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All Saints, East Pennard, Somerset

(51°8′7″N, 2°34′38″W)
East Pennard
ST 597 375
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Somerset
now Somerset
  • Robin Downes
31 July 2007

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Feature Sets

The hamlet of East Pennard is in the Mendip district of Somerset, 7 miles E of Glastonbury and 4 miles S of Shepton Mallet. It lies in a SW facing cleft of Pennard Hill, a S outlier of the Mendip Hills. It looks SW across the Somerset Levels to its mother Glastonbury (or would, were it not for the trees). It is rather a humble church and settlement today, considering the church notice-board proclaiming minster status. The Roman Fosse Way, now the A37 trunk road, runs SW-NE under a mile to the E over Pylle Hill (the E extension of Pennard Hill).

The church is in the centre of the village and is of coursed and squared rubble with ashlar dressings. It consists of a nave with N and S aisles and a S porch, a chancel with a small S porch and a W tower. It dates substantially from the 14thc and 15thc, but contains an important 12thc font.


The manor belonged to Glastonbury Abbey both before and after the Conquest. It paid tax for 10 hides in 1066, but actually contained 20 hides of which 12 were in demesne, along with 30 acres of meadow, 40 acres of pasture and woodland 1.5 furlongs long and 4 furlongs wide. The 40 occupants listed in the Domesday Survey represent a settlement of some 200 people in all. Of this land, Serlo de Burcy held 1 hide from the Abbot in 1086, and Aelmer held it before 1066.





The font is dated to 1170 in the Church Guide. Its author's iconographic interpretation is worth quoting at length,

'It is supported by four carved figures round a short cylindrical column. The author of this booklet considers these carvings to represent “harpies”. A harpy was a mythical creature with the head and breasts of a woman and the wings and body of a bird like a vulture. The harpy was the attribute of Avarice, one of the seven deadly sins. In classical antiquity harpies were male or female birds of prey that snatched food from the table and fouled what they could not eat. and they are sometimes seen in medieval churches as a warning against prostitution.

‘Four devils’ heads are crushed beneath the base: these represent the sins that are expurgated by Baptism.'

This interpretation is interesting, but if it is correct, the harpies are comfortably bland and even benign; as with the animal head spurs (which also look benign to the author), there appears to be limited differentiation between the four examples (although, naturally, differential erosion has resulted in some superficial distinction). Perhaps all eight heads, animal and human, were intended to be minatory, but they could equally have been conceived as watchful and protective.


Anon, Church Guide

F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications or England’s Patron Saints, 3 vols, London 1899, III, 223.

Historic England Listed Building 268364

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset North Somerset and Bristol. Harmondsworth 1958, 163.

Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 22204.