Images of the Church of St. Mary, West Harptree by Vince Simmonds.



church of st. mary,

west harptree


An archaeological building record published in 2011




Figure 1.  A view of the south and east faces of the Parish Church of St Mary in West Harptree, Bath and Northeast Somerset.




The Parish Church of St Mary (figure 1), West Harptree is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and since 1976 has been part of the United Parish of East Harptree with Hinton Blewit.  It is located on the B3114 in West Harptree occupying a central position where the church stands at a corner full of interest in all directions (Pevsner, 1958) at a prominent road junction (figure 2) and it is within the Bath and Northeast Somerset Unitary Authority at NGR 5603056895.  It has had listed building status: Grade II* since 21st September 1960 (



Figure 2.  The Parish Church of St Mary’s prominent position in the village of West Harptree (centre of image).  Image reproduced from Google Earth (online access 03.12.10).


The aim of this project was to investigate the evidence for different construction phases that might still be seen in the church building at this present time and to produce a report that makes a record of that evidence.  This report is produced, generally, in accordance with the guidelines on the recording of historic buildings as outlined by English Heritage (2006: 14) for an analytical report at level 3.  My gratitude is given to The Reverend Peter Farrell who very kindly gave his permission for the survey to be carried out.  A copy of the final report will be given to the parish for their records.




The initial phase:  The site is local to the author and it was possible for a number of visits to be made whilst carrying out the investigation, it was thought that a greater familiarity with the site would lead to a better understanding of the building.  The methods and equipment used during the initial stages of the investigation were basic and mostly comprised the taking of field notes and sketches; a range of photographs were taken using a Fujifilm Finepix S5600 digital SLR camera; a 7.5 metre tape was used for any measurements; and an Opticron Trailfinder II WP 10 x 25 monocular was found to be useful when scrutinizing the tower construction, eaves, and spire, etc.  The early work was concentrated on the exterior walls mainly on the stonework, in particular noting the materials used and the construction types, a substantial number of photographs were taken, not all of which have been used in this report.  There were some minor difficulties encountered considering that the church is, of course, surrounded by a graveyard that is still used and visited regularly and has some fine upstanding headstones, so great care was taken to respect these sites.  There are also a number of quite substantial trees, mostly yew that proved to be awkward when setting out the base lines and taking photographs of fuller aspects of the buildings, however none of these problems proved to be insurmountable.  Unless stated otherwise all the photographs used in this report have been taken by the author.


The measured survey (figure 4):  Following on from the initial phases of the exterior and interior visual investigation a measured survey of the church building was undertaken.  The equipment used for the measured survey comprised hand-held Silva Sight Master SM-360 R compass, Silva Clino Master CM-360-%-A clinometer, tapes of 50 metres, 20 metres and 7.5 metres, 5 x range poles and a 5 metre telescopic measuring staff.  A 5 point baseline marked A, B, C, D and E was established around the building perimeter (figure 3) and between each of these points bearing and tape measurements were taken. 
































































































































Figure 3.  A schematic diagram showing the basic exterior wall layout of the Church of St. Mary and approximate baseline positions.  No openings or any other features are shown.  Not to scale.


Tape measurement and bearings were then taken to prominent building features such as quoins, buttresses, etc. in order to fix the position and orientation of the building.  A closed-loop ground level survey was carried out around the building using hand-held clinometer and measuring staff and closure was completed with an error of 0.01 metres.  The ground level survey established a difference in ground level between the west facing end of the church and the east facing end of 0.29 metres with the eastern end being the lowest point. A datum line with an initial height of 1.4 metres was set-up around the building; this height was decided on for ease of measuring and allowed for variations in ground level, the ground level differences could then be adjusted for using the clinometer and measuring staff.  The datum line was followed around the building in an anti-clockwise direction starting at the northwest corner of the tower, measured and any features or details it intersected were recorded, to be included on the layout plan.  Some significant window features in particular those of the chancel and the north side of the building were found to be above the datum line in both the exterior and the interior survey, the height above the exterior ground level was noted and are detailed in Table 1 below.  As churches are traditionally large, single storey spaces often with high set windows then for completeness the features have been recorded on the floor plan as illustrated in figure 4.



