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English Church Architecture -

Somerset.

 

HINTON ST. GEORGE, St. George (ST 422 095)   (October 2008)

(Bedrock:  Lower Jurassic, Yeovil Sands)

 

This excellent church (shown left, from the east), situated in one of Somerset's finest villages, consists of a W. tower, a nave three and a half bays in length with a S. aisle, S. porch and N. transept, and a two-bay chancel with a one-bay S. chapel and an enclosed N. chapel and vestry.  The N. transept, N. chapel and vestry were added by the Poulett family in 1814 to accomodate their monuments to their forebears and, in the first case, also to act as a family pew. This rest of the building can be dated approximately by the fact that the rector left £4 towards the building of the tower in 1494, suggesting it was then still incomplete. Constructed entirely of honey-coloured Ham Hill stone from the former quarries into the Lower Jurassic upper lias at Ham Hill, four and a half miles to the northwest, this  is a member of A.K. Wickham's "South Somerset Group" of church towers, a full explanation and description of which is given under the entry for St. Mary's church, Norton-sub-Hamdon (See also the upper thumbnail, below right, viewed from the southeast.)  It has a four-light W. window with outer lights subarcuated in pairs, a niche for a statuette in the S. wall, and openwork battlements (usually a sign of a late date - although not at St. John's, Yeovil, nine miles to the west),  and is supported by set-back buttresses terminating in crocketed pinnacles.  An octagonal stair turret at the southeast corner, rising higher than the tower itself, is surmounted by eight small, additional pinnacles.  The tall transomed bell-openings extend through the top two stages of the tower.

 

The windows in the main body of the church are an assortment.  In the S. aisle, the two most westerly are three-light with uncusped alternate tracery, and these are followed in turn by one with cusped alternate tracery and subreticulation, then one with four lights, subreticulation and subarcuation of the lights in pairs, and finally, in the E. wall of the aisle, by a five-light window (shown in the thumbnail, right) with subarcuation of the outer lights in pairs and a latticed supertransom above a central light framed by strong mullions.  The last two of these windows (only) are four-centred, with ogee-pointed lights.  The chancel E. window is also five-light but seems almost modest by comparison, with outer lights subarcuated in pairs and a central light crossed by a plain supertransom.

 

Internally, the S. arcade to the aisle is supported on piers of the almost standard, late Perpendicular south Somerset  form, composed of four shafts, each with its own capital, separated by casements that continue uninterrupted around the arches above.  The taller chancel arch also conforms to this design, but spanning the gap between it and the three-bay arcade, there is a narrower, fourth arch (shown in the photograph, left) set askew and looking somewhat through into the continuation of the aisle as an undemarcated S. chapel (that is to say, a chapel undivided from the nave aisle by a transverse arch or parclose screen).  There must be a reason for this clumsy arrangement but it is not obvious what that might be unless the church was incorrectly set out, which seems unlikely, or a belated decision was made to build the chancel narrower than first intended.  The arch from the chancel to the S. chapel (also visible in the photograph) displays the blank arcading on the soffits so common in this area (see also, for example, St. Mary’s, Chard, Holy Trinity, Long Sutton, All Saints’, Martock, St. Peter & St. Paul’s, Muchelney and St. Mary’s, Norton-sub-Hamdon), and similar carved panelling, rising in two tiers and cusped top and bottom, can also be found decorating the spaces between the transverse stone ribs of the porch barrel vault.  The N. transept, known as the Poulett pew, and the enclosed N. chapel, known as the Poulett chapel, are significant only for the monuments they hold.  The church contains a wealth of these, the more important of which require systematic description.

 

Beginning at the east end of the church, therefore, and passing west along the N. side of the building, towards the transept and nave, these are:

(i) against the chancel N. wall, a huge stone monument (illustrated right) commemorating Sir Anthony Poulett (d. 1600) and his wife (d. 1601), which shows the couple reclining on a tomb-chest, wearing prominent ruff collars and he distinguished by an especially long beard.  Along the front of the chest, their five daughters are depicted in shallow relief, while at the sides, two orders of Corinthian columns rise to support a massive architrave, carrying a concave-sided pediment bearing an achievement, set between obelisks. 

(ii) against the nave N. wall, east of the transept, a tomb-chest on which a mediaeval knight clad in armour lies straight-legged, with his feet resting on a lion.  Pevsner dated this to c. 1475.  Its dedicatee is unknown.

(iii) against the E. wall of the N. chapel, a monument to John, Baron Poulett (d. 1649), not open to inspection on this visit, which Pevsner considered "in many ways the most remarkable monument in the church.  It is so unrestrainedly Baroque, it looks so much like the early eighteenth century North of the Alps, that it can only be accounted for by being regarded as the work of an itinerant foreigner".  

(iv) against the E. wall of the transept, a monument to John, Earl Poulett (d. 1745) (below left), featuring a finely-carved bust, by the great John Rysbrack (1694 - 1770), whose work may be seen to good effect at Gosfield in Essex.  Rysbrack, in Gunnis's words, was "the acknowledged head of his profession [who] reigned unchallenged until [Peter] Scheemakers carved his statue of Shakespeare for Westminster Abbey" (in 1740) (Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660 - 1851, pub. The Abbey Library, 1951).  His monument here at Hinton St. George is cited by Matthew Craske (The Silent Rhetoric of the Body, pub. Yale University Press, 2008) as an illustration of the increasing desire of the landed gentry after c. 1720 to avoid the displays of ostentation in their funerary monuments increasingly becoming associated with the unrefined mercantile classes.

(v) against the W. wall of the transept, a monument commemorating children of Lord Poulett, c. 1857, by Edward James Physick (1829 - ?), who exhibited at the Great Exhibition, featuring a woman leaning on an obelisk and weeping.

(vi) to the west of the transept, against the N. wall of the nave, a monument to Rebecca Poulett (d. 1765), youngest daughter of the then earl, featuring a putto flying through the air on a cloud, trailing a medallion depicting the deceased in shallow relief.

(vii) on the same wall further west, a smaller monument featuring two female figures, with their hands resting on a central urn, above which a medallion shows a male figure in profile.  The inscription reads, "Sacred to the memory of the Honorable Anne Poulett [sic], fourth son of the first Earl Poulett, Knight of the Garter" (d. 1785).