St Mary Magdalen & St Mary Ottersey

Even though Stocklinch is a small village, there are two churches in Stocklinch. There was an old folk tale that there were two legendary sisters who both fell in love with the vicar and each built a church for his benefit. Whether that is true or not, the reason for the two churches is that there were two parishes, Stocklinch Magdalen and Stocklinch Ottersey. The two parishes were not completely combined until 1931.

The combined area of the two parishes is only five hundred acres of which Ottersey comprised three hundred. It is generally thought that at some time one manor was split into two, probably before the Norman conquest. This is born out by the fact that the font at Ottersey church is Norman, that at Magdalen is Saxon. The benefices of Stocklinch Ottersey and Stocklinch Magdalen were combined in 1886, but the two small ecclesiastical parishes were not united until 1931 when the combined population had declined to 123.

Of the two churches, St Mary Ottersey is architecturally more impressive, but access to it was difficult in bad weather and it is still only equipped with oil lamps and candles. After a period when services were only held during the summer months it became redundant and in 1973 St Mary the Virgin was transferred to the care of the Redundant Churches Fund (now The Churches Conservation Trust). For more information, please see the guide "St Mary's Church, Stocklinch Ottersey, Somerset" by Mark McDermott, published by The Churches conservation Trust 2000.

The Church of St Mary Magdalen

This building has stood here in Stocklinch for nearly 700 years. The church's first incumbent was Robert de Schapwyke who took up his duties in 1334. The church was therefore built in the early part of the 14th century.

The name of the church: Magdalen or Magdalene?

There is a St. Mary Magdalen. She is Florentine and 16th century and so has no connection with our church. The dedication is to St. Mary Magdalene who stood by the Cross and to whom Christ appeared on Easter Sunday morning as she went to anoint his body at the tomb. This church is one of 187 medieval churches dedicated to St. Mary. The usual spelling is Magdalene, as at both the Oxford and Cambridge colleges and as at St. Mary's at Taunton. However, references to the Stocklinch church in the sources from the middle ages onwards insist upon using the form Magdalen, and it is this which we have inherited.

At the inaugural meeting of the Friends it was unanimously agreed to adopt the spelling Magdalene. The feast of St. Mary Magdalene is July 22nd. It was customary on this day to hold in the village a Revel, a custom which it might be interesting to revive.

The outside of the building

If we go outside the building it is apparent that it is constructed of local stone, mostly in random blocks, with buttresses at the four corners giving the building a solid appearance. There are two identical finials topping the gables of chancel and nave. We might also expect one over the west end, but this is now surmounted by the bell turret which also used to house a clock. References to this feature are found in the early 18th century. Over the entrance to the porch there is a gnomon forming part of a sundial. This is slightly skewed round to the west to account for the church's longitude. The face of the sundial appears to read "Watch and pray. Redeem the time(s)." Either the worker of the stone ran out of space and placed the final S above 'time' or he was pointing out where south is.

Flora and Fauna in the Churchyard

The most special wildlife feature of the churchyard is that it is a remnant of ancient meadow grassland. It incorporates flower and grass species which would have been found on the site in the swamps and boggy clearings thousands of millennia ago. It is one of the few fragments of flower-rich pasture which have survived in the parish - the other being on the steep slopes of the lynchets by the upper church. Most of our traditional pastures have been lost their flora due to modern agricultural methods.

Corky Fruited Water Dropwort

Within the churchyard the most important grassland is that with the finer sward on the south side of the church, and extending to the rear and east. Here there is a small population of a tiny white cow's parsley-like flower whose English name, Corky Fruited Water Dropwort (Oenanthe pimpinelloides) is invented rather than colloquial because it is so unusual. It occurs in England only in grassland of this type in East Devon, Somerset and Dorset (see map).

Meadow Buttercup Pasture

Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris) is found on the less frequently mown west and north sides of the church and is not to be confused with creeping buttercup, the garden weed. The buttercup is accompanied by sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and along the west and northern edges, by wild chives.

Hedges, Trees and Fauna

The hedge along the back edge of the churchyard consists largely of blackthorn and elm and these trees and hedge along the front edge of the churchyard are not of particular note for wildlife. However, they provide shelter and food for insects, birds and mammals - including the bats which roost in the church porch and little owl, after which the road is named. Stocklinch is ideal bat and little owl territory.


Lichens on the hamstone of the church walls and gravestones are of value. A churchyard of this type typically has circa 30 different species of lichen. The slightly limey sandstone provides a rich habitat.

Today, as the result of good housekeeping and watchful management on the part of successive church officers the building stands firm and in excellent repair. Finally, if we go back to consider the west window from the outside we shall see that the arch is finished off with a coping, perhaps to take off the water. At each side of the coping at the lower end is a face. The one on the right has a hat on and wears a beard. He seems important. Perhaps he is a king or a prophet. The face on the left has a cheerful expression as if in life. He too seems to have had a head covering but it has worn away. Is it too fanciful to imagine that he was one of the masons engaged in the building of the church and that he has left us a portrait of himself looking out confidently from his building for nearly seven centuries?