The datum line was projected into the building interior and followed around in the same anti-clockwise direction but, rather than starting at the tower was begun from the west pier of the arcade that separates the aisle from the nave.  Any adjustments in floor levels could be accounted for using clinometer and measuring staff.  Again prominent features and details along the datum line were recorded and later plotted on the layout plan; these measurements were also useful in establishing the wall thicknesses.


Some of the significant features that were above the datum line, noted but not recorded on the building plan are detailed in Table 1 below.




Height above ground level to sill, in metres

South face/chancel

Gothic Early English, dripstone, single light


East face/chancel

Gothic Perpendicular, dripstone, three lights


North face/chancel

Gothic Early English, dripstone, single light


North face/transept

Gothic, geometric tracery, dripstone, two lights


North face/nave,east of doorway

Gothic Early English, three grouped lancet, plate tracery, dripstone


North face/nave,west of doorway

Gothic, geometric tracery, dripstone, three lights



Table 1.  Details of significant features just above datum line not recorded on the plan.


The assistance of my wife, Ros and two children, Callum (10 years) and Hazel (8 years) was greatly appreciated when carrying out the measured survey fieldwork during a spell of particularly wintry weather.



Figure 5.  The lower west tower showing Gothic arch doorway with dripstone moulding and clasping pilaster buttresses at the tower corners.


The exterior investigation.


The west tower and spire:  The initial phase of the investigation started with an examination of the church building exterior commencing at the west tower. This revealed that the stonework construction type in this part of the building (figure 5) is mainly of random rubble style and mostly comprises of the locally derived dolomitic conglomerate with some red sandstone material being used in the buttresses.  On the north façade there is compelling evidence that at one time the tower had been plastered or lime-washed (figure 6).  There has been considerable re-pointing work to the stonework in the past and the best evidence for a lime mortar having been used is seen in the tight joints of the corner buttresses.  The clasping pilaster buttresses are squared, close butted red sandstone and on some of the blocks evidence of the stone mason’s tool-marks can clearly be seen. 



Figure 6.  Random rubble construction using dolomitic conglomerate and some remaining evidence of plaster (lime wash) being used on the north face of the tower.


In the west façade of the tower there is a Gothic arched doorway with a single leaf, single swing door, and a dripstone moulding that begins below the impost and continues up around the extrados (Brett, 1997: 3).  The construction material used in the doorway comprises a pale yellow-brown coarse grained shelly oolitic limestone (freestone), there is also some red staining to the doorway that possibly might be further evidence of painting or it could be that iron staining has leached from the red dolomitic conglomerate over time.


The tower is topped by a tall copper clad octagonal broach spire complete with weather-cock (figure 7) and just below the spire eaves are bell openings with louvres and below these a band or string course goes around the tower.  In each of the north and south facades is a narrow slit window, glazed and framed with squared red sandstone blocks, these are at different heights.  The squared stonework around these windows appears to be slightly proud of the random rubble and this might be a consequence of a plaster coat being removed.  The spire eaves have both plain and carved corbels although some of the carved figureheads are now quite severely eroded.  In the east side of the spire there is a memorial clock dedicated to those who gave their lives during the 1939 – 1945 conflict, a detailed inscription can be found in the porch.  The height of the combined tower and spire was estimated using the following equation, tan of angle x distance to centre tower + height of observer and rounded to give a height of ≈26 metres, the angle was measured with the hand-held clinometer.  The tower height is ≈11 metres and the spire rises ≈15 metres from top of the tower to the base of the weather-cock.



Figure 7.  Above the tower is the copper-clad octagonal broach spire.  Just below the spire eaves is a bell opening and immediately beneath that can be seen the band or string course.



Figure 8.  The west end of the south aisle and the southwest corner of the nave where the two phases of construction are tied-in and where the plinth feature begins.


The south aisle and porch:  Continuing in an anti-clockwise direction from the tower to the west end of the south aisle the tie-in between the different construction phases of the southwest nave corner and south aisle can be clearly seen.  There is a line of squared blocks of red sandstone that can be compared to those of the northwest nave corner and an almost continuous joint where these two phases of construction have been tied in; at ground level the south aisle construction phase has a low plinth while that of the nave and tower construction has none (figure 8). 




Figure 9.  The east wall of the porch where the construction courses can be seen.  In the top right corner can be seen a small narrow window of Gothic Early English style with dripstone moulding.


