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St Laurence, East Harptree, Somerset

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Feature Sets (3)

Description

East Harptree is a village in the upper Chew valley, now in the Unitary Authority of Bath and North East Somerset. The valley yields terrain conducive to settlement and road communication. There are easy routes through the hills W, E and N; routes S over Mendip (to the diocesan centre of Wells, for example) are not so easy but perfectly feasible. That the place-names probably refer to the local herepath corroborates the sense of relatively easy road communications in the area; the second element of ‘Harptree’ refers to woodland. East Harptree straddles a lane which runs SSW from the West Harptree-Chewton Mendip secondary road and climbs Mendip to meet a principal N-S route across the high ground (West Harptree to Wells). The principal road of the valley, running through West Harptree, is the A368 connecting Bath with Weston-super-Mare. Bristol city centre is about 10 miles N as the crow flies.

The village, at about 110m above OD on the gradual N slope of Mendip, on Dolomitic Conglomerate bedrock above Mercia Mudstone (formerly called Keuper Marl), commands a good view of the Chew valley running N. The river is about 1 mile NE of the village. As well as pastoral farming, the economy of the locality formerly incorporated mining activities (on Mendip).

The church is in the village centre and consists of a chancel, a nave with a N aisle and S porch and a W tower. Construction is of coursed sandstone and limestone rubble to the tower and south porch, squared and coursed rubble stone to the nave and chancel, and dressed stone openings, quoins and copings. The earliest parts are 12thc, but there is 13thc work too and the tower is 15thc.  The church was restored on the late-19thc. Features described here are the transitional S doorway, a lone corbel and the remains of a stringcourse on the S chancel wall, the font and carved stones reset in the churchyard wall.

History

East Harptree contained two equal-sized manors in 1086.  Azelin held a manor of 5 hides from the Bishop of Coutances that had been two manors held by Alric and Wulfwig in 1066.  The second manor, also assessed at 5 hides, was held by Ealdwine in 1066 and by Robert son of Walter from the Count of Mortain in 1086.

Collinson notes only one manor in East Harptree, that of Azelin who was, in his account, Azelin Gouel de Percheval. His holding had passed to a son, John de Harptree, by the time of Henry I and thence, in Henry III's reign, to Robert de Harptree, who assumed the name of Gournay.

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

Nave S doorway

Segmental and of two orders. There are several crudely inscribed crosses on the E jamb.

Dimensions
Height of doorway 2.36m
Height of opening 2.80m
Total width of doorway 2.33m
Width of jambs 0.215m appprox,
Width of reveal 1.17m
1st order

Continuous with plain chamfered jambs and arch. The jambs rest on modern cubic blocks and the arch oddly has its own label of half-roll form with vertical returns at the ends but no label stops.

2nd order

Continuous with an angle roll. Outside this a hollow and a row of single-roll hyphenated chevron lateral to the face and continuous on jambs and arch. There is no label.

Exterior Decoration

String courses

Chancel S wall stringcourse

The short fragment of string-course consists of an eroded length of rectangular section but with rebated lower half; dependent from the bottom is a row of five rounded billets.

Corbel tables, corbels

Chancel S wall corbel

The eroded corbel presents a simple and rather nondescript head. Features are soft and rounded, nothing very prominent except for the eyes (without pupils). Little modelling seems to have been practised.

Miscellaneous

Reset stones in churchyard wall

Fixed in the wall on the S side of the entrance path (just W of the gate), together with miscellaneous later decorated blocks and gravestones, there are four fragments of chevron: nothing very remarkable but nevertheless testimony of an earlier build than the substance of the present church. They are described below, but no measurements are supplied.

Block 1

A long, narrow rectangular block carved in low relief with two rows of point-to-point chevron leaving five raised lozenges in a row along the central axis.

Block 2

A chevron voussoir carved with a single unit of lateral chevron consisting of an inner roll and a face hollow outside it.

Block 3

A chevron voussoir of the same design as block 2.

Block 4

A chevron voussoir of the same design as block 2, set alongside block 3 and inverted in relation to it.

Furnishings

Fonts

Font

Enjoying a prominent position with plenty of ambient space, except to the N, it is located reasonably centrally at the back of the nave against the westernmost freestanding pier of the N arcade. This is an example of a simple but finely balanced, organised and executed design. Unusually, the plinth is in two layers; all corners are cut except for those of the W extension for the celebrant; as usual, it is in a fine dark bluish stone, perhaps Blue Lias. The base has the usual two parts: a lower square block (with exposed corners rounded off) and an upper collar (in two sections and with upper section with concave moulding) under the stem. The stem is a simple cylinder. The cup-shaped bowl has a minimalistic bottom ring above the stem but no other moulding. Good lead is brought partly across the rim. Everything is in very good condition. The vertically disposed tooling seems original. According to a plaque affixed to the E side of the plinth, the font was restored after 1967. 

Dimensions
2
Circumference of bowl (at top) 2.10m
Circumference of drum base 1.51m
Circumference of stem 1.30m
Width of square base 0.48m x 0.48m
1
Height of base 0.34m
Height of bowl 0.22m
Height of font 1.065m
Height of plinth 0.30m
Height of stem 0.19m

Comments/Opinions

The reset chevron voussoirs are probable evidence of an earlier doorway. The current S doorway is clearly rebuilt to some extent, but the hyphenated chevron ornament is an interesting late-12thc feature. Pevsner described it as 'a kind of crenellation with triangular merlons'. The same author failed to record the font, although it receives a brief mention in the list description as Norman, and indeed it is hard to be any more precise than this.

Bibliography

  • Bath and North-East Somerset Council website: topographical information on ‘Area 3: Upper Chew and Yeo Valleys’

  • J. Collinson, The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset,  Bath 1791, III, 587-90.

  • Historic England listed building 32766

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol. Harmondsworth 1958, 187.

Exterior from SE
Chancel exterior from SE, showing location of string-course fragment and corbel.

Location

Site Location
East Harptree
National Grid Reference
ST 566 560 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Somerset
now: Bath and North East Somerset
Diocese
medieval: Sherborne (to 909), Wells (to 1090), Bath (to 1245), Bath & Wells (from 1245)
now: Bath & Wells
Dedication
medieval: St Lawrence (pre-Reformation)
now: St Laurence
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Robin Downes 
Visit Date
05 November 2009