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The parish of Selworthy in the county of Somerset, some notes on its history online

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in 1297.


Ancient Chapels in the Holnicote Valley.

ESIDES the churches of St. Mary's,
Luccombe, and All Saints', Sel-
worthy, there exist in the Holnicote
valley two tiny mediaeval chapels ;
and the ruins of a third, and perhaps
even of a fourth chapel, are to be
traced. On the south side of the parish and in the centre
of the hamlet of Tivington there stands a little chapel,
which an ancient will which contains a bequest to it tells
us is dedicated to St. Leonard. The building was with-
in recent times used as a storehouse and barn by the in-
habitants of the cottage which is built against its east
end. Some years ago it was repaired and used as a
dame's school, and until recently it has been used
during the week for this purpose, while occasional ser-
vices have been held in it on week days and on Sun-

As no occasion now exists for a dame's school in
the hamlet, the little place has of late been used
entirely for religious purposes, and has just been re-
stored. It still possesses its ancient thatched roof,
which is supported on moulded oak beams rising from
behind a prettily moulded wall plate, which appears to

Ancient Chapels in the Holnicote Valley. 31

be an old copy of a still earlier design. The roof was
formerly open to the thatch ; but of late years it has
been boarded between the beams. During the recent
restoration the outer jambs of a lancet window were
uncovered in the east end of the chapel. And on the
south side of the sacrarium a narrow window, hitherto
built up, has been re-opened ; and close beneath it the
remains of the piscina were found. The east end and
south side of the chapel, and the western doorway, are
evidently the oldest portions of the building, and may
be as early, possibly, as the fourteenth century. But
the square-headed windows on the north side of the
chapel must have been inserted quite late in the Per-
pendicular period.

The chapel is 29ft. in length, in the clear ; 14ft.
6in. wide ; 9ft. 6in. high to wall plate ; and 18ft. high
to apex of roof. The intersections of the beams were
covered, until recent years, by bosses, decorated by
figures of saints, etc.

No tradition exists as to who was the builder of the
chapel ; but it is another example of the multitude 01
small district chapels which before the Reformation
existed in the outlying districts of our scattered agri-
cultural parishes. The so-called mission chapels
which are at the present time being erected in so
many of our large country parishes are no new method
of meeting a want which was recognised as fully in
the Middle Ages as it is in the present time. The
owners of manors lying at a distance from the parish
church, used to build chapels for the use of themselves
and their dependants, where the old, the infirm, and
the very young could worship regularly. At the same

32 History of Selworthy.

time, all parishioners who were at all able to do so,
were expected to attend the parish church occasionally,
and especially at the greater festivals. And the old
church path leading from many a lonely hamlet to the
parish church, at one time well used, and kept in order
by the church rate, bears witness to the fact that these
chapels were not intended to supersede the parish
church. 1

Of this system, the hamlet of Tivington is a good
example. There is the manor house, Blackford, at
one time a place of much importance. There is the
chapel, for the use of the lord of the manor and his
tenants, situated in the midst of the hamlet of Tiving-
ton, which formed part of the Blackford estate, and
there is the church path still to be traced, leading
straight from the hamlet, by a long ascent of two
miles or more, to the parish church.

Following the course of an old and very circuitous
lane which runs down from the chapel, we reach the
site of the old manor house at Blackford, and join the
main road to Luccombe. Passing through the pictur-
esque village, and leaving the newly-restored church
of St. Mary and the rectory on the right, we ascend a
steep piece of hill, at the top of which is a four-cross
way. The road to the north leads to West Luccombe
and Porlock ; the one to the east to Holnicote ; and
the highway on the west climbs the side of the moor,
at this point clothed with fir woods, towards Cloutsham
and Dunkerry. And besides these four roads, a very
ancient track leads off through the woods and along

i. Ncwbery House Mag., 1890, p. 219.

Ancient Chapels in the Holnicotc Valley. 33

the moor, to the hamlet and church of Stoke Pero.
This path is traditionally called the Priest's Path.

At the point where this ancient way branches off
from the road to West Luccombe, we find the scanty
remains of another tiny chapel, about two miles from
the chapel of St. Leonard. A few mounds of earth
alone marked the site of this building until recently,
when the owner kindly gave the writer permission to
excavate the ground plan of the chapel. At the depth
of about two feet below the surface, and beneath the
roots of a dead tree, some old knives were found, and
a silver instrument, of which the use is uncertain.
The chapel had for many generations been used as a
stone quarry ; but a few pieces of window jambs were
found buried beneath the soil, and the footing of the
walls was found to be fairly intact. A rise in the floor
of the building, about two feet from the east wall,
marks, perhaps, the original site of the altar. The
chapel was 28 feet long in the clear, and 15 feet wide.
Although so small, it had, apparently, three doors, as
the chapel at Lynch has. It is difficult to guess at
the object of these three doors, unless, indeed, they
were of use for processions.