The south face of the aisle construction features a rather more regularly coursed rubble style (Morriss, 2000: 37) and this style has been continued in the porch construction, where in the east wall distinct courses can be observed, possibly where each day’s work was ended (figure 9).  In the aisle and porch contrasting stone types have been used, the main wall construction comprises the local red dolomitic conglomerate while the window surrounds, door arches, quoins and the buttresses mainly consist of the yellow freestone material as does the ashlar parapet that largely masks the roof structure in this part of the building.



Figure 10.  South aisle Gothic Decorated window with arch head of a flattened form and dripstone moulding.  To the left of the window can be seen the angled buttresses, to the right the projecting wall allowing space for the parvise stairs can be seen.


The southwest corner of the aisle has angled buttresses and the porch has buttresses either side of the arch, these buttresses can be described as being in the Decorated style (Parker, 1885: 162).  The porch has a Gothic arch constructed in freestone leading to the Tudor arch doorway, also freestone and with double leaf, single swing doors that lead into the main church interior.  On the west side of the porch is a small arch that has stairs leading up to a former parvise, the stairs are illuminated by a tiny rectangular window, in order to make room for the stairs the west wall of the porch projects out (figure 10).  A parvise is a room over the porch of a church and is a feature that has quite often been associated with English Norman churches.  Also inside the porch there are stone benches on either side and the inscription regarding the memorial clock can also found.  In the east wall there is a small narrow window of Gothic Early English style with a trefoil lancet and squared dripstone moulding overhead (figure 9 ). 



Figure 11.  Window in Gothic Decorated style at the west end of the aisle.


The west façade of the south aisle has a window of Gothic Decorated style with three lights (figure 11).  On the south façade of the aisle there are a further three windows, at the far western end and to the west of the porch is a window of Gothic Decorated style that has a flattened head form and dripstone moulding with three lights (figure 10).  To the east of the porch is a Gothic Perpendicular window with four lights and a dripstone moulding (figure 12), to the right of this is another Gothic Perpendicular window with dripstone moulding this one having three lights (figure 13).  In between these two windows there is a buttress that can be described as being in the Decorated style.  The east façade of the aisle has a window of Gothic Decorated style with a dripstone moulding and three lights. 



Figure 12.  Gothic Perpendicular window with four lights in the aisle.



Figure 13. Gothic Perpendicular window with three lights at the east of the aisle.



Figure 14.  The Gothic Perpendicular window in the east façade of the chancel.  The drainpipe in the corner of aisle and chancel masks the tie-in between the two construction phases.


The east chancel:  Moving on around further to the east end of the building to the chancel then a very marked change in the masonry style is observed.  There is a wider range of material used in the construction with a higher proportion of lighter coloured sandstone and lias limestone in addition to the red dolomitic conglomerate and there is some evidence of a lime mortar being used where re-pointing has not covered it over.  There is also a noticeable re-use of material, in particular freestone which might suggest that some features of any older phases were broken up and thrown onto the stone pile to be recycled.


The chancel has three windows; in the south façade a small window of Gothic Early English style with a single light and in the north façade there is another window of a similar style but that has a less pronounced, flatter point to the arch, this is also a single light, both windows have dripstone mouldings.  In the east façade is a window of Gothic Perpendicular style with dripstone moulding and three lights (figure 14).  All three windows are constructed of freestone. 


The north transept and north side of the nave:  In the south face of the chancel starts a band or string course (figure 15), a projecting moulding (Brett, 1997: 6) that is constructed of freestone, this feature is continuous around the chancel and the north transept where it is incorporated into the diagonal buttresses and continues along the north façade of the nave until it reaches the northwest corner. 



Figure 15.  The contrast in construction materials used in the south aisle and the east chancel, the start of the band course can be seen.



Figure 16. The northwest corner of the nave depicting a snecked rubble construction type.


The construction style utilised in this phase has some similarities to snecked or squared rubble (figure 16), the ‘snecks’ are the smaller stones used between the larger stones to create more regularity in the courses (Morriss, 2000: 37). 



Figure 17.  The east wall of the north transept where courses and differences in the stonework are evident, different materials have also been used in the quoins.  Also seen is one of the diagonal buttresses that are positioned either side of the north façade of the transept.


