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               St. Thomas  Becket

A Brief History of
The Church of St. Thomas Becket

After the battle of Dyrham in 577 AD, the Saxons settled the whole area around Pucklechurch and there was a Saxon palace within the village where King Edmund, King of West Saxons, was murdered in 946 AD on the Feast of St. Augustine. Such an important site would have had a place of worship, and it could have been on the site of the present parish church. However, this building's earliest origins are Norman, in the form of a blocked-up Norman doorway in the north wall of the church. The rest of the church is 13th century, with 14th century additions to the three-stage tower, later 17th century alterations, and the usual Victorian restorations.

In 1207 AD Joceline Trotman was Bishop of Bath and Wells, and he received the advowson of Pucklechurch. Being an enthusiastic builder, it is likely that under his patronage the present church was built around 1225.

By this period Thomas Becket had been canonized by Pope Alexander and became a popular saint, giving rise to the dedication of many churches. The parish church shows its 13th-century origins in the Early English style of single lancet windows in the north and south walls, the pointed arch doorways, the chancel arch, and the east window. The lower part of the tower is also 13th century, but interestingly, in the 1886 restoration the foundations were exposed for strengthening and entirely different foundations of an earlier tower were discovered! These were not quite on the same site, which tends to be evidence of a Norman or pre-Norman tower.

By the 14th century, the population was increasing and, since church attendance was mandatory, increased accommodation in the church was necessary with enlargement of the nave by the north aisle where there is a 14th century window in the decorated style of flamboyant tracery. The south porch was probably added during this period and bears a scratch sundial to indicate the times of the masses.

Inside the church, in the north aisle are two stone effigies, one of a lady beneath a perpendicular flat-topped canopy and the other of a merchant beneath a similar canopy. They date from about 1360 AD and indicate an affluent family in the parish who could afford such memorials -- possibly members of the Denys family who were prominent in the area. This was the time of the 'wool boom', so many fortunes were made in the wool trade.

The Denys family held the manor into the early 1700s and two of the bells in the tower, cast in 1650, commemorate members of that family. Until the later years of the 14th century, the church would have been completely devoid of seating, the congregation just standing during services, which had no sermons as we know them. However, by the very end of the century the long sermons were introduced into the service and seating accommodation became more of a necessity, or a luxury, depnding upon how you look at it! This fixed seating in the nave would have completely changed its appearance.

By 1539 Henry VIII's reformation and dissolution of the monasteries brought further changes in parish churches, with removal of much ornament and often the rood screen separating people from clergy and nave from chancel.

In 1701 the Rev. Henry Berrow was appointed to the benefice of Pucklechurch, which was to prove an event of considerable importance in the life of the parish. Henry Berrow was a reformer and true philanthropist of his day with enlightened and courageous beliefs. He saw the need for education of the children and so in 1718 founded a charity school for ten poor boys and ten poor girls of the parish to be educated from 4 years to 10 years. He died in 1724, leaving further endowments in his will to benefit the school. At this time it must have been very avant-garde to think of educating girls, especially poor girls! He was an enlightened gentleman to whom the parish should have been grateful -- the state system of education was well over a century away.

By 1796 there were three more bells cast, completing a ring of six bells. The bells were rung on many more occasions in those days, and the church wardens' accounts show "1784, paid bell ringers for King's birthday 2s-6d, for coronation 5s-Od and for Gunpowder Plot 1 5s-Od"!

Probably through use, the bell-frames deteriorated and a nasty accident was only just avoided in 1929, when one Sunday morning the tenor bell weighing 12 cwt fell from the frame. The Rev. Lewis was the vicar at the time, and he told how no-one was hurt, but the ringers fled the church, never to be persuaded to ring again. After this, a new team of ringers was recruited and the bells re-hung on a steel frame!

The 19th century saw much alteration and restoration work in the church. In 1846 the box pews were removed -- these had always been painted white, as the churchwardens' accounts show. They were probably the old lockup type where people paid the church wardens a fee to have them locked and reserved for their family exclusively. Pews were often the cause of scandal in parishes, and it has even been known for there to be elections and bidding for certain pews!

There was another extensive Victorian restoration in 1889 when the church was closed for four months and services were held in the school by bishop's licence. The church was reopened on 5th November 1889 and 350 people sat down to tea in the National School between services. That was some attendance!

In this century electricity and heating have been installed, and in 1923 a new clock was added to the tower. The old 'faceless' clock, which only struck the hours, was given to Abson Church, along with the surplus oil lamps a decade later when St. Thomas first had electric lights.

The church is still lovingly maintained by a faithful congregation and goes on into the second millennium in 'good heart' and full of faith.

This information is provided by courtesy of Mrs Ann E Wilson