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Churches of the British Isles

Gallery: Churches of Somerset

by Peter Kessler, 21 November 2020

SW&T (Taunton Deane) Part 40: Churches of Cothelstone to Combe Florey

Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Cothelstone, Somerset

The Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Cothelstone, lays behind Cothelstone Manor on the western side of Cothelstone Road. The church is thirteenth century, while the manor house is largely seventeenth century. A chapel existed at Cothelstone in the Saxon period. Following the arrival of the Normans, the Cothelstone estate was given to Adam de Coveston, a vassal of the bishop of Winchester. The chapel was granted to the monks of Taunton Priory (see links).

St John the Baptist of Cothelstone, Somerset

In the 1200s the chapel became a parish church, linked to Kingston St Mary, but it has always maintained close links to the manor. Memorials to generations of the Stawells (descendants of the de Covestons who held the land for half a millennium) fill the church interior. The will of Robert Stawell (died 1499) refers to the church as 'the parish church of St John the Baptist of Cothelstone'. The present dedication was only supplied after the Reformation, perhaps in 1786.

Church of St Pancras, West Bagborough, Somerset

The Church of St Pancras, West Bagborough, sits almost a kilometre east of the centre of the village, flanked closely on its eastern side by Bagborough House. The building dates to the fourteenth century but has since been restored. The north aisle was added in 1839 and further restoration was undertaken in 1872. It was beautifully decorated in the 1920s by Sir Ninian Comper. It seats two hundred in two aisles, and has an excellent two hundred year-old organ.

Church of St Pancras, West Bagborough, Somerset

Until the twentieth century it bore the dedication Holy Trinity Church. It stands high above the main village, and allegedly owes this separation to the Black Death which reduced the population to below one hundred souls in the fourteenth century. In an attempt to rid themselves of plague the villagers abandoned the original settlement and rebuilt away from the church. The building is of coursed squared red sandstone, with tiled roofs with decorative ridge tiles.

Church of St Peter & St Paul, Combe Florey, Somerset

The Church of St Peter & St Paul, Combe Florey, sits on the northern side of the lane in the heart of this hamlet. The mound alongside the church is known as 'the monks' garden'. When the eighteenth century historian Collinson wrote about the village he mentioned an old building on top of the mound which was being used as a summerhouse by the then owners of the adjoining gatehouse. This, possibly, was the site of a medieval Chantry of the Blessed Virgin, since lost.

Church of St Peter & St Paul, Combe Florey, Somerset

In the twentieth century the Waugh family made the village their country home, buying Combe Florey House (behind the church) in 1956. It is here that the grave of Evelyn Waugh and his wife Laura can be found in a private plot. One of his sons, Auberon Waugh (the newspaper journalist), is buried in the small graveyard across the road from the Elizabethan gatehouse. The small, red stone Gothic church itself dates to the late Norman period, around the 1200s-1300s.

Five photos on this page by P L Kessler, plus one kindly contributed by Huw Thomas 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.

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Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original feature for the History Files.