Construction courses are clearly evident, more easily picked out because of the contrasting material colours (figure 17).  These courses probably represent the different scaffold lifts as opposed to the daily work noted in the construction of the south porch.  It is possible to infer not only the availability of the various materials, for example there is a higher proportion of red dolomitic conglomerate used in the top lift  under the roof eaves, it could also be inferred that different masons were employed as there appears to be some differences in the masonry style and quality.



Figure 18.  The construction tie-in at the northwest corner of the nave.  


This snecked rubble style of masonry work continues around from the chancel and includes the north transept and the north façade of the nave until it ties into the west tower; the tie-in between these construction phases is evident at the top of the northwest corner of the nave, this is also the point where the band course ends (figure 18). 



Figure 19.  Gothic Early English style window with three grouped lancet, plate tracery and dripstone moulding seen in the north façade of the nave.  To the right of the window the position of the buttress and chimney are seen.


The north facing side of the building has a number of openings and other features as follows; the north façade of the transept has a window of Gothic style with geometric

tracery, dripstone moulding and two lights, on either corner of the north facing gable of the transept are diagonal buttresses of Decorated style, the gable end is topped with a chimney; the west façade of the transept has a narrow semi-circular arched doorway with a single leaf, single swing door, with the arch constructed in red sandstone.  West of the transept and in the north façade of the nave is a window in Gothic Early English style with three grouped lancet, plate tracery and dripstone moulding (figure 19).  To the west of this window is a segmental doorway with octagonal pilaster columns and cushion capitals of freestone and red sandstone, with double leaf, single swing doors.  Above this doorway is a chimney and to the east of it is a buttress of Decorated style, it was noted that the band course is not built into this particular buttress.  At the far west end of the north nave is another window of Gothic style with geometric tracery and dripstone moulding with two lights.


Roof covering:  The copper clad spire apart the nave, porch, aisle, chancel and transept all have a double Roman roof tile covering.  The east facing gable ends are all topped with stone crosses (seen in figure 15), there also appears to be a platform on the gable end of the porch that may have once supported a similar moulding.  The south aisle has a continuous ashlar parapet that masks the wall and roof interface while the chancel, transept and north nave have the roof eaves visible at the wall and roof interface.  The corbels that have been used in the eaves seem to comprise of several phases with a number of sculpted figure heads being re-used although some of these carvings are now quite eroded.


The interior investigation.


The porch and aisle:  Continuing on from the initial investigation of the building exterior the interior of the church was observed and a record made.  On the south side of the building from the roadside, through a gateway and along a flagstone path to the porch the main entry to the church interior is gained through the double leaf doorway previously described.  On entry the south aisle with its five windows is a relatively light area and is separated from the nave by an arcade comprising three equilateral arches supported on three octagonal columns (figures 20 and 21).   



Figure 20.  Looking east along the south aisle, the main door is just visible on the right where the font is also situated.



Figure 21.  The arcade between the aisle and the nave.  Photograph taken from the chancel.  To the right of the organ is the doorway leading to the tower.


The columns have a squared base and an octagonal capital below the impost.  Where the arches butt on to the wall they sit on piers of a style similar to that of the columns.  The aisle has a number of pews set on slightly raised wooden flooring.  On the whole most of the flagstone floor is covered by matting.  At the east end of the aisle below the stained glass window, dated to the 20th century, is a raised dais and set in the south wall in this area is a piscina, a shallow basin once used for the washing of the communion vessels.  The approach to the dais is through an equilateral arch supported on a column to the left and a pier on the right.  In the aisle and to the west of the door is the font.  The aisle has a lean-to roof with braces on plain corbels of freestone material (figure 22).  The rafters are supported on central chamfered ceiling beams with chamfer stops at either end of the beams.  The timber used in the roof construction does not appear to be of a great antiquity.



Figure 22.  The lean-to roof of the aisle looking west.


On closer inspection of the masonry around the window at the east end of the aisle it is apparent that there has been a good deal of repair and reworking in this part of the building (figure 23).  This is also evident in the arches, columns and piers in this section of the building (figure 24).  This reworking is most likely a consequence of two different phases of construction where the chancel is tied into the aisle and this is also evident in the exterior of the building where there is a marked contrast in the construction materials used as previously mentioned (figure 15).



Figure 23.  The masonry and reworking evident around the window in the east façade of the aisle.



