By David Rawlins. M.B.,B.S.
Chantry church is beautifully built of soft Doulting limestone, finely carved, both inside and out in the decorated style of the gothic revival. It has been described as a little gem and inside is light and airy. It consists of a nave, chancel, porch and vestry and has remained virtually unchanged since it was first built. It is grade 1 listed.
The design is ascribed to Gilbert Scott (later Sir Gilbert), assisted by a local Frome man, William George Brown who drew some of the plans and copied others.
The foundation stone was laid in 1843 and the church was consecrated in 1846.
The roof is of an almost unique design consisting of 400 enormous slates, 6 ft. x 1ft 9” and ¾” thick. The gaps between the slates are covered by rolls of slate cut in half. The effect is to simulate a lead roof. Scott abandoned the design as it has a tendency to leak. The whole roof was relayed in 1990 – 1998 at a cost of £90,000.
The porch is approached by two steps to a finely carved arch on either side of which are stone busts of the queen and the bishop – the lords temporal and spiritual. In the centre, two figures hold an inscription
“Enter into thy gates with thankfulness and into thy courts with praise”.
Proceeding around the church in a clockwise direction, the first buttress has two mythological animals peering around it. The second has two human figures and the third has two dogs. Above the third is an angel holding a key and a chain. The arch above the chancel door is similarly finely carved.
The south-east buttress of the chancel has two figures praying and above them an angel who is pouring liquid from a round jar. The east window has the queen and the bishop at the base of the arch although they are both damaged. There is a fine stone cross on the roof apex. The north-east chancel buttress’ figures are eroded and the angel has disappeared. The north chancel windows have a floral pattern.
The vestry is plain and sits above the boiler house. The north east buttress of the nave has an angel carrying a sickle (in a rather dangerous position). The other northern buttresses have no figures until we come to the north- west buttress, which has two hooded medieval figures. The arms of the angel above them have broken off and we can no longer see what was carried.
The spire contains a single bell and is surrounded by crocketed spirelets. Around the base of the spire are over twenty figures and the rest of the spire is covered in carved foliage.
The north-west buttress has two figures but the angel above them has completely disappeared.
Under the roof parapet are floral carvings; these are continuous around the chancel roof. Lions heads (now with drain-pipes) spout the rainwater from the roof.
Doulting limestone is soft and the elements, aggravated by the increasing acidity of the rain, are damaging the exterior of the church.
In the porch there are stone benches on either side with stone columns separating the seats.
The massive oak door is original: the keys are large and weight half a pound each.
The south-west window has a lily crucifix. These are quite rare, even in the gothic revival and there are only a few in the whole of England. However, there is one in the museum of Venice dated around 1400. Beneath the crucifix is a scene depicting the washing of the feet at the Last Supper. The north-west window shows a saint and underneath the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan. The rest of the nave windows have mainly abstract geometrical designs, though there is an angel with a scroll in the top panel of each window.
The hammer beam roof above the nave is supported by stone corbels, each with a carved angel, bearing a shield. The Anthony Powell memorial is on the north wall, carved in welsh slate. This renowned author, whose most famous work was The Dance to the Music of Time, lived in Chantry for many years.
The integral pulpit is carved in stone with six medieval heads surrounding it.
The south wall of the nave has three windows. The glass in the church is by Wailes.
The historic organ at the west end of the church is by Gray and Davison and was built at the same time as the church. The lower part of the organ case was built and carved by the same craftsmen who built the rest of the church.
The organist sits with his back to the organ, facing the congregation. This is rare in English organs.
The organ is more an eighteenth century instrument, rather than nineteenth century and produces a more Mozartian sound than some of the heavy ponderous Victorian organs
The octagonal stone font is on a plinth in front of the organ and is simply decorated with fine abstract carvings.
The pews are carved in oak and alternate pew ends have floral motifs, each different.
There are two lecterns. The square one is carved with the motif IHS + XRS. The eagle lectern has
“He who hath ears to hear let him hear”
carved in gothic letters round the globe on the stem.
The chancel arch is supported by Corinthian pillars on either side. At each base of the arch is a figure.
The wooden chancel screen was removed in the 1960’s and repaired and replaced in the 1990s: the small gates have not been replaced. Facing the nave, there are two modern heads of bishops, replacing the heads which had been destroyed. The inscription reads
“I will wash my hands in innocence Lord, and so I will go to thine altar”
On the chancel side of the screen, there are again carvings of the bishop and the queen. The inscription reads
“Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift”.
The screen may have had a cross or crucifix on it at some stage but little sign of this remains. On the top of the screen, the signature of the master carpenter “T. Sweet” is carved into the wood, normally only visible to God!
The chancel roof is of a similar construction to the nave. It is supported by six stone corbels with carvings of angels playing a variety of instruments.
The chancel and sanctuary are laid with finely designed coloured tiles.
The altar is a heavy oak table.
The east window, above the altar is in vibrant colours, depicting scenes from the life of Jesus in nine panels in the lower part with the text of the litany. On the north side it says
“By thy annunciation and Holy incarnation”.
“By thy nativity”
“By thy circumcision”.
“Good Lord deliver us”.
The south side says:
“By thy baptism”.
“By thy fasting”.
“By thy temptation”.
“Good Lord deliver us”.
The centre one says
“By thy agony and bloody sweat”
“By thy cross and glorious death”
“By thy burial”
“Good Lord deliver us”.
The lower two panels on the right had side have depictions of the devil, coloured brown.
Behind the altar, the reredos has five magnificent panels, painted on copper by W L T Collins a school master from Frome, in which four of the angels are playing trumpets. The reredos is intricately carved in stone. On the north side of the altar, appears the Lord’s Prayer and on the south side, the Apostles Creed both of which are painted on iron panels.
Perhaps the finest jewels in this gem of a church are the choir stalls, the rear row of which has eight carved misericords, which many a cathedral might envy!
The priest’s stall depicts a squirrel collecting nuts in the woods. Others of the stalls depict a phoenix, swords and keys, a crook with two cocks, grapes and two carvings of the green man.
There are two heavy bishops’ chairs in the chancel (though we have never had two bishops visiting the church together)!
In the north wall of the sanctuary, there is the tomb of James Fussell IV who provided £9,000 in 1843-45 for the building and equipping of the church. He lived in The Chantry overlooking the church, but unfortunately died a year before it was completed. He was succeeded by his nephew, James Richard Curry Fussell, who was also the first vicar of Chantry.
There are excavations beneath the choir stalls to form vaults for the Fussell family, but these have never been used.
There are two pictures dating from the 1930s on the windowsills in the nave of the interior and exterior of the church. The interior one shows the candle and lamp holders which were used before electricity became available. The brackets which held the holders are still in place around the church. The holders are said to be buried in the church yard but may well have been destroyed by erosion by now.
The churchyard is surrounded by a wall of Doulting stone (grade 11 listed). It used to be topped by iron railings, but these were removed during the war and have not been replaced. The light over the main gate was replaced in the 1990’s and wired for electricity.
There are two gates (and one door) into the churchyard but none are original. The churchyard in spring is a mass of snowdrops, and later daffodils.
Our much loved church is blessed with a magnificent setting with glorious views to the south.
Copyright © 2003 [David Rawlins]. All rights reserved