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St Peter and St Paul, Shepton Mallet, Somerset

(51°11′25″N, 2°32′47″W)
Shepton Mallet
ST 619 436
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Somerset
now Somerset
medieval Wells
now Bath & Wells
  • Robin Downes
  • Robin Downes
12th September 2007

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Shepton Mallet is a small town in Somerset. It lies towards the head of the river Sheppey which runs roughly W towards Wells, 5mi distant. Although therefore in a valley, it is quite high up (mostly between 100m and 150m above OD) and near the S edge of the Mendip Hills.

The church of Sts. Peter and Paul is a complex, compact building of several medieval periods and with much 19thc work. Plans of the church in the years 1835/7 (available online via Lambeth Palace library) show an aisled rectangular nave of four bays, W tower, and a tiny one-bay chancel and N vestry which probably disappeared in 1847. The arcades appear to preserve some original trumpet capitals, but there are also signs of later medieval alterations and 19thc copying. As well as the work in the arcades, there is a plain font and a loose fragment which may be relevant to the Corpus.


In DB, Shepton was part of Pilton Manor, and thus belonged to Glastonbury Abbey. Shepton appears in an entry also embracing Croscombe (3kms W down the Sheppey valley, on the main road to Wells); in 1086 Roger of Courseulles held 6½ hides in Shepton, the holders in 1066 were Wulfred and Aelmer.


Interior Features




Loose Sculpture


Nave arcades and the 1835-7 works at the church

The walls in which the nave arcades were cut has pre-Conquest material, as long-and-short work can be seen from S aisle; F. J. Allen suggests the two eastern bays of the nave belong to that building, with the third bay, at the W, being a Perp extension (Allen 1907, 4-5, plan p.14; Pls. III, IV, fig. 1). All arches of the arcades are pointed; extensive 19thc alterations were undertaken. The aisles were rebuilt in 1836 by Charles Rawlinson Wainwright who was a churchwarden and builder, and the architect was Richard Carver of Taunton.

Allen (1907, 4, 5, Pl. III) describes how, when plaster was removed 'recently', Anglo-Saxon stonework was revealed, visible from the S aisle. He suggests that the existence of such early nave walls may account for the squareish pillars of the arcades, and the unusual width of spans there. Writing about the shafts on the arcades, he mentions stucco, but does not say exactly where he had seen it.

The Rector at the time of the rebuilding in the 1830s was the Rev. W. P. T. Wickham, who seems to have been well-thought of locally, having the W window given in his memory in 1856, and almshouses in the village built in the 1860s. By 1907, however, Allen could describe the demolishing and enlarging of the nave aisles etc., in 1835-7 as 'modern vandalism'. It did away with a lot of old work, making the nave and aisles a neat rectangle, but could also have involved alterations in the arcades. In this regard, a Buckler drawing of the interior of the church seen from the W, made in 1833 or 1834 preceding this work, is invaluable as it shows a short shaft on the S side of bay 1, but not on the N (McGarvie 1994). Another feature not on the Buckler drawing is the narrow string course or continuous label now seen running above all the arches of both arcades.

The fieldworker compares the various attached shafts of both arcades to that of the S arcade, E respond, the one which has the inserted Perpendicular angel. Other shafts and details are less lively; the words 'replica', 'similar' and 'standard' are used. The photograph of the N arcade E respond shows that this angel was not 'inserted' into a trumpet capital, but is integral with it, and coursing runs on through the vertical wall surface. John Wand comments: The N aisle bay 1 E capital is one piece of sculpture, whereas its counterpart, S aisle bay 1 E, does seem to have the angel inserted as a separate piece. The drawing of the nave made by Buckler in 1834 (cited above) shows the N capital as plain, the S capital as we see it at present. So an alternative interpretation might be that the N capital is a 19thc copy of what was seen on the S aisle, and that the S capital includes an angel that was a later insert. Ron Baxter comments: The situation is clearly different on the two arcades. The S arcade bay 1 E respond capital looks like a late-12thc trumpet scallop modified in the 15thc and incorporated into a 19thc arcade that copies one of c.1300 (which might never have existed). Its counterpart on the N arcade is, as John Wand says, a 19thc copy. Some of the other capitals with shafts and their stiff-leaf corbels may be original too; the 19thc shields are slightly different from the late-12thc reused ones. I would say that of the 8 photographed, the N bay 2 respond capitals, and the S bay 1 E and both bay 2 capitals are original (but heavily restored).


At a glance, the antique shape of the bowl contrasts with the neatly cut, well-preserved, base and one wonders whether the latter postdates bowl and stem. According to Allen (1907, 2, 3) the old font was 'banished and used as a flower-pot in the rectory garden' in 1837, but it was repaired and reinstated, some time in the late 19thc. The 'dowel' or drainage holes may remain from the time the bowl was used as a Victorian flower-pot. Pridham (2013, 69) confirms that the font was recovered from a local garden.

Cramp (2006, 186) describes the stone types of the font: 'The rim is a separate piece of stone' but darker than the main body, and with an insert as for medieval lock; the base, or stem, is darker too but appears to be the same material. In the description, she says that 'part of the rim and base may be original', presumably meaning in addition to the main body, or bowl, of the font.

The bowl itself has that handsome bulbous appearance that has prompted speculation of a possible pre-Conquest date. Cramp (2006, 186) comments: ‘Such plain fonts are very difficult to date, and this is of a different shape from other pre-Conquest fonts in the west such as Potterne and Deerhurst.' The comparison with the font at Little Billing is not a good one (Cramp 2006, 186). A closer comparison for the Shepton Mallet font made by Cramp is with Aller, St Andrew (Cramp 2006, 181; Pl. 355), although there only the bowl, with intergral rim, is present.

The fieldworker suggests that close study of the tooling of the font bowl might yield a better idea of its date, thinking of the work of Götz Echtenacher.

Loose fragment

According to Cramp 186, 'this seems to have been an engaged column, with two flat faces forming a V to fit into a corner, and the rounded front face carved with very deep (3cm) four-strand interlace.’ (Cramp 186). The Anglo-Saxon Corpus dates it as probably post-Conquest and Cramp comments: ‘I can so far find no sculptural parallels for this, but such deeply rounded interlace is found on Romanesque sculptures such as the font base at . . . Chaddesley Corbett, Worcestershire, and since engaged columns are also a rarity in pre-Conquest contexts, this seems most probably a late piece.' No parallels are suggested; the similar pattern on the Chaddesley Corbett font is not nearly so free-standing as this piece is.


F. J. Allen, ‘Shepton Mallet Church: its Architectural History’, Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society Proceedings (1907), Part II, Papers, pp.1-14.

F. Arnold-Forster Studies in Church Dedications or England’s Patron Saints, III (London, 1899) 252.

R. Cramp, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, VII (Oxford, 2006).

Historic England listing 1345202

M. McGarvie (ed.), Sir Stephen Glynne's Notes for Somerset (Taunton: Somerset Record Society, 1994).

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England; North Somerset and Bristol (Harmondsworth, 1958), 255-7.

H. Pridham, (ed A. Webb), Ancient Church Fonts of Somerset (Taunton, 2013).

S.J. Yeates, Religion, Community and Territory: Defining Religion in the Severn Valley and Adjacent Hills from the Iron Age to the Early Medieval Period, British Achaeological Reports, British Series 411 (2006), I, 73.