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St Andrew, Holcombe, Somerset

(51°15′16″N, 2°28′32″W)
ST 669 507
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Somerset
now Somerset
medieval St Andrew
now St Andrew
  • Robin Downes
30 August 2007

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Feature Sets

The manorial village of Holcombe lies in the Mendip Hills less than 1.5kms E of the Fosse Way, in the middle of the S part of the Somerset Coalfield, worked until the 1970s. Nowadays, St Andrew’s is a lonely building at the end of a cul-de-sac, 300m beyond neighbouring Moore’s Farm, a good km N of the village centre, but there are remains of a deserted village adjacent to the church. (The modern village is served by a church of 1884 with the same dedication). At an altitude of about 160m OD, but for trees, the church would overlook to the NW the valley of Snails Bottom which descends NE towards Radstock. The church is a late Saxon or early Norman building, rebuilt in the 16thc with some 19thc restoration. Construction is of random and coursed rubble with some ashlar and stucco. It consists of a nave with a gabled S porch, a chancel and a W tower. Reset as the porch entrance is a 12thc doorway, and one of its capitals is carved from a re-used block bearing an inverted inscription, presumed to be of Saxon origin. The chancel arch is probably 13thc, and is undecorated apart from simple mouldings, and there is a plain Norman lancet in the nave N wall. There are also chevron consoles used as kneelers at the E angles of the nave and chancel, which appear neo-Norman (probably 16thc) and are thus not treated as features here, although one of the better-preserved of them has been illustrated.


A long history for the settlement is suggested by the location of a Roman villa (possibly connected with the mining industry or with the Fosse Way), about 500m ESE of the church. In 1987 a watching brief was undertaken in the churchyard which revealed 12thc-13thc pottery and some fragments of carved stone (see Somerset Historic Environment Record 11064).

The landowner before the Conquest was Alfward, and in 1086 he held it from Roger of Courseulles. It was assessed at just 1 virgate, but also had a mill, 75 acres of pasture and 15 acres of woodland.


Exterior Features



In the discussion of the Anglo-Saxon remnant [Holcombe 1], in Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture (2006), John Higgitt wrote: ‘The undisciplined lettering is in marked contrast to the finely dressed surface on which it was cut. Foster (1988) is probably right that the stone was a piece of re-used Roman masonry, possibly from the Roman villa at Holcombe. The way in which the twelfth-century masons in their turn employed the stone is interesting. What is left of the inscription is displayed prominently but, perhaps deliberately, upside-down on one of the carved stones of the entrance to the church. It looks like a more than casual re-use but the significance of the gesture is obscure. Perhaps in the twelfth-century the inscription was taken to be pagan.’ [reproduced with permission]

The most striking feature of the reset doorway is the use of intersecting arcading on the abacus of one of the capitals. This is unusual but is also seen on the impost of a scallop capital at St Andrew's, Great Rollright (Oxfordshire), also in connection with cable necking.


R. Cramp, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, Volume VII: South-West England, Oxford 2006.

S. M. Foster, ‘Early medieval inscription at Holcombe, Somerset’ Medieval Archaeology XXXII (1988), 208-11.

Historic England Listed Building 267901.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol. Harmondsworth 1958, 206.

Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 21743.

Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 11064 (on the churchyard)