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fifty years after Leland, "+There was not less than six Churches in this town. The present Parish Church is very mean, but has an Octagon Tower and a North Chapel."
That there were Five Churches in Ivelcester during some part of the Middle Ages, may be proved satisfactorily from documents in the Muniment office at Wells. They will demonstrate this fact; that the Dues of Five Churches or Parishes are, even at the present time, chargeable in the shape of Procurations and Paschals upon the Rector of Ilchester. These five Churches are thus designated. 1. St Mary Major. 2. St Mary Minor. 3. St Michael. 4. St John. 5. St Peter. 1. St. Mary Major: Now the sole remaining, and the Parish Church. This appears to have been the case, as far back as the reign of Henry the Eight. The present Church was the only one "occupied" when Leland visited Ilchester; the others were in ruins. This Church is cited in two Deeds, dated 1402. 1403, as "the Church of the blessed St Mary Major." It is a small building of rather mean and dilapidated appearance. Indeed Camden, as we have just seen, denounced it as "very mean" nearly three hundred years ago: Perhaps he dealt uncharitably with the venerable Mother Church. Yet portions of it are of great Antiquity. The Tower is early English, and its date may certainly be carried back six hundred years, or more. It is an Octagon of solid proportions, supported by massive buttresses; devoid of ornament throughout; and in it's upper compartment pierced with simple lancet openings to admit light to the staircase and Belfry. But in the year 1611, it's South Side was grievously mutilated and disfigured, in order to provide a Staircase to a Gallery, then first erected in the Church. The Chancel
is of early date, though less ancient than the Tower. The
†The words in Italics are not found in the Edition of 1789; but Camden there alludes to four and to two Churches, leading his readers to infer that there were Six.
East Window is pointed, has a narrow triple light, and three cusped openings over the triplet. Though a handsome interior window of its kind, there is yet observable a clumsy solidity in the piers and mullions, betokening an early period of transition from the severe to the more decorated style. This window, which had been filled up in two different stages, and then completely concealed inside by plaster, was reopened a few years since. The first blocking up, of the lower half, disclosed evidence of ruthless handling; the side pillars having been violently torn away, and broken up to help fill in the cavity; a memento, it may be, of the troublous era of the Commonwealth. The spring of the arch on either side, is decorated at the extremity of the moulding with the head of a king and a Bishop, in a good state of preservation. The North and South windows are later insertions; and the oak wainscotting lining the lower part of the walls, shows the date of 1673. The Nave has at some former period, anterior probably to the Reformation, undergone extensive alteration. This is apparent on a casual examination of the exterior walls, All the windows have the appearance of being after insertions, to judge from the vertical lines in the masonry. They are late perpendicular, of a very common character. The small North Transept is of the same late style, but contains some richly ornamented Canopied niches. This interior, however, was either left in an unfinished state, or the tracery must have been subjected heretofore to very extensive injury. The groined roof has entirely disappeared; or possibly, the work was never carried up above the springs for the ribbed arches which still remain. It must be confessed, that this mean looking (Camdenice very mean) diminutive Church, reflects little credit on the old County Town, in these days of universal Church restoration. But in extenuation it may justly be pleaded, that the pecuniary difficulties besetting the question of its rebuilding are of more than ordinary magnitude.
2. St Mary Minor.
Opposite the Whitehall, in Chepstrete, and not far removed from the River, stood the Church of St Mary the Less. Dr Stukeley has certainly misapprehended the position of this edifice; which he calls Little St Mary's Chapel; and places (in his plan) on a small promontory thrown up by the action of the stream at the centre of the Bridge, on the East side: deeming it probably to have been a Way-side Chapel, similar in character to the beautiful Chantry on Wakefield Bridge. But the true site of this Church is very accurately determined in two of the Almshouse Deeds. It is "in Chepstrete"; "opposite to a certain tenement which adjoins the House of the Prioress of White Hall." 1346. And further, the same burgage is represented, in 1370, to be "in the public street of Yevelchester, over against the Church of the Blessed Mary, adjoining the burgage of Mary the Prioress of Nywehalle”. We might now look for the site of St Mary Minor on the Lawn of Mr Harris's garden, somewhere between that gentleman's house and the River. A very fine Yew formerly grew near the spot, which from its large dimensions, might be supposed to represent the growth of several centuries; though bearing no outward impress of extreme antiquity. It is not a fanciful surmise, that this fine Yew tree may once have overshadowed the walls of Little St Mary's Church.
