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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In 1086 Erchenger the priest held of the king in the church of Cannington ½ virgates which Aelfric the priest had held in 1066. (fn. 1) Robert de Curci evidently gave the church c. 1138 as part of the endowment of Cannington priory, which appropriated the rectorial estate. (fn. 2) Parochial incumbents were known as vicars from the 13th century although no vicarage was ordained. (fn. 3) The living remained a sole benefice until 1984 when it was united with Otterhampton and Combwich, Stockland and Steart, the incumbent thereafter becoming a rector. (fn. 4)
The advowson belonged to the priory until the Dissolution and then passed to successive owners of Cannington manor. Elizabeth, Baroness Clifford, presented in 1685 (fn. 5) but her successors were Roman Catholics and by 1707 let the right of presentation. (fn. 6) At vacancies in 1735 and 1766 vicars were appointed by Oxford University. (fn. 7) Lessees presented in 1798, and in 1804 the lessee, Charles Henry Burt, presented himself. (fn. 8) In 1872 Philip Pleydell Bouverie (d. 1890) acquired the advowson which he gave to the bishop of Bath and Wells. (fn. 9) The bishop was patron of the united benefice from 1984. (fn. 10)
In 1535 the vicarage was worth £7 10s. 8d., mostly in the form of a stipend from the prioress, (fn. 11) by composition said to have been made in the 1520s to replace an earlier one which gave the vicar small tithes and oblations, and corn in lieu of Candlemas offerings. (fn. 12) The composition, challenged in 1582-3 (fn. 13) and varying between £7 and £8, continued to be paid until 1922. (fn. 14) Successive vicars of Cannington also held the lease of some or all of the tithes until 1865. (fn. 15) About 1668 the vicar had c. £40 a year, (fn. 16) and his average net income was £371 between 1827 and 1830. (fn. 17) Philip Pleydell Bouverie (d. 1872) paid the vicar the sum of £122 a year from 1865, presumably in lieu of the leased tithes, and his son established from 1872 a permanent endowment, himself giving capital sums to secure grants from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. (fn. 18)
A garden and orchard belonging to the vicar were mentioned in the 15th century. (fn. 19) Vicarial glebe was worth 4s. in 1535. (fn. 20) There were 7 a. in 1571 but by 1626 only a garden and another small piece of ground, the gift of the lay rector. (fn. 21) They remained glebe until 1906 when the kitchen garden east of the churchyard was sold. (fn. 22)
In 1536 the vicar appears to have found his own lodging, (fn. 23) and there was no house in 1571. In 1638 there was a 'decent' house on the south side of the churchyard, possibly that which the lay rector had provided in 1626. (fn. 24) In 1735 it comprised a hall, parlour, oriel, service rooms, a study, and six chambers. (fn. 25) In the early 19th century the house was unfit (fn. 26) but after repairs (fn. 27) was described as fit but small and a pretty cottage. (fn. 28) It was totally rebuilt in 1879 with the help of Philip Pleydell Bouverie. (fn. 29) The house was sold c. 1980 and was replaced by a smaller house, no. 27 Brook Street. (fn. 30)
In 1333 Robert FitzPayn, Lord FitzPayn, gave land to the priory for a chaplain to pray for his family in the parish church. (fn. 31) In 1450 there were two anniversary chaplains, (fn. 32) one of whom became vicar in 1452. (fn. 33) Thomas Tremayne, a former fellow and rector of Exeter College, Oxford, was appointed vicar in 1504 and became vicar of Witheridge (Devon), also in the patronage of the priory and probably in plurality, in 1517. (fn. 34) The three stipendiary priests recorded c. 1535 included probably two who served the priory. (fn. 35) In 1479 the Holy Trinity fraternity with its own altar in the church and in 1533 the store of Our Lady of Pity were mentioned. (fn. 36) There was also a light endowed with land in Spaxton. (fn. 37)
Robert Reason, vicar from 1619, was resident rector of Otterhampton, and Cannington was served by curates; in 1629 the parishioners could not name their vicar. Reason was probably deprived in 1648. (fn. 38) Under John Rugge, vicar 1698-1706, communion was celebrated five times a year. (fn. 39) The number of communicants was said in 1729 to have increased but there were only 25 in the later 18th century. (fn. 40) In 1735 Gregory Larkworthy, vicar 1711-35, agreed, after a dispute with the parishioners, to begin morning service at 10 a.m. and evening service at 3 or 3.30 p.m. (fn. 41) He died the same year leaving a comfortably furnished house and 180 books. (fn. 42) During the late 18th century the parish was usually served by curates; one vicar, Henry Poole, was described as being of 'not much religion, yet good tempered'. (fn. 43) In the 1820s there were two Sunday services. (fn. 44) In 1843 communion was celebrated six times a year but by 1870 it was celebrated monthly and on feast days. (fn. 45) In 1886 after the restoration of the church many parishioners threatened to leave as they disliked the new arrangements. (fn. 46) In the early 20th century three and sometimes five Sunday services were held, including a children's service. By the 1950s there were four services and between 10 and 30 communicants. During the 1960s and 1970s Lent lectures were given by distinguished speakers. In 1983 there were usually c. 80 communicants each Sunday. (fn. 47)
