A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1992.
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Between 1088 and c. 1107 Walter of Douai gave the church of Bridgwater with all tithes to the monastery of Bath. (fn. 1) The grant was confirmed by his son Robert of Bampton, and in 1156 by Pope Adrian IV. (fn. 2) Probably in the 1180s Walter's great-grandson Fulk Pagnell granted the church, then in his gift, to the abbey of Marmoutiers at Tours for the benefit of the priory of Tickford or Newport Pagnell (Bucks.). (fn. 3) The grant seems to have been ineffective, for in 1203 William Brewer, Fulk's successor as lord of Bridgwater, acquired the advowson from the prior of Bath in return for an annual payment of 100s. (fn. 4) About 1214 Bath cathedral priory gave its remaining rights in the church to William Brewer's newly founded hospital of St. John in Bridgwater in return for a pension of £4 13s. 4d., which was paid until the Dissolution. (fn. 5)
From 1219 the master and brethren of the hospital undertook to serve the church both by one of their own number and by a secular chaplain. (fn. 6) There was a vicar in 1245 (fn. 7) and an endowed vicarage in 1291. (fn. 8) The hospital presented secular clerks until the Dissolution except in 1498-9 when the vicarage was held by Thomas Spenser, the master of the hospital, who was presented to the living by the prior of Taunton and a canon of Wells. (fn. 9) The Crown acquired the patronage at the Dissolution and presented from 1557 onwards. (fn. 10) The Lord Chancellor exercises the patronage of the living, consolidated since 1749 with the rectory of Chilton Trinity. (fn. 11) The parishes of Holy Trinity, St. John, and St. Francis were formed from St. Mary's parish in the 19th and 20th centuries. (fn. 12)
The vicarage was assessed at £5 6s. 8d. in 1291. (fn. 13) In 1535 it was valued at £11 7s. 5½d. net; (fn. 14) it was vacant for several years from 1557 because the income had been reduced. (fn. 15) It was reputed to be worth £30 c. 1668. (fn. 16) Probably by that date and certainly by the early 18th century the vicars were regularly receiving money from other sources. (fn. 17) In 1815 the living was declared to be worth under £110 gross but in 1827 it was over £300 gross. (fn. 18) The average net income in the period 1829-31 was £342. (fn. 19)
In 1304 the bishop assigned to the vicar legacies for forgotten tithes, various offerings, the tithes of calves, geese, and garlic, and the small tithes of the chapelry of Horsey. The vicar was to bear a third of the charges of the church. (fn. 20) The offerings were worth £8 in 1535. (fn. 21) In the 1570s they comprised 2d. from every communicant, 6d. at weddings, and 3d. at churchings. (fn. 22) The vicar's tithes, valued at 78s. 8d. in 1535 including half the tithe wool and lambs from Horsey, (fn. 23) were payable on calves, geese, and garlic in the 1570s and 1613, (fn. 24) but from 1721 the tithes of Horsey and a pension of 10s. were commuted for a payment of £10 by the corporation either to the vicar or to the curate, (fn. 25) a sum considered by 1847 to be a rent charge. (fn. 26)
The vicar's glebe, valued at 8s. in 1535 (fn. 27) and comprising just over 2 a. in Friern mead in the 1570s and 1637, (fn. 28) was exchanged for two plots of the same size in 1852. (fn. 29) In 1978 there was no glebe. (fn. 30)
The vicar's house, including two courts and a garden, lay in 1613 on the south side of St. Mary Street. (fn. 31) In 1815 it was considered 'small, mean, and uncomfortable', (fn. 32) and in 1822-3 the vicar lived in Castle Street. (fn. 33) In 1851 the vicar lived at Hamp (fn. 34) and in 1881 at Haygrove. (fn. 35) In 1929 the present vicarage in Durleigh Road, formerly the Elms, was bought for the benefice. (fn. 36)
Among the vicars of Bridgwater in the Middle Ages was Richard of Exbridge, a poor acolyte, who held the living briefly during the winter of 1348-9, (fn. 37) Nicholas Frampton, outlawed for his part in the insurrection of 1381, (fn. 38) and John Colswayn, who held the benefice from 1423 until 1474. (fn. 39) Colswayn's successor Richard Croke, vicar from 1474 to c. 1498, was the first graduate to hold the living. (fn. 40) Thomas Street remained vicar 1528-57. (fn. 41) For some time after his death the living was sequestrated, John Phillips, the parish clerk or chanter, acting as sequestrator and occasionally burying the dead. (fn. 42) John Bullingham, preacher at Bridgwater 1562- 3 and vicar of Creech St. Michael, was later bishop of Gloucester (1581-98) and Bristol (1581-89). (fn. 43)
