Please sign my Guestbook and leave feedback

Recent Additions

Kirkdale (Yorkshire) - revised

Wootton Wawen (Warwickshire)

Beckford (Worcestershire)

Wareham (Dorset)

Melbury Bubb (Dorset)

Morcott (Rutland) - revised

Bere Regis (Dorset)

Winterborne Tomson (Dorset)

Swaffham Prior (Cambridgeshire)

Little Snoring (Norfolk)

Billesley (Warwickshire)

Old Shoreham (Sussex)

Compton Martin

Dedication : St Michael              Simon Jenkins: **                                   Principal Features : Norman Core; Barley Sugar Twist column

Every now and then one visits a church that just “hits the spot” for you personally. Compton Martin hit the spot for us. It is one of only three Norman churches in Somerset (the others being Stogursey and Stoke sub Hamdon). Compton Martin does not stand comparison with the spectacular Norman showpieces  of Iffley and Kilpeck, but there is a satisfying sense of completeness and harmony here. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, visit it yourself :-)

Compton Martin dates from about 1150. The nave, the arcades and the chancel are straightforward no-nonsense Norman. The original and unusually large Norman clerestory  also survives, A Tudor chancel arch and decorated period chancel windows (albeit in their Norman settings) east window do not much detract from a feeling of Norman wholeness. There is something about a Norman chancel with ribbed vault framed by Norman arcades and a plethora of simple zig-zag decoration that is extraordinarily satisfying aesthetically. We were there in fading light on a November afternoon when there was little light entering through the decorated period aisle windows. This church had atmosphere!

The stand-out feature of this church is the south-westernmost nave column which has a barley sugar twist design. This is reminiscent of the magnificent columns of Durham Cathedral. We can only speculate why the mason chose to indulge himself thus. I like to think that, to use modern language, he did it because he could. It is worth studying it closely and thinking how difficult it would

be to draw that design on paper let alone carve it geometrically with hammer and chisel! There is speculation that it may have been brought here from elsewhere but frankly I don’t see the need for elaborate theories.

The font is Norman but very plain with a single course of decoration. The tower is said to date from 1520. It has a typically Somerset balustrade and empty niches. It also has some pilaster strips that give it a vaguely Saxon appearance in its lower stages. There are two other peculiarities Firstly, there is a shallow window above the chancel arch which is reminiscent of the much larger ones in some of Cotswold “wool churches” such as Northleach. Secondly (and extraordinarily) there is a space over the nave roof that once housed a “Columbarium”. This was a home of the pigeons that the rector would have used for food! The external access door is still there - but not the pigeons!

The North aisle has a couple of interesting features too. There is a c13 effigy of one Thomas de Moretone. What is unusual about this is that Thomas was neither nobleman, nor churchman, nor soldier. There are few effigies of lay people to be seen from this period. Some paint still remains on Thomas’s “face”. There is also on the north wall what is believed to have been a “leper’s squint” that would have allowed the afflicted to see the altar without infecting the congregation.

The view towards the east end. Note the window over the chancel arch and the barley-sugar column to the right. Note allso the depth and size of the clerestory splays.

The view to the west end from the chancel.

The chancel with its stone vault and zig-zag carving.

The chancel roof boss. See other examples at Iffley and Kilpeck.

A further view of the chancel with the roof boss in the foreground top.

The barley sugar column.

This pillar piscina is, according to an information card, from Priddy about 6 miles away. Priddy has a churh of its own and no explanation is offered for its relocation here.

The capitals are simple and unadorned.

View towards the south aisle.

There are a few crude beasts, such as this one, lurking around on corbels.

The plain Norman font with its simple line of zig-zag that complements the rest of the church perfectly

The Thomas de Moreton effigy.

The east end is a bit cluttered from the outside - and that dreadful buttress does the church no favours aesthetically, although I imagine it does so structurally! The important thing to note here, however, is  the door to the columbarium.

We can see here the Norman clerestory plus some very simple corbels.


Surprisingly often, we find a churchwarden turns up during one of our church visits. Or maybe the local “neighbourhood watch” reports a couple of shifty-looking characters “casing the joint”? Anyway, Compton Martin was another church where we got lucky - not least because he showed us where the light switches are!

He also, however, pointed out the south west aisle window (left) which as - if you look closely - iron hinges to left and right from which shutters were hung. The explanation is that the local children used this corner of the churchyard for playing “fives”. For those of you not familiar with this arcane sport, it is similar to squash. The ball is played against a wall; but in the case of Fives a gloved hand is used rather than a racquet. I had previously believed that this sport was confined to the public schools at Eton and Rugby which both have published codes of rules, but apparently it used to be played more widely. Anyway, the boys of Comptom Martin played it...and I’m willing to bet that they had their own code of rules as well!

Our thanks, as always, to the churchwarden in question for his attentiveness and kindness.