Later history

The later history of the church is admirably outlined in the hand-held accounts kept beside the visitors' book. By the early part of the 20th century the building seems to have fallen into some disrepair and was then the subject of some restoration. At this time also a piece of glebe land was surrendered in order to widen the road.

The evidence of the windows

The present building contains eight windows including the one in the vestry. Of these the four biggest ones, one on each wall, are certainly original. These conform to the Gothic pattern found in the second half of the 13th century. They are formed of lights each in the shape of a lancet. The window may consist of a single lancet but where the lancets are grouped two or more together they are contained within a pointed arch, as is the case on each of our church's four walls. The space between the top of the lancets and the point of the arch was frequently cusped i.e. made up of semicircles of stone placed in a circle, as is the case of the windows on the church's south (porch) and north sides. The glass is near the outside of the building, as was customary, and we can also see that the insides of the openings are splayed outwards in the manner of 13th century English Gothic.

The east window above the altar is not cusped. The east and west windows each have a different treatment. The west window in particular seems very fine with verticals of the sides and arches of the lancets carried upwards to form two lozenges which give strength and dignity to the composition. Indeed if we are to appreciate fully the west window an act of imagination is required. For the wall was designed to be seen without the gallery and we have to imagine the supports of the window opening descending to the floor and taking in the west door. Turning towards the east window produces something of a shock, for the treatment of the space above the lancets seems uncertain and not a little clumsy. Presumably this window is the earliest of them.

The plan of the building

Collinson's Somerset Antiquities describes the church as a small Gothic building 62' long and 12' wide consisting of a nave, chancel and south aisle. This leaves out the porch which seems to be very ancient, although the vestry is certainly a later addition. The nave and chancel are separated on the inside by an arch and on the outside by the different roof levels. The reference to a south aisle can only relate to some arrangement within the existing space, for it is impossible that anything should be joined on to the south side of the nave. This internal arrangement seems to be borne out by the presence of a piscina almost at the end of the nave after you turn right on entering the church.

A piscina consists of a small basin and drain in a niche in the wall into which the water used in washing the sacred vessels was emptied. It is usually placed to the south of an altar as is the case with the church's main altar at the east end. There was therefore probably an altar by the nave piscina which formed the termination of the south aisle: much in a little space.

It is at this point worth remembering that the space inside a medieval church was quite uncluttered.

16th century

During the reigns of Henry Vlll, Edward Vl and Elizabeth 1 occurred the English Reformation. This did not come about smoothly everywhere. However Stocklinch seems to have made the transition without any undue disturbance for all the incumbents during the period seem to have served out their normal terms. With the arrival of the Anglican religion many parishes, especially small country ones, were not quite sure what they were supposed to be doing and found themselves adapting to the new forms of service in their own way. It is very possible that further research would reveal a visitation to Stocklinch, perhaps by the Archdeacon, to ensure that the village conformed to the new demands of liturgy, ritual and vestments. page 7 page 8 The interior in 1900 showing the tympanum. The area designated by the dotted line, containing the Royal Coat of Arms, now hangs over the south door. Piscina in the south side of the nave

17th century

A piece of 17th century evidence in the church is keen to make the sanctuary the most holy part of the church. Hence the altar rails. The Stocklinch contemporary rail seems to be somewhat rare. Owen Chadwick in The Reformation says " Most rails in English parish churches are not earlier than the 19th century". It was also due to Laud that the altar now stands on a plinth.

18th century

In the 18th century the pews were installed and this dictated that the gallery should be built, for the pews limited the number of people able to take part in a service, and the population of Stocklinch over the centuries seems to have remained constant at about 100 souls, more or less.

Also in the 18th century the pulpit was introduced. In order to get the pulpit in place you will notice that the lower part of the chancel arch was cut away, if you compare it with the other side by the piscina. A window was then made beside the pulpit to catch the light. The pulpit is the lower part of a three-decker. Given the height from which present sermons may be delivered to us it is perhaps just as well that the whole three decks did not make their arrival.

For a long time, including this period, the living was in the gift of the Poulet family of Hinton St. George and also of Lord North when he was at Dillington.

(By Peter Dimond with illustrations by Connie Crosland)


The Church of St Mary Ottersey

The Church

The style of the font suggests that there was a church on this site in the Norman period. but no architectural features survive from that time and the earliest known documentary references occur in the 14th century; in 1321, for instance, Thomas Thok was instituted as rector of Stocklynch Hoterser. The present building, consisting of chancel, north vestry, south transept, nave, south porch and west tower, is built of golden Hamstone (much of it clad with silvery-grey lichen) and derives further charm from its intimate scale and delightful setting. The roofs are mainly of slate, but surviving Hamstone tiles at the eaves indicate the earlier form of roof-covering.


