St Giles, Leigh-On-Mendip, Somerset

In the 15th century, many English villages competed with their neighbour in search of the perfect church tower, and no one does the tower better than Somerset. Leigh-on-Mendip clearly modelled theirs upon nearby Mells, sharing the characteristic ‘Somerset tracery’ in the belfry windows. It is richer and later than Mells, though, with a more elaborate top, and a dozen pinnacles above Tudor quatrefoil decoration of the battlements. John Harvey suggested that it was built 1475–90.

Parish resources were not equal to completing the Tudor fan-vault in the tower, but the tie-beam roof to the nave, with rich carving of angels and fleurons, recalls Martock, though in a lower register. Along with the screen, the rood has gone, but vestiges of its canopy of honour remain in the eastern bay of the roof. Down below, the church is full

of medieval benches. Though the nave walls are scraped and repointed, the interior is lightened by a lack of stained glass (except for 15th c. chunks in the west window) and its small scale gives it intimacy.

Alec Clifton-Taylor once described Leigh memorably: ‘A proud west tower is attached to a modest nave that leads into a chancel so insignificant that on a dark night it could be mistaken for a potting shed’. That is unfair to Leigh. This small village poured its limited resources into culturing one pearl, in the view of many the finest tower in Somerset.

Read Matthew 13.45–6: ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.’

Map ref: ST 695475

Simon Cotton