Wedmore Genealogy Pages
I am bringing out one more number of The Wedmore Chronicle, the 13 th and last, partly for the sake of winding up and binding up the second volume, and partly for the sake of giving a short account of the church before I go hence. It may seem strange to have started a magazine seventeen years ago for the purpose of making out the history of the parish and pointing out its antiquities, and all this time never to have said a word about the oldest building in it. The truth is I have been waiting and waiting in order that I might do it thoroughly. But unfortunately I can't do it any more thoroughly now than I could have ten or fifteen years ago. So I might just as well have done it then. It is only a very incomplete account that can come after all this waiting.
1. There is a question one is often asked, How old is the church? When was it built? and people expect an answer in two words. But that is manifestly impossible, because the church was not built in a day, nor in a year, nor in a century. It has grown through three or four centuries, and some parts of it may be 300 or 400 years older than other parts. You cannot say the church is so many years old any more than you can say of a family of fifteen children that it is so many years old. The church is a group of buildings of different ages, just as the family is a group of children of different ages. The date 1823 can be put over the entrance into Blackford Chapel as applying to the whole building, but no date can be put over the entrance into Wedmore Church as applying to the whole building.
2.-How are we to make out
the age or ages of a church? There are two possible ways.
Our old Gothic mediaeval churches have been built between the years 1060 and 1560. Any church built earlier than 1060 would be in the Saxon style of architecture, and of that there is very little left above ground anywhere; what there is left of Saxon architecture is mostly crypts, foundations and such-like. Anything built much later than 1560 would not be Gothic but in another style, and would be almost reckoned as modern. Roman Catholic doctrines and ceremonies were being driven out at about that time, and Gothic architecture went out with them for a season. So we may say that our old Gothic churches have been built between 1060 and 1560. And those 500 years have been divided into four successive periods, each period having its own style of architecture different from the others.
1.The period 1060 to 1190, during which the style was what is called the Norman style.
2.The period 1190 to 1270, during which the style was what is called the Early English style.
3.The period 1270 to 1370, during which the style was what is called the Decorated style.
4.The period 1370 to 1560, during which the style was what is called the Perpendicular style.
Of course these dates must not be taken too exactly or rigidly; they are not stiff and stark but plastic and pliant; they cannot be anything more than approximate. And it must be remembered that these successive styles ran into each other, or rather the old one ran out of the one before it and ran into the new one which followed it; the new one was a gradual development of it, just as the man is the development of a boy; and so there was a time somewhere between the middle of one period and the middle of the next when the style was a transitional one; it partook of some of the features of the old one that was going out as well as some of the features of the new one that was coming in, just as there is a transitional time of life when the boy is passing into a man and you scarcely know which to call him. The middle of one period might be very different from the middle of the next period, just as the middle of boyhood is very different from the middle of manhood; 10 is very different from 50; but the end of one period is not very different from the beginning of the next, just as 19 is not very different from 21.
It is quite clear then that if you know what were the features and characteristics and peculiarities of these four different styles, and if you see that the particular church which you are considering is built, say, in the Early English style, that tells you at once without the help of any records or manuscripts that it was built between the year 1190 and 1270. But those are rather wide limits, and it is possible to get nearer to the actual date than that. For these different styles did not go out exactly as they came in, they did not remain rigid all through their several periods, but they were continually unfolding and developing themselves. Just as there are wheels within wheels, so there are periods within periods, and styles within styles. Any of these styles was a little bit different in the middle of its period to what it was at the beginning of it, and a little bit different again at the end to what it was at the middle. And as these differences have been carefully marked and made out by the learned, so we can look at any particular church, and not merely say to what period it belongs, but to what period within that period. That will be fixing the date within fifty years or less.
So much for church architecture in general. Now let us take Wedmore Church in particular and try to make out when the different parts of it were set up.
And first, it will be as well to set down clearly what are the different parts of it.
Beginning at the East end, there is A the chancel. As you stand there with your face towards the West, on your right hand is B, the North-East chantry chapel, and on your left hand is C the South-East chantry chapel. Walking on a few yards with your face still to the West, you reach D the central tower. As you stand there (it is a very dangerous place to stand in, because the clock weights overhead are liable to come down at any moment), on your right hand is E the North transept containing the organ, on your left hand is F the South transept containing the font. Walking on again a few yards with your face still to the West, you come to G the nave. On your right hand is H the North aisle, on your left hand is I the South aisle. Still further away on your left is K, the South chantry chapel locally known as the Old Chapel, and adjoining it to Westward is L the South porch with its two rooms above.
