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About our buildings

There are three churches in our Benefice, each of which is a beautiful building, full of history, yet used for modern styles of worship, as well as ancient ones.  Each building is surrounded by its own churchyard.

Our buildings are not only for our congregations: they’re to serve our local communities – a hub for gatherings and a focal point in our communities.  We pray that everyone who comes through our doors will be inspired and transformed.

Although our focus is on how we use our buildings to worship God, each is steeped in history, which contributes to our worship.

 

St. John the Baptist, Axbridge - also known as Axbridge Church

 

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 - perhaps Henry VII - which would place it after 1485. You will see plenty of evidence of recent cleaning and restoration and these statues are good examples of that work.
 

There is a new churchyard trail available in the church, which contains more information.

Access

A gently sloping walkway at the top of the steps from The Square provides level access to Axbridge Church.  Access without steps is available from Church Lane (off St Mary's Street but this is quite steep), Back Lane and Chestnut Avenue.  See the map on the homepage.

Within the Church the nave and south crossing meeting area have level access.  There are steps up to the sanctuary and Lady chapel.

The Church Rooms are opposite the church entrance, a few steps down from the top of the steps from The Square.  There is level access from the public highway to the Church Rooms but note that the 'highway' in this case is The Church Steps. 

There is limited 1 hour parking in The Square; note that this is regularly patrolled, including on Sunday.  There are two car parks, in Old Church Road and Moorland Street, signposted from The Square.  If these are full there is normally on-street parking on Cheddar Road and Houlgate Way, about 5-10 minutes walk from the Church.

Inside

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 for which to thank him.

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 this ceiling is a very fine plaque of the Madonna with lilies.
At the head of the north aisle stands a case containing the altar frontal 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 in 1710). The frontal 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-east Chapel (the Lady Chapel) is a remarkable monument of 1668, to Anne Prowse. The figure has recently been restored and is now close to  its original colours, but the rash of cherubs and angels (or are they mermaids?) is quite overpowering. The angel on top has lost his trumpet. The window above was given in memory of Ann Hippisley in 1897. The three panels depict the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Magi and, in the centre, the Presentation in the Temple.
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 services.

In the crossing is a fine fan-vault, with a circular opening through which the bells can be passed for repair. The ringing chamber is immediately above. The eighteenth-century ironwork cross suspended there used to support a brass chandelier - sadly, this was stolen some years ago. Notice the repaired chip on the chancel step - apparently the result of some careless handling of a bell after recasting!

 

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 words of the Te Deum) 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 their servants. 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 nave 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 actually a merchant's house of that period.
 

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 during the Commonwealth, and only rediscovered when someone idly picked off a bit of plaster during the 19th 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.
The beautiful glass doors are recent, designed and engraved by Tracey Sheppard. They concern our Patron Saint, St John the Baptist; he referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as he was baptised by John in the river Jordan.
 
There are new church trails available in the church, with more information, for both adults and children.
 

Virtual Tour of Church

A virtual tour of Axbridge Church is available on Google Maps.

 

The address for Axbridge Church is: Church Lane, Axbridge, BS26 2AP

 

How to find us

We are in the centre of Axbridge overlooking the north east side of the town square.

Tel: 01934 732040

email: churchoffice@uwclub.net
 

A gently sloping walkway at the top of the steps from The Square provides level access to Axbridge Church.  Access without steps is available from Church Lane (off St Mary's Street but this is quite steep), Back Lane and Chestnut Avenue.  

 

There is limited 1 hour parking in The Square; note that this is regularly patrolled, including on Sunday.  There are two car parks, in Old Church Road and Moorland Street, signposted from The Square.

 

Church Rooms – Axbridge Church

As well as the three church buildings, we have church rooms at Axbridge, partway down the steps between the church and the town square.  Unfortunately, due to the steps, they are not fully accessible.

See availability for the Church Rooms here: Bookings

 

Hire charges for Church Rooms (from 1 March 2024):

 

Axbridge Residents/charities:

£8.50 per hour or part thereof/£30 per session

Rate reduces to £7.50 an hour/£26 per session for a booking of 6 weeks or more

 

Non-residents:

£10 per hour or part thereof/£34 per session

Rate reduces to £8.50 an hour/£30 per session for a booking of 6 weeks or more

 

Commercial:

Rates by negotiation

 

Funerals:

£50 inclusive charge, including full use of the kitchen

 

Kitchen hire:

Cold catering: £10 one-off charge

Full catering/cooking: £15 one-off charge

Regular users of the hall are asked to be honourable about using the cooker and pay on each occasion when they do.

 

Session times:

0900 – 1300

1330 – 1730

1800 – 2200

 

Notes:

  • The hall is usually available between 0900 and 2200
  • 30 mins before 0900 & after 2200 is allowed for preparation & tidying up
  • ‘Use of the hall’ includes use of the kitchen for preparation of drinks
  • Payment to be made by bank transfer, please, in advance of the booking
  • All bookings cancelled within 48 hours before they are due to start will usually attract a 50% cancellation fee.

