We use cookies to improve your experience, some are essential for the operation of this site.

St John the Baptist, Pilton, Somerset

(51°9′53″N, 2°35′26″W)
ST 588 408
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Somerset
now Somerset
medieval Wells
now Bath & Wells
  • Robin Downes
  • Robin Downes
31 July 2007, 12 May 2022

Please use this link to cite this page - https://www.crsbi.ac.uk/view-item?i=898.

Find out how to cite the CRSBI website here.


Pilton, Somerset (not to be confused with a village of the same name in Northamptonshire) lies 2.5 miles SW of Shepton Mallet, perched atop the historic route between Glastonbury and Shepton Mallet (now the A361) which leaves the Somerset Levels for the relative heights of Mendip. The church of St John the Baptist (at about 50m above sea level) dates from the 11thc and later; it was restored in 1870. It has Romanesque material in the S doorway and N arcade.


DB records that Glastonbury Abbey held the manor before the conquest and continued to do so in 1086. The medieval importance of the village to Glastonbury Abbey is suggested by the tradition that the nearby manor house (marked ‘Palace, remains of’ on OS maps) was a summer residence of the abbots, near the fine tithe barn. This was a wealthy and important manorial centre.


Exterior Features


Interior Features



In an area dominated by Lower Lias (specifically, the Langport member ‘Blue Lias’, together with Charmouth Mudstone) Pilton’s church and settlement core rest on the Westbury and Cotham members of Mudstone and Limestone interbedded. The author does not know the precise origin of the church fabric but there are several small quarries near Pilton marked on OS maps, the nearest being only just outside, S of the A361 as it leaves the village towards Shepton Mallet. However, there is an excellent source of freestone (Burrington Oolite limestone) not too far away 6mi NW, was at Dulcote Quarry just SE of Wells.

Sir Stephen Glynne visited the church before 1840 but did not record the S doorway (Stephen Glynne's Church Notes on Somerset, 273). This makes one wonder whether the present doorway can be original. The official listing text on the other hand treats it as fully authentic, describing the feature as a 'Norman south doorway with chevron decoration', without making any reference to the restoration which is apparent from a cursory glance at the fabric. The RH capital even appears to be spliced together from two or three pieces of stone. One wonders if the original doorway collapsed and was reconstructed here using a small number of salvaged fragments.

The date of the N arcade is often presumed to be 12thc; the official listing text says c.1150, but this would seem rather early for the tall pointed arches of the arcade. Indeed, it is only the capitals which could be described as Romanesque, although their decorative restraint and careful modelling is not what one would expect from this era. While the bases are not far from a contemporary idiom, they feel more Early English in execution. One ventures to suggest that a date in the very late 12th or even turn of the 13thc seems more probable. Possibly the trumpet scallops supporting a pointed arcade could be viewed as an example of stylistic overlap or a throwback to earlier Romanesque forms at the start of the Gothic age (compare the similar motif atop a Purbeck marble pillar in the 13thc Chapter House at Elstow Abbey, Bedfordshire).

  1. F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications (London, 1899), III, 226.

Historic England listing 1058818, online at CHURCH OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST, Pilton - 1058818 | Historic England

M. McGarvie (ed.), Sir Stephen Glynne's Church Notes on Somerset (Somerset Record Society, 1994), 273.

  1. N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset (Harmondsworth, 1958), 271.

R. Raynsford, A Guide to St John the Baptist Parish Church, Pilton, Somerset (Pilton, 2014).

Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 21251. Online at http://webapp1.somerset.gov.uk/her/text.asp