STOKE ST MARY AND DISTRICT HISTORY GROUP

HISTORY OF  ST MARY CHURCH


An Anglican revival soon followed, and in Stoke St. Mary was marked especially by the appointment in 1860 of the saintly William Lance as curate. He undertook the restoration of Thurlbear Church in 1861, and in 1864 turned his attention to Stoke St. Mary, where the old church was thought too small for a growing population. Accordingly, a new south aisle was built. But the work of restoration did not end there, as a contemporary account records:


The whole of the 'pews' have been swept away and replaced, in the chancel by neat substantial oak stalls, and in the nave with open stained deal benches. The  font has been reworked with sunk tracery panels, and that abomination of modern times, the singing gallery, removed.


The thirteenth century tower fortunately escaped a suggested rebuilding, but the eighteenth century chalice and paten were not so lucky: in 1872, they were replaced by a modern set of medieval design.

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A TOUR OF THE CHURCH

BUILDING HISTORY. When thirteenth century masons and car­penters finished work on St. Mary's Church, they left a simple structure consisting of chancel, nave, and tower. It is largely that thirteenth century building which the visitor sees today on approaching St. Mary's down the churchyard path: the plain, battlemented tower, in particular, stands almost unchanged after 700 years, and is one of very few entirely thirteenth century towers surviving in the county.

Though the interior of the church is dominated by work of later periods, striking reminders of the thirteenth century building also exist. They include an especially fine tower arch (unfortunately no more than a Victorian copy of the original), the shafts which support the chancel arch, and traces of the church's former roof line, visible high up on the west wall.

Almost every medieval church in Somerset benefited from the attention of fifteenth century builders, and St. Mary's Church, in its modest way, was no exception. It gained a new south porch, a Ham stone font (of which only the base is now original), and a variety of new windows: the chancel windows survive as fine examples of late fifteenth century workmanship; others of similar date in the nave were removed in 1864.

The drastic restoration undertaken in that year greatly altered the internal appearance of the church, and destroyed much that might better have been left alone. The restorers almost doubled the size of the building by adding a south aisle, linking it to the old church by an arcade of arches made in a thirteenth century style. They also added a south transept and vestry, and a dull set of mock gothic windows modelled on a fourteenth century original which now overlooks the organ. A new chancel arch was built in replacement of a 'nondescript piece of masonry’, and to make the transform­ation complete, the church was fitted out with red deal pews, oak choir stalls, and a Ham stone pulpit. In February 1865 the church was opened for worship once more, the Revd F. B. Portman providing a suitable sermon for the occasion, and the choir singing the responses from their new choir stalls.


ST. ANNE'S CHAPEL. The chapel of St. Anne was created in the south aisle in 1972 during the incumbency of the Revd Arthur Stevens, and was inspired by the presentation to the church of a fine oak altar table. Designed by Mr. Arthur Holland, then church treasurer, and made by Mr. Arthur Matravers, a local woodcarver, the altar was given by Mrs. Agnes Fewings and her brother Mr. Sam Vile as a memorial to their parents James and Susan Vile. The chapel was completed by the addition of an altar rail, given as a memorial to his son Richard by Mr. Harry Adcock of Aplens. The rail came from the redundant church at Curland, and was reconstructed in its present form by Arthur Matravers.

THE ORGAN. The organ was brought from Stogursey church in 1978 through the generosity of Mr. John White as a memorial to his wife Ellaline who died in 1976.  It was built in 1834, possibly by the firm of Flight and Robson, and in its original state could also be played as a barrel organ.  It has six stops, including an unusual sesquialtera and cornet mixture, and has been restored by Osmond's of Taunton.


THE KNEELERS. As a result of a tapestry class held in the village hall in 1969, a group of volunteers, both men and women, began work re-covering the church kneelers. No elaborate pattern was laid down, the only stipulation being that the background should be blue. Two larger kneelers were also worked, one for the Rector's stall and one for the chapel of St. Anne, and a few years later the choir kneelers were re-covered to a pre-arranged pattern worked on red. The kneelers now form a much treasured addition to the church, and reflect the dedication and skill of the 15 villagers who took part in the project.


CHURCH PLATE. The present chalice and paten, based on a medieval design, were acquired by the church in 1872, and bear the simple inscription 'Stoke St. Mary'. A silver salver was presented to the church in 1943 under the will of Miss Maud E. V. Wynter who lived in the house called Tuckers. The church still possessed its earlier plate as late as 1870. The chalice bore the inscription 'Stoke St Mary 1759 Wm Philpott John Granslade Church-Wardens', and the paten 'This Belongs to the Parish Church of Stoke St Mary 1737 Wm: Burridge, Robt: Philpott Church Wardens'. Both were evidently sold by the Revd William Lance as being unsuitable for the High Church services he introduced.


