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Gallery: Churches of Somerset

by Peter Kessler, 24 January 2020

SW&T (Taunton Deane) Part 15: Churches of Stoke St Mary to Thurlbear

St Mary's Church, Stoke St Mary, Somerset

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 1400s.

St Mary's Church, Stoke St Mary, Somerset

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, Stoke St Mary, Somerset

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 Congregational house.

St Michael's Church, Orchard Portman, Somerset

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.

Church of St Thomas, Thurlbear, Somerset

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.

Church of St Thomas, Thurlbear, Somerset

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 the CCT.

All photos on this page by P L Kessler. Former Taunton Deane area church names and locations kindly confirmed by South West Heritage Trust.

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