All Saints Church, Corston
AN OUTLINE OF THE CHURCH'S HISTORY
The Saxons gave the village its name, calling their settlement Corstune, meaning the village by the marshy stream. Much later a 10th century Saxon charter confirms a gift of land at Corston from King Edmund to the Abbots of Bath.
These Saxon Abbots may have built a church at Corston. A charter of about 1080 speaks of Leofnoth a peasant attached to the glebe 'aet Korstune', and the existence of glebe land suggests that there was already a priest and church. Today it is possible to distinguish five periods of building -
In 1180 'Abel the Priest' is recorded as Parson of Corston, so we know that a church must have existed in the Norman period. We can conjecture that it was built either by the Abbots of Bath, who held Corston after the conquest, or by the St. Loes who acquired the manor in later Norman times. The only certain reminder of this early church is the round-topped Norman Archway at the present North Door.
During the 13th century the church was rebuilt in the Early English style. Its Chancel and Nave stood where they are today, but it was a dark barn-like building lit only by a few narrow lancet windows on each side, with a larger East Window over the Altar. The present Chancel dates, with little change, from this time.
It seems that in the 16th century an earlier tower was refashioned into its present form. The short octagonal recessed Spire and battlements were added and the West face altered. The datestone 1622 may mark the completion of this work, perhaps delayed by the Reformation.
At this time a gallery existed at the West End of the Nave, and around 1745 the church was much repaired. A painting of about 1810, showing the North side of the church, depicts Chancel, Tower and Spire much as today. The Nave, however, still had its 13th century lancet windows, and battlements hid its flat roof.
In 1865 the old North wall of the Nave was knocked down and the present North Aisle added with windows in Victorian Gothic style. The Chancel was restored and heightened but otherwise, like Tower and Spire, left much as before. The Georgian roofs and the Perpendicular battlements of the Nave were replaced by the wagon roofs of the present church. Inside the church was reseated and the gallery removed, to be replaced in 1907 by the present Organ Gallery.
The church we see today, still much used and loved, unites all these styles in one warm, gentle, and very English building.
Listing NGR: ST6949265283
The North Aisle and Nave
The North door, set in the roundtopped Norman archway, leads directly into the Victorian North Aisle. When this Aisle was built in 1865 this Norman arch, probably the inner arch of the old North Door, was taken down and rebuilt in its present position.
Immediately above the door is a fine Royal Coat of Arms, celebrating the restoration of the Monarchy after the Civil Wars. Many such Royal Arms are of later date, and Corston is lucky to possess an authentic Restoration Coat, with the crowned initials C.R. for Carolus Rex (Charles II), and the date of his return, 1660.
The south wall of the Nave has a door into the vestry reached by a low roundtopped tunnel arch, possibly the South doorway of the first church. Next to this doorway is the painting (about 1810) of the church before the North Aisle was built. Further towards the chancel are two straightheaded windows, and then the only 13th century lancet window remaining from the Early English Nave. It apparently survived by being blocked up rather than replaced, and was found and reopened in 1865.
The Corston Charities
As you enter All Saints Church by the main porch and look to the right, on the wall immediately to your right (this is the north wall of the church) there are three stone memorial tablets and three brass plaques.
Although restored in 1865, the Chancel retains its 13th century lancet windows, its priest's door, and much of the atmosphere of a medieval church. A late 13th century Piscina with cinquefoil carving is built into the East wall to the right of the Altar. This was a basin for washing the sacred vessels used in the Mass. In the South wall is a recess, which was probably an Aumbry, a cupboard for the same vessels. These two medieval survivals were uncovered in 1865; presumably they had been filled in at the Reformation, when they would have been rejected as part of the ritual of the old Mass.
The Altar and the choir stalls were given in 1904 by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Above the Altar is the Victorian restoration of the original Early English East Window, composed of three stepped lancets under a common moulding. The stained glass in this window is by Powell of London, one of the most prolific of Victorian glaziers.
The Corston Tapestry
The Corston Tapestry was a Millennium project although it took nearly eight years from 1997 to 2005 for the work to be completed. Within the Tapestry there are references to well known local landmarks as well as to personalities, all of which have significant links with the life of All Saints Church. The Tapestry has created a great deal of interest, both within and beyond the diocese, and already several Church and other groups have arranged visits to the Church in order to see it.
There are four memorials to members of the Harington family who were squires of Corston in the 18th century. They were descended, in the illegitimate line, from King Henry VIM. Another ancestor was Sir John Harington who was Queen Elizabeth's Godson and a famous courtier. He is generally credited with the invention of the water closet, and was notorious for his dubious jokes on the subject.
The parish accounts show the Haringtons providing (at a cost!) the 'Tyols' for the Georgian repairs to the church roof. They were the last squires of Corston as such, selling their Corston estates at the end of the 18th century to Joseph Langton. He was already squire of Newton St. Loe, and his new purchase started the close association of Corston and Newton that largely persists today
The exterior of the church, though pleasing, displays its varied history. Looking at the North side (from right to left) there is the perpendicular Tower and Spire; the Norman doorway protected by the porch; the Victorian windows of the North Aisle; and finally the lancet windows, with trefoiled heads, of the Early English Chancel.
On the South side the quiet churchyard slopes towards the valley with the marshy stream that gave Corston its name. Looking back at the South side of the church (from right to left) there are first the four Early English lancet windows; above them the Victorian heightening of the Chancel plainly shews in the stonework. Then follow the two straightheaded windows; the Victorian vestry; and finally the Tower and Spire.
The West face of the Tower has a date stone 1622 on the ringing chamber window. There is also an inscription on lead over the West door which reads This Church was enlarged by the addition of a North Isle and reseated throughout, 1865, Richard Crawshay Hall, Robert Vigour, Church Wardens.'
The Tower itself carries the dumpy octagonal Spire, known as a 'candle snuffer' or 'extinguisher' spire. Spires on Somerset's medieval churches are rather rare, and even by including those as small as Corston's antiquarians can muster only eighteen in the county. Size is not everything, and Corston's little spire is a most charming and memorable feature of this ancient building.
CHURCH REGISTERS AND ACCOUNTS
The registers are continuous from 1569, the first recorded baptism being in 1567. The accounts contain much drama and comedy -
1738 To Charles Jenkins, for keeping Ye boy in order in Ye Church 5s 0d.'
1753 'For hauling Ye Bells Backwards and Forwards £1 10 0d.'
'For ale at taking down and Hanging Ye Bell 3s 0d.'
and the registers much that is pathetic -
1741 'November ye 2nd was buried a poor travelling boy aged about twelve years.'
THE CHURCH BELLS
In 1754 there were three bells known as Ye Great, Ye Least, and Ye Other. In that year Ye Great and Ye Least were recast into one single bell by the Bilbies, the famous bellfounders of Chew Stoke. Ye Other was sold in 1823 and it seems that Corston has only the one Bilbie bell until 1917. In that year Mr. F.L. Bartelt presented the set of eight bells in use today. A condition, honoured to this day, was that the bells be rung every year on September 23rd, the birthday of Fritz Bartelt in whose memory they were given. As records in the ringing chamber shew, Corston bells and bellringers now take their full share in making the bells of Somerset famous throughout the world.
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CHURCH BURIAL RECORDS
The Burial records can be viewed on the Bath Record Office website. The full list of Burial Records is now available to see in church with accompanying maps.