Monday 7 May 2012


Or rather Ilminster to give it its modern name.

St Mary's church, Ilminster
On our way back from Edinburgh to the Portsmouth ferry we stayed overnight just north of Bristol. The weather during the drive down wasn't good; frequent rain showers and loooming grey clouds, but thankfully not as horrendous as on the way up.
looking towards the 19th C [medieval revival] reredos at the east end
Nevertheless, our plan to spend the next day pottering round the Somerset - Dorset - Devon area before boarding the overnight ferry at 10pm looked like being scuppered. The thought of sight-seeing in the rain did not hold much appeal. There had been a ream of flood alerts for the area and we watched the news and weather in the hotel with little hope. The BBC weather forecaster brightly told us that although the day would start with heavy rain it would clear by about noon. We went to bed with fingers crossed. Our hotel room looked out over the village cricket ground. Next morning it was heavily waterlogged with large puddles in the outfield. The sky was grey and it was bucketing down. We didn't rush to get on the road.
Wadham Chantry Chapel & Jacobean wood screen
By the time we got to Taunton it had cleared up to an amazing degree and it looked as if the weather gods were going to smile on us. We headed off to Ilminster having decided to explore this small market town in Somerset while the going was good.
wall mounted helmet, Wadham Chantry Chapel
Named as Yslemynstre in the Doomsday Book of 1086, [Anglo-Saxon for the Minster on the river Isle] it gets its first mention in documents dating from 725AD. By the time of the Doomsday Book it held a charter allowing it to hold a weekly market which is still held today. It is a lovely small town with narrow winding streets and an impressive range of independent shops. The butcher and attached delicatessen, opposite the church, had a mouth watering display of meats and other goodies.
table-top, or altar tomb with niches for 'weepers'
Originally a minster, from the Latin monasterium, was a church where the clergy followed a communal life and were given a charter which required them to maintain a daily office of prayer. The place name Ilmister harks back to the time when the church there was of this type. Wikipedia's entry helpful in explaining the "how and what" of minster churches. 

What we found was the lovely 15th century parish church of St Mary's built in the Perpendicular style. We had an excellent time looking round and found not only an interesting Lady Chapel [south transept] but also the chantry chapel of the Wadham family [north transept]. One of whom, Nicholas, together with his wife, Dorothy founded and endowed Wadham College Oxford in the early 17th century.
mother & son on top of the Wadham tomb
An earlier Wadham, Sir William, comissioned a table-top or altar tomb with brasses for himself and, unusually, his mother in 1440.  He died in 1452. Much of the ornamental brasswork on the purbeck marble top remains. However, we had to move the carpet covering the top to see the brasses. The bats flitting about at night have caused damage to them by splattering drops of urine.
Sir William portrayed in very expensive armour
The brasses show a knight, William, in 'state of the art' armour [probably from Milan and very expensive] with, to his right, his mother in a widow's wimple; both under a lovely triple canopy. It is thought that he comissioned the building of both the north transept as the chantry chapel and the church tower.

Sir William & his mother flanking Christ in majesty
The Lady Chapel, or south transept has another tomb, of the Walrond family, dated 1553. Up in the corners of the Lady Chapel we spotted some 15th century redundant corbels [or possibly head-stops] carved with interesting faces.

grinning 15thC face
Sadly none of the original stained glass remained. The windows are mid to late 19th century re-productions, in keeping with the building. The church was completely refurbished by William Burgess in 1825 and restored in 1883, 1887-89 and again in 1902.
East window, 19thC
When we left Ilminster the sun was shining so it looked as if the rest of our afternoon explorations would be bright.

As always you can click on any of the photos to enlarge them.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Niall and Antoinette:
It does sound as if you were very fortunate with the weather on your trip to Ilminster. We have read such awful reports of extreme weather conditions throughout the UK which seem to have gone on for ever. So, to have even a ray of sunshine was a miracle!

The church is most interesting and, as we have never visited, we have very much enjoyed our virtual tour. It is always intriguing, we find, to discover the history of the families responsible for the foundation of these churches and the Wadhams were clearly no exception. It is also most heartening to see the church in such good repair.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Jane & Lance - we were indeed incredibly lucky weather wise. Many of the rivers we crossed were still very swollen or flooded. There had been, I think, 14 flood warnings for the area the day before.

Indeed a joy to find a church in such good repair!

Leon Sims said...

We left Paris in rain but enjoying cloudless skies and warm weather (proof on our blog) down here in Marseille. It sounds like your current weather is similar to what we left in Melbourne a week ago.
Enjoy your historical posts.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Leon & Sue - glorious day today but it will not last.
Please send some of your Provence sun up our way! :-)

MorningAJ said...

Looks great - and I've never been there. It's one to add to my list of places to go.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@AJ - the place is well worth a visit. Most of the buildings are built from the local stone -- a bit more orangy than the cotswolds but the same feel. Lots of small shops i wanted to explore, but being a good girl didn't.

Perpetua said...

A super post with lovely photos. I've never been to Ilminster, so it's another church for my must-visit list.

Oh, the problem of bats in churches - a protected species damaging the fabric and fittings of listed buildings. Sigh...

The Broad said...

As I read your most interesting post, I occurred to me to look up whether or not a minster was a cathedral -- so much appreciated your link. I love learning about medieval architecture and history -- most especially buildings of this kind. As it happened BBC 4 last night had a program about the building of cathedrals which I couldn't get enough of! So now I have another intriguing building to add to my must see list! Great photos and many thanks...

the fly in the web said...

Thank you for the tour...greatly enjoyed your photographs.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - well worth putting on your list!
Personally we quite love bats and have pipistrelles roosting behind our shutters.
Know it can be a real problem. In this case the rubber-backed carpet on top of the tomb was a simple and efficient solution.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Broad -did you watch the programme which followed it about the medieval world by Rob Bartlett? Niall knew him during his time at Edinburgh [he was post grad when N was doing his MA]. It is a good series.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - you're welcome :-) The town is worth a visit if in the area.