The most striking feature of the building is the south transept built in the Decorated style of the late 13th or early 14th century. This includes a remarkable three-light south window with radiating tracery and a rerearch with pierced cusping. This window and the two-light east and west windows (with more modest Decorated tracery) have side-shafts to the internal reveals. To the north, two double-chambered arches, supported by an octagonal central column and by corbels with carved heads, open into nave and chancel respectively (an unusual arrangement). High in the well above the arches is a quaterfoil, now blocked, the original function of which is unclear. In the south wall is a piscina with a carved head (similar to those on the corbels) beneath the bowl. The transept walls, which contain some reused moulded stonework, including a gravestone with a floriated cross, were reinforced and the roof reconstructed in 1910.

The porch has a roof of stone slabs. The porch entrance and nave south doorway have wave-mouldings, but only the outline of the blocked north doorway is visible. The east jamb of the south doorway shares some stonework with a tomb-recess in Decorated style in the south wall of the nave: this has a cusped ogee arch with carved lobes instead of points to the cusps The external weathering on the projecting back of the recess is similar to that on a projection on the north side of the nave, which presumably forms the back of another tomb-recess which has been blocked internally. The south-west nave buttress also has similar weathering, and the remains of the thick west wall of the nave suggest that this supported a bell-cote in the 14th century. Windows in Perpendicular style (of varying forms and dates) were subsequently inserted into the nave, and the west tower was added. The tower has diagonal buttresses and a battlemented top; two-light belfry windows and a three-light west window, all with Perpendicular tracery; but no west door.

Within the church the tower arch has Perpendicular mouldings, as does the panelled chancel arch. The south side of the chancel arch has been built against the octagonal column of the transept arcade, which has been distorted by lateral pressure. The form, and even the position, of the preceding chancel arch in unknowns. An unusually shaped external buttress beyond the north side of the present arch may perhaps have contained a rood-stair.

The chancel was heavily restored in the 19th century: the two-light south window has replaced a lancet which existed in 850, and the north and east windows (the latter in Early English style) and the vestry also appear to be Victorian. The organ recess, in which the mediaeval priest's door shown in 1850 has been rebuilt in blocked form, dates from 1928. The chancel roof was apparently completely rebuilt in 1974, but the nave roof is said to retain some mediaeval timbers above the 19th century wagon ceiling.

The tower contains an oak bell frame believed to be of 17th or 18th century date including some reused earlier timberwork. Of the three bells, the tenor (largest) is a late medieval casting from the Bristol foundry - it was cracked but has recently been welded by a specialist firm a Lode near Cambridge. The treble and second bells were cast by Somerset founders, the former in 1670 by RA and TB, whose identities are uncertain, and the latter in 1637 by William Purdue III.

The Chantry

Ralph de Stokelinche, who was patron of Stocklinch Ottersey church, founded a chantry in c 1330 and in 1442 the chantry priest was described as chaplain of the perpetual chantry at the altar of St Mary in the parish church. It seems extremely likely that the chantry was accommodated in the transept (which contained an altar, as the piscina indicates) although expert opinion has suggested that the transept may have been built slightly earlier than the date of the record of the endowment of the chantry.

In some cases the same man was both chantry priest and rector, as in 1448 when a priest named Lewis Davy was appointed to both positions. This seems to be the last known reference tot he chantry, although it is known that Thomas Gunwyne became rector in 1452 when Davy resigned. When the chantries were suppressed in the 1540s during the Reformation no reference was made to a chantry at Stocklinch Ottersey and it is conceivable that the positions of chantry priest and rector had merged after 1448 and that the chantry endowment had become absorbed into the rector's glebe, which in 1606 included two pieces of land called 'Chantery haye' and 'Chauntery pitt'.

Later developments

Within the tower are 18th and 19th century benefaction boards recording charitable donations by members of the Jeffreys and Allen families; two low forms at present in the belfry may be those which were made in 1822 'for the children to sit on in church' ; and two boards inscribed with the Ten Commandments at the west end of the nave must be survivals of the work of John Best of Shepton Beauchamp who in 1819 was paid £3 17s 6d for putting up the Commandments, Creed and Lord's Prayer.

The church was restored, apparently without drastic remodelling, in 1840 but in 1856 a vestry meeting agreed to permit the Revd Charles Jefferys Allen (who was lord of the manor, patron of the living and rector) to alter the church 'according to the plans produced with an understanding that no rate should be raised for the work'. The exact details of Allen's scheme are unknown but it seems likely that this was the occasion of the restoration of the chancel and the addition of the vestry. The font was refashioned at some time between 1850 and 1898 to provide it with a stem between the bowl and the base.

The communion table dates from the 17th century, but the choir stalls, reading desk, pulpit and pews all seem to date from the Victorian period or the early 20th century. When the transept was restored in 1910 other work included repairs to decayed pews, although the faculty does not refer to the new pews recommended by the architect.

The churchyard

The churchyard which contains an ancient yew tree, was apparently altered in 1857 when the Revd CJ Allen was permitted to proceed with another scheme, based on a report by the architect James Mountford Allen. Again no details are available, but the scheme may have included the Allen memorial cross.

(from The Churches Conservation Trust 2000, by Mark Dermott)




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