English Church Architecture -
BRUTON, St. Mary (ST 686 347) (October 1998)
(Bedrock: Middle Jurassic, Fullers Earth Formation)
Built of Doulting stone from the Middle Jurassic Upper Inferior Oolite formation, this is another important Perpendicular church in south Somerset. The W. tower has been attributed to various dates: the very brief church guide ascribes it to 1449-56 but fails to give any explanation and nor, surprisingly, did Dr. John Harvey (in The Perpendicular Style, pub. Batsford, 1978), who said rather that work had begun here by 1456, while Dr. J.F. Allen (in The Great Church Towers of England, pub. 1932), admittedly writing much earlier, assigned the tower more generally to the period between 1450 and 1490. It is, however, agreed that it predates the clerestory and nave and aisle roofs, which display the heraldic emblems of Richard Fitzpaine, Bishop of London from 1506-22. The date of the chancel is also known, but only because it was rebuilt in 1743.
The W. tower (left) is the glory of the building, rising in three proud stages to large crocketed corner pinnacles and elaborate openwork battlements pierced by a lower tier of small quatrefoils and an upper tier of larger ones enclosing shields, supported by angle buttresses that terminate in tall detached shafts topped by subsidiary detached pinnacles at the level of the bell-openings. This is a design reminiscent of A.K. Wickham’s “Quantock Group” of churches as defined in his book The Churches of Somerset (pub. Phoenix House Ltd., 1952) (see the entry on Bishop's Lydeard church for an explanation), for though not similar enough to be considered a true member, it does look as if it might have been influenced by them, at least in some respects, or - if it is too early for that - to have been an influence on them. Thus compare, in particular, the form of the buttresses with those at Bishop's Lydeard, Ile Abbots, Huish Episcopi and Kingsbury Episcopi, and examine also the battlements, bell-openings and niches. The W. doorway has fine continuous mouldings beneath a label and traceried spandrels, and the transomed W. window displays alternate tracery with subarcuation of the lights in threes and through-reticulation, but no subreticulation. Three niches with crocketed canopies (at the apex and sides) fill the space around and above this window, below the first string course, and two further niches adorn the second stage, one on either side of the two-light opening here with a straightened reticulation unit in the head. The third (bell-) stage is pierced by three two-light transomed bell-openings in each wall, separated by shafts set diagonally which give rise to attached demi-pinnacles (i.e. half pinnacles set flush against the wall). These features together produce a noble effect of some pretension, and yet the church also has a second tower rising above the N. porch (shown right), which clearly relates to an earlier building plan, probably of late fourteenth century date. This structure is diagonally-buttressed and embattled and has two-light bell-openings with straightened reticulation units, crocketed pinnacles at the northeast and northwest angles, and a prominent square turret at the southwest angle, rising higher than the tower itself.
The nave aisle windows (one of which is illustrated below left) are three-light, with strong mullions and transoms at the springing level: below the transoms the lights are trefoil-cusped and two-centred, while above, the outer lights are lancet-pointed over cusped Ys and the central lights contain pointed quatrefoils in the oculi, supported by pairs of little trefoiled archlets below. The N. aisle is embattled but the clerestory and S. aisle (where earlier battlements have probably been replaced) now have openwork parapets formed of cusped triangles between crocketed pinnacles. (See the photograph at the foot of the page.) The clerestory windows are four-light and four-centred, with subarcuation of the lights in pairs and through-reticulation but also the recrudescence of quatrefoils filling the spaces above the ogee lights, suggesting we are witnessing here the breakdown of the Perpendicular style as it enters its final years (perhaps, c. 1520).
Inside the church, the arcade piers have the common four-shafts-separated-by-four-hollows section encountered in many south Somerset churches, and the arches they support bear wave mouldings and hollows. String courses run above the arcades, while above again, between the bays, there are niches for statues. The attractive nave roof boasts carved angels and traceried spandrels above the tie beams, but viewed from the ground on a dull day, it was difficult to judge the extent to which it may have been restored.
The church contains two monuments mentioned by Gunnis (Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660- 1851, pub. The Abbey Library, 1951), (i) by John Rawlings of Bruton, whose only known monument this is, commemorating George Prince (d. 1817), and (ii) by Peter Scheemakers (1691 - 1781), to the Hon. William Berkeley (d. 1733). Scheemakers was a prolific sculptor of good ability but this is a very modest example of his art.