THE BELLS. The church has a ring of five bells of which the oldest is the third. It was cast during the sixteenth century by Roger Semson of Ash Priors and is one of his well- known 'alphabet bells', bearing the letters A to N set upside down and backwards. The tenor, by William Purdie, is date c1657 and bears the names of the churchwardens William Torrey and Mary Proppter [Procter], The fourth was cast in 1779 by Thomas Pyke of Bridgwater when John Hooper was churchwarden, and the second in 1829 by John Kingston of Bridgwater when the wardens were John Tamlin of Broughton and Samuel Stodgel1 of Stoke Castle. The treble is a stock bell by Taylor's of Loughborough and was added to the tower in 1923.


OTHER MEMORIALS. The oldest memorial the church contains is the grave-slab of William Doble (d. 1687), now largely hidden beneath the Victorian pulpit. He was Stoke St. Mary's chief landowner, and a leader of the nonconformists in the years before the Monmouth Rebellion. His descendants, the quarrel­some Burridges, are buried in a vault nearby, a brass tablet on the chancel wall recording their names.

The stained glass window by the pulpit commemorates Elizabett Harman who died in 1898. Her father, Charles Harman of Stok; St. Mary and Ruishton, became rich as the licensee of several London pubs, while his brother Henry remained at Stoke as tenant of Higher Broughton Farm. The family graves are in the churchyard.

The fine processional cross was originally given to Bathpool Church in memory of Gordon Parsons who died on active service in Italy in 1944. His brother, Mr. Dennis Parsons, arranged for the cross to be moved to Stoke St. Mary when the church at Bathpool closed.

Other valued gifts to the church include the splendid chair in the sanctuary presented in 1952 by Mrs. Hilda Loxton of Greenway Farm in memory of her parents James and Julia Barrington. The chair was made in the village, as were the two prie-dieu stools, one given by Mrs. Sessions Hodge, the other by Mrs. Loxton. The churchwarden’s staves were pre­sented by Mrs. Betty Stevens in memory of her husband the Revd Arthur Stevens, rector from 1967 to 1973.

The lights on the choir stalls are a memorial to Mrs. Ruby Rowsell (1892-1979) of Stoke Farm. As Ruby Drewe, she entered Thurlbear School at the age of five and became pupil teacher there in 1908; She was assistant teacher from 1911 to 1952, and became known to generations of Thurlbear pupils as Teacher Ruby. To the end of her long life she worshipped in this church, acting variously as Sunday School teacher, organist, and bellringer.

THE CHURCHYARD. The churchyard has been used for burials since the Reformation and was enlarged in 1956 by the pur­chase of a plot of land on the south side. A garden of rest, with fine views to the Blackdown Hills, was created in 1971 for the burial of ashes, and has recently been enhanced by the addition of a seat in memory of Mervyn Roberts.

The churchyard gates were made in Taunton and presented by Mrs. Dorothy Hardwell in memory of her husband Fred Hardwell (1922-1975), a member of the family whose name has survived longest in the village. Trainees working under the Manpower Services Commission recently rebuilt the churchyard wall (having also transformed the appearance of the church pews by removing old varnish). The flagpole near the churchyard gates is a memorial to Francis Harold Groves, a well- remembered sidesman of the church who died in 1970.

The oldest memorial in the churchyard is the table tomb of Thomas Procter, who died in 1683. The Procters, an­cestors of the Anderdon family of Henlade House, were prominent in Stoke St. Mary and Ruishton from the sixteenth century onwards, and were among numerous local families who suffered greatly in the Civil War. Thomas Procter lived on Stoke Hill, where his house was licensed as a Presbyterian meeting-place in 1672. Having survived the turmoils of the Civil War, the Commonwealth, and the Restoration, he left a resigned and warning message as his epitaph:

What's life. A vapovr. What is man.

A shaddow and ovr time a span.

An aged hvsband and his wife In hope of an eternal life

Here underneath this tomb do ly.

Reader look on and learn to dy.

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HISTORY

HISTORY

POST RE-BUILDING

PRE RE-BUILDING

THE NEW FONT

THE MODUS BOARD. The modus board was placed in the church in 1805 following a legal dispute. For many years it hung high up in the tower, but was recently restored and moved to its present position on the west wall. A modus was a money payment made to the rector instead of tithe payments in the form of corn, hay, and other produce. The modus system was favoured more by parishioners than clergy, who tended to lose by it, and when a rumour spread that Charles Russell, the rector, intended to do away with the moduses, a bitter quarrel resulted. The case reached the Court of Chancery before the villagers were satisfied that the moduses were out of danger.        

The Owners and Occupiers of land in the Parish of Stoke St, Mary are entitled to the following

    Modus or Customary charges in lieu of their tithes paid at Easter yearly.


     For every acre of Grass in the Parish in lieu of the Tithe of Hay                        2d

     For every calf reared in the Parish                                                                            4d

     For every Cow milked in the Parish in lieu of Tithes of Milk                                3d

     For every Hogshead of Cider made in the Parish                                                   6d

     For every Garden in the Parish                                                                                  2d

     For the fall of every Colt in the Parish                                                                     1/-


     For every score of Sheep fed in the Parish

       but not shorn in the said Parish in lieu of

       adjustment of Tithe and growth of Wool.                                                            4d