Those are 11 different parts of the church to which I will try and fix a date as nearly as I can. We must also look at them separately and see what was the use of them originally, and what there is of interest in them now.
THE SAXON CHURCH.
I should think that there must have been a Saxon church here, that is to say a church used by the people of this place from A.D. 900 to 1000 and onwards. The place existed then, it had people in it, and one would think that they must have had a church. But if they had, there is now no outward and visible sign of it; there is nothing beyond the probability of it, which is a shadowy sort of thing that you can't take a photograph of, not even with the X rays.
As long as I live I shall never cease to regret not having done something which I might have done in 1880, and which if I had done it might have thrown some light upon the original church. When the church was restored in 1880 the ground inside the Communion rails was lowered. This was done by the direction of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. I thought and still think that it was a pity to have done so. The height of the ground inside the rails and the steep steps that were needed to reach them had a striking effect, though rather dangerous for infirm people. It was a feature, rather a striking one, and might have been allowed to remain. It was not an original arrangement, but probably dated from the time of Archbishop Laud in the reign of Charles I. However the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, or Mr. Christian their architect, thought otherwise, and the ground was lowered. The ground in the chancel below the steps was raised at the same time, so that by raising the one and lowering the other the number and the steepness of the steps was considerably reduced. Well, this lowering of the ground within the Communion rails made it necessary to take up the flag stones, and when the soil was being removed I took up a spade and made a little hole on my own account. I found that some three or four feet (speaking from memory) under the surface there were a great quantity of loose building stones that had been thrown in. So that there must have been some hole or excavation made goodness knows when and goodness knows why, which these stones filled up. Now that ought to have been thoroughly routed out. The sites of churches are so ancient, not only may a Christian church have been standing there for eight or nine centuries, but a heathen temple may have stood on exactly the same spot before it, that there is no saying what one may not come across when one examines those sites. And among those stones may have been worked stones, stones belonging to the old Norman and Saxon churches, with their date practically written upon them. For these reasons those stones and the reason of their being there ought to have been thoroughly routed out, and I shall never cease to regret that I did not do it. I had a fall from my horse about two days before, and the slight exertion I made in doing what I did do brought on giddiness and compelled me to leave off. The contractor did not jump at the idea of disturbing and loosening all the ground within the rails just before laying down the flag stones, and so the matter went no further. It could have been done with comparative ease then, but it would be a serious matter now. I am afraid those mysterious stones will have now to rest in peace; but I shall never cease to regret that at the time they were not all taken out and the ground examined.
THE NORMAN CHURCH.
If it is likely that there was a church here at any time from A.D. 900 to 1060, which would have been in the Saxon style of architecture, it is still more likely that there would have been one at any time from 1060 to 1190. Any church standing here then would have been either the old Saxon church left standing, or if new built would have been in the Norman style. But we have nothing now standing in that style. If there was a church here in the Norman style, it has clean gone; not a window nor door of it is left.
THE EARLY ENGLISH CHURCH.
But if you stand under the tower (just avoiding the clock weights), and if you have a slight knowledge of the characteristics of the different styles of Gothic architecture, and if you look at the four piers or arches which hold it up, you will see that they are built in the Early English style which immediately succeeded the Norman style, i.e., somewhere between the years 1190 and 1270. And if you look a little bit closely into those piers you will see that they are not all alike; those on one side are a little bit different to those on the other side; which shows that they were not all built at exactly the same time; they were all built in the Early English period, but one side a little bit earlier in that period than the other. And as an illustration helps to make a thing clear I will give a simple one. If you saw two ladies each with a cape, but the one cape long and the other short, you might know that they had not bought their capes at the same time, otherwise the fashion of the one would have been the fashion of the other, and the length of the one would have been as the length of the other; and if you were well up in ladies' fashions, you would be able to tell which bought her cape first.
Somewhere then between the years 1190 and 1270, probably near about the year 1200, is the earliest date we can give to any part of the church now standing. We have no visible sign of an earlier church than that, only the probability of one, but we have a visible sign of a church of that date, and that visible sign is the lower part of the tower; not the whole tower, for the two upper stories or stages of it were added later on, as we shall see presently, but the lower part of it.
