St Mary's Church, Marston Magna

History of the Church

Diocese of Bath and Wells

Yeovil Deanery

(Formerly Merstone Deanery – an old name for the village)

The church is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and consists of a nave, chancel, a lady chapel on the north side of the nave, and a western tower.  It possesses features of unusual interest, the four main great periods of English ecclesiastical architecture being represented.

That a Saxon church existed on the site prior to the Norman Conquest is proved by the existence of two small pre - Norman stone window heads, built in on each side of the central arch.  The remains of the Norman church are very distinct, the whole of the north wall of the chancel belonging to this period.  A part of this wall has herring-bone masonry, an isolated patch with ordinary random work below and around it.  The lower part of the eastern wall below the east window also belongs to this period, as well as a small piece of work under the south wall of the chancel, where the sill of an earlier window still remains. In the north wall of the chancel there is a small Norman window, square outside, rounded and with a deep splay inside. Originally there were two Norman windows in this wall, the one farther west having been blocked up for the insertion of a later (15th century) window to give more light to the chancel.

With these exceptions the church was entirely rebuilt in the year 1360, in the style known as Decorated.  The masonry is of coursed rubble.  This 14th century work remains intact, the most beautiful

The tower is a fine one of three stages, with moulded base and splayed plinth.  The stair turret is on the southeast angle leading up to the belfry, which is entered by the orginal 14th century door.  the lower stage has a western doorway, over which is a Perpendicular window with the only label-mould in the church, in the terminals of which is carved the eight petal rose.  The middle stage has only square opening on the south side. 

The upper stage has three two light windows. The whole tower is surmounted with a cornice and embattled parapet, with gargoyles each representing a human head with fingers in the corner of the mouth.The central battlement of each face has a carved rose, and there is crocheted pinnacles at each corner.  The tower its masonry, carvings, and pinnacles were all restored in the restoration 1997-2000.

The principle work of the 15th century or Perpendicular period was the erection of the Lady Chapel on the north side of the church.  It is separated from the nave by an elegant archway of the same date. The chapel is unique in that it is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, the church itself being of the same dedication.

The porch, which is now the main entrance to the church, gives access to the chapel and to the nave, and has a loft over forming a western gallery, which is approached by the stair turret.  Beneath the front of the gallery is a screen of oak, of 15th century work, forming a division between chapel and porch.  this screen was restored in 1988 by Frank Taylor of Chilthorne Domer.

Above the western gallery is an interesting old clock of considerable antiquarian and horological importance.  It is thought to date from the last decade of the 15th century.  It was formerly in the tower of the church but replaced in 1919 by the present clock which is a memorial to the men who lost their lives in the first Great War.  The old clock never possessed a dial and is a flail striking mechanism in its original form.  The timepiece was

converted to an anchor escapement in 1710 by William Monk, blacksmith and clockmaker of Berwick St John in Wiltshire. This enabled the clock to keep better time. Besides the movement, the stone weights, the pulleys and the striking hammer have also been preserved, though these items may not be original. The clock was cleaned and restored to working order during the restoration in 1999 and is able to be run for short periods for demonstration purposes.

 

Another feature of great interest, in the Lady Chapel is a well preserved niche in the corner of the old side altar, with side pinnacles, a good groined canopy with crochets and finials and carved cornice

The statue now standing in this niche is of the Virgin Mary and was salvaged after the 1939/45 War, from a severely bombed church in London. The rood screen was probably erected at the time of the building of the chapel, the stair turret and arches leading to the screen still remaining intact behind the present organ.

In 1953 a medieval painting was discovered in the 15th century chapel depicting the martyrdom of St Thomas a Becket.  He was martyred in 1170 and within a few years was revered in many churches here and abroad.  It was after Henry VIII fell out with the Pope, that Henry made an Act of Council that all pictures of St Thomas a Becket should be destroyed, all festivals in his honour abolished. Traces of other decoration can be seen probably of two apostles, St Andrew, St Philip or St Thomas.

The restoration of the church to celebrate the new Millennium was launched in April 1997, when a lot of remedial work was carried out.  The clock face on the tower clock was re-gilded, the tower restored, the old clock cleaned, put into working order and contained in a glass, an iron grill gate installed at the foot of the turret stair under the gallery.  The peal of six bells, the earliest dating from 1707 were also restored by having their bearings renewed, the bell frame strengthened and new ropes and sallies provided in time to ring in the new Millennium.

Floodlights were added in 2000 being the parish’s contribution to celebrate the Millennium. They flood the outside of the church with light to celebrate baptisms, weddings, birthdays and all anniversaries in return for a donation, typically of around £5. The donations help towards the cost of the electricity and maintenance of the floodlights.

In February 2002, a loop and public address system was installed.  This along with a portable wheelchair ramp (available at service time or by appointment), along with larger and clearer print hymn books and service books was the first stage of a programme to ensure that the church can welcome people with disabilities. 

In time, when funds permit, further measures will be introduced to make the church even more welcoming. The pulpit and tester or sounding board are 18th Century.  The seating was made possible with a grant from the Incorporated Church Building society in 1901 on the condition that all pews should be for the free use of the parishioners.

Other interesting remains are fragments of old glass high up in the nave windows and in one of the south windows of the chancel.  The window on the south side of the nave was filled in  1924 by a coloured representation of Victory, St Gabriel and St Uriel given by Mr E D Marden and Mrs Marden in memory of their son, A C Marden who died in the Great War.

The fourteen Stations of the Cross placed around the nave were given by Mr & Mrs Ashworth-Hope, in memory of their son, Herbert Ebdon Ashworth-Hope who died in 1946, from wounds sustatined during the Second World War.

All the kneelers in the church were made by the ladies of the parish under the direction of Mrs Peggy Morris, wife of the rector, Revd. Lyn Morris and Mrs Sally Brown, in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

The whole church is protected by a burglar alarm and security alarm installed in 1993 (extended and updated since), and the Alpha-Dot marking system was added in 1999.

The pipe organ was restored and rebuilt in 1994 by Mr Edward Thompson of Dorset.  It was dedicated by the late Rt. Rev. James Thompson, Bishop of Bath and Wells on 11th September 1997.  The organ has four ranks of pipes connected by electrical action and extended to increase its tonal qualities and versatility.  It has one manual, a full RCO pedal-board and 14 speaking stops.

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Another complete feature of this period is the fine Norman font with scallop moulding round its sides.  Standing on its original stem and base it is lined inside with the original lead. The remains of a sundial can be found on the 14th century buttress of the south wall, commonly known as a “scratch dial”.The east window leads up to the next great period, Early English, being a triple lancet of about the date 1230. The modern stained glass is good and was given by Mr Thomas Flooks of Tonell, Dorset, at the time of a restoration of the church in 1902.

specimen of this date, being the chancel arch. The windows of the south and north walls of the nave however, seem to be of a later date, namely Early Perpendicular.The south porch was erected after the nave and was in earlier times the main entrance to the church. It has now become the church vestry.