Saturday, 24 October 2015

Charlcombe, North-East Somerset

Charlcombe font was such a treat. I've not really captured the niceness of its shape very well, which you can see better in this photograph from a hundred years ago. It's very goblet-y, and the decoration nestles irregularly around the base of the bowl in a very pleasing way.

In my defence it was immensely dark in this lovely little church. We have discovered one of the difficulties with wintery drawing tours - there isn't enough light. The churches today did have lights, but they seemed to be keeping some of them to themselves, the switches were nowhere in sight. I suppose they don't want random visitors switching on all the lights and then pissing off. At our first stop here in Charlcombe there were a couple on a timer which periodically plunged us into darkness. And I mean darkness, if we hadn't had the door open we'd have been scrabbling about in a ridiculous fashion.

I'm not really complaining though as this place was superb. B was extremely taken with the way the font bowl and base had been carved from the same lump of stone, so the pleasing overall shape was how it was always intended (we don't see that as often as you'd think).

The carved decoration ran all the way round the bowl, but it was particularly embellished facing the doorway. The petal-like design featured in some places what I can only interpret as mushrooms. That might not be what was in the mind of the carver but that's what they look like to me.

The location of this church is superb as well. I'd remembered it being closer to the road but it's actually raised up on the side of the valley, and below it is something very peaceful and special, a spring. The field below the church, in which it arises, has been kept as a garden, and as well as all the delicious mossiness and liverwortiness of the spring, there was a superb twisted ancient tree simply covered in lichens. I was delighted to see a tiny sprig of Usnea which surely only likes properly fresh air - amazing considering the proximity to Bath and its interminable traffic jams.

There seems no point in including my photo of the holy well - although our eyes were adjusted to the gloom, the camera was having none of it and I didn't have a tripod to hold it still. The result is virtual blackness.

Here's an extract about it from the Proceedings of the Bath and District Branch of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society for 1909-1913.
"Mr. Grey ... tells me he has known of this one, under the name of St. Mary's Well, for a great number of years. It is close to the old Norman Church at Charlcombe, in the Rectory garden, amid a clump of ferns. The inhabitants have a tradition that the water is good for the eyes, and some twenty years ago persons were known to come and take it away in bottles. It is also stated to be a "wishing well," and I believe the water is still taken from this source for baptisms. Mr. Grey gives an extract from a letter in which the writer states that a lady derived considerable benefit from this well, through applying the water to her eyes."

I suppose it's natural that our interest in fonts should be given an extra boost when there's a holy well in the vicinity that would have been used to fill that font. That's a pretty cool thought.

And as an erstwhile student of literature, I'm sure it gave B an extra smile to think that Henry Fielding was married here, and Jane Austen visited here.

The south doorway had some extreme trumpetyness going on, but I wasn't sure how truly old it was (it was very neat), and the north doorway is also alleged to be Norman. However, we couldn't see that one because a little room had been tacked onto the church to the north.

John Collinson wrote in his History of Somerset that "the common tradition is that it was the mother church to Bath, and that the abbey used to pay it annually a pound of pepper by way of acknowledgment." That may or may not be true but it's a fun thought. It's certainly a very ancient church (and has a more ancient look than the rebuilt Abbey).

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