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St John the Baptist, Biddisham, Somerset

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Feature Sets (3)

Description

Biddisham lies on the Somerset Levels (Middle Lias) 1½ miles south of Crook Peak, which prominent hill flanks a cutting made by the Lox Yeo river (and exploited by the M5) through the carboniferous limestone of the Mendip Hills. The hamlet of Biddisham is strung along a lane leading N from the A38 trunk road, a mile to the east of the M5 and six miles SE of Weston-super-Mare. The lane, a cul-de-sac, leads up to the present river Axe. However, the former course of that river (before medieval diversions effected mainly by the church to improve economic exploitation of its land) came within 500 yards to the NW of Biddisham church and ran northwards alongside the lane. The church is adjacent to the manor farm and consists of a two-bay nave with a S porch, two-bay chancel and a west tower. Construction is of squared rubble with some render remaining at the base of the tower. The church, including the lower part of the tower is basically 13thc in date. This lower tower leans markedly to the W, while the added or rebuilt upper part is more or less vertical. The rebuilding was done in the 15thc along with other work; there was a major restoration c.1860 and general repairs were carried out under the direction of G. C. Beech and Partners of Wells in 1961-63. The Romanesque work described here consists of the font and label stops in the form of heads reused on the exterior of a chancel window.

History

Biddisham is not recorded by name in the Domesday Survey, but was confirmed as a prebend of Wells cathedral by a grant of Edward the Confessor to Bishop Giso in 1065. The manor was assigned by Bishop Robert of Wells (1136-66) to pay for the maintenance and repair of the cathedral, but this seems to have been a temporary arrangement as it was claimed by Waleran de Wellesley and his wife in 1188. In 1205 it was restored to Wells to pay for repairs to the fabric.

Features

Exterior Features

Windows

Chancel S wall, W window

The window itself is a square-headed, two-light Perpendicular window, but stops have been reused at the ends of the label.

E head. with close-fitting curly hair, furrowed brow, bulbous eyes, open mouth; in good condition.

W head. Human and male, surrounded by a neat hood and clearly bearded, with bulbous eyes and open mouth as E (but mouth not so widely open); in very good condition.

Furnishings

Fonts

Font

Located in the conventional position by the S door, at the NE angle of the S half of the nave. It consists of a plain cube-shaped bowl, chamfered at the upper rim and with its corners cut back. There are three scallops at the bottom of each face, that to the E being decorated (three pairs of what might have been intended as rosettes, that on the left being neat and coherent, the middle one being less so, and the third a really untidy jumble). The bowl stands on a plain cylindrical stem with a neat shallow collar providing the necking for an almost square block base, its upper angles chamfered back. This stands on a square block plinth, its top part chamfered and its corners cut back.

The very good lead is extended over the rim of the bowl and down the sides to a well-judged extent. There are the usual signs of previous lock-fittings being ripped off in the repairs to the bowl at the top of the N and S faces.

Dimensions
Circumference of stem 1.33 m
Depth of basin 0.24 m
Dimensions of base 0.55 x 0.57 m
Dimensions of plinth 0.74 x 0.74 m
Exterior dimensions of bowl 0.57 x 0.57 m
Height of base 0.17 m
Height of plinth 0.145 m
Height of stem 0.115 m
Internal width of basin 0.43 m
Overall h of font 0.84m
Thickness of rim 0.07 m

Comments/Opinions

The heads are not mentioned by Pevsner, who describes the font as “square, Norman, with three scallops on the underside.” The two heads are not certainly Romanesque; the W one in particular looking more recent, and possibly even a modern replacement. The font must be from an earlier church on the site.

Bibliography

  • Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 13091.

  • D. E. Greenway (ed), Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066-1200, vol 7, London 2001, 111-13.

  • EH, English Heritage Listed Building 268744.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset, Harmondsworth 1958, 87.

General view from SW.
General view from NE.

Location

Site Location
Biddisham
National Grid Reference
ST 382 534 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Somerset
now: Somerset
Diocese
now: Bath & Wells
medieval: Sherborne (to 909), Wells (to 1090), Bath (to 1245), Bath & Wells (from 1245)
Dedication
medieval: not confirmed
now: St John the Baptist
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Robin Downes 
Visit Date
19 July 2007