Figure 24. Repair and reworking of the arches and windows at the east intersection of the nave and aisle.


The chancel:  The chancel is separated from the nave by a three arch arcade comprising a large equilateral central arch flanked on either side by smaller arches.  The central arch is supported on squared columns with pilaster columns at each corner with quite elaborate sculpted capitals and square base (figure 25). 



Figure 25.  The arcade separating the nave and the chancel, viewed from the nave.  The pulpit can be seen in the left of the picture.


On the south side of the central arch the smaller arch is tied into one of the aisle arcade columns (figure 24).  The small arch to the north side of the central arch is tied into the corner wall of the transept and nave.  Under the east gable window in the chancel, on a raised dais stands the altar; the chancel has three windows as previously described, all with stained glass and dated to the late 19th century.  The wagon roof of the chancel has arched timbers rising from the wall plate to support the rafters with a collar at the top of the arch (figure 26) this arrangement complements the arcade and Gothic style east window.  The wall plates in the chancel comprise of substantial timber beams.



Figure 26.  The chancel wagon roof construction that complements the Gothic style east chancel window, also visible are the timbers that comprise the wall plates.


The transept:  The transept on the north side of the building is a private area and is locked; access to this area was not sought during this investigation.  The equilateral arch that leads to the transept has been closed off with a timber panel and doorway, at the top of the panel there is some glazing possibly added to provide some light into the transept or chancel.


The nave:  The nave has pews throughout on slightly raised timber flooring and the flagstone floor has largely been covered with matting.  Looking west from the chancel into the nave the pulpit is on the north side where the arcade ties into the wall (figure 25).  Diagonally opposite the pulpit is the church organ (figure 21) to the south of the doorway that gives access into the tower.  The roof construction has some similar components to that observed in the chancel.  The arch-braced roof rises from corbels and these support rafters with a collar at the top of the arch.  These are spaced evenly along the length of the nave and a more simplistic ‘A’ frame arrangement are placed into the spaces between (figure 27).  




Figure 27.  The roof construction of the nave.


Eight of the fourteen corbels that support the roof are of carved figure heads (figure 28); there is some evidence that these figureheads were once decorated. There is a doorway with double leaf, single swing doors in the north wall above which can be seen the remnants of a chimney breast just behind the roof trusses and above the wall plate.  There is not any evidence of a fireplace in the wall although there is, to the east of the doorway a floor slab that might have once had a fire or stove on it.  In the west facing wall of the nave is a segmental doorway with a single leaf, single swing door that leads into the tower.  Above this doorway are three freestone mouldings, those on either side are carved heads and the centre moulding appears to be an ornate remnant that is currently employed to prop up the ‘fire exit’ sign.



Figure 28. One of the carved figure head corbels that support the nave roof trusses.  Evidence of previous decoration is clearly visible.


The tower:  The lower part of the tower has been converted into a small kitchenette with various cupboards and storage space, the door to the exterior provides a fire exit.  Only the lower of the two slit windows, the one seen on the south side of the tower is still visible in the lower section.  There is in place a timbered ceiling and floor level and access to this first level is provided by a loft ladder, at this next level the higher of the slit windows on the north side of the tower can be observed (figure 29). 



Figure 29.  The interior detail of the higher of the slit windows on the north side of the tower.


The access to the upper levels including the bells and spire from this first stage is via a ladder and due to lone working restrictions and health and safety considerations access to these higher levels was not attempted.  The walls here in the tower have been whitewashed as they have throughout the majority of the building’s interior.  It is likely that over the course of many years this particular style of decoration has occurred on many occasions throughout the church interior.


Documentary evidence.


On entering the church, next to the door, is a copy of an older inscription detailing the incumbents of the Church of St Mary it suggests that the church was founded in the 11th century, the aisle constructed in the 13th century and that the first incumbent was Henry de Insula in 1311AD.  It also states that the records date back to 1653.


