St Mary, Bruton, Somerset

Beginning in the early 14th c., the people of this small town gradually rebuilt their church over a span of two centuries. They started with the chancel, early in the 14th c., and then moved on to the N tower and aisle (the tower survives as a porch). The nave was rebuilt early in the 15th c., but a hundred years later it was given its clerestory and new tie beam roof with king posts, which bears a mitre and dolphin for Richard Fitzjames, a local boy made good who became Bishop of London, 1506–22.

By the 1450s, ambitious parishes in the area like Mells were building new towers, and Bruton was no exception, constructing one of the finest of the genre, rising to 1021/2 feet in height. John Harvey said that while its design might be c.1450, some features such as the square-headed W door and its window tracery, with its inverted cusps and ogee heads, date it to later, likely 1480–90. View it from the west, and you can appreciate the splendid grouping of west doorway with the large window above, and the characteristic fine ‘Somerset tracery’ within the belfry windows.

Somerset churches are primarily medieval, but the present chancel at Bruton is a fine classical replacement of 1743, in memory of William Berkeley, Lord Stratton. Executed by the architect Nathaniel Ireson of Wincanton, it is enhanced inside by a screen of 1938, a combination that works surprisingly well. Finished in cream, blue and gold, the reredos is a splendid feature retained from the 18th c. reconstruction, at its centre the IHS in a ‘glory’.

Reflect: A medieval parish church was the product of community effort and the embodiment of their hopes. And today?
Map reference: ST685348

Simon Cotton