History

Description and History

Church Setting

The Church is set on the east side of Claverton Down facing Warleigh Manor across the beautiful Avon Valley. To the north of the church is the site of the Elizabethan manor house designed by Robert Smythson, the pre-eminent architect of the period. The original garden terraces and gates remain. Around the church are contemporary farm buildings and others like the former rectory which are Victorian copies

Below the heart of the village is the turnpike road to Warminster, the Kennet and Avon canal, the GWR and the River Avon. A weir diverts some of the flow of the river to the still functioning Claverton Water pump which lifts top up water to the canal. The pump house is open to the public on Bank Holidays. The river wildlife includes herons and small boys.

Above the village is the Regency manor house designed by Sir Jeffrey Wyatville and built in 1820. It is now occupied by the exceptionally fine American Museum. Just out of sight on top of Claverton Down is the University of Bath which gained its charter in 1966. The Down’s early history includes hare hunting, duels, the original Bath Races and quarrying.

Visitors to the church yard must brave the wildlife – rabbits, roe deer and horseshoe bats to view the numerous memorials, yew trees and ancient estate walls. It has been the focus of a lot of improvement and care in recent years, and provides the epitome of an English parish church setting.

 

The Church Building

Outside the church one should notice the Bent Cross at the apex of the porch gable which is said to indicate the inclination of Christ’s had when he was crucified. A mass or scratch dial is preserved to the right of the porch entrance archway.

A prominent feature of the churchyard is the tomb of Ralph Allen. He was a postal innovator and more particularly a quarry owner who was very influential in the building of the great Georgian development of Bath to the designs of John Wood. Allen died in 1764 and his tomb rests under a pyramid raised on arcades in modest Roman splendour.

The fabric of the church is ancient, but described by Nicholas Pevsner as over restored and of no medieval or Victorian interest. Pevsner is now history himself and his tunnel vision is evident. The first rector recorded is Adam de Nutsede in 1250. However the tower, stepped and buttressed, with saddleback roof similar to a number of other local churches, is probably Norman. The internal arch to the nave is without capitals and possibly 13th century. The west window is later. The tower contains a peel of 6 bells including 3 dated 1637.

The main body of the church, according to a brass tablet was rebuilt in 1858, with the exception of the north transept, by Manners and Gill, Victorian architects of Tudorbethan persuasion. Quite clearly the church followed medieval precedent with the tower and north transept limiting the proportions. Thus the nave is short and high with only two windows and a plain king post roof. The arch to the north aisle is Decorated in style without the interruption of capitals, like others in the church.

The chancel and its north aisle are Victorian Early English in style with an awkward arcade between. The chancel roof is wooden and wagon shaped. On the north wall is the polychrome monument to William Bassett who died in 1613, his eldest daughter Mary and her infant son. There are two three quarter figures in dress of the period in niches with shields and pediment over.

The north transept survived as part of the medieval church with a separate Cotswold stone roof. Inside is a plaster ceiling, barrel shaped and lightly ribbed an decorated in early Georgian style.

 

Windows and Memorials

There is an interesting range of wall memorials in the church, but given the cleaned interior the most refreshing features are the windows. They bring a jewel like quality to the church.

The east window shows Christ as Love, 1904 in an art nouveau design by Paul Vincent Woodroffe, 1875-1954, who worked at Chipping Camden. In the north aisle the Henry Duncan Skrine memorial window has the same qualities and is by the same artist. It shows Peter meeting Jesus by Galilee and Mary Magdalene with her jar of spikenard.

The bold north transept window has the arms of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Margaret’s shield shows one quartering of the cross and crosslets potence which she inherited from her father, the King of Jerusalem. Above are royal crowns and the Roses of York and Lancaster. Medieval fragments surrounding include the Taking of Christ and a Dutch roundel, the Pierced Heart from and apocryphal book after the painter Heemskerck.

The large window in the nave is decorated with armorials of the Bishop of Wells and local families, Skrine, Vivian and Hale.

The windows commemorating Lt Charles Eaton of Claverton Manor killed in the Boer War in 1900 shows St George and St Elizabeth.

In the north transept’s west wall is a lovely window of quite unusual workmanship and design based on the destiny of the seeds of the Sower in the Parable showing gardening problems and finally fruitfulness.

In the south wall of the chancel is a window in memory of the sisters Alice Vivian and Minna Fraces Skrine with Joan of Arc and St Francis in a charming Edwardian hand -  Alice Erskine of Stamford, fired at Lowndes and Drury in Fulham, London.

 

Rectors of Claverton

Past rectors have included Dr Humphrey Chambers, puritan pastor at Claverton during the Commonwealth who was chosen by Parliament to be a member of the Assembly of Divines. In 1643 he was chosen to preach to the Commons at St Margaret’s Westminster on the occasion of their ‘publique fast’. Charles I disapproved of the sermon.

Richard Graves 1715 -1804 rector for 56 years ’never absent for more than a month’ wrote a kindly satire “The Spiritual Quixote” on the Methodist revival. He had 40 pupils of his school attached to the old rectory amongst whom were Thomas Malthus, the English political economist, Hoare, the Bath artist and Ralph Allen.

 

Visitors

The church is normally open every day and visitors are very welcome and especially so to our services. The church and congregation remain firm witnesses to faith in our Saviour, the Lord Jesus.

 

J N Padbury, Architect 2006