Now this Early English church, built somewhere about 1200, and to make way for which the Saxon or Norman church was probably pulled down, what was it like? And how much of it is there left?
It was in the shape of a cross. The present church is in the shape of a cross, but there have been so many additions made since and built up against the limbs of the cross, that you do not now see clearly the shape of the cross. This Early English church would have been a manifest cross, because those additions had not yet been made. There would have been the tower rising up where it does now, though not so high. As you stood within it looking west, you would have had one straight line behind you forming the chancel, another straight line in front of you forming the nave, and one each on your right and left forming the North and South transepts. That would have been all; no chantry chapels on either side of the chancel, no chantry chapel where the old chapel is, no south porch with its tower, and no side aisles to the nave.
But there would have been other differences besides those. Both the chancel behind and the nave in front would have been much shorter and lower than they are now. There is good reason for supposing that the east end of the chancel instead of being where it is now, was where the steps going up to the Communion rails are; that was where the east wall of the church was, so that the chancel was much shorter than it is now. And as for the height we can see exactly what that was. When the church was being restored in 1880, all the plaster was scraped off the walls inside, and one saw them bare. One thus had a fine opportunity of noticing any alterations that may have been made at different times. I made some use of that opportunity but not as much as I might have, not having had then much experience. But amongst other things I noticed that on the east side of the tower inside the church there were marks where a fromer roof had come up against it. I said to the plasterer who was replastering the wall, "Can't you manage to let that mark show and not plaster it over ?" He said, "Yes, he could;" and he did it exceedingly well, so that if you stand now in the chancel and look up at the east side of the tower, you will see exactly where the Early English roof of the chancel came; you will see that it was a stickle roof, and that the chancel was much lower than it is now. The Early English nave was also much shorter and lower than the present one, and narrower. There is no means of telling how long it was, but it is not likely that it extended as far as the present West window. The foundations of the original West wall of the church are probably still in the ground under the seats, but only excavating can tell where they are. Nor can one say exactly what was the height of the Early English nave, except that it was most probably no higher than the chancel. There was no mark on the West wall of the tower, as there is on the east wall of it, showing where the nave roof touched it. Why there was not I cannot imagine, unless that side of the tower has had to be rebuilt from the top of the arch. The two transepts would also have had the same pitched roofs as the chancel and nave, and were probably shorter than they are now.
The only other bit of the Early English church still left is the South doorway, not the whole porch, but just the inner doorway. An illustration of this doorway will be found further on. But that is evidently not in its original position, because the Early English church had no side aisles, and where it is now would have been outside the church altogether. So when later on they enlarged the church they must have carried this doorway out with them and put it in their new work. The windows of this Early English church would not have been great big windows with tracery like the present ones, but single narrow lights. None of them are left.
So much for the Early English church. We must now pass on to the next period and style.
THE DECORATED CHURCH.
As the church had been built (or more probably rebuilt) in the Early English period, it would not have been very strange if nothing had been done to it in the next period,-the Decorated period. But it is clear that something was done to it then. We have one window belonging to this period, viz., the window on the East wall of the South East Chantry Chapel, which has been filled with stained glass in memory of the Kempthorne family. (See illustration of this chapel further on.) But it is not in its original position, because this Chantry Chapel did not exist then; it was not built till late in the following period; the space it occupies would have been outside the church altogether at this period. So this is what must have happened: when in the following period the builders lengthened the chancel and made those great openings in its North and South walls, they must have carried one of the chancel windows with them and re-fixed it in their new building where it is now. That was a kind of thing that was done sometimes but not always nor often. As a rule the builders of one period, when they made alterations, ruthlessly destroyed the buildings of a former period and swept them clean away. But now and then they preserved and utilized them. And of this preserving and utilizing we have two instances in this church, viz.: the Early English South doorway, which I have already alluded to, and this Decorated window. Both acts were done by the builders of the Perpendicular period. Perhaps the conservative instincts of the same man are responsible for both acts.
THE PERPENDICULAR CHURCH.
And now we come to the fourth and last period. It is the longest, it was the busiest, it is the latest, there has been practically no subsequent one to wipe it out, so that we have more outward and visible signs of it in the church than of any other. There is far more of the present church belonging to this period than to all the other periods put together. The great bulk of the church as we see it to-day belongs to this fourth period and style. The shape of the Cross is still there as the Early English builders had designed it, but each limb of that cross has been more or less rebuilt in this Perpendicular period, and in addition other buildings have been built on so that the shape of the cross is scarcely to be discerned. The only part that remains as it was and where it was and that looks exactly the same today as it did when its Early English builders set it up seven centuries ago, is the tower as seen from the inside of the church, with its four arches towards the four quarters of heaven.
