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St Mary, Woolavington, Somerset

(51°10′14″N, 2°56′2″W)
ST 348 417
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Somerset
now Somerset
medieval St Mary
now St Mary
  • Robin Downes
07 November 2005

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Feature Sets

In Sedgemoor District, the village of Woolavington (named after an Anglo-Saxon landowner) is one of a cluster of large settlements at the western end of the Polden Hills, an E-W outcrop of Jurassic Blue Lias stretching from Street in the E to the port of Dunball on the river Parrett in the W. No doubt the present size of these settlements is substantially due to the proximity of the large town of Bridgwater and the M5 motorway — from which Woolavington is distant respectively at 6kms (to the NE) and 3kms (to the E). (Work was also available at the Royal Ordnance factory, north of nearby Puriton, which operated from the Second World War until 2008.)

Although the northern edge of Woolavington abuts the low-lying moorland, the centre of the settlement around the church lies at about 20m above OD. The 1884 Ordnance Survey as represented on the first edition of the six-inch maps shows the village compacted around the church — no dwelling below about 20ft above sea-level and none of the present housing development south of the village along the B3141 road connecting with the A39.

The Polden Hills form a ridge above the Somerset Levels (to north and south) and consequently there is an E-W concentration of settlement. The Romans used the ridge as a route between Dunball and Ilchester, where it joined the Fosse Way. This ancient route is today represented by the A39, a major route in Somerset between Bath and Porlock (beyond which it eventually terminates on the South Cornish coast). As to be expected, Glastonbury Abbey (c.20kms to the E) exploited the rich farming potential of this area: as evidenced in Domesday. Recent work at Shapwick (to the east of Woolavington) by Mick Aston et al. has provided much relevant data; no doubt similar situations applied at the multitudinous Polden settlements.The church stands in the village centre and consists of a nave with a S porch, a chancel with a N chapel and a W tower. The nave has a 12thc N doorway, previously blocked but now opened up to serve as the entrance from inside the church to a lavatory extension of c.1998. This is the only Romanesque feature. Elsewhere the chancel and its chapel are 13thc and the church shows evidence of 14thc and 15thc work. It was extensively restored in 1880. Construction is of coursed and squared rubble.


In the account given in VCH, Woolavington belonged to Glastonbury abbey as part of a 30-hide estate centred on Shapwick. The abbey retained the overlordship until 1490 or later although in 1409 it was said to be held of the king in chief. The tenancy was held in 1066 by Alwi Banneson and in 1086 by Alfred d’Épaignes and descended with Alfred's manor of Nether Stowey through his daughter Isabel to the Chandos family. Maud de Chandos gave it to her youngest son Henry de Columbers but after his death before 1215 without male issue it was held by Crown grantees during the minority of Henry's nephew and male heir Philip de Columbers. Thereafter it descended in the Columbers and Audley families with Nether Stowey and Puriton.

The church appears to have been given by Robert de Chandos to his Priory of Goldcliff (Monmouthshire) at its foundation in 1113, and that priory held the advowson until 1441 when its possessions passed to Tewkesbury Abbey. The dedication to St Mary is recorded by 1546 (VCH).


Exterior Features



Both Pevsner and the List Description identify the doorway as Norman with no more precision as to its date. VCH dates the nave (and thus the doorway) to the 12thc.


English Heritage Listed Building 269512

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset. Harmondsworth 1958, 352.

Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 13769.

Victoria County History: Somerset, VIII (2004), 210-23.