A review of the available documentary evidence supports the physical evidence seen in the church fabric and it also suggests that the oldest part of the building appears to be the tower dating from the 12th century.  There is a suggestion that the church was founded in about 1135 by William Fitz john de Harptre, this being around the same time that he was fortifying the nearby Richmont Castle located in Harptree Combe (PCC, West Harptree, 2002).  The tower has been described as a single stage construction with clasping pilaster buttresses and plain square headed bell openings (  There is evidence that the tower was once plastered as was usual with medieval English parish churches (  There are narrow slit windows of an almost military form on its north and south faces and a 19th century pointed arch doorway to the west façade and a string course below the bell openings and plain corbels to the spire eaves (  It is interesting that the documentary evidence does not mention the carved figures seen in the spire eaves.  Pevsner (1958: 333) classifies the tower as being Norman.  The tall broach spire was possibly added in the 13th century and is constructed around an oak frame that was originally sheathed in lead; later in 1966 the lead was replaced by copper cladding (PCC, West Harptree, 2002).  The spire stands out as a prominent feature that is clearly visible on most approaches to the village, although it appears not to have appealed to all commentators as noted in Coysh, Mason and Waite (1954) who made an overall statement 'church has been spoilt by nineteenth century renovations, but the tower is Norman, however hard the addition of an ugly little slated spire may try to hide its antiquity', a statement that might be said to illustrate the saying 'that beauty is in the eye of the beholder'.  The roof covering of the main body of the church was apparently also originally sheathed, probably with lead later to be replaced in the 20th century by a roof covering of double Roman tiles (figure 30), examples of the sheathed roof covering style can be seen in local churches in Hinton Blewitt and Burrington.  The images below also appear to depict a slate covered spire as also mentioned by Coysh, et al. (1954) in the above statement. 



 (a) 1835



(b) 1842


Figure 30.  Two images of the Church of St Mary in 1835 and 1842.  Interestingly these images give an insight into the church plan before the extensive restoration by Giles in 1865 and both appear to depict a sheathed roof.  Images reproduced from accessed 2nd December 2010.


Interestingly the two images from 1835 and 1842 above illustrate the church plan before the extensive restoration by Giles c. 1865.  It appears that there are a number of features in the 1835 image that bear remarkable similarities to features that are still recognisable in the church today.  These features include the east chancel window at the left of the picture and the small window in the north face of the chancel, the single leaf semi-circular arched doorway re-used in the subsequent construction of the transept, the buttress and to the right of this the segmental doorway with pilaster columns. 


The tower comprises a random rubble construction style utilising the locally derived red dolomitic conglomerate, the nave being of a largely similar construction, there is squared and coursed sandstone to the aisle and chancel, freestone dressings, copings and quoins and ashlar parapets (  The freestone might originally come from either of the Dundry or Bath Oolitic limestone quarries.  In the north wall of the nave is a segmental headed 12th century doorway with nook shafts and cushion capitals that Pevsner (1958: 333) classifies as Norman, although having been rebuilt.  There is a three-light east window of intersecting tracery and further single cusped lights on the north and south walls.  The south aisle has one three-light Perpendicular under a flat head, one four-light traceried window under a pointed head and a further, similar, Perpendicular window of three-lights.  The gabled south porch has a triple chamfered doorway, moulded eaves and a plain parapet with stone benches along the side walls inside where stairs on the left that leads to a former parvise which was lit by a window in the east wall.  There is a triple chamfered Tudor arched doorway with 19th century plank doors that allows access to the main church interior.  In 1865 the 12th century tower, 13th century spire and 15th century main body were subjected to extensive restoration the work performed under the direction of architect C.E. Giles of Taunton who also added a new chancel (  Within the interior the nave has a three-bay Perpendicular arcade giving onto the south aisle with octagonal piers and moulded arches (Pevsner, 1958:333).  There are some fine 15th century corbel heads to the 19th century wagon roof.  The south aisle has a trefoil piscina at the southeast corner and a lean-to 19th century rafter roof.  There is a tripartite 19th century chancel arch and a wagon roof to the chancel.  The chancel has stained glass in all three windows dated to the 1890s ( 




There appear to be three distinct construction phases (figure 31) that are clearly evident and these are particularly noticeable in the building exterior where Phase 1 appears to be mostly confined to the western tower, Phase 2 comprises the south aisle and porch and Phase 3 includes the chancel, transept and north façade of the nave.  The construction phases are more difficult to trace within the building interior and is confined to the arcades, arches and windows, any evidence in the walls has been covered with plaster and whitewash.  The three main construction phases might be interpreted as follows:


Phase 1: In the 12th century many churches were being rebuilt in stone and the Church of St. Mary might originally have comprised a tower, nave and chancel, possibly with a stone altar. It is likely that the church at West Harptree would have been plastered or lie washed during this period and an example of this style might be observed locally at the village church in Emborough. 


