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St Mary, Ashill, Somerset

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Feature Sets (3)

Description

Ashill is a nucleated village towards the SW of the county, some 7½ miles SE of Taunton in gently undulating countryside, the church and centre of the rather dispersed village being perched at the relatively high altitude of nearly 70m above OD. The village clusters around a junction of the old road from Taunton to Ilminster, but is now bypassed by the A358. St Mary’s stands in the centre of the village. It ic built of local stone rubble, including blue lias, and has a 2-cell plan of a single-bay chancel and a 3-bay nave with N and S porches, with a W tower. The oldest parts are 12thc, including the N and S doorways and parts of the altered chancel arch. There is a 13thc window in the nave, and the chancel is substantially 14thc, although its origins are older. Apart from the top ten courses of blue lias blocks, its N wall is distinguished by relatively fine masonry: near-ashlar. As well as the local lias, this wall contains hamstone or similar, as well as bits of chert from the nearby Blackdown Hills. There are also several horizontal strings of narrow blocks. Towards the W end of this wall, several feet E of the junction with the nave, there is evidence of the W jamb of a blocked doorway. This may be the remains of a porticus. This whole wall may well be pre-Conquest, and certainly predates 1100. Neither Pevsner nor the List description recorded this feature. The two-storey tower appears 15thc in origin, but with later modifications, including a weathervane dated 1867. This may date the 19thc restoration that undoubtedly took place. Romanesque features recorded are the two nave doorways and the chancel arch with plain blind arches flanking it.

History

The Count of Mortain held the manor of Ashill in 1086. It was assessed at 5 hides and in addition contained 40 acres of meadow and woodland 40 furlongs long and 20 furlongs wide. The Count also held 2 hides in Ashill from the abbot of Athelney, which had belonged to the abbey before the Conquest and were inalienable.

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

N nave doorway

Two orders, segmental arched under later porch

1st order

Plain square jambs and arch.

2nd order

Octagonal en-delit nook-shafts on tall roll-hollow bases, also octagonal in plan. The E capital is a trefoil form with a recessed shield and keeled wedges on the angles. The W is a cushion with a recessed shield outlined by a double row of beading, and keeled angles. Both have plain roll neckings and quirked hollow-chamfered imposts.

The arch is plain and segmented, stilted above the imposts. Part of the quirked chamfered label survives at the apex of the doorway.

S nave doorway

Round headed, two orders under later porch

The outer porch doorway has been blocked since the 19thc. The porch, now serving as the vestry, is accessible from the nave but the door is normally locked. Of the two doorways, this is artistically the finer and appears entirely original, although it has inevitably suffered more from the weather. It is in hamstone or similar although some of the stone is obviously extremely soft—see, for example where parts of the E jamb have been worn. As usual, the E side generally has suffered more wind erosion than the W—see the impost for severe wind damage. Since the bases of the attached shafts are either hidden or destroyed, I suspect that they were victims of the insertion of the floor.

Dimensions
Height of arch apex above impost 0.68m
Height of opening 2.00m
Width of opening 1.12m
1st order

Plain jambs chamfered on the outer edge. An incidental but noteworthy feature is that the E jamb carries a boldly incised consecration cross at about waist-height. The unchamfered arch is of ten voussoirs, mostly fairly even in size except for the common exception of narrow ones near & to the E of the apex.

2nd order

The outer order has detached octagonal nook-shafts, without bases. The neckings at the tops of the shafts have suffered erosion so that, although the E is extant except for a break at the W, the W has been totally lost. As usual, the capitals are different, in this case of fundamentally different design.

The W capital is a trefoil type with recessed shields framed by a row of beading and cones on the bell corresponding to the trefoil lobes on the shields.

The E cap is of the flat-leaf form, with broad leaves on the angles decorated with concentric grooving; the leaves on adjacent faces being separated only by notches. This fine decoration seems to have been executed with considerable artistic sensitivity. Abaci are quite plain, as usual, and imposts are the usual hollow-chamfered design. The E impost is so eroded that one can only assume it to have been originally like the W.

The arch of the outer order carries a frontal chevron design of six mouldings—starting from the inside edge, two small-one large-three small. Only the central large moulding is a roll; the others are fillets. Between the chevron arch and the label there is a plain arch.

The label, is plain and chamfered.

Interior Features

Arches

Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Round headed, two orders to W.

1st order (shared)

Plain, square-section jambs and arch with quirked hollow-chamfered imposts.

2nd order W face

Plain pilaster-shaped jambs facing W, and supporting, in their inner halves, imposts as the 1st order, and in the arch deep centripetal chevron of the same profile as is found on the S doorway arch. The outer halves of the jambs carry plain blind arches - see below section IV.5a.

Interior Decoration

Blind arcades

Blind arches flanking chancel arch

To either side of the chancel arch W face, and carried on the 2nd order jamb of that arch, is a plain blocked round-headed arch.

Comments/Opinions

A capital very similar to that on the E jamb of the S doorway is found on the S side of the chancel arch at Sutton Montis, some twenty miles away. English Heritage National Monuments Record investigators were unable to gain access to the church, but describe the arches flanking the chancel arch as blocked recesses for side altars.

Bibliography

  • EH, English Heritage Listed Building 263898.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset, Harmondsworth 1958, 78.

  • Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 56481.

Exterior from NE
Ashill, St Mary, groundplan possibly by J.D. Sedding, 1881-83. Image from Church Plans Online (Published by the NOF Digitise Architecture England Consortium)
Chancel N wall
Blocked arch in chancel N wall

Location

Site Location
Ashill
National Grid Reference
ST 321 173 
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 Mary
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Robin Downes 
Visit Date
13 April 2005