Wembdon St George’s Parish Church

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Cover image kindly provided by the Blake Museum, Bridgwater.

St George’s Church

The old medieval church before the fire of 1867.
© From a lanter slide in the collection of Dr. P. Cattermole, more on the collection can be found here.

Wembdon is first mentioned in Domesday, although there is considerable evidence of Roman and later Saxon habitation. The meaning of the name of Wembdon is uncertain, although ‘Hill of the Hunter’ has been suggested, similar to Wedmore (the ‘Moor for Hunting’). However the name might also have some relation to Wem in Shropshire, literally meaning ‘stain’, but better understood as ‘marshy ground’ might suggest that the name means something like ‘the hill in the marsh’, which would correspond with the local topography.[1] Before boundary changes Wembdon parish included Sydenham on the East side of the River Parrett. This might either suggest a change in the course of the river over time.

St. George’s Cross and Village Stocks

The church itself was in existence by at least the late 12th century. From 1284 it was alienated to St. John’s Hospital, Bridgwater, who collected the Tithes and appointed the vicar, up to the reformation. [2] The remaining medieval fabric, primarily the tower and a few walls are fourteenth and fifteenth century in date. The cross in the churchyard is fifteenth century and the surmounting crosshead was presumably removed in the seventeenth, unless it weathered away. [3]

Before the fire the chancel was reached by a small door. Above this was a mural containing the ten commandments. This photo gives a glimpse of the medieval ceiling. Almost everything is this picture was lost as a result of the fire.

On Sunday the 8th of March 1867 there was a severe fire which severely damaged the interior of the church, leaving the walls and tower. During the restoration, which finished in 1870, the nave was enlarged the white render, once characteristic of almost all of the churches in the area, was removed. [4] During the fire, which broke out during Sunday service, an effort was made to save the carved oak pulpit, which was similar to that of St. Mary’s in Bridgwater, but part of the roof gave way and the effort had to be abandoned. [5] Enough survived of it and of the Jacobean communion table that they were remade in the restoration. The new church seats about 280 and the clock on the tower was given by a Miss Galloway in 1904. [6]

The Church after the terrible fire of 1867. Note how the building was originally rendered in white plaster, as were most churches in the area (see Stogursey). The top of the mural can just be seen. The tower survives today complete, the rest of the building was heavily altered in its restoration. © Blake Museum, Bridgwater: PR170
The fire damaged remains from the other side. The exterior of the chancel survives today complete, with its fine windows. The nave walls were rebuilt and the medieval windows were destroyed.
The interior of the church after the first. This shows the west end and the base of the tower. The stairs led up to a small gallery, which was built in 1811. The pillars were redressed during the restoration and the capitals on the north side (left) were decorated with rich carvings. © Blake Museum, Bridgwater: PR169

The south west corner of the graveyard once contained the village poor house, which was converted into four cottages in the later nineteenth century, before being demolished in 1885. [7] Accross the road, where the old School stands, once contained the small vicarage.

The Almshouse Cottages in 1870. During thier demolition in 1885 a carved saxon font or piscina, assumed to be c.950AD, was discovered among the rubble. The stairtower attached to the church tower was added during the restoration.
The only surviving medieval carving, on the west face of the tower.

The oldest monument in the churchyard is the seventeenth century Anderdon memorial. Most of the monuments in the older section of the churchyard are nineteenth century in date and the new larger churchyard extension are twentieth century.

The broken Anderdon Memorial and Detail of a Skull on the design.
The Church in Winter 2012
The Church in Summer 2014.
The four identical windows all date to the restoration in 1868.

[1]  Ekwall, E., ed, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names, 4th Edition (Claredon, Oxford, 1960) pp.503, 505
[2]  ‘Wembdon: Church’, A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6: Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and neighbouring parishes) (1992), pp. 333-334
[3]  Somerset Historic Environment Record
[4]  Squibbs, P., More Pictures of Old Bridgwater, (Squibbs, Bridgwater, 1971) p.18, Lawrence, J, ed., Squibbs’ History of Bridgwater (Phillimore, Chichester, 1982) p.86
[5]  Jarman, S., A History of Bridgwater (Elliot Stock, London, 1889) p.130
[6]  Squibbs, P., More Pictures of Old Bridgwater(Squibbs, Bridgwater, 1971) p.43
[7]Ibid., p.72
Also see Rev. C. Raynar-Smith, Wembdon and its Church (1862)

M.Kerr-Peterson 2014.

Links

External Links
Church Website
History of the ChurchVictoria County History
Listing ParticularsEnglish Heritage

Somerset HER Details
The Church
Churchyard Cross
Village Stocks

Other Wembdon Related Groups

St George’s Church

Wembdon Parish Council

The Green, Wembdon

1868 Window Carvings

South Side

North Side