Now let us see in detail what was done in the Perpendicular period. Stand in the chancel facing West, and see from there what they did. They cut through the wall on your left or South side, and made that wide arch, and built the chantry chapel into which that arch leads, preserving and setting up in it one of the windows which they found in the chanceL They cut through the wall on your right or North side, and made that wide arch, and built the chantry chapel into which that arch leads. They lengthened the chancel Eastwards to its present length. It is evident that in consequence of these alterations not a bit of the original chancel is left standing.
Now move down Westwards till you stand under the tower (avoiding the clock-weights), look up at the stone roof which forms the floor of the ringing chamber, they made that, and they raised the tower to its present height; look to the right and left at the two transepts, they heightened them and lengthened them; if they did not lengthen them at any rate they put in the large window at the end of each of them.
Now move a few yards further Westward; they pulled down the whole of the Nave, Early English or Decorated, whichever it was, probably Early English, and built the present one much higher and longer than before, and with two side aisles, where before there had been none. They built the porch with its two stories over it, and they built the South chantry chapel (commonly called the old chapel) adjoining to it.
So that whether we stand outside the church or inside of it, what we see mostly belongs to the Perpendicular period. They practically rebuilt the church in that period, leaving of what they found there only one doorway and one window, both of which they moved from their original place and set up in their new building, and the lower part of the tower which of course they could not move. Of course I don't mean that they did all this at one time or in one year, but it was all done within the two hundred years that have been assigned to the Perpendicular style of architecture, viz., between 1370 and 1560. The style of the north aisle is different from the style of the south aisle; it is the latest of the two. The "old chapel" was built after the south porch. It was an evident addition. I have no doubt any one with an exact knowledge of church architecture would be able to put a fairly approximate date to each of these works of the Perpendicular period. I cannot do that myself, but must be satisfied with placing them within the rather wide limits, 1370 and 1560, though the date of some of them can be fixed more exactly, as we shall see presently, from other sources of knowledge.
Now I think it will be a good plan to walk round to each of the different parts of the church in turn and see what was its original object and what there is to be noticed in it.
But before we do that I should like to explain what a chantry chapel is. We have three of them in the church. Two things combine to give this church its peculiar shape, making it a group or cluster of buildings gathered under and around the tower, like chickens gathered under the wings of a hen, rather than one building. One of those two things is its having been originally built in the shape of a cross, and the other of those two things is the chantry chapels which have been tacked on to it. The first of those two things, the shape of the cross we owe to the original builders of the Early English period; the other of the two, the chantry chapels, we owe to the later builders of the Perpendicular period. The cross needs no explanation; it is the symbol of the Christian faith which no Reformation has as yet touched. But the chantry chapels do need some explanation, because the faith which raised them has changed its character, and we no longer seek to obtain a certain desirable end in the same way as they did who built them.
We have three chantry chapels in this church, the north east, the south east, and the south or old chapel or Lady chapel. Chantry chapels were generally additions made to the church, but sometimes stood in the churchyard detached from it. They were built to contain an altar by some one who wished to have masses offered and prayers said for him after his death and for members of his family after their deaths, so that his soul and their souls might rest in peace for evermore. We still all of us hope that our souls may rest in peace for evermore; what has been changed by the Reformation is not that hope but the way in which we believe that hope may be fulfilled. We think now it will be fulfilled through the manner of our life while we are living, and not through the hired prayers of others put up for us after we are dead. That last belief has gone out, and so chantry chapels have lost their original uses, though they still remain as standing witnesses to its former existence. All that they do now is to give our churches a shape and a size that otherwise they would never have had. Those who built these chantry chapels endowed them; they left lands the rent of which went to pay the priest who offered these masses and said these prayers for the dead. The family of the founder appointed the priest, and the Rector or Vicar of the parish had nothing to do with it. Thus there were in the country, besides the parish clergy as now, a large number of chantry priests, chaplains or stipendiaries as they were called, who made their living simply by saying prayers for the dead in various chantry chapels that were attached to parish churches.
