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Church of St. John the Baptist, Mildenhall

Church of St. John the Baptist, Mildenhall Date Photo Taken 2013
Uploaded 05/11/2013 16:57:09
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Medieval carved head reset in wall.

Although there are east facing burials from the Roman settlement there is no firm evidence of a church before the mid to late Saxon period. In 804, the abbot of Glastonbury received permission to build a church on a piece of land that he had acquired. Little remains of this building, although the present arcades probably follow the lines of the earlier walls of a Saxon church. The lower course of the tower are of Saxon origin as are the opposing pair of two light openings near the top of the second section of the tower. The arches and columns of the nave are 12th century Norman, with a tower arch of c.1250 and a later chancel arch in the Early English style. On one scalloped capital are two heads, believed to represent Adam and Eve. The church as we see it today was begun in the 12th century and is largely Norman; the chancel and the north aisle have 15th century pointed two-cinquefoil lights, while the south aisle was partially rebuilt in the 18th century and the south porch was added in the late 18th or early 19th century.

The interior of the church was restored in 1816 by Charles Francis, the then rector, and twelve other men, and was filled with wooden carving. When the Victorians came to restore the church, they saw no need to replace anything, so much of the carving is the original Georgian, and so extremely rare. Some of this carving includes the box pews, looming either side of the aisle, and the panelling, all of which is oak. The total cost was £2,000 and one wood carver was paid 6d for every leaf he carved. The leather kneelers in the church are the originals from 1796, and were probably made by the same person who built much of the decoration in the Church.

There was additional restoration in 1871, 1949, and 1982, with structural work, replacement oak, and other restoration work costing £37,000. Otherwise the church remains largely as it has been, untouched, and, to quote Poet Laureate John Betjeman, it is like 'a Jane Austen novel…a forest of the most magnificent oak joinery, an ocean of box-pews stretching shoulder high over all the chancel'. Appropriately the church scenes for the ITV production of Jane Austen's 'Emma' were filmed here in 1996.

The registers from 1560, other than those in current use at the church, are held in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre at Chippenham.

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