St Martin’s church has a long and fascinating history.
The manor of North Perrott is recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Peret’, and the site of St Martin’s Church has been a place of worship since Norman times. The church, which is a Grade I listed building, was rebuilt in the sixteenth century by the then Lord of the Manor, Henry Daubeney, Earl of Bridgwater, incorporating in its cruciform plan features from the earlier Norman church. It is strikingly similar to St Mary’s Church, South Perrott, two miles away, which was also built by him; both have porches at the west end rather than the more usual south side of the church. It seems likely that the same band of master stonemasons was responsible for both churches. To the south of the porch is a doorway, now filled in, which once led to a western gallery which is no longer there.
The nave has beams resting on a series of well-carved corbel heads, which may represent some of the craftsmen engaged in the building of the church. In the south-west corner of the nave is the hexagonal font of ham stone. The pews, choir stalls and pulpit are believed to be Victorian, and the kneelers depicting various aspects of life in the village were worked in needlepoint by villagers between 1986 and 1995; their names are recorded in a framed notice on the wall behind the font.
The thickness of the walls of the crossing suggests that this part of the church is of the Norman period. The arches are decorated with narrow trefoiled panels, and the caps of the piers are delicately carved with foliage, and in one case, a grotesque face believed by some to be so positioned as to keep an eye on the behaviour of the choirboys.
The chancel has a wagon type roof divided into squares by plaster ribs painted to represent wood. The stained glass window nearest the altar is a memorial to Admiral Sir Anthony Hoskyns and his wife Dorothea. The reredos is a painted marble relief after the Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci by Richard Westmacott the younger. The two carved panels on the west-facing wall of the nave represent the Annunciation and the three Marys at the tomb of Christ. The roofs of the porch and the chancel are covered in ham stone tiles; those of the nave and chancel were covered in lead until recently. St. Martin’s Church has been generously helped by the Heritage Lottery Fund and other charitable trusts to recover four roof surfaces with terne-coated stainless steel after many serious thefts of lead during 2011 and 2012. Thanks also to the enormous efforts of many volunteers and gifts from individual donors, the roof is sound once more.
The tower, which is not open to the public, is of twelfth century origin and contains a notable peal of six bells, and rises in two stages above the level of the roof. In each face of the upper stage, the bell chamber, are sound openings in the form of two-light windows filled with traceried louvres of Ham stone. On the wall of the bell-ringing chamber are old articles of bell ringing, discovered in 1791.
The churchyard, which contains six listed chest tombs, has fine views south over the Parrett valley and into Dorset; villagers have been buried here since time immemorial and continue to be so.
Alterations to the Church and its contents
Several alterations have been made to the church:
- At some time in the Victorian period a reredos was constructed above the altar, to include the relief of the Last Supper by Westmacott and the two panels depicting the Annunciation and the three Marys at the sepulchre.
- In 1910 a western gallery was removed from the church, and other refurbishments were carried out.
- In the 1960s the reredos was removed, as it blocked the lower part of the East window, and the Westmacott sculpture was set into the wall above the altar. The two small carved panels were then placed in the nave.
- In 1992 a new organ was bought and placed in the south transept.
- In 2009 the church bells were taken down and restored, and the bell frame was repaired and the bells rehung.
The Church Plate
The church plate (which is not kept at the Church), is an interesting and curious collection. It consists of:
- A Tudor cup and cover of an earlier date than is usual in the diocese, dated 1511.
- A small paten of peculiar design, an octagonal piece of thin silver with a circle cut out in the middle and a shallow dish fitted in the opening, inscribed John Myntern and William Bragge, Wardens 1694.
- A plain cup in parcel gilt, inscribed North Perrott 1819, dated 1817.
- A pair of salvers with gadrooned edges on three feet, dated 1752, and inscribed as per the cup.
- A flagon of tankard type, dated 1768 and inscribed ‘Given to the Parish of North Perrott by William Hoskins, Churchwarden 1845.
