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 1100 and 1107 William de Falaise and Geva his wife gave the church with land and tithes to Lonlay abbey (Orne). (fn. 1) The abbey had a priory at Stogursey by c. 1120 (fn. 2) and the parish church was extended apparently for use by the monks. (fn. 3) A vicar was serving the cure by c. 1280 (fn. 4) and the prior and monks presented vicars until 1352 when the Crown assumed the patronage because the house was alien. (fn. 5) The priory and patronage of the vicarage passed to Eton College, which presented in 1453 for the first time, and remained lay rector in 1985. (fn. 6) Until 1881 Lilstock church was treated as a chapelry under the vicar of Stogursey. (fn. 7) From 1964 Stogursey was held with Fiddington, and in 1976 the benefices were united, Eton College presenting on alternate vacancies. (fn. 8)
The vicarage was valued at £6 13s. 4d. in 1414 and was said to be poor in 1433. (fn. 9) In 1454 the gross income was £16 os. 10¼d., (fn. 10) in 1535 £29 9s., (fn. 11) in 1548 £35 6s. 8d., (fn. 12) about 1668 it was valued at c. £60, (fn. 13) and the average annual income in 1829-31 was £389. (fn. 14) In 1454 the vicar received, besides the small tithes from the parish, four cartloads of hay and tithe sheaves from the former priory estate. (fn. 15) In 1584 small tithes were no longer received from the former priory estate. (fn. 16) In 1840 the vicar received a rent charge of £370 in lieu of all his tithes and loads of hay. (fn. 17)
In 1535 the glebe was worth 2s. 8d. (fn. 18) In 1607 it comprised a barn and 1½ a. in Lime Street, (fn. 19) later described as a half and a quarter burgage in the common field of Easter Burgage. (fn. 20) In 1840 there remained just over 1 a. and the churchyard. (fn. 21) Some 11 a. around the new vicarage house were added in the 1860s (fn. 22) but part of the Lime Street property was sold in 1942. (fn. 23) The rest remained church property in 1978. (fn. 24)
In the 1450s and 1460s the vicar rented the house fomerly occupied by the prior. (fn. 25) By 1487, however, Eton College had provided a house. (fn. 26) In 1729 it was let to a wheelwright. (fn. 27) Although in good repair in 1840 (fn. 28) it was abandoned by the vicar for another house and was sold to Eton College in 1868. (fn. 29) The Old Vicarage, west of the church, is a 16th-century building with an 18thcentury wing partly demolished in the early 20th century. A new and larger house, designed by John Norton, was built in 1869. (fn. 30) Structural problems caused it to be demolished and replaced in 1912 on an adjoining site, using some of the old materials. (fn. 31) The new house in turn was sold in 1979 after a replacement had been built in part of its garden. (fn. 32)
Chaplains were recorded in the parish c. 1175 (fn. 33) and in the late 12th and early 13th century (fn. 34) before the appearance of a vicar c. 1280. (fn. 35) The prior was appointed curate and guardian for an infirm vicar in 1402. (fn. 36) By 1444 Eton College was supporting a chaplain, (fn. 37) presumably the chaplain recorded in 1463. (fn. 38) In 1465 the new vicar was required to find one for the parish (fn. 39) but in 1474 the college agreed to do so. The chaplain's salary, usually paid by the farmers of the rectory, was maintained until 1567. (fn. 40) Chaplains were necessary when the living was held by pluralists such as Thomas Machy, vicar 1485-6 and headmaster of Eton, and Robert Blackwall, 1486-8. (fn. 41) It was complained in the early 16th century that the parish was without 'a goode hed and a sade curate and lernyd'. (fn. 42) Henry Handley (d. 1539- 40) and William Witherton, vicar 1540-44, both seem to have been in the parish when they died, but the first had been a fellow of King's College, Cambridge, and the second held another Eton living. (fn. 43) About 1535 the clergy in the parish comprised the vicar, a curate, a stipendiary chaplain, and a chantry chaplain. (fn. 44)