3. St Michael. St Michael's Church is not alluded to in the Almshouse MSS. But Leland, in his quaint manner, gives this curious description of the sacred edifice. The greatest token of auncient building that I saw yn al the toune ys a stone gate archid and voltid, and a chapelle or Chirch of St Michael over it." If this is a true account of St Michael's Church at Ilchester, it was what is technically known as a Hanging Chapel; similar to the specimen which is still in existence at Langport: though in the latter instance, the Chapel was long ago diverted from its original purpose,
and turned into a Free Grammar School. Leland gives no clue to guide his readers with respect to the situation of this Gate; but leaves them in doubt, whether it might be one of the four Wall Gates, or some arched and vaulted building more centrally placed within the town.
4. St John,
Neither does the name of this Church occur in the Deeds. But it is well known that the advowson of St John's at Ivelcester, was in the patronage of the Abbots of Muchelney. The following entry appears in the Taxatio of Pope Nicholas IV. A.D. 1291. "Decanatus Ivelcestr.' Ivelcestr.' P'och' S'ci Joh'is." Deanery of Ivelcester. Ivelcester, Parish of St John." (Hugo. Much. Abb.) It is not recorded in what part of the Town this Church was placed.
5. St Peter. No express mention is made of the Church of St Peter. But one of the Deeds points out indirectly, though with a considerable degree of certainty, the former situation of this Church. It refers to the Cross of St Peter. The date is 1405, and the document runs thus; Cristiana Spensere to John Drapere, a piece of ground in Chepstrete in in the town of Yevilchester, formerly built upon, near the Cross of St Peter; being 18 feet long and 16 wide, beneath the Walls. Chepstrete terminated at the South Gate; and the Cross here designated, near which lay this piece of ground "beneath the Walls," must consequently have stood near the Wall Gate, either on the right or the left hand side of Chepstrete. The Church and the Cross would be close together, or at no great distance from each other. It may therefore be considered certain, that the site of the Cross, and consequently, of the Church of St Peter, if it lay on the West side of the street, was at the end of the present Rectory Garden; if it lay to the East, was in the Orchard on the opposite side of the road.
It appears then that there is proof more or less complete, of the existence of all the Five Churches the names of which
are to be found in Diocesan records. If at some still earlier date, Churches flourished in greater abundance, they must have been utterly swept away, without leaving a trace or even a name behind.
VII. Some particulars relating to the RECTORY OF ILCHESTER. In two Deeds, dated in the first year of Edward the Second, A.D. 1307. allusions are made to a glebe field in the Manor of Soke Deneys, belonging to the Rector of Ilchester: “a meadow belonging to the Rector of the same ville on the East." And again-" between a field of the Parson on the East." (See Deeds 15, 16) This glebe has been long severed from the Rectory. It was most likely commuted ages ago, for the small yearly money-payment now payable to the Incumbents of Ilchester out of the Manor of Sock Dennis.
Extract from the Parish Register, relating to the Ilchester Glebe situate at Urgesay, in the Parish of West Camel. "1725. This year was finished the purchase of the Estate at Urgesay bought as an Augmentation to this Rectory of Ivelchester by the charitable munificence of the Lady Moyer of the City of London & ye Bounty of Queen Anne of blessed & glorious memory-Each contributing £200. George Hooper Bishop of the Diocess. Rid Harris Rect."
So recently as the year 1840, the old Rectory House stood within the Churchyard, and so close to the Tower at its North angle, as to leave only a narrow passage for access to the North side of the Church. In that year the Burial ground was considerably enlarged, the unsightly and obstructive glebe-house was taken down, and the ground on which it stood was included in the Churchyard.
RECTORS OF ILCHESTER.
John Rauens Rector de Ilchester. 1621. [He was witness to an Almshouse Deed, dated April 5. 1621.]
The following names are copied from the fly-leaf of the old Parish Register. 1690,