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Blessed Virgin Mary, Huish Episcopi, Somerset

(51°2′12″N, 2°49′6″W)
Huish Episcopi
ST 427 267
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Somerset
now Somerset
  • Robin Downes
10 November 2005

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Feature Sets

Situated towards the NW corner of South Somerset District, the large parish of Huish Episcopi surrounds the town and parish of Langport on three sides. Tracing the boundary on the map gives one the impression of a large rural parish embracing a precious urban settlement; indeed, Langport, historically much more than now, has been a very important Somerset trading centre. Its name inadvertently gives the clue to its crucial function near the confluence of two rivers (the Parrett and the Yeo) navigable to freight traffic in historic times. (‘inadvertently’ since the ‘port’ element in the place-name signifies ‘town’ or ‘market’ rather than ‘place where boats moor’.)

The extension of the parish to the NW takes in the hamlet of Wearne before occupying much of the high ground (Lower Lias; clay with some limestone) above and NE of Aller named ‘Bowden’s’ on large-scale maps; one reason for this extension, other than agricultural, could be that it is here where rises the Millbrook which powered Huish flour-mill several hundred metres E of the church. The E extension of the parish extends beyond the hamlet of Pibsbury along the A372. The SW extension takes the parish across both the Parrett and Yeo rivers towards Drayton and the A378.

Thus the parish controls an area including two rivers large for Somerset (the Parrett being the principal river of the county) at and near their confluence, three important roads giving access to the historically significant commercial and administrative town of Langport: the A372 linking Ilchester with Bridgwater, the A378 linking Langport with Taunton and the B3153 linking Langport with Somerton, the former administrative centre of the former Wessex kingdom. One suspects that the present road (Wincanton Road) running N-S adjacent to the E of the churchyard is a relatively new bypass for the A372 although it appears on the first available editions (from a 1886 survey) of the 6-inch/25-inch Ordnance Survey maps (online at the National Library of Scotland), that the main road from Ilchester formerly reached Langport by the road past Langport church and then down the steep hill.

In many ways, Huish Episcopi and Langport may be considered a hub, access to other important Somerset towns being relatively easy — except in certain locations in times of flooding, which is and has always been a problem in winter, as is well known from national publicity in recent years. The present county town, Taunton, almost due W, is about 20kms distant, mostly along the A378 elevated above the Levels; Bridgwater is 15kms NW along the A372 along a road subject to inundation; Yeovil is about 17kms SE distant via the A372 and A37. (Part of the latter road near Ilchester is the successor to the Roman Fosse Way. Huish is about 10kms from the latter.) The secondary road linking Langport with Somerton, about 7kms ENE, runs over an area of elevated Lias which may be considered a continuation of the ridge from the Taunton direction after the breach made by the Parrett river.

Geologically, the parish includes the Alluvium associated with the Levels and the Lower Lias of the higher ground. That stone (Lias) is the principal building stone in this region of the county, both in its blue and golden varieties. As elsewhere in South Somerset, Hamstone is extensively used for decorative work when it can be afforded. The Ham Hill quarries are about 17kms SW, not far from Yeovil.

The church is placed centrally within the parish only a short distance (500m to the SW) of the confluence of Parrett and Yeo. The boundary of the parish with Langport is only 300m to the W, beyond which Langport parish church sits another 200m at the top of the steep hill down to the town. Nowadays this latter church is used less than that of Huish Episcopi, the latter being advertised as the parish church for ‘Huish Episcopi cum Langport’. Whereas the Langport church affords a clear view S over Huish Level the Huish church does not enjoy a similar prospect: the view is obscured by nearby buildings (including the former vicarage) and the church is at a lower altitude (15m OD).

As the name suggests, the church was probably an Episcopal foundation.

Exhaustive details on the history and much else about the parish are available in the Victoria County History (available online).

The church consists of a 3-bay chancel with a S chapel, a 4-bay nave with a N transept, a S porch, and a W tower. The tower, 100 feet tall, is the most striking feature of the church and dates from c.1500. The earliest fabric is the elaborate S doorway, dating from the later 12thc, and this is the only Romanesque feature. Otherwise St Mary's dates largely from the 15thc, although the porch may be 14thc and the chancel and N transept were rebuilt by Ferrey in 1872-73.


Following the account in VCH (1974), the villages of Lytelenige, Hiwisc, Cuma and Pybbesbyrig were granted to Bishop Giso of Wells by Edward the Confessor in 1065. Of these, ‘Lytelenige’ is not readily identified, but the settlement in the parish obviously missing from the list is now called ‘Wearne’, N of Huish church. 'Cuma' (now Combe) is the small settlement N of Langport town along the base of ‘Bowden’s’, just above the marshy Levels; ‘Pybbesbyrig’ is clearly the Pibsbury mentioned in the Description. Huish Episcopi (i.e. Hiwisc) is not separately mentioned in the Domesday Survey, but must have been included with ‘Litnes’, where it is assessed at 2 hides held by the Bishop of Wells. The manor was held by the bishops until 1548, when it was surrendered to the Crown. The church was first recorded in 1179, when possession of it was confirmed to Renold FitzJocelin, Bishop of Bath.

The account in Stubbs (1894) is speculative but nonetheless interesting and is quoted here,

'We may state … that the Norman doorway, a charm and a pleasure to every worshipper that passes through it, is the oldest portion of the building, erected in the reign of a sovereign who ruled from 1154 to 1189. It is built of Ham Hill stone—the redness being due to the action of fire; that parts that are of natural colour having been inserted in 1873. The projecting moulding, or string course, near the vestry door, is said to be of equal antiquity.

Now, in the reign of Henry II, there lived at Langport, in a castle said to have been built by him on the hill, a powerful baron, Sir Richard Revel or Rivel. He was a person of great note & influence. Sabina, his daughter & heiress, married Henry L’Orti, to whom belonged the hundred & manor of Pitney. This Henry L’Orti was a great baron & landowner in the west of England: he died in 1241, & Sabina, his wife, survived him, & had livery of the lands of his inheritance. The issue of this marriage was a son, Henry, who became heir to the large estates of his father & mother. He is known to have been a patron & benefactor of the church. Is it not highly probable that the Huish church, of which the remaining beautiful doorway was a part, was built by one of these rich barons, aided by the residents of the neighbourhood, & endowed with tithes, if not already endowed by them?’


Exterior Features



Orbach and Pevsner (2014) compare the treatment of the tympanum with that at Milborne Port, but the doorway as a whole could also be compared with Chewton Mendip for the bold chevron and capital types. The doorway is certainly Late Norman, as most writers have concluded, but perhaps no later than the 1150s or '60s, in the editor's view.


J. Orbach and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset. New Haven and London 2014, 370-71.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset. Harmondsworth 1958, 201.

J. Stubbs, ‘Huish Episcopi’, Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological & Natural History Society, 40 (1894), 76-90.

Victoria County History: Somerset, III (1974), 1-13.