Stained Glass Memorial Windows
The four-light stained glass windows in the north and south transepts are dedicated ‘In loving memory of Jane Blanche Somerville Hoskyns from her husband and children 1896’. In the north window we see Christ the King lauded by many angels with harps and other instruments, and with St Michael below. This calls to mind psalm 98 which declares:
“O Sing unto the Lord a new song for he hath done marvellous things. With his own right hand and with his holy arm; hath he gotten himself the victory.
Praise the Lord upon the harp: sing to the harp with a psalm of thanksgiving.
With trumpet also and shawms: O show yourselves joyful before the Lord the King.”
The south window would appear to celebrate kindness and hospitality with its pictures of those who are in need being succoured, and in three cases not being turned away from the door, reminding the viewer of the renowned kindness of St Martin of Tours, to whom this church is dedicated. St Martin, when travelling, is reputed to have taken pity on a beggar whom he encountered on the road. The beggar was suffering from the cold, because he had no cloak to protect him. St Martin took off his own cloak, cut it in half and gave one half to the beggar in an act of kindness. In the uppermost panel of the window, St. Martin can be seen using his sword to cut his cloak in half.
The stained glass window nearest the altar is a memorial to Admiral Sir Anthony Hiley Hoskins and his wife Dorothea; the two panels depict Christ calming the waters (Luke 8 v.24)) and Christ walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14 v.25).
A small brass plaque in the east wall of the north transept records the accidental ramming and sinking, with the loss of 358 crew, of Sir Anthony Hoskins’ flagship HMS Victoria by HMS Camperdown in 1893. His flag was retrieved from the water and presented at his funeral. (The flag was hung in the church, but is at present awaiting repair.)
Other memorial plaques to members of the Hoskyns family are to be found on the west wall of the north transept, and there is a memorial on the south wall of the nave to Godfrey Raper, former steward of the Manor and author of The Story of a Country Village, which is about North Perrott.
The reredos, executed in marble relief and painted is the work of the Victorian sculptor Richard Westmacott the younger (1799-1872) after Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’. Westmacott was professor of sculpture at the Royal Academy 1857-1869. It was commissioned for the church by William Hoskins.
The Carved Panels
The two carved panels on the east wall of the nave were originally incorporated in a reredos above the altar together with the Westmacott relief.
The panel on the north side depicts the Annunciation, and is of carved wood, probably of sixteenth century Spanish origin, and was acquired by Admiral Sir Anthony Hoskins when he was commander of the Mediterranean Fleet and presented to the church.
The panel on the south side is of gesso, and represents the three Marys and the angel at the sepulchre.
The Church Bells
The Church has a peal of six bells which are very much part of the village’s heritage.
The oldest and heaviest is a tenor made by George Davis of Bridgwater in 1786. It has the following inscription:
RALPH HAM EDMUND CLEEVES CHURCH WARDENS BILBIE FECIT 1786 I TO THE CHURCH THE LIVING CALL AND TO THE GRAVE I SUMMON ALL CAST BY GE DAVIS B WATER
Four other bells were made in 1803 by Thomas Bilbie, and they are marked respectively:
WILLIAM HOSKINS ESQ AND JAMES SLADE GENT CH W (churchwardens) T BILBIE FECIT 1803
GOD SAVE THE KING T.B.F. 1803
THOMAS BILBIE CULLOMPTON FECIT 1803
WILLIAM HOSKINS ESQ AND JAMES SLADE GENT CHURCH WARDENS BILBIE FECIT 1803
The last bell was made by Llewellin and James of Bristol in 1904, and is inscribed:
IN MEMORIAM HENRICUS GULIELMUS HOSKYNS LLEWELLINS AND JAMES BRISTOL 1904
The bell frame was made by LLewellins and James in 1904
The bell-ringing chamber also houses the mechanism for the church clock, which was installed in memory of those villagers who gave their lives in the First World War. Westminster chimes sound every quarter hour.
