Habitation has existed in the Tarrant Valley since the Iron Age. The earliest evidence of a place of worship in Tarrant Gunville can be seen in the arcading set into the wall of the north aisle, which suggests a date of about 1100 AD.
By the beginning of the 19th century, the previous building to the present one, was falling into decaying much of it was pulled down; and the main body of the Church in its present form was completely rebuilt. The architect T.H.Wyatt followed the lines of the old building as far as possible and St Mary's was consecrated on 2nd October 1845.
The Church comprises, chancel, nave, north and south aisles and a tower at the west end of the nave, which incorporates the baptistry. The aisles are separated from the nave by arcading of five bays and the walls extend to the north and south aisle roofs to form tw0 clerestories.
The walls are two feet (0.6m) thick, faced with knapped local flint and random rectangular Tisbury stones some of which possibly came from the part demolition of Eastbury House in the 18th century. Bath stone was also used , but mostly for later repairs.
THE TOWER AND BAPTISTRY
The walls of the baptistry are panelled in the Jacobean style, but the octagonal stone font is of unknown date and may have possibly come from the earlier 1503 building. It has carved emblems on the intersections of the eight sides and has an oak cover with wrought iron figuring.
On the north wall is an 18th century monument in marble dedicated to members of the Swayne family erected in 1726 by the son-in-law Wyndham Harbin of Harbins Park situated to the north west of the village.
On the north respond of the tower arch are scratched various names dating from 1768.
Above you, as you stand in the baptistry, is the ringing flooring above that is the belfry where there bells are hun, but today only the treble is used due to the age of the tower. All three bells have been cast with inscriptions as follows:
TREBLE: "John Turner, Thomas Saunders, churchwardens: Clement Tosier cast me in the year 1714, N.S."
SECOND: "In God we rejoice ever, I.W.1623 cast by John Wallace".
TENOR: "Cast by Thomas Mears of London in1843"
Turn now to face the altar and look up to see two windows above the chancel arch. These correspond with two, which were in a similar position in the earlier 1503 building. The design represents Tudor Arms quartered with those of two of Henry V111 wives, Queen Katherine Howard (who was later beheaded) and Queen Katherine Parr who survived him. Henry granted both Queens the manor and patronage of the living as part of the estate, which he settled on them at their marriage.
THE NORTH AISLE
At the east end of the aisle is a family owe, made in the Jacobean style, which belongs to the manor house that stands a short distance from the south west corner of the Church.
As you approach the pew, look to the right wall abutting the roof; there you will see the 12th century arcading mentioned in the introduction. When the church was rebuilt, these remains were placed in a position corresponding to their placing as discovered in the previous 1503 building. The arcading is made from Purbeck stone.
The vestry is to your left is usually locked but should you be lucky enough to be allowed in, you will see a window depicting the arms of University College, Oxford, former patrons of the living and of Dr Radcliffe, a celebrated physician and benefactor to both the college and Oxford university. (Today, it is the Queen who is Patron, the patronage having lapsed in 1957)
In the top quarter foil of the window is the cipher of John Watts the Rector at the time of the Church's restoration and its 1845 consecration. The east wall exit doorway, which can be seen from the outside, incorporates materials of unknown origins.
Returning to the vestry, walk past the 19th century pulpit over to the lectern, which in 1890, when the new organ was installed, replaced the double prayer desk. The deal was divided to provide the two priests desks positioned either side of the chancel. If you now turn rift to fave the tower and look up you will see the royal coat of arms of Queen Victoria above which is the inscription:- Fear God, Honour the King,
Move now to the chancel to view the coloured stencil wall, which was commissioned around 1910. The decoration is in the William Morris style and bears the latin inscription as follows:-
North Wall: Te rogamus audi nos Dominie
We ask you Lord, hear us
East Wall Credo in Sanctum Ecclesiam Catholicam
I believe in the Holy Catholic Church
South Wall Ut locum istum et omnes habitantes in eo visitare et consolari digneris
So that you might deem this place and all its inhabitants worthy to visit and encourage
The arched roof frames are of Tudor shape supported on carved Corbel stones. The stained glass altar window is early 20th century by C.E.Kempe. The chair dates from the 17th century and the linen chest is 18th century. The organ was installed in 1890 and cost £150.
Cross over now from the lectern to the south aisle and you immediately encounter Eastbury House pew belonging to the Farquharson family. Constructed in the Jacobean style it is available, by kind permission of the family, as a place for private prayer.
Beneath the east window of the south wallis an ancient 15th century brass plate. Further along the south wall is a marble tablet commemorating Thomas Wedgewood, third son of the potter Josiah Wedgewood.
Thomas Wedgwood was a pioneer of photography; and it being well known that daylight blackened silver nitrate he developed this knowledge to produce some of the earliest photography. However, he died in 1805 aged 34, before perfecting his technique. He was also a psychologist and used the manor house nursery as an observation centre. He also raised a corps of volunteers to resist Napoleoon in case he ever invaded England.
The windows of the west wall of the south aisle were originally two lancet windows taken from the chancel. these depict the arms of University College, Oxford, and the arms of the resident actor at the time of rebuilding. The windows are placed there as two memorials; firstly to the Reverend Pluntree D.D. master ofUniversity College, liberal benefactor and friend of the Rector, John Watts. Plumtree died in November 1870. The second memorial is to Join Watt's wife who died in 1869.
The entrance porch is a 14th century archway with a double-centred head to two chamfered orders. The rest of the porch contains much of the material from their;ier church, which accounts for the lack of flint work. Outside the porch and above you is a niche, which might have been a holy water stoop from the earlier church. To its right can be seen the weathered remains of a sundial incised in the stone.
Still further to your right on the south wall is a stone tablet recording the internment of a former rector, Sir Thomas Dacomb who died in 1567. The tablet is surmounted by the insignia of the Dacomb family, which is a chevron between three roses and three steeples. The inscription reads:
All fowr be but one, earth, flesh, worms and bones
(fowr being an old spelling of four)
The oldest complete part of the church is the tower, which predates both the 16th century and 19th century church buildings and mostly originates from an even earlier 15th century building, although much of the upper part was rebuilt in the 16th century. The tower was left intact when the rest of the church was pulled down prior to the last rebuilding in 1845. The roof line of the nave of the 16th century church can be seen high up on the east wall of the tower.
The north side of the tower has an entrance door leading to a spiral stone stairway going to the first floor and clock mechanism. The clock was give by Edwin Lucas in early 1900. He was a generous man, his memorial is inside the church, and he gave property to raise money for a trust, (which still exists) to help the poor of the village. The clock was refurbished by voluntary donations and converted to auto-wind as a 2000 Millennium project.
From the first floor of the tower an iron ladder gives access to the belfry and the turreted roof. The original pinnacles of the tower were removed and they are now standing by the threshold of the main entrance porch.
Today there are very few burial plots available but the modern practice of cremation eases the problem as ashes can be interred beneath a small memorial plaque close to the footings of one of the church walls.
St Mary's Church, like so many other ancient buildings, faces increasing maintenance costs. Much of these are borne by parishioners who struggle to keep the fabric in good repair to provide place of quiet and worship for community and visitors alike.
A walll safe by the exit door is available for donations towards the upkeep and these are always appreciated. Thank you.
Reproduced courtesy of D MORROW