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English Church Architecture -



CURRY RIVEL, St. Andrew (ST 392 254)     (November 2008)

(Bedrock:  Lower Jurassic, Blue Lias Formation)


This is one of the five members of A.K. Wickham's "South Somerset Group" of churches, a full account and definition of which is given under the entry for St. Mary's, Norton-sub-Hamdon, though here at Curry Rivel the tower was largely rebuilt in 1861, albeit, it is believed, more or less faithfully.  Its one real departure today from Wickham's description of the towers of these buildings is that the pinnacles are now missing except to the northeast.  The tower rises in four stages, supported by set-back buttresses and with a stair turret at the east end of the N. wall, which continues slightly higher than the tower does itself;  the bell-openings extend through the top two stages and there is a frieze of blank quatrefoils immediately below.  The church is constructed entirely of blue lias and Ham Hill stone (see the photograph left, taken from the southeast), with the latter confined largely to dressings.  The contrast between these two materials is most striking in the tower, where the stones appear still almost wholly unweathered.  The building consists of a W. tower, a four-bay aisled nave with a two-storey S. porch, and a chancel with a two-bay N. chapel and a cross-gabled S. chapel, now the organ chamber.  There is a turret for the rood stair in the re-entrant between the N. aisle and N. chapel, rising to a parapet decorated with quatrefoils.  The rest of the church is entirely embattled. 


The N. chapel is the earliest of these constituent parts and now takes the form of a Perpendicular remodelling of thirteenth century masonry, perhaps carried out before the complete reconstruction of the rest of the building was undertaken soon afterwards.  Here the windows have three lights and supermullioned tracery, whereas all other windows to the north and south are four-light with alternate tracery, subreticulation, subarcuation of the lights in pairs, and through reticulation.  (See the S. chapel S. window, illustrated right.)  The lights are ogee-pointed everywhere and, except in the N. chapel, the sublights are trefoil-cusped at top and bottom.  The aisle and S. chapel windows also have transoms halfway up and small encircled quatrefoils in the spandrels of the half-lights below, in the way that can also be seen, for example, at neighbouring Langport.  The chancel E. window and tower W. window are five-light with subarcuation of the outer lights in pairs and a supertransom above and between (crossing, as it were, between lights 2b and 4a).  The S. porch has a three-light supermullioned window with strong mullions in the upper storey, carved figures of musicians at the ends and centre of the string course immediately above, two of which (depicting a viol player and bagpiper) are original, and a frieze of quatrefoils below, containing rosettes and a portcullis badge. (See the final paragraph of this note.)  The fan vault inside the porch is decorated with blank quatrefoils containing rosettes, set in squares and circles in the centre.  (See below.)  A stair turret is squashed into the northwest angle and the inner doorway is four-centred with continuous mouldings.



Inside the church, the four-bay nave arcades are composed of piers formed of four fairly wide shafts with capitals, separated by casements, and arches above bearing wave mouldings and the continuation of the casements (see the S. arcade, below left, viewed from the east), and this is also the general form of the two-bay arcade from the chancel to the very large N. chapel (although here the arches are very tall and wide, and the central pier, very narrow), the chancel arch (which is also very wide and tall), the arch from the chancel to the S. chapel, and the arches from the aisles to the chapels.  Only the tower arch, therefore, is significantly different, being of the type with panelled soffits to be seen at St. Mary’s, Chard, St. George’s, Hinton St. George, Holy Trinity, Long Sutton, All Saints, Martock, St. Peter & St. Paul's, Muchelney and St. Mary’s, Norton-sub-Hamdon, among other places.  The fan vault inside the tower (shown below right), just above the W. window, appears to have been retained from the mediaeval work. The N. chapel E. window has an order of internal shafts with dog-tooth moulding round the top, witnessing the thirteenth century origin of some of the masonry here. The two N. windows have cusped rere-arches with little pendants hanging from the cusps.  However, perhaps the most striking feature of the church interior, is the series of tomb recesses with trefoiled canopies along the N. wall of the N. chapel.  There are six of these, of varying sizes, some containing effigies, which together extend the whole length of the wall.  They were probably placed in the chapel a few decades after its original construction, though the largest effigy (which is that of a knight), both from its style and the fact it does not properly fit its allotted space, appears to be older and to have come from elsewhere. There is also a large monument in the easternmost arch between the chancel and N. chapel, dating this time from the seventeenth century, and commemorating Marmaduke and Robert Jennings, father and son (d. 1625 & 1630 respectively).  This features two recumbent effigies with hands clasped in prayer, beneath a coffered arch with blue-painted panels and red roses in the centres, while facing into the chancel above, "lie two silly cherubs" (Pevsner).


Old woodwork in the church includes, first and foremost, the fine parclose screens between the aisles and chapels.  (The screen between the S. aisle and chapel, is shown at the foot of the page.)  These are composed of four bays each, with deeply-recessed untraceried dados and two orders of slender shafts, set one in front of the other with the foremost detached, supporting fan-vaulted lofts covered in thick vine carving.  The flat aisle roofs may also be old. The bench ends are almost certainly late fifteenth century work and similar to those at nearby High Ham.


In conclusion, therefore, it view of the architectural unity of much of the work described above, it seems probable that with the exception of the N. chapel and W. tower, the rest of the church was constructed in a single phase of operations whose approximate date may be taken from the portcullis motif already mentioned, in the third quatrefoil from the left in the frieze above the S. porch outer doorway.  This was the badge of Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, who it may be assumed was then reigning.  Henry became king in 1485 and died in 1509, the same year as his mother, who was his senior by a mere thirteen years, and yet who was already widowed at the time of his birth!