Church ales, bequests, offerings, and land provided income for church maintenance and decoration in the early 16th century: an organ was repaired in 1507-8, and a bible and its chain were bought in 1539-40, and five volumes of the litany in 1543-4. (fn. 45) The rood had not been replaced by 1557 when three parishioners abused the altars. (fn. 46) Richard Wickham, vicar 1582-99, was accused of not wearing a surplice, of leaving out parts of the liturgy, and of unjust dealings. (fn. 47) Richard Meredith, vicar from 1628, and Elias Batchelor, vicar 1671-87, were Etonians and former fellows of King's College, Cambridge. Meredith's incumbency was interrupted by two intruded clergy in 1649 and 1652. He was also rector of West Bagborough and from 1660 held the archdeaconry of Dorset. (fn. 48) Matthew Hole, vicar 1687-1730, appointed to the living as a friend of a fellow of Eton, (fn. 49) was a canon of Wells and a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, for the whole of his tenure of the vicarage, and he was also rector of Fiddington 1709-11. In 1715, when he was elected rector of Exeter College, he was temporarily suspended from his living for neglect and for absence from a visitation. (fn. 50) Absentee pluralist vicars in the 18th and early 19th century left the parish to curates who claimed c. 1776 that there were between 70 and 80 communicants, and who celebrated communion c. 7 times a year. (fn. 51) In 1799 the duty consisted of a morning service each Sunday and between Lady Day and Michaelmas afternoon prayer, to which a sermon had been added between 1788 and 1799 at the joint cost of the vicar and Mr. John Acland. (fn. 52) In 1815 the resident curate also served Lilstock and Kilton. (fn. 53) John Barnwell, vicar 1826-66, was also rector of Holford and vicar of Sutton Valence (Kent). (fn. 54) By 1840 there were two services with a sermon each week, and by 1843 it was intended to increase communion services from seven a year to twelve. (fn. 55) In 1851 average attendance was said to be 400 in the morning and 430 in the afternoon. (fn. 56) In 1854 communion was celebrated in church 17 times with an average of 41 communicants, and also in private homes. (fn. 57) By 1870 both vicar and curate were resident and there were monthly and festal celebrations of communion. (fn. 58)
A chantry priest was employed by c. 1535, (fn. 59) possibly in connexion with a brotherhood or guild of Our Lady, established by 1519-20, which had grown out of a calendar of deceased parishioners. (fn. 60) The chantry was dissolved in 1548 and its lands, including a field called Chantry in Chalcott, were sold. (fn. 61) There were altars or aisles of Our Lady and the Holy Trinity, and lights were maintained before images of St. Anne, St. George, St. Erasmus, Our Lady of Pity, the Trinity, and the rood. (fn. 62)
Eton College gave a site on the edge of the churchyard in 1516 and the parish built a church house there. (fn. 63) It was described in 1680 as a church house and shop (fn. 64) and was probably then being used as a poorhouse. (fn. 65)
The church of ST. ANDREW, so dedicated by c. 1100, (fn. 66) is built of random rubble with ashlar dressings and has a sanctuary with north vestry, a choir with north and south aisles, a crossing tower with north and south transepts, and a nave with a former north porch now used as a store. The tower, which is capped by a spire, and the transepts survive from the late 11th century, (fn. 67) the transepts formerly having eastern apses which flanked a short, apsidal chancel. The east end was reconstructed in the late 12th century when the chancel was lengthened to form a choir and the transepts were extended eastwards as choir aisles or chapels of two bays, later known as the Lady and Trinity aisles. (fn. 68) The enlargement was presumably to provide a choir for the monks after the church had become conventual. The present floor level in the choir is the result of excavation in the 1940s, and probably marks the level of a vault beneath the original choir. There is no evidence of further building until after the closure of the priory c. 1440. (fn. 69) About 1500 the nave was rebuilt and a north porch was added, joined to the north transept by the rood stair. On the south side a chapel was built in the angle between the nave and the south transept. Both choir aisles were reconstructed, and that on the north was extended eastwards as a two-storeyed vestry.