From the mid 13th century subsidiary altars, fraternities, and chantries were established and endowed within the church, (fn. 44) and in 1310 there were at least three chaplains, a deacon, and two other clerks besides the vicar. (fn. 45) Four chaplains and three clerks were recorded in 1383, (fn. 46) five chaplains in 1414, (fn. 47) and in 1450 a parochial chaplain, a chantrist, and seven anniversary chaplains. (fn. 48) The parochial chaplain in 1450 and 1464 seems to have been regarded as deputy to the vicar; he lived at the vicarage house where he taught a school at the vicar's request. (fn. 49) Even after the three chantries were dissolved in 1548, three priests and three clerks were employed in 1551 in addition to the vicar. (fn. 50) The vicar and two other priests, one a former chantrist, were serving obits in 1558. (fn. 51) In 1554 the corporation acquired some former chantry land on condition that a perpetual mass was offered. (fn. 52)
There was an endowed mass before the Rood by 1296. (fn. 53) Lights before the high cross were still supported by a separate fund in 1420, (fn. 54) but they seem thereafter to have been provided by the churchwardens, who may have replaced the foundation with the Rood chapel, established by 1428. (fn. 55) The chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary had been founded before 1260 and was endowed with rents. (fn. 56) The chantry chapel was within the chancel of the parish church, and chaplains attached to it had a dwelling house in St. Mary Street by 1349. (fn. 57) A light at the chantry altar seems to have had a separate endowment. (fn. 58) The chantry, administered by wardens in the later 14th century, seems to have been refounded in 1393, when the stewards of the guild merchant as patrons undertook to appoint a chantry priest, who was to have a permanent seat in the choir of the parish church, to find someone to maintain the church clock, and to live in a house on the west side of the vicarage house. (fn. 59) The stewards of the guild merchant appointed priests until they were succeeded by the mayor and burgesses in 1468. (fn. 60) The endowment, valued at £8 os. 8d. in 1548, (fn. 61) passed to the Crown, and houses and land worth £5 16s. were sold to the corporation in 1554. (fn. 62)
In the 13th century there was an altar of St. James, (fn. 63) in 1310 an altar of All Saints, beside which stood a figure of the Virgin, (fn. 64) and in 1384 an altar of St. Catherine. (fn. 65) About 1414 part of the interior of the church seems to have been reorganized: the All Saints altar was probably removed and chapels of Holy Trinity and St. Anne were created; (fn. 66) by the 1480s there were others dedicated to the Holy Cross or the Rood, St. George, and St. Erasmus. (fn. 67) There were representations of the Trinity and St. Catherine in their respective chapels, (fn. 68) and fraternities and endowments supported the chapels. (fn. 69) In 1529 a representation of St. Sebastian was to be replaced by one in alabaster, (fn. 70) and in the 1540s there were more fraternities and an altar of St. Saviour. (fn. 71)
By the later 14th century the regular income of the churchwardens came principally from collections in the parish, supplemented by occasional collections in church and by gifts and legacies. (fn. 72) In 1414-15 the keepers of the Holy Trinity lights gave money for new windows in their chapel, for the rebuilding of which the stewards of the community had lent money. (fn. 73) After 1448 the churchwardens acquired houses and other property within the town, and from 1452-3 received an income from the sale of seats. (fn. 74) By 1548 most of the church's income was from rents and fines. (fn. 75)
By 1445 the income of the chapels and fraternities of St. George, St. Catherine, and the Holy Cross was being administered by the bailiff and burgesses as a single perpetual endowment. (fn. 76) In 1548 the endowment was regarded as a chantry, since a substantial part of the property had been left by John Kendall in 1489 to support a priest in St. George's chapel. (fn. 77) The chantry was dissolved in 1548 and some of the property was sold to the town in 1554. (fn. 78)
A chantry was founded in the chapel of the Trinity in the parish church in 1455 after apparently unsuccessful attempts to convert an established fraternity in 1408, 1414, and 1422. (fn. 79) The lands and tenements were administered by trustees who in 1525 conveyed them to a chaplain who was to say mass at the Trinity altar and to be present in choir with the other priests and clerks of the church. (fn. 80) The chantry was the best endowed in the church and in 1548 was valued at £9 14s. 8d. net. (fn. 81) Some of its property was sold to the town in 1554. (fn. 82)
