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St Michael, Clapton-in-Gordano, Somerset

(51°27′29″N, 2°46′4″W)
ST 467 735
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Somerset
now North Somerset
medieval Wells
now Bath & Wells

medieval St Michael
now St Michael
  • Robin Downes
  • Robin Downes
23 March 2009

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Clapton-in-Gordano is near Clevedon in the NE tip of Somerset near the seaside town of Clevedon. Although still a marshy area, the Gordano valley must once have been muddy enough to deserve its naming: the first element meaning ‘mire’ and the second ‘valley’. ‘Clapton’ means ‘hill-settlement’. The church of St Michael lies quite high above the valley, at about 30m OD, above the lane which runs along the southern edge of the Gordano valley, all alone on its platform above the nearby Court. As Pevsner says: ‘The dedication is explained by the sitiing of the church, all alone on a bluff.’ The church, which is built with sandstone and limestone rubble, with limestone dressings, consists of a W tower, nave, S porch, N chapel and chancel. The Romanesque elements consist of N and S doorways, tower arch and windows and corbel table.


In 1086, like much land in this part of the county, the manor belonged to the Bishop of Coutances.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

N doorway

A 13thc date has been suggested for the N doorway, but the rough tooling suggests it may well be earlier.

Tower windows

Dogtooth ornament could be said to be a Romanesque exercise in chevron variation.

Corbel table

The fieldworker writes that 'There are only two figured corbels on the E Face: both very dejected humans. What is the explanation, if any?'

Perhaps more to the point is that the corbels on the S and E faces are entirely Romanesque, whereas several corbels on the less often-seen N side are different, being wider and plain quadrant blocks. Were the corbels salvaged and re-used on the most viisble sides first?

A similar tower corbel-table is found not far away at Christon.

Tower arch

The masks at the top of the shafts are Romanesque features, recalling the heads of animals or humans gripping with their teeth, swallowing/spewing out the columns below so frequent in the Saintonge area of south-west France, for example. Much more puzzling to the author are the strange slots below the head in the S shaft. These may well be later modifications to locate beams, for instance.

  1. F. Arnold-Forster Studies in Church Dedications (London, 1899), III, 88.

Historic England listing 1129088

M. McDermott, Church Guide (Historic Churches Preservation Trust, 1996).

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol (Harmondsworth, 1958), 166.

S. Rippon, 'Landscape, Community and Colonisation: the North Somerset Levels during the 1st to 2nd millennia AD', CBA Research Report 156 (2006).