In order to understand the reason why our old churches are of the shape and size that they are, we must remember that they were built by Roman Catholics and not by Protestants, and that Roman Catholic services are utterly different from Protestant services. The uses they put their churches to were perfectly different from the uses we put them to. If we build a large church now, it is because we want it to hold a large congregation. But with them congregations are nothing. The masses offered, the prayers said, don't need any congregation at all. They can be done just as well without. If they had a large church made large by its chantry chapels, those chapels would not be intended to combine in holding a large congregation, but each one would have its own separate use and object and be quite independent of the others. You may go into a Roman Catholic Church to-day and see just what might have been seen in our English churches up to about 330 years ago, viz., two or three priests each standing before an altar in a different part of the church, and each going through a separate service by himself, and each with a separate congregation (if any) of four or five. That explains why churches are sometimes so built that you cannot use the whole of them for one purpose. They who built them never wanted to use them for one purpose and service. It is only we Protestants who want to do that, and we did not build them; if we had we should have built them differently to suit our purposes.
Some information about the Wedmore Chantries can be gathered from manuscript records which have been partly or wholly printed, and I will just put that information together as compactly as possible before going round to the different parts of the church.
Amongst the records belonging to Wells Cathedral is an indenture showing that in 1509 Dean Cosin granted certain lands in Wedmore to certain persons in Wedmore for 99 years on condition of their finding a chaplain to celebrate mass before the altar of St. Ann in Wedmore Church three times a week, on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, for the welfare of the Dean and his successors whilst living and for the repose of their souls when dead. (Mr. Reynolds gives an abstract of this deed in his history of Wells Cathedral.)
Less than fifty years after the date of the founding of that chantry the Reformation was in full swing and chantries were being abolished. The monasteries went first, the chantries followed after. The first step towards abolishing them was to appoint a Commission which should report upon them, and make a list of them, and state the annual value of each of them, and so on. This was done in 1548. The report of the Somersetshire Chantries still exists, and in 1888 it was printed by the Somerset Record Society, for which I am truly thankful. It mentions these four Wedmore chantries.
1.-The Chantry of our Lady. A long list of lands and tenements belonging to this chantry is given with the names of the tenants. The gross yearly value is over £8, the net yearly value (after deducting rents due to the Dean) is over £6. Mr. Emanuel Green, the editor of the volume, calculates that the value or purchasing power of money then was twenty times greater than it is now by reason of the difference of prices, so that the net yearly value of this chantry was equal to about £120. These lands and tenements are said to have been granted to this chantry by "sundry" Deans of Wells, but no names are mentioned, so that we cannot put an exact date to its foundation.
2.-The Chantry of St. Ann already alluded to as having been founded by Dean Cosin in 1509. The gross yearly value of the lands and tenements belonging to this chantry was over £9, the net value £6, i.e., £180 and £120 respectively of our money.
3.-Walter Stone left £6 a year to be paid for six years beginning in 1547 to a priest who should celebrate mass for his soul in Wedmore Church.
4.-There was a sum of two shillings chargeable upon a land called Chaterly in the tenure of Thomas Broke, which was given for the maintenance of an annual mass called Jesus Mass. I imagine that Chaterly is what is now called Chitterly in the hamlet of Sand. Two shillings at the above estimation would be equivalent to two pounds of our money.
Those are all the chantries that are mentioned in the Report of 1548. But there are chantries mentioned in other records which I cannot identify with any of those.
In 1881 Mr. Emanuel Green read a paper before the Bath Field Club upon the question whether King Alfred had a residence at Wedmore, and he added a few notes on the parish giving information obtained from manuscript records in London. He tells us that in 1449 there was founded the Fraternity or Guild of the Blessed Mary of Wedmore. The Guild was to consist of such brothers and sisters in the parish as might like to join. It was to be a body corporate with a common seal, and to hold property. Every year it was to elect a master and two wardens. The chaplain, whose stipend was to be 12 marks a year, was to celebrate mass at the altar of St. Ann in the North part of the church for the welfare of King Henry VI. and Queen Margaret his wife while they were living, and for their souls when dead, and also for the welfare of all the brothers and sisters of the Guild while living, and for their souls when dead.
A mark was 13s..4d.; therefore the stipend of the Guild chaplain was £8 a year, which would be equivalent to about £160 now.