Like the chapel of St. Leonard, it is difficult to
arrive with any certainty at the history of this building.
A chapel dedicated to St. Saviour undoubtedly existed
somewhere in the parish of Luccombe in the fourteenth
century, for we find the following entry in Drokensford's
Register," August 13, 1316: — Geoffrey de Luccombe
to have chantry in chapel, "intra curiam suam, de
Luccombe " served at his own cost, " salvo jure matris

34 History of Selworthy.

If this entry refers to this ruined building, we thus
get the date of its foundation. But " intra curiam
suam " seems to imply a building within the manor or
court house of Geoffrey de Luccombe. This chapel of
St. Saviour appears to have been held in considerable
repute, and to have attracted the devout offerings of
the faithful. Thus, Thomas Coppe, of Selworthy, by
his will, dated 20 Nov., 1533, leaves a " shepe to S.
Savyour, as well as to the store of our lady of Luc-

But in 1548 no chantry is returned as existing in
the parish of Luccombe. Probably, by that time, the
churchwardens or others interested in the building,
had prepared for the coming storm by selling the
sacred vessels and furniture, and, perhaps, even the
material of the chapel itself. It is difficult to see why
the site of this chapel was chosen. There is no evi-
dence of there ever having been any population in its
immediate neighbourhood ; and the lie of the ground
forbids the supposition. The chapel, however, com-
mands the first view coming from Luccombe, of the
sea, and lies at the foot of the moor. It is possible
that it was built, and masses ordained to be said here,
by some pious person, to commemorate his escape
from some great peril on the sea or on the moor. In
the early Middle Ages our forefathers considered that
wild tracts of moorland, like the hills above our
valley, were the haunts of demons and dragons, and
wayside chapels were sometimes built on the edge of
the moor to keep these enemies of mankind at bay.
When the writer was excavating the site, a very
ancient person who happened to pass, assured him

Ancient Chapels in the Holnicote Valley. 35

that her forebears had always known that a chest of
gold laid buried beneath the building. He was not
fortunate enough, however, to secure this interesting
treasure! 1152318

Descending the hill to the picturesque banks of the
Horner, we pass through the hamlet of West Luc-
combe, and following a footpath which crosses the
main road from Minehead to Porlock at New Bridge,
in about another two miles we reach the hamlet of
West Lynch, which is separated by the Horner Stream
from the larger hamlet of Bossington, which belongs
to the ecclesiastical parish of Porlock. Here, in a very
romantic situation, beside the Aller Water which just
below this point joins the Horner, and close to an
ancient house of an apparently late fifteenth century
date, stands a pretty chapel of the Perpendicular period.
Until the last few years it formed part of the buildings
of the adjoining farm, and was used as a storehouse.
But it has of late years been restored by Sir Thomas
Acland, and has been used for Divine Service since
the institution of the present rector of Selworthy.
The chapel is 30ft. long, by 19ft. 6in. wide. It is
1 8ft. high to the wall plate, and 23ft. to the apex of
the roof.

The chapel possesses a fine oak roof, with hand-
somely moulded beams. Most of the original bosses,
all of which are of foliage patterns, still remain in situ.
The detail of the chapel is all very good, and the east
window is particularly noticeable. The piscina re-
mains in a fairly perfect condition. On each side of
the altar are two much mutilated brackets, which sup-
ported either figures of saints or a reredos. The

36 History of Selworthy.

building is probably of the same date as the south
aisle of the parish church, i.e. circa 1520. The altar
table at present standing in the chapel was removed
from the parish church some time ago.

Nothing very certain is as yet known about the
history of the chapel, nor has the writer been able to
ascertain its dedication. It seems most probable that
it was built as a chapel-of-ease for the use of the in-
habitants of Bossington ; and yet it lies just within
the confines of the manor of Allerford.

Had the building, however, been destined primarily
for the use of the Allerford people, it would have been
built half a mile further up the valley. At the same
time, the Raleigh family, who owned the manor of
Allerford and property in Porlock parish as well, and
who were great benefactors to the church in Somerset-
shire, may have founded a chapel here.

When the history of the manor of Bossington is
given to the public, light, probably, will be thrown
upon this point.

Various questions suggest themselves regarding
these little chapels, at one time so numerous through-
out the country. For whom were they intended ?
How were they furnished ? Still more, how were they
served ? and what services were given in them ?

