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Little Somerford

Church of St. John the Baptist, Little Somerford

Church of St. John the Baptist, Little Somerford Date Photo Taken 2011
Uploaded 21/03/2013 15:58:52
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Map Latitude 51.55817308705298 : Longitude -2.0485585927963257
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

17th Century Wall Paintings with Text.

The church was possibly served from Malmesbury Abbey and the benefice was valued at £10 in 1291, but by 1535 it was only worth £8.19s.4d. In 1829 it was said to be one of the poorer livings in the Malmesbury Deanery with an average yearly income of £241.

The first church is likely to have been built by Malmesbury Abbey and it is likely to have become a parish church with its own rector by c.1251. The church seems to have been entirely rebuilt in the later part of the 13th century or the early 14th century, probably around 1300. The tower was added mid 15th century with the porch being added in the late 15th century. The 17th century saw the roofs of the nave and chancel strengthened structurally, using stone rubble with an ashlar dressing. The east and most of the north and south walls of the chancel were rebuilt around 1860. A window on the south of the chancel was added to give light to the choir seats.

The church has a structurally undivided chancel and nave with a south porch and west tower. The nave may survive from the church which stood in 1251. The chancel was built and a south window was inserted in the nave in the later 13th century. The chancel is divided from the nave by a screen made up from several pieces of wood which was carved either in the 14th or 15th century.

Above the screen is the tympanum, this once acted as the backing for the Royal coat of arms which are now sited at the west side of the church. When the arms were removed for restoration in 1983, traces of paintings were found underneath. The paintings dated from the 15th century, the first was of two angels with censers and the other is of the first four commandments. Both paintings were covered up for more than four hundred years.

About 1806 the chancel was restored and the east window was replaced by one which was in an early 14th century style. The west gallery was removed in the 1900s and pews and a reredos (an ornamental screen covering the back of an altar) for the chancel were made from its wood. Years later the 17th century box pews were cut down to make benches instead. There is a 17th century pulpit and reading desk.

The Royal coat of arms is for Queen Elizabeth I, 1602, with the Tudor Welsh dragon in place of the familiar unicorn, introduced by James I. The shield in the centre bears the three lions of England and the lilies of France.

The belfry had three bells in 1553. All three bells have been recast since; the second bell was recast in 1725 by John Tosier and the treble and tenor bells were recast by James Burrough in 1752 and 1753.

The chancel was restored in 1860. The church is said to have much plate until most was taken by royal commissioners. Three bells existed in 1553 and also in 1988, though they were recast in the 18th century.

Registers of baptisms, burials and marriages survive from 1708 and, apart from those in current use at the church, are held in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre at Chippenham.

The rector had a house in the parish in 1341 and the rectory house was rebuilt in stone during the 17th/18th centuries with 5 bedrooms, but in 1830 the rector considered it unfit for occupation. In 1585 it was noted that the rector did not catechize, did not wear a surplice and square cap, and was reported to have conducted a clandestine wedding. In 1783 sacrament was administered to only 6 communicants, but in 1850-51 the morning congregation averaged 30, whilst 40 were present later in the day. In 1967 the parish was united with Great Somerford and Seagry, and joined with Corston and Rodbourne in 1986.

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