All Saints, East Pennard, Somerset

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The hamlet of East Pennard is in the Mendip district of Somerset, 7 miles E of Glastonbury and 4 miles S of Shepton Mallet. It lies in a SW facing cleft of Pennard Hill, a S outlier of the Mendip Hills. It looks SW across the Somerset Levels to its mother Glastonbury (or would, were it not for the trees). It is rather a humble church and settlement today, considering the church notice-board proclaiming minster status. The Roman Fosse Way, now the A37 trunk road, runs SW-NE under a mile to the E over Pylle Hill (the E extension of Pennard Hill).

The church is in the centre of the village and is of coursed and squared rubble with ashlar dressings. It consists of a nave with N and S aisles and a S porch, a chancel with a small S porch and a W tower. It dates substantially from the 14thc and 15thc, but contains an important 12thc font. 


The manor belonged to Glastonbury Abbey both before and after the Conquest. It paid tax for 10 hides in 1066, but actually contained 20 hides of which 12 were in demesne, along with 30 acres of meadow, 40 acres of pasture and woodland 1.5 furlongs long and 4 furlongs wide. The 40 occupants listed in the Domesday Survey represent a settlement of some 200 people in all. Of this land, Serlo de Burcy held 1 hide from the Abbot in 1086, and Aelmer held it before 1066.





The font is well positioned centrally at the W end of the nave, well forward of the tower and under the W gallery; there is plenty of room around it for christenings and for the examination of its Romanesque sculpture.

Except for the famous decoration under the bowl, it conforms to the well-known type of square bowl with shallowly cut blank arcading, on a cylindrical stem with circular base complete with spurs connecting it to a squarish plinth (assuming that the present newish plinth corresponds with what it replaces.) The base is of the conventional torus/scotia/torus design, but beautifully executed, with neat lips to the scotia.

Those corner spurs are animal heads (just as conventional as animal feet), slightly reminiscent of but much less terrifying than those of a continental tradition such as may be exemplified on nave column bases at Alpirsbach, Germany. They offer a gentle counterpoint to the consistent representation above, on each of the four faces below the bowl, of a composite creature in quite high relief bearing human heads, avian bodies and legs (four, not two), and floriate tails. 

There has been some repair to the font, for example to the base at the N and NW, to the bowl at the top of the E face (probably evidence for a previous lock-fitting, along with other signs at N and S). There is slight damage to the bowl at the SW where the corner is shaved, and the top of the S side has been hacked. Good lead is brought up the rim, across it and down the outside.


Depth of bowl 0.29m
Height of base 0.065 + 0.12m
Height of bowl 0.24m
Height of plinth 0.31m
Height of stem 0.31m
Overall height 1.03m
Dimensions of bowl at top 0.67m x 0.67m
Dimensions of plinth 0.67m x 0.67m
Minimum width of rim 0.09m
Font bowl NE head

Quite well preserved, this displays clear facial features as well as a hood which carries a ridge terminating in a peak at the top where it meets the underside of the bowl. (The treatment of the hood suggests a sense of artistry drawing out the head carving to elide neatly with the bowl.)

Font bowl NW head

The most eroded of the four, this nevertheless shows a clear family likeness.

Font bowl SE head

Similarly hooded, this rather longer face clearly terminates in a pointed beard. Its greater animation, compared with the NE head, is accentuated by a smiling curve of the mouth. (Again, these features can probably be attributed more easily to artistic sensibility than to representation of an individual, let alone allegorical suggestion.)

Font bowl SW head

This is similar to the NE head but less well preserved.

Spur at NE

Perhaps the end of the nose has been hacked off, but there is little other damage to what was probably quite a rough carving originally. The ears curve round to elide with the torus of the base, which is probably more the reason for their length than any attempt at verisimilitude (to a dog, or whatever). As ever with Romanesque ‘grotesque’, eyes are strongly accentuated.

Spur at NW

Really quite eroded around the eyes, this animal still has splendid ears.

Spur at SE

Probably, wear has caused this animal’s rather reptilian appearance. Compared with the NE head, it is equally endowed with long ears, but they are less curved and consequently less artistically effective in uniting head to torus.

Spur at SW

This may compared with its opposite at the NE.


The font is dated to 1170 in the Church Guide.  Its author's iconographic interpretation is worth quoting at length,

'It is supported by four carved figures round a short cylindrical column. The author of this booklet considers these carvings to represent “harpies”. A harpy was a mythical creature with the head and breasts of a woman and the wings and body of a bird like a vulture. The harpy was the attribute of Avarice, one of the seven deadly sins. In classical antiquity harpies were male or female birds of prey that snatched food from the table and fouled what they could  not eat. and they are sometimes seen in medieval churches as a warning against prostitution.

‘Four devils’ heads are crushed beneath the base: these represent the sins that are expurgated by Baptism.'

This interpretation is interesting, but if it is correct, the harpies are comfortably bland and even benign; as with the animal head spurs (which also look benign to the author), there appears to be limited differentiation between the four examples (although, naturally, differential erosion has resulted in some superficial distinction). Perhaps all eight heads, animal and human, were intended to be minatory, but they could equally have been conceived as watchful and protective.


  • Anon, Church Guide

  • F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications or England’s Patron Saints, 3 vols, London 1899, III, 223.

  • Historic England Listed Building 268364

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset North Somerset and Bristol. Harmondsworth 1958, 163.

  • Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 22204. 

Exterior from SE
Exterior from SW


Site Location
East Pennard
National Grid Reference
ST 597 375 
now: Somerset
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Somerset
now: Bath & Wells
medieval: Sherborne (to 909), Wells (to 1090), Bath (to 1245), Bath & Wells (from 1245)
now: All Saints
medieval: All Saints (pre-Reformation)
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Robin Downes 
Visit Date
31 July 2007