Land in Stour Eastover (Dors.) owned by John Colswayn, vicar 1423-74, (fn. 83) passed from his trustees to the mayor and burgesses, and his obit and one established by John Colverd of West Harptree were maintained in 1558. (fn. 84)
Part of the income from the former chantry lands granted to the corporation in 1553 was to find a chaplain 'to help the vicar in the services'. (fn. 85) The lease of the rectory estate, bought by the corporation in 1561, required them to find two 'priests or ministers' to serve in the church, (fn. 86) and in 1567-8 two men were paid £18 a year. (fn. 87) Revised terms agreed in 1571 charged the corporation with stipends of £20 for a man 'to preach and teach in the town and neighbourhood', £13 6s. 8d. for a curate, and a further sum for a schoolmaster. (fn. 88) From 1593 until the 1630s the vicar enjoyed one or other of the two stipends. (fn. 89) By 1639 the payments to both preacher and curate had been doubled. (fn. 90) The corporation gave the minister which it appointed to the living in 1647 £110 a year, (fn. 91) augmented from 1657 by £40 from the Trustees for the Better Maintenance of Ministers. (fn. 92) By 1660 the corporation was paying the minister £125, reduced to £60 when he remained in the parish after the vicar was restored. The corporation also paid the vicar £30 a year in 1661-2, and his successor £24 6s. 8d. in 1674-5 and £38 6s. 8d. from 1678, (fn. 93) including £5 under an endowment for a Sunday lecture made in 1633. (fn. 94) From 1725 the corporation paid the vicar £23 6s. 8d. including £10 for the Horsey tithes, but from 1729 paid the £10 instead to the curate, along with a present of 20 guineas each year. From 1733 the vicar received the £10, and in 1757 his successor was also nominated to the post of preacher and later received £20 as Sunday lecturer. (fn. 95) The corporation in 1772 and in 1773 paid him £43 6s. 8d., comprising £20 as preacher, £13 6s. 8d. as presbyter or reader, and £10 for the Horsey tithes. He complained that the Sunday lecturer's stipend had not been paid for several years and that no allowance had been made for a 'proper' chaplain for many years. (fn. 96) In 1783 the lecturer's stipend was restored to the vicar and he received further sums of £2 for administering the communion and 10s. for a Good Friday sermon, (fn. 97) but in the later 1780s the £20 was described as a present and in addition he received only £10 for the Horsey tithes and £1 for the sermon. Thereafter payment was usually in arrear and in varying amounts: in the early 1820s £11 a year; by 1852 the earlier lecturer's stipend of £33 6s. 8d. and the £10 from Horsey tithes. (fn. 98) The vicar received £16 13s. 4d. for the afternoon lecture in 1906. (fn. 99) In 1991 Sedgemoor district council, successor to Bridgwater corporation, paid £10 in respect of Horsey tithes and £33.34 for the afternoon lecture. (fn. 100)
The increase in clerical income encouraged ministers to stay, including George Swankin, preacher by 1595 and until 1622, (fn. 101) John Devenish, vicar 1605-c. 1644, and George Wootton, curate by 1623 and until 1645, vicar 1645-6, 1660-69. (fn. 102) Devenish was suspended for a time in 1636 after complaints of unorthodox behaviour, but both he and Wootton signed the Protestation in 1642. (fn. 103) Wootton was ejected in 1646 and was replaced by 'a pious, learned, and approved minister', John Norman, appointed by the corporation in 1647 and later by parliament. (fn. 104) In 1651 he was suspected of 'malignity and disobedience', (fn. 105) but he continued to be paid by the corporation after Wootton had been restored as vicar in 1660. (fn. 106) Norman left in 1662. (fn. 107) Wootton died in 1669, described as 'most vigilant pastor of this parish'. (fn. 108) In 1683 William Allen, vicar 1670-1720, was accused of holding views bordering on heresy. (fn. 109)
In 1720 the corporation unsuccessfully requested the appointment as vicar of the curate, James Knight, who remained curate until his death in 1757. (fn. 110) John Coles, vicar 1742-86, (fn. 111) and William Wollen, vicar 1786-1844, held the living in succession for more than a century. (fn. 112) About 1776 the church had 100 communicants, and in 1815 there were two sermons on Sundays and prayers on Wednesdays, Fridays, and holy days. (fn. 113) The evening sermon was given by the preacher and reader in 1827. (fn. 114) By 1840 Sunday sermons were preached in the morning and afternoon. (fn. 115) A surpliced choir was introduced in 1849. (fn. 116) From 1857 until 1864 the vicar was the Tractarian, Michael Sadler, (fn. 117) and by 1870 three services were held on Sundays, each with a sermon, and several services on weekdays. Communion was celebrated twice a month, alternately at 9 a.m. and after morning service. (fn. 118)