The church of ST. MARY, so dedicated by 1336, (fn. 50) comprises a structurally undivided chancel and nave, with north vestry, north and south aisles, and south porch, and a western tower. The north respond of the 12th-century chancel arch, visible in the vestry, and the weathering of the earlier nave roof on the tower, are evidence of the size and form of the church before the 15th century when it was apparently unaisled. Everything except the 14th-century tower was demolished when the church was rebuilt in the later 15th century on a new alignment. The new work bearing the Poynings badges may indicate the involvement of Eleanor Poynings (d. 1484), wife of Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland (d. 1461). (fn. 51) The chancel is of one bay only and the church was divided liturgically by a screen and loft which added a second bay to the chancel and created chapels at the end of each aisle. The south aisle may have been the Trinity aisle. (fn. 52) By 1840 the pulpit stood on the north side of the nave and there were galleries in front of the tower arch, (fn. 53) over the south door, and over the former north chapel. Box pews occupied the aisles and the east end of the nave, and the chancel formed a large sanctuary with the communion rail on three sides of the altar. There was also a large screened enclosure for the Clifford vault. (fn. 54) The architect Richard Carver refurnished the church in 1840, turning what remained of the central section of the screen into parcloses for private pews occupying the former aisle chapels. He greatly reduced the size of the sanctuary and reseated the whole church, placing the pulpit and reading desk at the centre of the entrance to the chancel, directly in front of the altar. A vestry on the north side of the former north chapel was altered to incorporate the former rood stair turret and, after prolonged disputes, (fn. 55) the 18th-century wrought iron screen of the Clifford vault was replaced in a less prominent position. (fn. 56) In 1885, under the architect Edwin Down, the screen, including fragments of original work, was restored to its original position, (fn. 57) the whole church reseated with a central aisle, the 19th-century pulpit removed to the north side of the screen, and a new vestry built on the north side of the chancel. The iron screen became a parclose between new choir stalls and the organ in the former north chapel. The rood stair was again altered and the former vestry became a fuel store. (fn. 58)
The font is of the early 15th century, and there is a fragment of a memorial brass to Joan (d. 1472), wife of William Dodesham, and another to William's parents William (d. 1440) and Ellen. (fn. 59) The stone altar front under the tower probably came from the 18th-century chapel in Cannington Court, and the reredos of 1893 incorporates the faces of the donors, Joanna and Philip Pleydell Bouverie. The rood, designed by Tom Preater, was installed in 1983.
The plate includes a cup and cover of 1632 by 'I.M.', a salver and dish, both probably of 1725 by 'T.M.', and a flagon of 1729, the latter by Robert Lucas and bought because the number of communicants had greatly increased. (fn. 60) There are six bells, the oldest dated 1619 by George Purdue. (fn. 61) The registers date from 1559 but there are gaps in the 17th century. (fn. 62)
The chapel of ST. LEONARD, Combwich, so dedicated by 1524, (fn. 63) was recorded in 1336. (fn. 64) It was served by a chaplain paid by Cannington priory in 1536. (fn. 65) Bequests were made to the chapel until 1546 (fn. 66) but in 1549 the chapel and chapel house were granted to two Londoners (fn. 67) who probably sold it to Robert Cuffe. Robert died in 1593 holding the chapel house and a dovecot but the chapel was not mentioned. (fn. 68) His son, also Robert, died in 1639 in possession of the house, (fn. 69) which has not been traced further; the chapel site is unknown.
In 1868 part of Combwich was transferred to Otterhampton for ecclesiastical purposes and St. Peter's, Combwich, was built. (fn. 70)