By the early 19th century the interior fittings included a three-decker pulpit on the north side of the crossing, a pew built in the later 17th century by Peregrine Palmer of Fairfield (fn. 70) in the nave chapel, and a west gallery built c. 1740. (fn. 71) The tower, possibly weakened by the removal of the rood beam in 1703, (fn. 72) had been unsafe for nearly a century when Richard Carver rebuilt two of its piers in 1815-16. (fn. 73) In 1824 he rebuilt most of the walls and renewed the roof. (fn. 74) In 1864 John Norton inserted windows in the east wall of the sanctuary, removed the Palmers' family pew and south chapel, and added choir stalls, a pulpit, and a low screen in an elaborate Norman style. Parapets to the tower, north transept, and north choir aisle probably date from that restoration. The church was reopened in 1865. (fn. 75) In the 1930s and 1940s the building was again restored, when all the interior Victorian work was removed, the choir floor lowered, and old memorials, probably brought from the churchyard, were introduced. (fn. 76)
The oldest furnishings in the church are a Norman tub font with four faces, standing on reset medieval tiles in the north transept, and a second Norman font from Lilstock. The bench ends in the nave are probably of the early 16th century and depict a wide range of tracery and plant motifs, birds, including a spoonbill, and Renaissance themes. A carver named Glosse was paid in 1524-5 for work on the church. (fn. 77) A blocked doorway on the north side of the nave marks the site of the rood stair. The screen was still in place in 1735 (fn. 78) and the panelled recess beside it probably held a tomb. The recess was possibly matched by another on the south side, perhaps altered to make an entrance to the chapel, later the Fairfield pew, which occupied the angle between the nave and transept. (fn. 79) The recesses may have contained the two effigies of members of the Verney family now under the choir arcades: that identified as of William Verney (d. 1333) was provided with a plain tomb chest in 1864, (fn. 80) and that identified as of John Verney lies on a 15th-century tomb-chest but has been badly damaged. In the early 18th century there was another tomb, said to be of Ralph Verney. (fn. 81) The south aisle of the choir, sometimes called the Verney aisle, (fn. 82) contains monuments to owners of Fairfield including Peregrine Palmer (d. 1684) in the style of Gibbons, Nathaniel Palmer (d. 1718), and Sir Thomas Wroth of Petherton Park (d. 1721) with his daughter Elizabeth (d. 1737) and her husband Thomas Palmer (d. 1734). A painting was said to have decorated the east wall of the north aisle of the choir and fragments of painted plaster and of wooden carvings were discovered in the 1940s. (fn. 83)
The church has two flagons, two dishes, a paten, and a chalice, all given by Thomas Palmer in 1723 to commemorate his marriage to Elizabeth Wroth. (fn. 84) There were at least four bells in the early 16th century. (fn. 85) The oldest of the present six was cast by George Purdue in 1611. (fn. 86) In 1761 two bells were found to be broken because of the practice of tying them for funerals. (fn. 87) The registers date from 1598 but have a gap between c. 1630 and 1653. (fn. 88)
A chapel of St. John the Evangelist adjoined the church in the early 12th century. (fn. 89) No later evidence of it has been found. A chapel at Durborough in 1316 belonged to Stogursey priory. (fn. 90) A tenement called the Chapel was mentioned in the early 17th century, (fn. 91) and a field west of the stream at Durborough was called Chappelhayes in 1841. (fn. 92)
Probably after 1316 the lords of Wick manor built a chapel at Stolford, later dedicated to St. Michael. (fn. 93) The chapel, repaired in 1490, (fn. 94) was described as ruinous in 1577-8. (fn. 95) It belonged to Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland (d. 1585), in 1579 and descended with Stogursey manor after the dismemberment of Wick; from 1758 it was claimed by the earls of Egmont, who maintained the chapel for the benefit of local fishermen. (fn. 96) It had evidently been demolished by 1824, (fn. 97) but its location is marked by Chapel cottages built on adjoining land owned by Eton College. (fn. 98) Further inland, on the road between Stolford and Wick, the church of ST. PETER, Stolford, was provided in 1866 by Sir Peregrine Fuller-Palmer-Acland, whose family continued to support it directly until 1912. (fn. 99) It was closed in 1945 and reopened in 1955. (fn. 100) It is a small timber building, formerly known as St. Andrew's Mission Church, comprising a chancel, nave, and south-west tower, with a west porch added in 1983. (fn. 101) It was apparently brought from West Quantoxhead, where it had been used while the church there was being rebuilt in 1854-6. (fn. 102) The Perpendicular font was formerly in Stogursey church. (fn. 103) In 1985 services were held fortnightly with communion once a month.