A Brief History

RECTOR: Reverend Caroline Ralph

The Rectory, Church Lane, Carhampton, TA24 6NT

Tel: 01643 821812:

Available daily except Mondays

BENEFICE OFFICE: Administrative Assistant: Tracey Staples

Tel: 01643 821812 e-mail:

Wednesdays 9.15 am to 12.15 pm/Thursdays 9.15 am to 4.15 pm


We are pleased to welcome all visitors to the church. Please feel free to explore this beautiful church and should a service be in progress when you visit do come and join in.

The Church: Carhampton is unusual in that it had two churches from the pre-Norman period until the Reformation. The earlier church was sited with its graveyard to the east of the present church and was dedicated to St. Carantoc, a Welsh missionary who settled in this area in the fifth century. Legend records that he encountered Prince Arthur and killed a dragon that was causing havoc in the area. Whether Carhampton is named from Carantoc is not certain. Excavations and research suggest that there may have been an early monastic site near Carantoc’s church. When John Leland travelled through the district during the reign of Henry VIII he mentioned two churches in Karentokes Town. Excavations have identified the early burial ground. The first recorded priest was Thomas in 1297 but the church of St John the Baptist as we know it today was mainly built in the fifteenth century. Additional work was carried out in the late-fifteenth/early-sixteenth century when the south aisle was extended. In 1499 the church house, which stood on the site of the present Butcher’s Arms car park, was described as newly built. This is where church ales - money-raising events which included the sale of locally brewed beer - were held. Later it became the parish poorhouse. In the 18th Century there was a singers gallery at the rear but by the turn of the 19th Century it had gone and the church fabric had deteriorated and in 1862-63 a full-scale restoration of the church took place under the direction of the London architect, C E Giles. Part of the north wall was rebuilt and much of the roof replaced. The interior of the church was also remodelled at this time and new seating installed. In 1870 the old squat tower, topped with a timbered upper storey with saddle back roof, was rebuilt in what was described as “rather an exotic style for this part of the country”. In 1956 the N.E. Tower finial - some 15 feet high, broke off in a gale and had to be promptly rebuilt. In 2003 the Victorian roof needed replacing and more repairs were needed to the tower roof and redecoration of the church interior was also carried out. In 2014-15 a large restoration project was undertaken to bring the church into the 21st Century. New heating was installed and a toilet put into the Bell Tower as well as a servery with running water to allow refreshments to be served. During this work several of the rear pews were removed to allow for different forms of worship and social events. The slate slabs in the porch were lifted and a slope made to allow for disabled access.

The Church Plate: The Church Plate comprises a Chalice 1643, Flagon 1753, Paten 1910 as well as a Silver Wafer Box and a pair of Wine and Water Cruets which are modern.

The Rood Screen: The painted rood-screen, which is the church’s greatest treasure, poses certain problems because it does not seem to be in its original setting although it has been made to fit snugly enough against a pillar. It overlaps one of the south windows and even before the restoration there was no indication of any door or steps leading to the rood-loft. The screen has been dated to c.1500, which is when the aisle was extended. One suggestion is that it might have come originally from another church, perhaps the other church in Carhampton, which was still standing at that time. The screen is richly coloured and gilded. At the restoration of the church in 1862-63 it was repainted by Miss Luttrell under the direction of Archdeacon Willoughby Jermyn and it is said that the work is an exact reproduction of the original save for the words from the Te Deum painted on the east side.

The Organ: The original single manual, tracker action pipe organ with the painted casing was installed at the time of the 1862-70 renovations. It was restored in 1950 by George Osmond of Taunton and dedicated as a memorial to Arthur and Mary Windsor and fellow worshipers. As part of the 2014-15 renovations that organ was removed and given to a church in Northern Ireland and now light floods in from the window which was blocked by the organ and the area can again be used as a small Lady Chapel. The current digital organ was purchased from St George’s Church, Dunster in 2017.

