Parish Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Church Services

Sunday 9 June                                                 11.00 am                           Eucharist

Sunday 23 June                                               11.00 am                           Eucharist

The church is open daily from about 10.00 a.m. until dusk in winter and 6.00 p.m. in summer 

Members of the PCC for Brompton Regis and Withiel Florey

 Rector of the Benefice Reverend Dowell Conning Tel: 01398 322867
Assistant Curate Reverend Louise Southgate Tel: 07864 052219
 Churchwarden Vacancy
 Secretary  Vacancy
 Treasurer  William Rees  Tel: 01398 371128
 Bell Tower Captain Angela Horne Tel: 01398 371559
 Chapel Wardens for Withiel Florey Edward and Sylvia Luxton   Tel 01398 323289

Monument Inscriptions

A complete list of monument inscriptions, from 1605 to 2008, in St Mary’s Church graveyard can be downloaded by clicking on the R.I.P. image.

The list was recorded, typed and indexed by Sir Mervyn Medlycott who has kindly provided us with a copy for our records. Our thanks go to Sir Mervyn for his valuable contribution.  

 

The History of Our Church

Origins and Archaeology

The village has been known as both Kingsbrompton and Brompton Regis for many centuries. in Saxon times it was called The King’s Manor of Brunetone, and at the time of the Norman conquest was held by King Harold’s mother, Gytha or Ghida, wife of Earl Godwyn. She was clearly a formidable lady who refused to give up the manor to King William, and indeed led a regional rebellion culminating in a skirmish at Exeter. Though she was defeated, she was allowed to retain the manor until her death.

The Domesday book of 1085 gives the first mention of a priest, who held 120 acres of land.

It has always been assumed that there would have been a wooden church here in Saxon times, and firm evidence of that came in 2019, 800 years after the completion of the Norman stone tower. During excavations prior to the installation of new drainage as part of the major tower restoration project, stone footings with fragments of wood were discovered under what is now the south-west corner of the nave. It also became clear that the Norman tower was built directly on top of a Saxon burial ground, with no attempt to remove the bodies first; we can only guess at the spirit in which that was done. The exposed remains were reburied in situ with proper ceremony in 2020.

The Norman Stone Church and its Early Evolution

In the reign of Henry II (1154 – 89) the royal manor passed into the hands of William de Say, who founded a small Augustinian Priory at Barlynch, on the slopes of the Exe Valley a couple of miles south west of the village. The priory was endowed with the manor and granted the patronage of the church, and its monks built the stone church in the early 13th century, presumably with the aid of some of the many travelling stonemasons who thrived in that era of widespread churchbuilding. The monks retained control of the church until the Priory was dissolved in 1536. The patronage passed in in the late 16th century to Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

The first record of a named vicar, William de Hawkedon, dates from 1270. The full list from then to the present day is displayed in the porch.

The church consisted originally of the tower (the only original part still standing today), nave and chancel in the Decorated style. By 1380 the south transept had been added. After a period of neglect during the Wars of the Roses (1450 – 85) an extensive redevelopment took place. Around 1490 the nave was rebuilt in the Perpendicular style, the fine arcaded north aisle was added and the chancel enlarged. In that period a beautiful fan vaulted screen and rood loft were also created (the steps to the latter can be seen in the north aisle, having been rediscovered in the 1960s).

In 1625 pews were installed, and in keeping with the new preaching-based style of worship in the mid-17th century the present pulpit, a reading desk and clerk’s desk were placed against the south wall, between the transept and the door.

In 1770 a musicians’ gallery was built at the west end of the church, at a time when village bands were thriving.

Victorian Times

In 1853 a “restoration” took place.  On the positive side the old pews were replaced and the pulpit was moved to its present position, and the nave, chancel and north aisle were re-roofed. But as in so many churches, items of aesthetic value and historical interest were lost to Victorian taste. The musicians’ gallery was removed as the national development of organ music expanded at great pace, though here there was initially a barrel organ and then a harmonium until the present organ arrived. A reading of Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree suggests the magnitude of that cultural change, and how controversial it may well have been.

Most significantly we have this sad record written by Mr Bligh Bond in the 1890s : “There stood in this church until comparatively recently a fine screen with arched lights and fan vaulting, having its rood loft which contained some original panels. Unfortunately, when the church underwent a somewhat drastic restoration some forty years ago, the screen was removed and deposited in the vicarage stable loft. Upon the resignation of the vicar some years later, all his goods were sold and a greater part bought by a woman broker from Tiverton, who without any authority claimed and removed the screen. It has been impossible to discover any trace of it despite the endeavours of the present vicar and churchwardens.”

In 1865 - 66 the four bells (one of which had come from Barlynch Priory) were recast, and a fifth bell was added.

The outstanding T.C. Lewis organ was installed in the north aisle in 1897. The full story of this instrument and its 2014 restoration can be read in the porch and on the church pages of the village website.

In 1885 the south transept and chancel were rebuilt on their old foundations in the Decorated style, and the present choir and clergy stalls were put in.

The east window was endowed by the Revd Dr Edmund Warre, Head Master of Eton College. He spent his holidays at a large house called Baronsdown, located near the Barlynch Priory ruins (it was demolished in the 1960s). The window was given in thanksgiving for the recovery of his wife from a serious illness. On leaving the parish in 1904 he also endowed the communion rails as a parting gift.

Modern Times

By the 1950s the church was in a very poor state, and an extensive refurbishment was carried out in 1962 by the Revd W. Speakman (much of the replastering and redecorating work done by his own hands, though unfortunately he used modern plaster rather than the lime-based materials now understood to be essential). The Lady Chapel in the north aisle was refurbished, and the organ was moved from there to the south transept where it now stands, though an unfortunate effect was to make the stained glass window in memory of 19th century philanthropist Stucley Lucas largely invisible.

The present peal of bells was completed with the addition of a sixth bell in 1975.

In 1988 the old Jacobean chest removed in 1853 was rediscovered and restored by the Ridler family, and brought back to the church.

In 2011 a small number of pews were removed from the back of the nave to create a flexible hospitality area, and a toilet was built between the porch and south transept (twinned with a village facility in Sierra Leone through the Toilet Twinning charity).

After the organ restoration of 2014 the PCC moved on to address decisively the chronic problem of dampness in the medieval tower, which had been absorbing the Exmoor rain for 800 years. Substantial funds were raised, with the largest donation coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and a three-year repair and conservation project was completed in 2020. The full story can be read in the porch and on the website.

In 2022 mobile phone antennae were installed on the tower, to bring coverage to the village. Initially the arrangement is with Vodaphone, and we hope other providers will join in due course.

William Rees  (Brompton Regis PCC Treasurer)

Church Gallery

Looking towards the Altar

 

Church Layout in 1852