In 1537 a house on the north side of High Street and described as the church house was conveyed to two leading townsmen. (fn. 119) The building was maintained by the corporation, and was occasionally used for entertainments. (fn. 120) The grammar school was held by 1722 in an upper chamber of the building, for the demolition and rebuilding of which the corporation appointed a committee in 1765. (fn. 121) The school returned there probably early in 1788. At the end of 1799 it was suggested that part of the building be used as a winter soup kitchen, and early in 1801 the corporation agreed to lease the building. (fn. 122) The lease declared that the building, or probably some part of it, had been used as an inn 'for many years past'. (fn. 123) The Mansion House inn continued to occupy the building in 1989. The upper floor, approached by an outside stair at the west side until 1868, (fn. 124) seems to have included an assembly room.
The church of ST. MARY has a sanctuary of two and a half bays, a choir of two bays with north and south chapels, an aisled and clerestoried nave of five bays with transepts linked to porches, and a low west tower topped with a tall spire. The chancel and tower are of red sandstone; the remainder is largely of limestone, mostly with Ham stone dressings. (fn. 125)
If the jambs of the north porch doorway, with stiff-leaf capitals of the early 13th century, are in situ the church was already aisled. The tower arch and the slightly later north transept and the porches indicate that the nave had reached its present size by the mid 14th century and that the church was cruciform. Major rebuilding work was paid for in 1366-7 and work was in progress on the tower in 1385, when perhaps the spire was added. (fn. 126) A chapel next to the charnel house mentioned in 1385-7 had been recently completed by 1415, and work on a second chapel in 1417-18, said to be in the charnel house, was probably an adaptation of the north transept. A further chapel was planned in 1414-15. (fn. 127) The chancel roof may be dated by a carved boss between 1385 and 1416. (fn. 128) The reconstruction of the aisled nave may have followed shortly after c. 1420. Building continued into the 1440s, financed by tallages, (fn. 129) and the sanctuary, then called the Lady Chapel, may have been extended or altered in 1447-8. (fn. 130)
A rood screen, begun in 1414-15 and finished in 1419-20, (fn. 131) remained in its original position until restoration in the mid 19th century; some of the original parts in 1902 became the parclose screens north and south of the present choir stalls. Further chapels, probably formed by parcloses, had been created by the 1530s, at least one of them in the north aisle. (fn. 132) A second screen was erected west of the rood screen in the early 17th century, perhaps forming the new aisle mentioned in 1620. (fn. 133) Stalls for members of the corporation occupied the aisle until both stalls and screen were removed to the south side of the church in the early 1850s. (fn. 134) A pew was built above the south porch c. 1663 and another over the north in the 1740s. (fn. 135) There were also galleries over the north and south chapels in the choir, at the west end of the nave, and in the tower. All were removed in 1849 when the church was restored under W. H. Brakspear and the stuccoed plaster ceiling of the nave and the plain clerestory were replaced by a hammerbeamed roof and windows in Decorated style. Other roofs were heavily restored or replaced, the pulpit was removed from its prominent position on the north side of the nave, and the whole church was reseated. Windows were inserted on the north and south sides of the sanctuary, and much of the Decorated tracery in the existing windows and the north porch may have replaced 15th-century work. Brakspear also removed a square recess between the south porch and transept. The whole restoration, which continued until 1853, was attacked both locally and nationally. (fn. 136)
The east window of the sanctuary is blocked by a painting, given in 1780 by Anne Poulett, which he acquired from a Spanish ship taken as a prize. (fn. 137) It may be Bolognese, of the later 17th century. (fn. 138) Below it is an Elizabethan or Jacobean communion table, a 14th-century tabernacle, and seats which were formerly parts of choir stalls. There are 14th-century tomb recesses in the north aisle of the nave, matched by Victorian replicas in the south aisle. The pulpit is of the early 16th century; the pews, elaborately carved in Gothic style, were installed in 1849.