We have seen above that these buildings were
generally built by the owner of a manor lying at a
distance from the parish church, for the accommodation
of himself and his family, and as places where those of
his tenants, who were unable to reach the parish church,
might regularly worship. Many charters still exist,
giving permission to private persons to have chapels

Ancient CJiapels in the Holnicotc Valley. 37

within their houses, as e.g. to the above-mentioned
Geoffrey de Luccombe, and to a certain Joan de
Raleigh, to construct one within her manor house at
Rowdon, in Stogumber parish.

In the late middle ages, noblemen delighted in the
splendour of their private chapels. We read, for in-
stance, that the earl of Northumberland, in the early
part of the reign of Henry VIII, maintained for his
chapel a dean, ten priests, and a choir of seventeen
men and boys, whose surplices, it is noted, were washed
sixteen times a year.

Prebendary Hingeston Randolph has recently given
to the public some interesting particulars as to these
chapels. 1 They are drawn from his investigation of
the record of the visitations of the estates belonging
to the bishop of Exeter, in the end of the thirteenth
century and the beginning of the fourteenth. The
Visitors, he tells us, found in the chapel of the manor
of Norton, in the parish of Newton St. Cyres, in
Devonshire, " a missal, without note, showing that the
services were not generally, at all events, sung. A
manual (an office book containing the services for
baptism, extreme unction, etc.), a breviary, also with-
out notes ; a psalter in good condition, two sets of
vestments, a chalice gilt within, two cruets, two bells
for the dead, a vessel for the holy water, a ' pax board,'

Such furniture, perhaps, might have belonged to
Lynch chapel, before Henry VIII and Edward VI
wrought havoc amongst the ecclesiastical buildings

1. Newbery House Magazine, 1890, p. 220.

38 History of Selworthy.

throughout the land. And to this we may add that
the chapel was probably furnished with oak stalls, as
some small and very delicately moulded stall ends
were recently found in the ancient house adjoining the
chapel, which looked as if they might have belonged
to the building.

Mr. Hingeston Randolph's investigation enlightens
us, also, as to the services held in these chapels, and
how they were served. The larger chapels had their
resident chaplain. At Shute, in Devonshire, the chap-
lain, he relates, appeared before the Visitors and com-
plained of the condition of the chapel, the roof of
which was in so faulty a condition that mass could not
be said there in wet weather ; and yet the poor parson
had to sleep in this half-ruined building for want of
other accommodation.

It seems quite possible that Lynch chapel might
have had at one time a resident chaplain ; and that
the tradition, that the pretty old house adjoining it was
the " priest's house," may be true. In this ancient
house the chaplain may well have lived, enjoying a
stipend paid by the owner of the manor, or even by
his congregation themselves.

But not every district chapel could have had its
chaplain. How were the smaller buildings like Tiv-
ington chapel, and the one at Chapel Steep served ?
There were, Mr. H. Randolph informs us, existing in
most dioceses at the end of the thirteenth century,
and just anterior to the date of the building of St.
Saviour's Chapel, at Luccombe, a number of clergy,
"who were for the most part unbeneficed, and who
were largely employed as curates-in-charge for non-

Ancie)U Chapels in the Holnicote Valley. 39

resident incumbents, and sometimes as assistant
curates. They were called chaplains ; and there can
be no doubt that the little hamlet sanctuaries, which
were once so numerous in the land, were not un-
frequently served by their means." "These Capellani
were under the direct control of the bishop. And our
episcopal registers show that it was an effectual con-
trol. The diocesan was accustomed to punish them
when he ordered them to undertake the charge of any
parish, and, as was sometimes the case, they refused
to go."

From the researches of the same writer, we learn,
not only how our manor chapels were served, but
what the services at the three chapels in our valley
probably were. The chapel of Norton in the parish
of Newton St. Cyres was served by one of the above-
mentioned chaplains, whose stipend in this case was
paid by the rector alone. These were the services he
gave : — " On every Sunday he read to them out of the
holy Gospel, sprinkled them with holy water, and dis-
tributed the blessed bread. On every Wednesday
and Friday throughout the year he said mass in the
chapel, and on Christmas and Easter days he gave
them the full service {plenum servicium), by which no
doubt was meant matins followed by mass. In Lent he
received them to confession, and in his chapel he
baptised their children."

Probably there would have been no preaching at
these chapels, and, indeed, sermons were not invariably
preached even in important churches on Sundays.

It is worthy of note that these little buildings, how-
ever small and humble the structure, were no mere


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Online LibraryFrederick HancockThe parish of Selworthy in the county of Somerset, some notes on its history → online text (page 3 of 21)