Phase 2: During the 13th and 14th centuries the south aisle might have been added to allow for larger congregations.  Churches were being used for more than just religous purposes, after the Sunday service the congregation would use the nave (not considered the sacred part of the church at this time) for a wide range of activities, such as singing, dancing and where peddlars might exhibit their wares.  In the 15th century another period of rebuilding occurs when porches are added, aisles widened and larger windows are inserted.  At West Harptree there is no evidence for the aisles being widened in the 15th century although the porch might have been an addition at this time.  There were of course no pews in the nave and the parishioners were expected to stand although the services were short.


Phase 3: The 19th century is another period of alteration and rebuilding when chancels were raised and enlarged to accommodate choirs and ‘Lady Chapel’s’ were popular and the transept is added.  These particular features are evident at the Church of St Mary where the chancel has been raised and a transept added to the north side.  As previously stated it would appear that materials were recycled from previous construction phases for re-use in the later phase and that bulk materials were probably sourced according to economics and availability at the time of building works.  During the 19th century a provision for heating was also included (  On the exterior of the building chimneys are present although there is little remaining of any fireplaces on the interior at the present time. 





Figure 31.  The construction phases of the Church of St Mary.


These construction phases recognised at St. Mary’s would appear to fit in with more general trends for expansion and restoration that were occurring across a wider range of English parish churches.


The roof also appears to have undergone several phases from a documented lead sheathing to the present roof covering of double Roman tiles that appears to be a much later addition to the building in the 20th century.  The interior of the building has most likely been subjected to multiple phases of plastering and whitewashing over time and the most obvious signs of any construction phases are to be noted in the arcades and windows at the eastern end of the building particularly around the transition zone between aisle, nave and chancel.  Much of the construction material appears to have been sourced relatively locally; dolomitic conglomerate from the immediate vicinity where there are a number of small quarries dotted around the outskirts of the village, the lias limestone used in much of Phase 3 is of a type widely used in neighbouring villages such as Bishop Sutton, where there is still a small quarry at Stowey, the freestone probably derives from Dundry this material was being used from the 12th century in many ecclesiastical buildings such as Strata Florida Abbey in west Wales (Davies, 2002), alternatively the freestone could have been quarried in the Bath area.  The lead that originally covered both the roof and spire might have been sourced from the Mendips where the remains of the lead smelting industry are still visible on the hills above the Harptree’s.


The evidence of change both physical and documented of the Parish Church of St. Mary would indicate that for centuries the church has been a prominent feature of West Harptree village life.  The church building has been adapted over time to reflect the social and cultural needs, and at times the growth of the local community.  The general upkeep of the church building, the graves and the regular fresh flowers placed there would indicate that, for some it still has a considerable social role to play within the local community.




Brett, P.  1997.  An Illustrated Dictionary of Building: An illustrated reference guide for practitioners and students, Second edition.  Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.


Coysh, A.W., Mason, E.J. and Waite, V.  1954.  The Regional Books: The Mendips.  Robert Hale Ltd.  London.


Davies, J.H.  2002.  The Stones of Cwmhir Abbey in Coulson, M.R. (editor) 2005.  Stone in Wales: Materials, Heritage and Conservation.  Papers from the Welsh Stone Conference, Cardiff, 2002.  Cardiff: Cadw.  Accessed 12th December 2010. -tracery/perpendicular-tracery.html  Accessed 12th December 2010. 

Accessed 9th January 2011.   


King, J. (editor).  2006.  Understanding Historic Buildings: A guide to good recording practice.  Swindon: English Heritage Publishing.


Morriss, R.K.  2000.  The Archaeology of Buildings.  Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd.


Parker, J.H.  1885.  ABC of Gothic Architecture.  Fourth Edition.  Oxford: Parker and Co.


PCC, 2002.  West Harptree: history of the church and village.  Copyright – The PCC of the United Parish of East Harptree with West Harptree and Hinton Blewett. 


Pevsner, N. 1958.  The Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol.  Published by Penguin Books Ltd, 1958.  Re-published by Yale University Press, 2002: Newhaven and London.   Accessed 1st December 2010  Accessed 1st December 2010

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