The Church Building
All Saints Church, Nynehead is one of the gems of Somerset. The style is very early perpendicular and the main fabric of the building consists mostly of local red Permo-Triassic rock mixed with other types of stone. Because the tower is built largely of sandstone which is porous, in 1682 the tower was ‘ruf cast rendered using lyme, graivile & sundry burshells of heaire.’ The church owes a great deal to the Sanford family who furnished it with many of its present day art treasures.
The church has a nave, chancel, south aisle, and chapel at the east end, a north transept abutting on the nave, and a south porch. In the early 19th century a carved stone head was found while some restoration of the church was in progress so this would indicate that the present church was built from the remains of a former building. There is a piscina in the south wall of the sanctuary which is of the 13th century (1220AD) and the foundations of the chancel are also 13th century, although the present chancel & headdresses on the dripstones were built in the time of Henry IV (1399-1413). The tower is the earliest portion of the church, and the stair-turret is stopped at the ringers’ floor with a sloping roof – a picturesque arrangement for a small church.
The tower at the west end of the church was built about the time of Richard 11 (1377-99). The tower arch is a little earlier namely 13th century and is of the early pointed style. Under the tower is the old doorway to the former stairway leading to the ringing chamber.
The south aisle was added to the church by the de Wyke family in 1410 and the chancel arch was also added by the family in 1412. The oak rood screen was put in by the son of Richard de Wyke in 1480 along with the rood screen stairs. The south porch was built a little later. The south door is of the 14th century style but is probably 17th century.
Some of the buttresses on the south wall appear to be relatively modern and may have been added in 1869 when the major renovations to the church took place. There may have been some subsidence due to the building of the Sanford vault under the south aisle. It is said that the vault contains the remains of the early members of the Sanford family, many of whom are in lead coffins. The effect of movement can also be seen inside the church as some of the pillars on the north side of the south aisle lean at a slight angle.
In the year 1869 the church was closed for major restoration and extension. During the time of closure, services were held in the ‘Orangery’ of Nynehead Court. The restoration involved the removal of all the horsebox pews which were replaced by modern oak pews. The Mortuary Chapel and organ chamber were built on the north side. The organ was moved from under the tower to its new chamber by Mr John Toms of Wellington and it was enlarged.
In 1912 the north wall of the nave was rebuilt replacing some of the original 13th century building. In 1959 the tie bars were placed between the walls of the nave in order to stabilise the building. The church was re-wired in 1968
In 1971 the nave roof of the church had to be replaced, which took three months, during which time the services were held at the village Memorial Hall. In order to fund this work, the church had to sell a marble tabernacle by Mino Di Giovanni (1431-1486), a remarkable piece with a gem like finish and extreme delicacy of detail.
The driveway up to the church is lined with large sweet chestnut trees (probably planted in the mid 19th century) and in the spring the churchyard is covered with snowdrops. These are followed by a yellow carpet of primroses, which cover the ground between the gravestones, some of which date back to the 16th century. Before the advent of tombstones, the ground was used repeatedly and many remains have been found when clearing drains etc near to the church walls. When one paid a fee to have a tombstone erected in order to mark a grave, one did not purchase the freehold, one merely compensated the vicar for the loss of grass, the keep for his sheep.
The Churchyard is the Vicar’s freehold and it is still within the law for the Vicar to keep sheep in the churchyard or to give permission for sheep to graze there, but not horses or cows. However, in modern times the care of the churchyard is generally vested in the Parochial Church Council who is responsible for the upkeep.
The Church Interior
A survey by Edmund Rack in the 1780’s gives a full description of the church, much of which we would recognise today. However, there were differences: Inside the church there was a singing gallery at the west end under the tower, and a pulpit and a reading desk, all of “neat panelled wainscot”. The church was not kept in a good condition. The communion table was covered with “an old wormeaten blue cloth fringd white”, while the floor, comprised of mixed bricks and stone was “not damp but kept dirtily”.
One hundred years later the church looked very different. The singing gallery had been removed and an organ had been installed in 1821 under the tower, which was later to be removed to the present position after the Sanford extension had been built. Today the interior of the church is one of the gems of the county, reflecting the influence of the successive owners of the Court and of the craftsmen and artists used through the ages.
The arch into the mortuary chapel was formed from an original window, the chancel arch was built in 1412 by one of the de Wyke family and the arch between the Sanford Chapel and the organ is of a much later period and is considered to be of the late 1930’s. This arch is of hamstone, very narrow and pointed.
The present pulpit is 19th century (probably from the 1869 restoration). The two bolts on the top rail indicate where candlesticks formerly stood.
The organ is thought to have come from Chipley Park and was bought by the Churchwardens for £87 in 1821. It was originally a one manual (keyboard) instrument and was built under the tower in the 18th century. It was later enlarged to a two manual instrument, with pedals and was moved to its present position when the Sanford’s extended the church in 1869. The swell is believed to have been manufactured by Vowles of Bristol in the 19th century, and the bellows were made by John Robert Toms of Wellington. The carving on the front of the organ case was once part of the rood screen in the Hillfarance Church.
The 15th century font of perpendicular style is placed near the south door entrance.
The reredos of the altar, dated 1871, is in three parts. On each side are lovely enamel paintings on opaque glass; they were made and burnt in by Messrs. Powell of London in 1871 and are some of his earliest work. These panels are numbered 21 in his order book and he made some 968 in all. The one on the right is listed as ‘Walk to Emmaus’ and depicts Jesus and Peter and the one on the left is ‘Feeding my lambs’. They were designed by Holiday and cost 6 guineas (£6 – 30p) in total. The bas-relief of the Ascension in the centre was carved by Mr Seymour of Taunton.
At the entrance to the Sanford Chapel in the rood screen pillar there is a hagioscope or squint which enabled the people to see the Host during the Mass. The only place that one could see the altar would have been through the squint.
The wagon roof in the chancel has a wall plate which is beautifully carved with a festoon of roses, with foliage and flowers both large and small. The roof of the nave is divided into 24 sections and each intersection is marked by a carved boss. Three of the bosses represent grotesque masks, crudely carved and the rest are roses. The wagon roof of the south aisle is of a later date (early 15th century) and the intersections are marked by bosses carved in concentric circles. The nave roof was repaired in 1971 but the bosses are original and a metre of the original wall plate can be seen by the rood screen on the north side. This is probably a portion of the original 15th century roof.
The Rose window in the mortuary chapel and the one on the east wall above the organ were made by Messrs Heaton, Butler and Bain of London in 1869.
The small enamels in the south wall of the sanctuary were made from designs of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792); they were designed on one of his visits to Nynehead Court. The window on the south wall is thought to have been designed by a different artist as it is of the Italian Renaissance style.
The tower contains 6 engraved bells and these were restored in 2008 after having not been used since 1989 due to significant damage to the beam structure. Prior to the Reformation in 1530, Nynehead Church had only one bell and this was rung three times at the Elevation of the Host in order to let the people in the village know that the most important moment in the mass had arrived. This pre-reformation bell is still in the tower and it was cast by Thomas Geffries in about 1500. This is the only known bell where the founder used capital letters throughout. At the Reformation bells were broken up for the metal but it is said that this bell was buried in the churchyard, then some years later it was then dug up and restored to the tower.
The Bells are still rung today, and the church is always happy to invite new bell ringers to join them.