For our December meeting, we were treated to a slide show and talk by Richard Raynsford entitled, ‘Mendip Churches-Treasure Houses of Art’. The slide show introduced our audience to twenty or so churches and sites of worship within the Mendip area, too many to list individually but all with significant points of interest in their architecture and surroundings. We heard how churches were built in prominent positions in the heart of the community. St Mary Magdalene church at Ditcheat, for instance, was close to the Manor House, St Margaret’s church at Babbington was built on the front lawn of the house, St Leonard’s church in Butleigh is in the grounds of Butleigh court and at Orchardleigh and St Mary’s church is idyllically located on its own island in the heart of the Orchardleigh Estate.
Many churches have defining features in their architecture including the Tin Tabernacle or Mission church at Alhampton built with corrugated iron-St Thomas’ church in Wells with its unique use of Doulting stone dressings and a slate roof-the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Emborough with its prominent central tower-the old church of St Andrew’s in Holcombe, known locally as the plague church, now sadly closed, had been used recently for filming the latest series of Poldark, and the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Laverton with its unusual gabled tower. We were shown slides of some of the internal and external features of the churches with ornate stone carvings including the very large and beautiful stone font, with carvings of green men, in St Peter’s church Draycott and slides of gargoyles, stone carved features usually with faces, used to drain water from the church roof through their mouths and Hunky Punks, like a gargoyle but an architectural feature that is purely decorative, often referred to as ‘a grotesque’. Richard told us of other, not always obvious, features of the Mendip churches. Lychgates are found at the entrance to many churchyards including a triangular one at St Peter and St Paul’s church in Kilmersdon, designed by Edwin Lutyens and at St Matthew’s church in Wookey there are some fine timber carvings of strange beasts. The talk continued with slides of various features found in the churches within the Mendip area including the gothic arched entrance to the church at Great Elm, old ironwork hinges at Meare, the beautiful blue and white painted ceiling of the apse in Babbington church, old wooden poor boxes still in place in the churches at Holcombe and Croscombe, stunning carved and painted roof panels in St Cuthbert’s Wells, ornate brass chandeliers in Croscombe, Pilton and Draycott. Some churches still have their original wooden pews with carved end panels and fold-down seats for children and several porches have interesting features like the fan vaulting of the porch ceiling at St Andrew’s church in Mells, often used for weddings in the past, and an ornate plaster ceiling boss at St Cuthbert’s in Wells.
We were grateful to Richard for showing us some of the many interesting features to be found by visiting these wonderful buildings, so full of history and hidden treasures of art.

Mendip Churches – Treasure Houses of Art