Trevor Wedlake's Writings
Open (almost) All Hours
First published on the website July, 2004
|Several years ago a Wringtonian lady re-visiting the village wrote in the visitors' book in All Saints' that she was reluctantly having to relocate overseas to support a close family member who had been seriously ill. "But I will come back, I know", she wrote. It was gratifying to read in the same book in May of this year that she had written "I'm back, I love this church and Wrington."
During the 'season' people from around the world write in the book. Some say how beautiful the church is, how peaceful, how attractive the village is; very many say how pleased they were to find the church open, when so many nowadays sulk behind closed doors. Below is a small, random list of churches within a few hours' drive, "Treasures within reach" as it were, that have been found open and repay a visit.
Compton Bishop is a small, unspoilt village off the road which winds from the A38 at Cross under Crook Peak to the A370 at Lympsham. Few churches have a more romantic setting, on the last southern slope of Mendip before the land flattens out to the levels, so long under water in ancient times. This is the soft, rounder (perhaps more feminine) side of the Mendips than the aspect we have from the north.
St Andrew's, Compton Bishop, dates from the 13C; it has a Norman font and a carved stone pulpit from the 14C. In the chancel is a double piscina with trefoiled arches, and this is found only in churches dating from about the last 30 years of the 13C to the first decade of the 14C, say the reign of Edward I.
Further down the A38, and off down a long country no-through road, is Biddisham. Apart from a small, modern development, it is a habitation of a few farms and bungalows, a village school converted to residential use, a large, old rectory, and the lovely little church in a most tranquil graveyard. Its small west tower is rather 'bent' and unbuttressed; it has a Norman font and Jacobean pulpit. Most of all, it makes you want to linger there and also to wonder how difficult it might be with so very few gathered together for Evensong to sing the psalm to Anglican chant !
Travelling somewhat further into the west of the county, to Porlock Weir, there is Culbone. Some energy is required to look at Culbone church. To reach it from Porlock Weir entails a 2-mile walk up a rough track rising to 400'. The climb, accompanied by curlews and the lapping tide, gives time to enjoy the quietude of this isolated place, in centuries past a home for lepers. The tiny church has a little slate spire and boasts a mention in Domesday Book. Our vademecum did not confirm its claims to be the smallest church in England, but it is only about 35ft long and 12ft wide, with uncomfortable seats for about 30.
Driving off in another direction, into Wiltshire, Potterne church near Devizes is one not to be missed. St Mary's is an Early English church quite unlike anything in North Somerset. It is a cruciform building of the 13C and it has remained steadfast to its period, no later century making any impact on it. It has an Anglo-Saxon font. In Potterne village there is a famous 15C timber-framed house. Not far away in Bishops Cannings is another large EE/late Norman church, but the environs are very plain.
Crossing over the border into Dorset, Cerne Abbas beyond Sherborne is one of the county's prettiest villages. Here in the Middle Ages was the abbey of Cerne, now the parish church, particularly remembered for its stone screen. What remains of the 9C abbey is now in a garden. Don't miss St Augustine's Well with its unlikely legend. It is reached at the end of an avenue of lime trees now rather unkempt. But you can sit by the water on a stone seat bearing an apt inscription from the sixth chapter of St John.
Along the coast from Axminster is Whitchurch Canonicorum. This is most famous for being the only parish church in England to have in its keeping the bones of its patron saint, St Wite. They are kept in a complete stone shrine: she is said to have been an Anglo-Saxon woman.
At Moreton, St Nicholas is modern and unusual. The engraved glass of its windows, fitted since the war, create an atmosphere of light and elegance; in the cemetery T.E. Lawrence is buried.
This eclectic choice has to include Tarrant Crawford. It was a little navigational challenge to find this church as there is no village, and the church is approached through a farm. It is mainly 12C and is famous for its 14C murals uncovered some 50 years ago.
Bishop Poore's certain claim to fame is that he moved his see from Old Sarum to Salisbury, and initiated the plans for the new cathedral. In April 1220 he laid its foundation stone, externally at least, England's most beautiful church. He died in 1237 and was buried in Tarrant Crawford abbey.
King John's daughter, Joan, queen of Scotland, tired of her royal life, withdrew herself to live in this abbey. She died there at the tender age of 28 in 1238. Her vault, and that of Richard Poore, have now gone, but the lids have survived; they are in the church each side of the altar; to see them and to touch them our only intimacy with such deep history.