St. Leonard's Church
Shipham, Somerset, England

All photographs copyright 2006 by Jeffrey L. Thomas.

 

Below: General view of the church and cemetery at St. Leonard's.

 

For two and a half centuries the Hares family of Shipham, Somerset have been associated with the parish church of St. Leonard's. This beautiful little church traces it's foundation to the mid 13th century, where we learn that the church's first priest was a man known simply as John the Rector. We are told that at one time there existed in the village a drawing of the old church, which showed a plain building featuring a low, square battlemented tower and stone seats along the wall inside the church for parishioners. Although the present church dates from 1842, there are a few elements of the earlier medieval church to be found. Specifically, it is said that the wooden font cover was carved from the doors of the original church by a village craftsman in 1910. Behind the alter is a 14th century reredos (wooden carving) also dating from the original church, and it is thought that perhaps several of the gargoyles on that adorn the exterior of the tower are from the earlier church as well. There are six bells in the tower, four of which date from 1733. The bells were rehung in 1927 and again in 1995, and since 1992 have been "run regularly for services." Portions of the interior of the church were "reordered and redecorated" in 1996-97 to give the church a "bright, modern look."

The church offers visitors other interesting features as well. Hanging by the gallery stairs is a list of rectors who have served St. Leonard's from 1328, and a plaque mentioning the rebuilding of the church in 1842. The church also features several lovely stained glass windows, the one behind the alter depicting St. Leonard, among others. The stained glass windows behind the font depicts two early Christian women of the church, Dorcas and Phoebe, and was given in memory of Hannah More, a famous figure known for her charitable Christian works and teaching in Shipham and elsewhere during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During much of her time in Shipham, Hannah was assisted in her good works by the Reverend James Jones, and a memorial tablet in his honor written by Hannah More is found near the pulpit.

Below you will find a more detailed description of the church taken from the official church pamphlet, followed by various photographs of the church that are accompanied by brief descriptions in thumbnail, table format. Simply click on the thumbnail image to display the full sized version of the photo. I hope you enjoy this page.

Jeffrey L. Thomas
May 2006

References:

  • Brochure on St. Leonard's Parish, written by Mrs. Pamela Williams, 2006.
  • The Heart of Mendip, Francis A. Knight, J. M. Dent & Sons, London, 1915.


    Welcome to Shipham Parish Church, dedicated to Leonard, the patron saint of prisoners.

    Although the church you are now standing in dates from 1842, there has been a place of Christian worship at this site for many centuries. As you walk around the church, you will see three important symbols that illustrate the Christian faith: the baptismal font, a reminder of new beginnings with the washing away of sin; the open bible on the lectern that speaks of our need to be fed by God's word, and the communion table where Christian people come to be nourished with the bread and the wine, symbols by which we remember the body and blood of Jesus Christ who died and rose again for us that we might be forgiven and be reconciled to God.

    The first church

    The first priest was John the Rector in the mid 13th century. The church then was a plain little building with stone seats around the walls and a low square battlemented tower, surmounted by a short spire. An old drawing of the church shows that there were two early English windows and there is a possibility that another may have been of Norman origin, thus linking the church with the time of the Domesday Book.

    What is there to see today of the old church?

    Little is left today of the old church but the font cover is said to have been carved from the wood of the original door. Cut into panels, it was carved by village craftsmen around 1910. Behind the alter you will see the reredos, a fourteenth century carving removed from the earlier church. And outside, the gargoyles around the tower are old and probably from the former church.

    What is there to look at today?

    Four of the windows have modern stained glass. One, behind the font, is of two dedicated Christian women of the early church, Dorcas and Phoebe, given in memory of Hannah More (depicted at right), the philanthropist and teacher who came to Shipham and set up a school in 1790. The window behind the alter commemorates a former rector, the Revd Melmoth A. Lintern. A third window depicts St. Leonard, with a prisoner in chains and the fourth recalls the coronation of King Edward VII. See if you can spot the dice in the window behind the alter!

    Look at the memorial tablet near the pulpit with an epitaph written by Hannah More, dedicated to the Revd James Jones, her friend and helper. The list of rectors hanging by the gallery stairs dates from 1328 during the reign of Edward III, although John the Rector was known to be the first rector. He was exiled for taking a hart without warrant in the Forest of Mendip in 1270!

    The tower contains six bells, four of which date from 1733, having been cast by Thomas Bilbie of Chew Stoke. In 1927 the bells were rehung and two bells added. In 1995 they were rehung on ball bearings and returned at the instigation of Mile Oldman. Since 1992 the bells have been rung regularly for service.

    You may notice that the church has a bright, modern look. In 1996-97 the church was reordered and decorated, following a gift from two members of the congregation (names omitted for privacy reasons). A new communion table and rails were made to coordinate with the wood carving at the front of the gallery and brought forward to create more space behind the table for more informal worship. The organ was relocated to the gallery and the choir stalls removed. The church was painted and new lighting installed.

     

    Approaching the church from the center of the village of Shipham.
    The gate entrance leading to the cemetery and church.
    General view of the church from the entrance gate.
    View of the tower and doorway to the church.
    Close up view of the doorway.
    Close up of the gargoyle on the right hand side of the church door.
    Close up of the gargoyle on the left hand side of the church door.
    Two gargoyles from the top of the tower at St. Leonard's.
    Exterior window with gargoyles.
    Exterior door with gargoyles.
    List of Rectors of St. Leonard's hanging near the gallery stairs. The first priest was John the Rector in the mid 13th century. The church then was a plain little building with stone seats around the walls and a low square battlemented tower, surmounted by a short spire. An old drawing of the church shows that there were two early English windows and there is a possibility that another may have been of Norman origin, thus linking the church with the time of the Domesday Book.
    Plaque mentioning the rebuilding of St. Leonard's in 1842 hanging near the gallery stairs.
    General view of the interior of the church.
    View of the ceiling.
    View of the font. The font cover was carved from the doors of the medieval church by a local craftsman in 1910.
    View of the stained glass window dedicated Christian women of the early church, Dorcas and Phoebe, given in memory of Hannah More, the philanthropist and teacher who came to Shipham and set up a school in 1790.
    Close up of the dedication to Hannah More from the stained glass window above.
    The window behind the alter commemorates a former rector, the Revd Melmoth A. Lintern.
    Stained glass window dedicated to St. Patrick & St. Lawrence
    Memorial tablet to the Rev. James Jones authored by Hannah More.
    Surviving from the original church is the attractive 14th century reredos located behind the alter.
    Small marker beneath stained glass window dedicated to Mary Hares recognizing her years of faithful service to the church.
    View of the cemetery from the rear of the church.
    A row of Hares family markers in the cemetery. Follow the preceding link for more information about these graves.

     

    St. Leonard's Parish Records
    Hares family grave markers at St. Leonard's
    Photographs of Shipham
    Return to the Hares family web site
    Return to the main page at the Thomas family Web Site
  • This web site is copyrighted 2006 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved.
    e-mail: jltbalt1@verizon.net