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St Mary, Dymock, Gloucestershire

(51°58′42″N, 2°26′17″W)
SO 700 312
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Gloucestershire
now Gloucestershire
medieval Hereford
now Gloucester
medieval St Mary
now St Mary
  • Ron Baxter
16 June 2009

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Dymock is in the wooded Vale of Leadon in the NW of the county, 12 miles NW of Gloucester and less than two miles from the Herefordshire border. The village stands on the S bank of the river Leadon, on the Roman road that runs NW from Gloucester to Leominster, and the church is separated from the main road through the village by a large green (Wintours Green). St Mary’s presents its long S elevation to Wintours Green, and is much larger than might be expected for a village of this size. The church consists of a 15thc W tower with a short octagonal pyramid spire; a very long 12thc nave with a S porch, a S chapel immediately E of it, and a N chapel not facing the S but further to the W. E of the nave is a 12thc bay that was originally the lower storey of a crossing tower, with signs of blocked arches on its N and S walls, and to the E of this is the 12thc chancel. This originally terminated in a polygonal apse, but was extended c.1300 to form a straight-ended presbytery. The N and S elevations of the church are articulated with narrow pilaster buttresses, but overall the exterior masonry of the church is much disturbed. Romanesque sculpture remains in the jambs of the apse arch and those of the chancel arch (the latter given a new head c.1300), the S nave doorway, one S nave window, blind arcading on the S exterior wall of the chancel, and sections of stringcourse inside and out. Among the loose stones on the S window sill of the chancel is a 12thc base. All of this work (except perhaps the loose base) is the work of the famous Dymock School of sculptors, discussed in more detail in the Comments/Opinions section.


Dymock was held by Edward the Confessor before the Conquest, and after 1066 it was part of William the Conqueror’s demesne for just four years. Subsequently it was held by William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford and then by his son Roger de Breteuil, according to the Domesday Survey. In 1086 it was a large manor of 20 hides and woodland 3 leagues by 1, with 42 villans, 10 bordars and 11 coliberts, as well as four radknights (who rode as escorts to the Lord) and a priest who held 12 acres (so presumably a church). Earl William’s claim was dubious, as the Domesday jurors were ignorant of his title, but in any case Roger forfeited his estates after rebelling against the Crown in 1075. Dymock was later acquired by Miles of Gloucester, created Earl of Hereford in 1141, and at his death in 1143 it passed to his son Roger, who gave part of the manor to Flaxley Abbey. The manor was confirmed to Earl Roger by Henry II in 1154 or ’55, and granted to his brother Walter of Hereford following Roger’s rebellion and death in 1155. Walter died in 1160 and the estate again reverted to the Crown. King Richard I granted another part of the original manor to William de Gamages. Dymock was a much larger settlement in the Middle Ages than it is today. Indeed it had the status of a borough in the reign of Henry III, and in 1222 a weekly market and an annual fair were granted by the king, to be held at the royal manor.

Turning to the church, the rectory estate had its origins in a grant by William FitzOsbern of Dymock church and its tithes, including the tithes of the demesne, to Cormeilles Abbey (Eure), and Cormeilles administered the estate through their priory at Newent. The Priory of Newent, being alien, was seized during the Hundred Years War, and in 1411 the rectory of Dymock passed with it to FotheringayCollege(Northants). There is some evidence that Dymock was at one stage a monastic church. The Flaxley Abbey Cartulary contains the phrase “de monasterio de Dimmoc”, in a deed dateable c.1190.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Interior Decoration

String courses

Loose Sculpture


Dymock is celebrated as the centre of a school of sculptors that was first examined in detail in George Zarnecki’s thesis under the name of the Bromyard Group, but was more fully analysed by the Rev. Eric Gethyn-Jones, who renamed it after the church which contains all of its characteristic motifs, and which stands at the centre of the main geographical distribution of its output. Most of the monuments with carvings by the Dymock sculptors are within a ten-mile radius, and others are not much further away. They include Kempley, Pauntley, Newnham-on-Severn, Yatton, Bulley, Churcham and Preston in Gloucestershire, and Bromyard and Bridstow in Herefordshire. There are a few examples outside this area, indeed as far north as Rochford (Worcestershire) and High Ercall (Salop). Typical features of the school, found at Dymock, are the tympanum with lugs forming pseudo-voussoirs at the lower sides, and carved with the tree motif, the distinctive type of volute capital with striations flanking the main volute and a stepped leaf, the motif of confronted volutes often found as a collar on capitals, various designs of spurred base, and stringcourses with chevron or cable rolls.

Gethyn-Jones argued for two campaigns of sculpture here, representing two phases of the development of the Dymock School. The stringcourses, blind arcading and chancel and apse arch belong to the first phase (which he dated c. 1090-1100) and the doorway to the second (c.1110-25). This conclusion is based on observations about the setting of the doorway, in particular the untidy cutting away of the pilaster and stringcourse on its W side to accommodate it. Zarnecki was not concerned with such archaeological observations, but dated the school as a whole to the early second quarter of the 12thc, perhaps shortly after 1120. Pevsner (quoted in Verey) broadly followed Gethyn-Jones, dating the church “Early Norman with excellent additions of c.1120-40,” by which he meant the S doorway.


A. W. Crawley-Boevey, The Cartulary and Historical Notes of the Cistercian Abbey of Flaxley,Exeter 1887, 159.

E. Gethyn-Jones, The Dymock School of Sculpture,London and Chichester 1979.

M. Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture, Logaston 1999, 20-23 and passim.

Victoria County History: Gloucestershire XII. Online text in progress, Dymock, August 2007.

D. Verey, The Buildings of England. Gloucestershire: the Vale and the Forest of Dean, London 1970 (2nd ed. 1976), 175-77.

G. Zarnecki, Regional Schools of English Sculpture in the Twelfth Century: the Southern School and the Herefordshire School. Unpublished PhD thesis, University ofLondon, 1950, 223-28.