St Mary's Church, Stoke St Mary, is at
the south-eastern corner of Stokes Road, with Stokes Cottage on
its east flank. It was built largely in the 1200s, a simple
structure which consisted of chancel, nave, and tower. That
building largely survives today, with the the plain,
battlemented tower in particular remaining mostly unchanged, one
of very few entirely thirteenth century towers surviving in the
county. The building gained a new south porch and font in the
The interior is dominated by the work of later
periods, although elements of the original building also exist.
They include a Victorian copy of the original tower arch, the
shafts which support the chancel arch, and traces of the church's
former roof line, visible high up on the west wall. Drastic
restoration work was started in 1864 which greatly altered the
internal appearance and destroyed much that should have been
preserved. Still, the building was almost doubled in size.
Stoke St Mary Congregational Chapel is at
the south-east corner of the Stoke Road and Ash Road junction. In
1743 Richard Every registered his house as a Presbyterian Meeting.
In 1821 worshippers were meeting at George Weaver's home. Three
years later his family gave a piece of land adjoining their home for
Stoke Chapel (Independent) to be founded. A temporary decline
saw it leased to Wesleyans in 1866-1875 before it was restored as a
St Michael's Church, Orchard Portman, is
deep down the eastern side of Orchard Portman Lane, immediately east
of Taunton Racecourse. Originally Norman, it was largely rebuilt
about the 1400s. It consists of a stone nave, porch, and chancel,
built in the Perpendicular style. The old Portman chapel was erected
as the south aisle about 1450 and the tower rebuilt about 1540. The
chapel was demolished about the same time as Portman House in 1844
and rebuilt in 1910.
The Church of St Thomas, Thurlbear, stands
on the eastern side of the north-south lane in Thurlbear, around 160
metres south of the primary school. It was originally built by the
Normans around 1100. Elegant Norman pillars dividing the nave and
aisles are a testament to how impressive that first church must have
been. There was unlikely to have been a tower - these were largely a
product of expansions in the 1300s-1400s and this one was indeed
added in the 1400s.
At the time the tower was being built the aisles
were also narrowed, suggesting that Thurlbear had become much less
prosperous. The bells hanging in the tower were cast around 1450
and may be the oldest in Somerset. Today the mix of three-stage
battlemented tower in pale limestone and low nave and chancel of
reddish stone give the building a remarkable two-toned effect. The
church fell out of use in the 1980s and now remains in the care of
All photos on this page by P L Kessler. Former
Taunton Deane area church names and locations kindly confirmed by
South West Heritage Trust.