Memorials: On the south wall is the brass memorial to Aldred Escott which is signed by Sherborn and on the north wall are several brass war memorials. One erected to the fallen of WW1, one for WW2 and one for Tom Baker who died in the Boer War as well as the Tyler memorial which records the names of both father and son. The son died in WW1 and the father in 1908. At the end of the south aisle is a marble memorial to Sara Trevelyan of Knole with a Latin inscription. She was the daughter of Thomas, eldest son of Hugh Trevelyan of Yarnscombe in Devon and she died 26th November 1667 aged 37. There are two inscribed flagstones on the floor at the end of the south aisle. One is a memorial to William Lovelace and his wife Elizabeth Ann. He was Vicar of Carhampton and his wife was also the daughter of a previous vicar, John Mayo. Elizabeth died in 1724 aged 33 and William in 1754 aged 64. Alongside this stone is another one partly illegible, dedicated to John Knight, surgeon, who was buried 18th September 1733 aged 33.

The Pulpit: Is 19th Century and was probably installed at the time of the 1862 alterations.

The Altar Rails: Are a memorial, with wide open balusters in oak and presented

in memory of Mrs Helen Barry in 1944.

The Peter Pence Box: This wooden Chest with large iron bands and locks is difficult to date but is more probably the ancient Parish Treasure Chest which was kept in the Parish Church for safety.

The Bells: The church has six bells. Ringers through the centuries have rung the bells for both sad and happy occasions, as well as signalling the start of church services. The original bells were cast in different centuries, by different founders and the oldest dated from 1612 until, in 1928, they were taken down and the metal of the old bells used to make a new ring of six. Gillett & Johnson of Croydon undertook the work and re-hung the bells with new fittings in the old two-tier frame. The Lord Bishop of Bath & Wells re-dedicated the bells on 22nd September 1929. Each of the bells carries an inscription. Most were copied from the original, when the bells were recast.

Stained Glass Window: During the twentieth century several additions and improvements were made to the church. In 1906 the east window was installed, the only stained glass in the church. It depicts the Last Supper and was placed there in memory of “TDCC”, whose identity is still to be verified.

The Font: The present font is 19th Century and was erected at the time of the restoration of 1862-70. The previous fine old Norman Font was discarded at that time and placed in the Tower and later given to Rodhuish Church, about 1890. At the same time Rodhuish gave their beautiful black marble Font to Sampford Brett, whose Font had been presented to Williton Workhouse for use in the baptism of the pauper infants.

The Churchyard: Is reputed to be the largest Churchyard in the whole of Somerset and includes a “right of way” which no doubt was the old original cart-road. It also includes the remains of an ancient stone Preaching Cross. There are a number of similar crosses in the area and it has been suggested that they were built in the 16th Century. The graveyard also includes a number of old chest tombs and two graves maintained by the War Graves Commission. One from WW1 and one from WW2. During the renovation work in 2014 the skeleton of a young medieval girl was unearthed. She was nicknamed “Alys” and has been reburied at the base of the tower.

The Lych Gate: Was erected in 1912 in memory of Revd. W Michell, vicar from 1872-1911.

Church Records: These are kept by the Somerset Record Office at Taunton but the first Register of Baptism, Marriages and Burials covers the period 1634-1652. There is a gap covering the period 1652-1677 when records were lost. Other records include: Inventories both of Carhampton and Rodhuish, Minutes of the PCC, Accounts going back to 1727-1758, Settlement Certificates 1668-1842, Removal Orders 1689-1842, Examinations 1752-1842, Justice Orders 1695-1740, Bastardy Orders 1768-1832, Bastardy Bonds 1688-1785, Bastardy Examinations 1766, Apprentice Indentures 1668-1836, Census Forms 1831 and Tithe Maps etc.

Boundary Changes: Carhampton and Rodhuish remained together as a single parish until 1954 when Rodhuish was made a separate parish and linked with Withycombe. Today Carhampton is part of a six-parish Dunster benefice which embraces Timberscombe and Wootton Courtenay as well as Withycombe, Rodhuish and Dunster.

St John the Baptist Church, Carhampton, Somerset.

© Payn Documentation Services 2021