Outside the Church
Work on the current building began in the early 1400s, and grew from an earlier building dating back to about 1230. (the earliest recorded Rector's name dates from 1264). It is strikingly placed on its small hill, dominating the town square, which itself still keeps its medieval shape. The entrance up the church steps is narrow, so that the full beauty of the building is only gradually revealed as you approach. The church is built of limestone and decorated with Doulting stone, while the steps are an interesting example of Dolomitic Conglomerate (pudding stone). The pierced parapets are an attractive feature.
The crossing tower is over 100 feet high, and holds six bells. The statue on the East side is that of St John the Baptist. On the West side is a king -
Enter through the South porch, with its stone panelled roof and sadly disfigured statuette of the Madonna. The first impression on entering the church is of light and space. The nave is tall, the windows large, and the glass clear or tinted, rather than stained. The church was fortunate that its Victorian restoration came late, in the 1880s, and was at the able hands of the Diocesan architect, J. D. Sedding, who may have designed the glazing patterns himself. He also organised the appeal for funds, so we have much to thank him for.
The elaborately plastered nave ceiling dates from 1636, and a local man was paid ten guineas (£10.50) for the work. It presumably replaced a decayed wooden roof. The chancel ceiling was similarly plastered, but was replaced as part of the Sedding restoration. The North aisle ceiling retains some mediaeval painted panels, and amongst the carved bosses is the head of a Green Man, with leaves sprouting around his face. At the south east end of the ceiling is a very fine plaque of the Madonna with lilies.
At the head of this aisle stands a case containing the altar cloth embroidered by Abigail Prowse. She was the daughter of Dr George Hooper (Bishop of Bath and Wells 1704 - 1727) and widow of John Prowse (who died of smallpox on 1710). The cloth depicts the altar furnishings of that time and took her ten years to embroider.
The pews are Victorian, and the end designs include an alarmingly lifelike head of St John the Baptist on a platter.
The Lady Chapel and Crossing
At the end of the South-
The pillar in the chapel is pierced by a squint. In the 13th century building this would have given a direct view of the altar from outside for those, such as lepers, who were not allowed inside the church.
The Lady Chapel is used regularly for weekday services and acts as a focus for the Mothers' Union.
In the crossing is a fine fan-
The Sanctuary and Vestry
The parclose screen (on either side of the sanctuary) is another part of the Sedding restoration. It shows some remarkable lettering (look for the word "Acknowledge" on the North side just inside the altar rail) and many small animals. The Altar rail itself repeats the names recorded on the War Memorial outside.
The big East window was dedicated at the time of Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887, and also celebrated the completion of the restoration.
In the North-East chapel, now the vestry, are several more monuments to the Prowse family, and a more humble one to one of thier servents. The long epitaph to Thomas Prowse claims, perhaps a little too late, that "no flattery shall stain his monument".
Just by the curtain into the naive is a fine monumental brass of Roger and Joanna Harper. The inscription describes Roger as a "merchant of this town", so he may well have lived in a house similar to King John's Hunting Lodge, which is a merchant's house of just that name.
The West End and Spearing Bequest
The font is a fine fifteenth-centry stone example. Apparently it was plastered over, perhaps to save it from damage, and only rediscovered when someone idly picked off a bit of plaster during the last century.
Two doors lead to tiny rooms beside the West Porch. These may have been possibly Priests rooms.
Over the South door is a bread box, and an inscription recording the Spearing Bequest of 1690. This bread is still distributed, three centuries on. The Second Poor were those who, while poor, were not quite poor enough to be "on the parish". Spearing's memorial is in the Lady Chapel.
Finally, on either side of the South door are small stone carvings. On the right is the Lamb and Flag symbol of St. John the Baptist. On the left, more difficult to make out, (she has lost her head) is the Pelican, with her chicks feeding on the breast - an image of the Body of Christ.