These Guilds, of which there were many in the days before the Reformation, were associations of men for their mutual benefit; they were partly commercial, partly religious; they partly did what the provident societies of to-day do, and they enabled the members to have their souls prayed for after death who otherwise could not have afforded it; they clubbed together to have their chaplain to pray for their souls after death, just as the modern provident societies club together and have their doctor in time of sickness. That curious little bit of ground called Guildhall, or Gyle hole as some prefer to call it, I imagine represents the spot where this Guild had its hall or place of meeting. I wonder whether the title deeds of the houses in Guildhall would throw any light upon it.
In this same Bath Field Club paper Mr. Green gives extracts from some manuscripts in London relating to the sale of lands in 1587 and thereabouts belonging to the West Chantry. These lands were at Stoughton, Oldwood and Mudgley.
When chantries were abolished their priests or chaplains were pensioned off. At the time of abolishing John Partridge was the priest of St. Ann's Chantry, and Robert Morris was the priest of the one founded by Walter Stone. Each of these received a pension of £4 a year, i.e., £80 of our money. The Parish Registers show the burial of Robert Morris in 1583.
The late Mr. Thomas Serel of Wells wrote for the Wells Journal an account of what we did here in 1878, when we celebrated the 1000 th anniversary of the Peace of Wedmore. That account was afterwards reprinted in the form of a pamphlet. In some notes on Wedmore Mr. Serel tells us on the authority of some manuscripts (I presume amongst the writings of Llewellyn's Almshouse) that the lands of St. Ann's Chantry, when it was abolished, became the property of Sir Thomas Gresham, who was a wealthy Londoner, and that apparently he sold them to Thomas Stone of Wedmore, who in 1585 conveyed them to his brother Edward, who is described as "one of the fotemen" of Queen Elizabeth, and that in 1630 Edward Stone conveyed them to the Corporation of Wells as Trustees of Llewellyn's Almshouse, where they still remain. The Corporation paid £700 for them, which Mr. Serel says is about one year's rent at the present tilne (1878).
At p. 177 of this 2nd vol. of The Wedmore Chronicle will be found the record of a Vestry Meeting which would throw some light on one of the chantry houses if it were thoroughly routed out, but I have not time to do so now. Besides the mediaeval Church-house which I think became the Poor-house of the last century and of the first half of this one, and which faced the Vicarage looking South, I think there was a chantry house somewhere near the West gate of the churchyard, the rent of which, two pence a year, was paid out of Church rate till quite lately. It was generally paid to some member of the Stone family.
Now it will be seen how that on the one hand we have in the actual fabric of the church three chantry chapels, i.e., three buildings tacked on to the church at somebody's expense in order to contain an altar, at which masses might be offered and prayers might be said for his welfare in life and for the repose of his soul in death. And on the other hand we have in manuscripts preserved at Wells and in London the records of certain people giving lands and tenements and money for that purpose. And what I want to do is to allot each of those three chapels in the fabric to its proper record in the manuscript, so that we may know its name, its founder and its exact date.
It is clear that we have the record in manuscript of more chantries being founded than we have chantry chapels standing in the church. And there is nothing strange in that, because a man might leave money for a priest to pray for his soul at some altar already existing in the church, without building a bit on to the church in order to hold an altar. It was not everybody could afford to do that.
But while it is clear that we have three chantry chapels standing in the church, it is not clear exactly how many chantries we have the record of. There are certainly four, probably five, possibly six. The four certain ones are the four which I described out of Volume II. of the Somerset Record Society. Of those four No. 3 is not likely to have had a chapel built for it, because Walter Stone only provided for its going on for six years. And No. 4 is not likely to have had a chapel built for it, because it was only worth two shillings a year. No. 2 is the same chantry as that which I described out of Mr. Reynolds' book. The 5th would be the one mentioned by Mr. Green as being endowed by the Guild, which seems to be different from No. 1, though both have a dedication to St. Mary, and the 6th would be the West chantry, though that may be the same as one of the others.
It is very unsatisfactory only having the slight allusions and extracts which Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Green and Mr. Serel give, and not having the whole record; one is consequently groping in the dark; but I have no time to get copies of the whole records and so must continue to grope.
The North-East chantry chapel, which contains the Hodges Monument, would certainly seem to belong to St. Ann's Chantry which was founded by Dean Cosin in 1509. That leaves the South-East chantry chapel and the old chapel to be allotted to the Guild Chantry founded in 1449, and to the Chantry of St. Mary endowed by "sundry" Deans of Wells whose names are not given in the record; but which to which I cannot at present say.
