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Gallery: Churches of Somerset
by Peter Kessler, 21 November 2020
SW&T (Taunton Deane) Part 38:
Churches of Ash Priors & Bishops Lydeard
Holy Trinity Church, Ash Priors, stands on
the inside corner of the main lane, to the south and west of it. The
name 'Ash Priors' is a corruption of 'Esse Prioris', or 'the property
of the prior'. However, the present building was never a priory church
like many in the Taunton area. As western Somerset churches go, it's
a relatively recent building with a pretty uniform structure. The main
body of it dates to the fifteenth century, with a south aisle that was
added in 1833.
The church was restored in 1874. It consists of
red sandstone random rubble masonry, with slate roofs and tiled
chancel of the 1800s. It has a two bay aisled nave, north porch, and
north and south aisle chapels, with the latter containing an organ
and having been extended by one bay to contain a heated vestry. The
three-stage crenellated tower has a pyramid slate roof and weather
vane, with diagonal buttresses, and a square-headed Tudor arch
The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin,
Bishops Lydeard, is on the western side of the High Street. In the
Norman period the village belonged to the bishop of Bath and Wells.
In 1291 King Edward I granted a charter to Bishop Robert Burnell
to hold a weekly fair in the village. A church has existed on this
spot since the Saxon period in Somerset, although the oldest part
of the present building is the north arcade, which dates from the
end of the thirteenth century.
The church is built of red sandstone, with a
typically tall Somersetian tower, embellished with facings of
creamy Ham Hill stone. It was built about 1450, one of the earliest
of a group with the towers of Isle Abbots, Kingston, and Staple
Fitzpaine (see links). On the south side, to the east of the porch,
there is a 'Rood Turret' that houses the spiral stair which leads
to the top of the rood screen. Inside, the older north arcade is
distinctly lower than the younger south arcade.
The present form of the interior, though, is
decidedly Victorian and later. The chancel was rebuilt on the
original foundations about 1860, at which time the north aisle was
extended east (it originally finished level with the chancel arch).
In the nave there are carved bench ends, mostly formed by a group
of itinerant Flemish wood-carvers around 1540. The rood screen was
made, probably in Taunton, early in the sixteenth century. It is
typical of local fan-vaulted screens.
Bishops Lydeard Independent Chapel
(Congregational) is to the east of the High Street, flanked
southwards by a house and then Bartons Close. It is shown on the
OS 25-inch map of 1889 (surveyed 1887), perhaps existing for some
time before that. It closed in 1969. Greenway Christian
Fellowship seems no longer to exist. It possibly met in the
Independent chapel or, more likely, in a private house on Greenway,
over the other side of the Minehead GWR branch line.
Five photos on this page by P L Kessler, plus
one kindly contributed by Michael Day via the 'History Files:
Churches of the British Isles' Flickr group. Former Taunton Deane
area church names and locations kindly confirmed by South West
Heritage Trust. Additional information by Robert Cutts.