 

Booking:

For more information and to book, please contact:

Anthony Strange

c/o The Church Office

Church Steps

Axbridge, BS26 2AP

07415 517355

axbridgechurchrooms@gmail.com

 

St. Leonard, Shipham – also known as Shipham Church

 

The first church

The current building dates from 1842 but there has been a place of Christian worship here for many centuries.  The first priest was John the Rector in the mid 13th century.  At that time, the building was a little, plain one, with stone seats around the walls and a low, square, battlemented tower, surmounted by a short spire.  An old drawing of the church shows that there were two early English windows and there is a possibility that another may have been of Norman origin, thus linking the church with the time of the Domesday Book. 

 

What is there left of the old building?

Little remains today but the font cover is said to have been carved from the wood of the original door by village craftsmen in around 1910: it was cut into panels to enable this.  Behind the altar is the reredos; a fourteeth century carving removed from the earlier church.  Outside, too, the gargoyles around the tower are old and probably from the former church.

 

 

What is there to look at today?

Now, the church is a bright, airy and welcoming space.

 

Windows

Four of the windows have modern stained glass.  One, behind the font, is of two dedicated women of the early church, Dorcas and Phoebe, given in memory of Hannah More, the philanthropist and teacher who came to Shipham and set up a school in 1790.

 

The window behind the altar commemmorates a former rector, the Rev. Melmoth A Lintern.  There are some dice in this window!

 

A third window depicts St. Leonard with a prisoner in chains (St. Leonard is the patron saint of prisoners) and the fourth commemorates the coronation of King Edward VII.

 

Memorial tablet

This is dedicated to Rev. James Jones, Hannah More's helper and friend; Hannah wrote the epitaph on this tablet.

 

Communion table & rails

These were made to coordinate with the wood carving at the front of the gallery.

 

 

 

 

List of rectors

This hangs by the gallery steps and dates from 1328, during the reign of Edward III, although John the Rector was known to have been the first rector before this.  He was exiled for taking a hart without warrant in the Forest of Mendip in 1270.

 

The tower

Shipham Church has six bells in the tower, five of which date from 1733, having been cast by Thomas Bilbie of Chew Stoke.  In 1927, the bells were rehung and a six added.  They were rehung again, on ball-bearings, and retuned in 1995. The ringing chamber is not as high as that in Axbridge but the belfry is at the top of the tower.  Again, a team of ringers practises hard to ring the bells and the bells are also an important part of the community here.  The bells have been rung regularly for services and special occasions since 1992.  Many of the ringers at Shipham also ring up the hill at Rowberrow.

 

The address for Shipham Church is: The Square, Shipham, BS25 1TW

 

St. Michael and All Angels, Rowberrow – also known as Rowberrow Church

Rowberrow is a typical small country church, which has a lovely, cosy feel to it.

 

The first church

There has been Christian worship at Rowberrow since AD 700 and records show that, by 1257, the manor, and presumably the church in the same grounds, belonged to St Augustine’s Abbey, Bristol. The earliest record of a rector is in 1266,referred to simply as 'W'. Records show that the current tower was built in 1425 and the church was rebuilt in 1865. Rowberrow Parish Records date from 1723 with notable erratic and phonetic spelling of names at that time.

 

Somewhat strange conditions of life appear to have prevailed here in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Hannah More wrote at this time,

'Among the most depraved and wretched [parishes] were Shipham and Rowberrow, two mining villages on the top of Mendip: the people savage and depraved almost even beyond Cheddar, brutal in their natures and ferocious in their manners.  They began by suspecting that we should make our fortunes by selling their children as slaves.'

 

What is there to look at today?

The present building dates mainly from 1865, when extensive reconstruction took place on the site of a former church.  The perpendicular tower, of early 15th century construction, harks back to the earlier church, with only the turret and pinnacles being replaced during the 1865 reordering.  During the Victorian rebuilding, a peice of Saxon stone was excavated.  This carving represents an entwined serpent and is now preserved in the church.  It's probable that the carving was part of a standing cross, suggesting the use of the site for Christian worship perhaps as long ago as AD 700.

 

There are two reminders of Rowberrow's mining past in and around the church: the first is a silver wine flagon, dated 1752 and inscribed The gift of Thomas Hawkins, Groovier.  The second is a gravestone near the church porch, marking the burial of Thomas Venn who, in 1812, was sadly crushed to death in a mine.

 

Two further tombstones are of interest: near the tree in the churchyard is a small inscribed headstone dated February 9th 1622.  This is a survivor from the earliest days of inscribed headstones and thus is very important.

The other headstone has been moved to the inside of the church; a gravestone of the Young family, of which the novelist Francis Brett Young was a member.  It records that Thirza died on February 30th!

 

Staying inside the church, the octagonal font of carved marble is conteporary with the tower, although it rests on a modern pedestal.  The wooden font cover is Jacobean. 

 

Above the door is a Stuart coat of arms, supported by a winged angel, said to be Charles I.  Whilst the coat of arms is the work of a master carver, the angel is much cruder and is perhaps a local addition.

 

THe painting of the crucifixion is an original work but is of no great value.

 

Rowberrow Church has six bells, cast in 1752 by the famous Chew Stoke bell-founder, Thomas Bilbie.  In Rowberrow, the ringing chamber is at floor level, at the back of the church so the ringers can easily be seen, working hard on the ropes!

 

The address for Rowberrow Church is: Rowberrow Lane, Rowberrow, BS25 1QL

 

Updated by HJF 20 May 2024

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