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St Mary the Virgin, Chesterblade, Somerset

(51°10′8″N, 2°29′10″W)
ST 661 412
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Somerset
now Somerset
  • Robin Downes
08 August 2007, 12 September 2007

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The hamlet of Chesterblade lies in the Mendip Hills 3 miles NE of Evercreech (to which parish it belongs), and 3 miles SE of Shepton Mallet. Its historical significance is suggested by Iron Age earthworks (marked on the OS map as ‘fort’) at Small Down, 800m SE of the church, and the Roman villa which used to occupy the site of the manor farm.

Richard Coates (2006) has argued against Ekwall’s interpretation of the place-name as ‘settlement in a hollow among hills’, pointing out that,

‘ . . . the topography of the village nucleus gives no clear support for an unusual term for a valley or for a ledge to describe its situation -- it is on a gentle slope, and only in the vaguest sense “in a hollow among the hills” as Ekwall claimed. The valleys below the village are no more remarkably bowl-shaped than the typical cumb.'

In its place he offers the interpretation that,

‘ . . . the source of the name Chesterblade, whether applying to the earthworks or the local villa, is explicable as a British Kastron Bladjī ‘stronghold of a/the wolf’ or ‘stronghold of Wolf [proper name]’.’

On a slope running SW between the 180m and the 160m OD contours, the hamlet enjoys good views to the S not much less extensive than those from Small Down. From the chapel on its little rise at the very SW limit of the hamlet, one can clearly see the ridge W of Evercreech which includes Pennard Hill, the Blackdown Hills S and SW of Taunton, Ibberton Hill in North Dorset and even the West Dorset heights of Lewesdon and Pilsdon Pen (Dorset’s highest hill): nearly 30 miles away. The view from the chapel to the W is blocked by no less than the Jurassic height (206m OD) of Maes Down. There is, of course, a very clear view down to the mother church of St Peter at Evercreech.

The chapel has work of the 12thc, 13thc and 15thc. It was rebuilt in 1888, and further work was carried out in 1925. Construction is of rubble with some ashlar and freestone dressings. It consists of a nave with a W bellcote and a S porch larger than the tiny chancel. The S doorway is late 12thc, there is a plain 12thc font, and most unusually the ends of the copings and the kneelers of the E and W gables of the nave retain elaborate Romanesque carving.


Chesterblade is not specifically mentioned in the Domesday Survey. According to Guy (1992) it forms a tithing within the large parish of Evercreech. Evercreech itself was held in 1066 and in 1086 by the Bishop of Wells, and was assessed at 20 hides, only 3 of which were in demesne. The remainder was sublet to at least 6 tenants, including a priest. Chesterblade church never has been a parish church. It has always been a chapelry within the parish of Evercreech, a 'chapel-of-ease' as St Peter’s is some two miles distant.


Exterior Features


Exterior Decoration





Guy's dating of the doorway to the late-12thc is based on the opinion of the architect W. A. Forsyth. Guy also suggests that the foliate W capital represents Christ, 'the true vine', while the human head E capital is a common grotesque which some authorities believe to symbolise the 'old' gods of paganism, demoted to the level of hobgoblins. This might be more convincing were the E capital more grotesque. The label stops have been (unconvincingly) identified as a wolf and a hare.

The NE kneeler is carved with the head of a beast between two human faces, one happy, one sad, beneath a row of four differing compass designs, two crosses (pattée), a star and a form of fylfot, though this last is elaborated into a kind of spinning sun. This has been interpreted as representing the overcoming of evil, redemption through Christ, and final judgement. The SE kneeler appears to show a human head menaced by the Agnus Dei.


R. Coates, 'Chesterblade, Somerset, with a reflection on the element chester', Journal of the English Place-Name Society (38) 2006, 5-12.

English Heritage NMR entry 268405 (included in Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Records).

J. R. Guy, The Chapel in the Tithing, 1992.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol. Harmondsworth 1958, 157.

Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 22246