The prayers for the benefit of the members of the Guild were to be said at the "altar of St. Ann in the North part of the church." Why then, it may be asked, do I allot to the Guild one of the chapels on the South side instead of the chapel of St. Ann on the North side? Because that N.E. chapel is of later date. Its architecture is of a later style, and its piscina has a Tudor rose, and the Tudors did not begin to reign till thirty-five years after this, so that this North-East chapel could not have been built when the Guild founded its chantry.
The only way that I can see of reconciling the different statements in the manuscript records and the different facts that are certain is this: that when the Guild in 1449 provided for prayers to be said at the altar of St. Ann in the North part of the church, they meant an altar in the North TRANSEPT, and that shortly afterwards they built a chapel on purpose to contain an altar, and built it on the South side of the church where the old chapel now stands, and that about fifty years later still, in 1509, when Dean Cosin founded his chantry, and built the North-East chantry chapel, he was obliged to take away the altar of St. Ann in the North transept, and so he removed it to his new chapel, keeping the same dedication. All that would seem to be reasonable in itself, and reconciles all that we know to be fact, and I can't think of anything else that would. But at the same time it is only guessing, and guesses are always liable to be wrong.
Now having cleared the way a little we may go round to each part of the church in turn and notice what there is in it or about it. We will begin with the chancel.
As I have already said, till the Restoration of the Church in 1880 the floor of the chancel was level with the floor under the tower, and the floor inside the communion rails being higher than it is now you had to go up five deep steps to reach them. This had rather a striking appearance and gave dignity to the altar. That was probably the object of it. It was not the original height of the floor; the stone seat under the South-East window shows what the original height was, about the same as it is now; it was probably an alteration caused by a High Church and reactionary feeling when Charles I. was King and Laud was Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1880 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who are the Rectors of the Parish and consequently responsible for the chancel, reversed what had (probably) been done in the 17th century, and lowered the ground to its present and also its original level. This led to the discovery of the old stone altar, the high altar. Before the Reformation the altar was of stone. But in the reign of Queen Elizabeth stone altars were ordered to be removed and wooden tables put in their place. In some places that order might have been willingly and promptly obeyed, and the stone altar flung away or broken up or used for alien purposes. In other places the order might have been evaded for a time or sadly obeyed, and as much reverence as possible shown to the stone's departed glory. I recollect many years ago my father going to preach in a London church in Holborn, where the order has been evaded to this day and the stone altar yet rematns. Here, it would seem, that when they did obey the order they obeyed it sadly and let the stone down gently. They just dropped it straight down, leaving it still at the East end of the church, covered it over with a little earth, put a flagstone on the earth, and the new wooden table on the flagstone, and, perhaps, as they did that they looked for a day when they would be able to set It up again. That day never came. It lay there unknown till 1880, when we accidentally came upon it. It has now been set up on modern legs, and stands under the old Decorated window in the South-East chantry chapel. (See illustration further on.)
A head sticking out of the North wall of the chancel near the Communion rails will be noticed. It was probably intended to hold a lamp. Lamps kept burning continually, not to give light to the living but out of reverence to saints, were and are a feature in Roman Catholic worship. It was somewhere near this head that I imagine the end of the Early English church to have been.
Just above this head is a
monument to George Hodges and Ann his wife, since the wife of Jeremy
Horler. This George Hodges, who died March, 1654, belonged to the fourth
and last generation of the Hodges family who owned and occupied the
Manor House. He only left two daughters, co-heiresses one of whom, Jane,
married John Strachey of Sutton Court, and took the Manor to that family.
Some further account of the Hodges family will be given when we get
to the North-East chantry chapel. Ann, the widow of George Hodges, under
whose tablet we are now standing, married Jeremy Harler or Horler in
May 1655 Horler had become Vicar of Wedmore in 1654. That was in Cromwell's
time, when the Episcopal Church of England had been put down. Walker
in his account of the Sufferings of the Clergy of the Church of England,
published in 1714, says that in 1654 "one Jer. Harler got himself
possessed" of the living of Wedmore. It is curious how we use different
words to describe the same thing according to circumstances. If a gentleman's
horse comes down when he is riding it IT comes down and IT breaks its
knees. But if it comes down when his groom is riding it, it is the groom
that throws it down and breaks its knees. Or, if a china ornament falls
out of a lady's hands, IT drops and IT breaks. But if it falls out of
the maid's hands, SHE drops it and SHE breaks it. So with Mr. Walker.
