening of the  chancel in the thirteenth century in the south wall of the nave are two windows, originally Early English, as the drop in the arches inside testifies; but the tracery in them is of a simple 'decorated' order and is modern, probably not a reproduction of old work, though some of the jamb stones are certainly old.

In the south wall of the chancel is a square-headed window of three lights of the early Perpendicular type. It may even be of the fourteenth century, of which date perhaps is the porch to judge by the rudely worked members of the entrance arch.

Inside the Church is the west gallery where the choir and organ used to be which came in about the time of Elizabeth. The gallery is of painted pine and is imitation Jacobean. It is approached by an external stone staircase on the north side­, quite a rare feature now. Such an arrange­ment may still be seen at Cameley, and there were formerly other samples at Shipham and Chilton Polden.

The benches are interesting. Several of them are good Jacobean and rather like those at Mells but the others are a clever imitation. For the rest, the covered plaster ceiling of the nave and transept is not altogether unpleasing but the pseudo-Gothic of the early nine­teenth century (which has obliterated all feeling of antiquity in the chancel) is a blot upon the Church. It is possible that the walls of the transept may in part be ancient (probably of the fourteenth century), but that part of the edifice has been entirely modernized.

There are two other Early English features. (1) The lancet window in the north wall of the chancel near which (on the outside) is a flat buttress, very shallow and rough: (2) The Early English arch between the nave and the tower, which has unfortunately lost its inner ring of mouldings, so that the true proportions have gone. and the corbels project without anything to support. The windows have only recently been opened up.

All the bosses of the nave roof are of different patterns. There are two rooms in the old Rectory with ceilings which match with that roof and which must have been done at the same time. Oak is the wood used for the pews in the nave and pitch­pine for those in the transept.

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