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Horningsham

Church of St. John the Baptist, Horningsham

Church of St. John the Baptist, Horningsham Date Photo Taken 2005
Uploaded 11/11/2005 13:04:28
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Map Latitude 51.17165565413875 : Longitude -2.25800558924675
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Original Media Location: Helen Taylor


When Sir Robert de Vernon, Lord of Horningsham, built this church in 1154 he picked a beautiful setting. At the time, the nearby water source would have been an important factor. Today, visitors enjoy a picturesque view of Longleat House and park.

The building was given to the Collegiate Church of Heytesbury. Sir Humphrey de Bohun gave land, animals and a house in order to provide a priest. The first description we have is from a visitation made in 1224. The church was made of stone with a shingle roof. It was called St. John the Baptist, although not formally dedicated, having a baptistry but no proper font. There was no burial ground and the site was unenclosed, leaving animals free to roam.

A visitation made in 1408 tells us that a font, graveyard and fence had all been added. However, the fence was broken and had to be repaired by the parishioners before Christmas, or they would face a fine.

The church presentments for the 1600s show that the building was constantly 'out of repair'. Doors, windows and walls always needed attention. In 1669 it was not the building that was at fault, but the priest! The document describes at length his numerous faults. Suffice to say he was a priest in name only.

During the 18th century all was well until 1783, when the first major re-build took place. The south wall was taken down and rebuilt. The height of the church body was increased by four feet and the new oak roof by two and a half feet. The porch was moved to the north side. Inside there were two galleries, one of which was for the singers.

1810 saw the next phase, when the chancel was rebuilt and the north aisle raised in height to match the rest of the church. This was paid for by Lord Bath, and services were held at Longleat Chapel while the work was being carried out. In 1817 the singing gallery was rebuilt. Music was provided by three clarinets, a flute and a bass viol.

By 1835 thoughts were turning to the possibility of a new church, as the existing one was not large enough to house the expanding population. Building began in 1843 and was completed by September of the following year. A north aisle was added and the rest of the church enlarged to make seating for a further 200 people. The entire cost of £5157.19.0d (£5157.90) was met by the 3rd Marchioness of Bath.

By 1910 the church would have been full each Sunday with congregation and musicians. The schoolmaster at this time, Thomas Welborn, was very musical; he was both organist and choirmaster. A peal of bells welcomed the people into church. The Bath family all came and listened to their father read the lesson. Sitting behind them were the servants and tenant farmers, then the other villagers. Everyone was expected to attend.

Like many churches up and down the country, the situation is now very different. However, the church is always open to visitors, and services take place each week.



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