An Episcopal clergyman is appointed to a living, but Cromwell's adherents
"get themselves appointed." So Jeremy Horler got himself appointed,
though I daresay he did nothing more than I did in 1876 when I was appointed,
or any of my predecessors when they were appointed. In 1660 when the
Monarchy and the Episcopal Church of England were restored, Jeremy Horler
left Wedmore. I rather think that for a time he lived at Stream in the
neighbouring parish of Weare, Stream at that time belonged to the Hodges
family, of which his wife was a member by her first marriage. But I
have an indenture dated 1664 to which he and John Strachey, his step-son-in-law,
are parties, and in which he is described as "of Yate in the County
of Gloucester, clarke." And on searching the parish Registers of
Weare to see if I could find anything there that would throw light,
I found a memorandum that on "April 8,1685, John Stayll and Ruth
Ellis was married at Yeat in Gloucestershire by Mr. Jer. Horler."
The Staylls evidently came afterwards to live at Stream; for their children
were baptized in Weare Church. I should like to know something more
about this John Stayll. He has made several entries on a blank page
in one of the volumes of the Weare parish Register, e.g.
many counted it a mock indeed
The battle of Sedgemoor was fought on July 6, 1685, and the Duke of Monmouth was beheaded on July 15.
Here are two lines that seem to show a skeleton in the cupboard at Stream:
the wide world whilst others' range is free,
These lines give one the idea of a disappointed and melancholy man. For some reason his home at Stream was a prison to him. It is evident that the Hodges, Horlers, Stracheys, Staylls, who were connected with each other in various ways, all belonged to the Puritan party, and would have been liberals had they been living to-day. It is a pity that they aint, because we want a few more of that sort in this neighbourhood. I don't quite know whether Jeremy Horler was Rector of Yate, but presume he must have been. If so, if he was Vicar of Wedmore under Cromwell's system and Rector of Yate in Charles the Second's time, I don't know how to acquit him of being a sort of Vicar of Bray. But this ought all to be routed out by some one on the spot. I am indebted to the Rev. F. C. Skey, Vicar of Weare, for leave to make use of his parish Registers. The only Horlers that I could find in them were Margaret, wife of William Horler buried on December 5,1707, and William himself buried March 23, 1709. What kin William was to Jeremy I know not.
But all this is a dreadful bit of wandering from the architecture of Wedmore Church. My only excuse is that I must put down now whatever I light upon, because I shall have no future opportunity for doing so.
In the thickness of the wall between the chancel and the North-East chantry chapel will be seen four stone steps. As the lowest of them is five feet from the ground they must have been reached by a small portable ladder such as is used for lighting the chandeliers. These four stone steps led to the Rood loft, Till the Reformation there was always a small gallery or loft across the chancel arch, in which stood a crucifix or rood as it was called. You can tell where the loft went across the East arch of the tower by the piece of new freestone recently (1880) let in on each side. It was necessary to have steps to the rood loft, because the rood had sometimes to be decorated. These steps were brought to light in 1880, having been previously built up and plastered over, so that you could not see a sign of them.
As you stand in the chancel and look at these steps, just above them will be seen a something in the wall which puzzled others besides myself for some time; but Mr. Edward Wall has suggested that it is (or was) a buttress to the tower; and he is certainly right, for the continuation of this buttress can be seen above it and outside. When the chancel was much lower than it is now, lids part of the buttress which is now inside would have been outside.
The mark of the Early English roof on the tower I have already pointed out.
Over each of the arches into the chantry chapels will be seen the remains of three windows high up under the roof. I got the plasterer to leave them visible when the church was replastered in 1880. I thought at first that these were clerestory windows belonging to the Decorated period and earlier than the two side chapels. But I am told (just in time) that the windows must have been made after the arches and not before them, so I have had to scratch out what I had written about them. As they are later than the side chapels, I imagine that they are quite late, probably made in the last century if not in this one. The records of the Dean and Chapter would probably show, as they must have made them. What they made them for I can't imagine. The roof which went with them was higher than the present roof, and the mark of it will be seen on the outside of the tower, which is barbarously mutilated.
The inscriptions on the Mural tablets and flat stones I give all together at the end of this account of the church.