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St John the Baptist, Biddisham, Somerset

(51°16′34″N, 2°53′14″W)
ST 382 534
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Somerset
now Somerset
  • Robin Downes
19 July 2007

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Biddisham lies on the Somerset Levels (Middle Lias) 1½ miles south of Crook Peak, which prominent hill flanks a cutting made by the Lox Yeo river (and exploited by the M5) through the carboniferous limestone of the Mendip Hills. The hamlet of Biddisham is strung along a lane leading N from the A38 trunk road, a mile to the east of the M5 and six miles SE of Weston-super-Mare. The lane, a cul-de-sac, leads up to the present river Axe. However, the former course of that river (before medieval diversions effected mainly by the church to improve economic exploitation of its land) came within 500 yards to the NW of Biddisham church and ran northwards alongside the lane. The church is adjacent to the manor farm and consists of a two-bay nave with a S porch, two-bay chancel and a west tower. Construction is of squared rubble with some render remaining at the base of the tower. The church, including the lower part of the tower is basically 13thc in date. This lower tower leans markedly to the W, while the added or rebuilt upper part is more or less vertical. The rebuilding was done in the 15thc along with other work; there was a major restoration c.1860 and general repairs were carried out under the direction of G. C. Beech and Partners of Wells in 1961-63. The Romanesque work described here consists of the font and label stops in the form of heads reused on the exterior of a chancel window.


Biddisham is not recorded by name in the Domesday Survey, but was confirmed as a prebend of Wells cathedral by a grant of Edward the Confessor to Bishop Giso in 1065. The manor was assigned by Bishop Robert of Wells (1136-66) to pay for the maintenance and repair of the cathedral, but this seems to have been a temporary arrangement as it was claimed by Waleran de Wellesley and his wife in 1188. In 1205 it was restored to Wells to pay for repairs to the fabric.


Exterior Features





The heads are not mentioned by Pevsner, who describes the font as “square, Norman, with three scallops on the underside.” The two heads are not certainly Romanesque; the W one in particular looking more recent, and possibly even a modern replacement. The font must be from an earlier church on the site.


D. E. Greenway (ed), Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066-1200, vol 7, London 2001, 111-13.

Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 13091.

EH, English Heritage Listed Building 268744.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset, Harmondsworth 1958, 87.