Old Articles of Bell-Ringing Found in North Perrott Church Ringing Chamber in the Year 1791
The Hoskyns Family
A younger son of the Hoskyns family of Herefordshire (see Burke’s Peerage) moved to Dorset in the time of Henry VIII. This branch of the family prospered, and William Hoskins (the family had changed the spelling of their surname), who was born c. 1679, married at North Perrott Church and was living in the adjoining village of Haselbury Plucknett when his son William II was born in 1703. William II first bought land in North Perrott in 1742. His son William III, who was born at Haselbury in that year, married Elizabeth Addington, daughter of Dr Addington, the physician to George III, and sister to Henry Addington, the first Viscount Sidmouth, who was an undistinguished Prime Minister (from 1801 to 1804). Canning made of him the famous remark, ‘As Pitt is to Addington so London is to Paddington’.
William III built a substantial house in North Perrott, known as North Perrott House, in 1782, and moved there from Haselbury. In 1790 he bought the Lordship of the Manor of North Perrott and the Patronage of the Living. He died in 1813, and his eldest son William IV succeeded to the estate at North Perrott; his second son Thomas inherited his house and land at Haselbury. The third brother, Henry, was ordained, and in 1814 was given the Living of North Perrott by his brother; he was to be Rector there for 62 years. He married Mary Phelips, the sister of the squire of Montacute nearby, and when her brother married a Miss Hoskyns of the Herefordshire Hoskyns family the two branches of the family became reacquainted, and Henry’s son Henry William eventually reverted to the original spelling of the name. William Hoskins IV never married, and as Thomas had no children Henry became eventually the squarson (both squire and parson). Henry brought up his seven children at the Rectory; on his death in 1876 he was to be succeeded as squire by his eldest son Henry William and as Rector by his second son Charles. Charles was to be Rector for 32 years until 1908; he and his father between them held the living for 94 years. Henry’s third son Haviland died tragically at 14, probably from leukaemia, and there is a moving series of letter from his parents to their eldest son Henry at Oxford, charting the progress of his illness. The fourth son Anthony became an admiral ; the fifth, Arthur, married an heiress and bought King Ina’s Palace, the Manor House at South Petherton nearby.
When Henry William inherited from his father he decided to build a Manor House in a better position than that built by his grandfather, and the original house was pulled down; joinery and fireplaces from the old house were incorporated in the new one, which was designed by T.H.Wyatt and completed in 1878. It incorporated modern conveniences such as electricity (powered by the River Parrett) and a number of bathrooms.
Henry William Hoskyns was succeeded by his eldest son Henry William Paget (known as Paget). Paget’s son Henry William Whitby (known as Hal), who was born in 1899, was fortunate in escaping the fate of some of his contemporaries at school who joined up in 1918 and were killed in the last months of the First World War. Hal went on a training course preparatory to becoming a gunnery officer, and never got into the trenches. As he had been a serving officer he was, however, allowed the privilege of keeping a car in Oxford when he went up to the university in 1919.
Paget died in 1921 so Hal became the squire at the age of 22. In the 1930s he started a fruit farm to provide work for those unable to find it in the difficult period between the wars, and this remains the main part of the estate to this day. In 1938, convinced that war was inevitable, he made an agreement with a preparatory school in Surrey that in the event of war the school would evacuate to North Perrott and take a lease on the Manor House for the duration. In 1939 Hal and his family moved out of the Manor and subsequently made their home in the Manor Farm. After the war the Manor House was leased to Mr Gerald Grundy to found a new preparatory school, and eventually sold; Perrott Hill School continues to flourish to this day. Hal Hoskyns died in 1974, and was succeeded by his son Henry William Furse (Bill), who combined running the estate with a notable sporting career as a fencer. He was the first British athlete to compete in six Olympic Games and won two silver medals; he was world champion at Epee in 1958. Bill Hoskyns died in 2013, and his son Jonathan now runs the estate and the village Farm Shop.