There are eight bells, all of which were recast in the 19th century from originals of the 17th century or earlier. (fn. 139) Both Thomas Jefferies of Bristol and William Purdue had been involved in making and maintaining the bells, of which there had been at least three by 1384-5. (fn. 140) The plate includes a cup and cover of 1640 by 'W.C.', a tankard of 1724 by James Wilkes, and two dishes, a cup, and a paten of 1727-8 by Robert Lucas. (fn. 141) The registers begin in 1558 and are complete. (fn. 142)
There was a chapel at Horsey in 1304 and probably c. 1280. (fn. 143) In 1415 its maintenance was a charge on the people of Horsey. (fn. 144) In 1535 the vicar of Bridgwater paid a priest to celebrate there. (fn. 145) Bread and wine for communion was found from Bridgwater rectory in the 1540s, and in 1548 the curate was serving the chapel every Sunday. (fn. 146) The chapel no longer existed in the 1570s. (fn. 147)
There was a chapel of St. Saviour outside the south gate built, it was said in the 1530s, within living memory by a merchant called William Poel or Pole. (fn. 148) It seems to have been still standing in 1703 and its site, beside a clise across the Durleigh Brook near its junction with the Parrett, was a landmark throughout the 18th century. (fn. 149) St. Saviour's Avenue was built near the site in the late 19th century.
HOLY TRINITY church, Taunton Road, was consecrated in 1840 and was assigned in 1841 a district chapelry comprising the southern part of the ancient parish. (fn. 150) It was endowed in 1842, and a glebe house was built in 1879. (fn. 151) A room for a Sunday school and other parish business was opened in St. Saviour's Avenue in 1892. (fn. 152) The church, which was designed by Richard Carver, was of stone and comprised a chancel with north and south vestries, aisleless galleried nave with north and south porches, and a bellcot on its western gable; it was demolished in 1958. (fn. 153) Parish worship was transferred first to the mission church of the Good Shepherd, part of Greenfield House, Hamp Street, which had been in use since 1953. A new church in Greenfield, called the Holy and Undivided Trinity and designed by Caroe and Partners, was consecrated in 1961. It is of brick and concrete with a steeply pitched pantiled roof, and comprises a chancel, a nave with shallow transepts, and a bellcot. (fn. 154)
The church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, Eastover, was assigned a parish and consecrated in 1846 to serve the eastern part of the ancient parish. It was built largely through the efforts of its first minister, J. Moore Capes, (fn. 155) who in the year of its consecration became a Roman Catholic. (fn. 156) In 1871-2 there were weekly services, lectures, and night schools in several parts of the parish, and a surpliced choir was introduced. (fn. 157) In 1876 there were daily services with four each Sunday, at least one a communion service. (fn. 158) A vicarage house, built at the same time as the church, was enlarged 1876-84. (fn. 159) The church, in grey stone in an Early English style, comprises a chancel with north vestry, a nave with south porch, and a west tower. The architect, John Brown of Norwich, planned a spire, which proved impossible because of poor foundations. The church was one of the first in the country to embody the principles of the Oxford movement. (fn. 160) The pulpit, font, sedilia, and reredos are in Painswick stone. (fn. 161)
St. John's church in 1882 opened the mission church of ALL SAINTS, successor to a room in Edward Street. (fn. 162) By 1966 the church had closed and was in use as a boy's club. (fn. 163) The building, in Gothic style, is tall and comprises chancel and nave, in sandstone with freestone dressings.
The church of St. FRANCIS OF ASSISI, Saxon Green, was begun in 1960 for a district formed in 1958. A parish was created in 1965. The church, of brick and tile, was designed by Peter Bradley of Taunton. It comprises a shallow chancel, added c. 1979, a nave with north Lady Chapel, and a south-west tower, to which a spire was added in 1984. (fn. 164)