The Parish Church of St. Lawrence, Cucklington

Mentioned in the Doomsday Book Cucklington is a small, picturesque hilltop village on the edge of the Blackmore Vale in Somerset on the borders of Dorset and Wiltshire. The earliest records of the church appear in the Taxatio of 1291 - an inventory authorised by Pope Nicholas IV of income and wealth which was used as a tool for assessing taxation in order to raise funds for King Edward 1 Crusade of that year. The first recorded Rector was Henry de Furneaux in 1317, and a Parish Register exists from 1558.

The ancient Grade 2* Listed Church of St. Lawrence is set in a tranquil position on the side of a West-facing hill and there is an especially beautiful and peaceful outlook from the Churchyard. Services are held every Sunday and it has often been used for Concerts due to the excellent acoustics.

The church has an unusual feature in that the chancel is offset from the nave. According to Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the renowned German-born British scholar of the history of architecture, the font is Norman and the north aisle arcade of two bays is late 13th Century. The smaller arch between the vestry and the chancel is Perpendicular and there are late Perpendicular windows in the South Transept - also known as St. Barbara’s Chapel.

There is a Spring near the top of Cucklington hill dedicated to St. Barbara and water from this Spring is used for Christenings.

A stone tablet on the tower over the South Porch bears the date 1703 together with the names of the Rector and Church Wardens at that time. It was often the custom in the 18th Century to commemorate extensive restoration work and this would tie in with damage to the tower during the ‘Great Storm’ of 1703 when there was prolonged flooding in the West Country. Hundreds of people drowned on the Somerset Levels along with thousands of sheep and cattle and one ship was found 15 miles inland. At Wells this same storm blew in part of the great west window of Wells Cathedral and Bishop Richard Kidder was killed when two chimneystacks fell on him and his wife whilst they were asleep in bed in the Bishops Palace.

The triple archway into St. Barbara’s Chapel is by G. R. Crickmay, the architect responsible for major restoration to the Church in 1880. In the East window of the chapel is a small, faded 15th Century figure of St. Barbara. A trefoil design above her and to the right is part of a badge associated with Richard Bere, Abbot of Glastonbury 1493-1524 and below this window is a bracket of green sandstone with a head carved on one side. It is understood that on this were placed “goods and cattales gyven to the mayntenance of lyghts within the paryshe churche”.

The clock on the tower south face is of early 18th Century origin and keeps remarkably good time, and there are six bells in the tower, one of the earliest being engraved “Weel Sweetly Sing when you us Ring 1726”. The three heaviest are by William Cockey, probably all of 1726 and three later by Edward Cockey in 1823. They are regularly rung for services.

Between 1766 and 1953 the Phelips of Montacute were the patrons of the living and were great benefactors of the church. In 1873 fundraising for major restoration work was begun when William Phelips was Patron and Rev Chandos Phelips the Rector. On the death of the latter the Rev James Phelips took over the restoration work. The complete roof was removed, including two dormer windows. The large arch between the vestry and chancel was constructed, also the arches between the vestry and North aisle, and between the chancel and nave. A door was put in the North wall of the vestry and two windows in the North aisle (one replaced a door which opened onto the path into the churchyard). The (now reopened) door into St. Barbara’s chapel was closed up at this time and the Hagioscope or Squint - a very unusual medieval feature which permits a view of the altar from an aisle or side chapel - was opened up.

In the 1780s there was also a singers’ gallery with a wainscoted front, since removed.

The Organ gallery at the West end was removed and the Organ, by Flight, given in 1818 by Nathaniel Dalton who lived at Shanks House in Cucklington, was moved to the vestry and was re-built by J.W. Walker & Sons in 1880.

The Norman font stood previously at the entrance to the North aisle and was moved to its present position in front of the West window.

The carved wooden screen was taken from the Chancel steps and now divides the vestry from the North aisle. It was at this time that the jambs and archstones of a door leading to a rood loft staircase were removed from near the pulpit and built into the East wall of the vestry. The restoration was dedicated by the Bishop on 18th October 1880.

The beautiful stained glass in the East window is by Clayton and Bell and was the gift of the Phelips family in 1874. The carved panels in the Pulpit and Reredos are by Vermeylen of Louvain and ends of the choir stalls were carved by Miss C. Phelips to designs by Crickmay.

There is a small watercolour of the Church interior before the 1880 restoration by Miss Bailward of Horsington Manor.

On either side of the Chancel Arch are stone carvings, completed in 1884, of the head of St. Lawrence, and the grid-iron on which he was martyred.

The stone angel on the sedilia was placed in memory of Richard Phelips in 1881.

The Royal Arms of Charles II were placed in the Church at the time of the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 - hence the inscription “Fear God and honor the King and meddle not with them that are given to change”. This ‘restoration shield’ must have been very hastily installed (to show allegiance to the new King) as the artist obviously ran out of space and you will notice the wording reduces in size to the extent that the last word becomes ‘chang’! In 1954 it was moved from the South Porch, restored and re-hung on the North aisle wall.

There are two monuments to the Watts family (restored in 2013) in St. Barbara’s chapel dated 1716 and 1729, and the large tablet in the vestry records the Dalton family from 1630.

In the graveyard are some Grade 1 * 17th Century altar tombs and also the socket stone of a cross which appears to be of early 14th Century origin.


St. Lawrence: Feast Day - 10th August

It has been said of the traditional stories about St. Lawrence that they portray, not the man, but the ‘typical figure of a martyr’. It is known that he was one of the seven Deacons of Rome and that he was martyred there four days after Pope Sixtus II in 258 and was buried in the cemetery on the road to Tivoli where the church of St. Lawrence-outside-the-Walls now stands. According to tradition when ordered by the city Prefect to hand over the church’s valuables he assembled the poor and sick and presented them to the Prefect. “Here” he said “is the church’s treasure“. Thereupon he was put to death by being roasted on a grid. From the 4th Century he was venerated as one of the most famous martyrs of the city of Rome. With St. Sixtus he is named in the canon of the Roman Mass. His emblem is a gridiron.


St. Lawrence’ Prayer
‘O God, who didst give to St. Lawrence, Thy Confessor,
the Spirit of Counsel and Strength to enable him to engage in
the most difficult undertakings for the honor of Thy name and
the salvation of souls, grant, that by the same Spirit we may
perceive what we should do and through his intercession
accomplish what we have perceived’


St. Barbara: Feast Day - 4th December

St. Barbara was a maiden of great beauty whose father Dioscurus shut her up in a tower to discourage the attentions of numerous suitors. On discovering that she had become a Christian Dioscurus made to kill her but she was miraculously transported out of his reach. He then denounced her to the authorities who subjected her to torture. She refused to renounce her faith, whereupon her father was ordered himself to put her to death. This he did and straightway was struck by lightning and reduced to ashes. This spurious legend first appears only in the seventh century and appears to have been written as a pious romance, for there is actually no evidence that a martyred St. Barbara ever existed. Nevertheless from the ninth century her cultus (a system or variety of religious worship) became very widely spread. Because of her father’s fate she was invoked against danger from lightning, and by an extension of this idea she later became the patron saint of gunners and miners. Her special emblem is a tower.


St. Barbara’s Prayer
‘Lord Jesus Christ, which has formed heaven and earth,
I beseech thee to grant me thy grace and hear my prayer,
that all they that have memory of thy name and my passion,
I pray thee that thou wilt not remember their sins,
for thou knowest our fragility’