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St Mary's


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From 1934 Deanery Magazine

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The church of St Mary the Virgin
East Brent

A short history
Penelope Harris

Published by the PCC of
St Marys Church East Brent Somerset.
With additional information by Paul Kingdon


The first mention of East Brent is in a charter of 693AD under which King Ina of the West Saxons gave ‘Brentmarse’ to the Alnod Abbot of Glastonbury. The Abbey held it until the dissolution in 1539. At the time of the Doomsday Book (1086) it is recorded that there were a total of 46 houses in the parish. A priest called Godwin was resident in the parish.

In 1203, one Martin de Summa was parson, he was followed by Gilbert of Sarum who was vicar in 1262 and was given a pension by the Abbot in return for land on the Knoll.

Once the Normans had invaded, many tiny parish churches were demolished and replaced by bigger, more elaborate buildings. East Brent was no exception.
A new church, the current building, was started in the late thirteenth century and by 1298 when Rogerus became vicar, most of the nave had been built. The tower and the spire were added about a century later. The oldest two bells still in use date from 1440 and 1450.

Abbot John Selwood was vicar from 1467 to 1493. As well as building himself a manor house adjacent to the church (demolished in 1708), he also brought from Glastonbury most of the pews. These bear his initials and are rich in fine carvings. The carved wooden eagle lectern dates from this period. It is one of the few surviving wooden medieval lecterns in England. There is also some fine fifteenth century stained glass.

There was a wave of activity in the church in the reign of Charles I during the incumbency of Philip Malet. In 1634 the pulpit was acquired and the following year a gallery. The fine lath and plaster ceiling of the nave with a blackberry thorn motif was added in 1637 by Italian craftsmen.

1840 to 1845 saw the short incumbency of William Towry Law and the rebuilding of the chancel. It is likely he was responsible for obtaining the already second hand tower clock which still tells the time for the village. In 1841 the first school was built.

The vicar for 51 years from 1845 to 1896 was Archdeacon George Anthony Dennison. A colourful High Church Victorian who was once tried for heresy. Following an epidemic of diphtheria he was responsible for the damming of the spring and the stream on the Knoll and so provided the village with its first supply of clean drinking water. However, his greatest claim to fame, together with churchwarden John Higgs, was the foundation in 1857 of the famous East Brent Harvest Home that is still carried on today in much the same tradition.

Another more recent incumbent which must be mentioned was the the Rev. Archdale Palmer Wickham. vicar of St Marys from 1911-1935. He was tremendously popular. He even had a road in the village named after him!  He played major first class cricket for Oxford University and later as wicketkeeper for Somerset CC.   He was also a knowledgeable entomologist. On his death in 1935 his study notes manuscripts and collection of butterflies and moths were lodge at the British Museum.  On the north side of the chancel is a stained glass window dedicated to the Rev. Wickham depicting his love of cricket and wildlife. The new church gates replaced in 2005 were dedicated to the Rev. Wickham.

Paul Kingdom  (Treasurer)

The vicarage, in the incumbency of the Ven. George Anthony Denison M. A. archdeacon of Taunton and Prebendary of Wells, had the tithes commuted at £690 per annum with residence and 80 acres of the land and is in the dedicated to the Virgin Mary, consisting of nave, chancel, north and south aisle, porch and tower containing five bells and surmounted by a spire. In the church are two cedilla and the whole of the windows are of stained glass two in the north aisle and the remainder modern. The altar is very highly embellished. The pulpit and seats are of oak, with some curious specimens of carved ends. The Church 514 feet long and 50 feet wide; the height of the tower 80 feet and the spire 60 feet. On the exterior of the tower are three niches; the upper one contains an effigy King Ina, with sceptre and mound, embracing a monk; the middle niche, Queen Frithegrand and in the lowest, her husband, King Ethelard, who succeeded Ina on his retirement from Rome.

From the Directory of Somersetshire 1875



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