History of Saint Marys Church Chard

St Mary’s building works were commenced in 1400 and completed in 1445. The site is at an ancient crossroads. Perhaps a wayside shrine was there. A burial ground may have followed, this diverting the present road around two sides. The main street of the village of Old Chard developed towards the northeast while the Manor Farm was to the southwest. At least two churches have stood on the present spot.  (courtesy of the Somerset Records Office)

The Font

The font is as old as the Church

The Font symbolises entry into church fellowship and Christian life. A new one in golden Ham Stone was made to match the style of the 1450 church. It is lead lined and octagonal, with carved quatrefoils and Tudor roses.

The impression of a village church is now lost, owing to the building of the Borough of Chard to the northwest in 1235. The outside appearance of the church is unusual. It is shrouded by beautiful trees that give glimpses of a rather squat building, battlemented and with  numerous buttresses and pinnacles. These encourage a visit to see its golden and harmonious interior.

The North Porch was the original main entrance from the town. It has a niche for a saint, a blocked window and space for an overhead room. Possibly it was used for weddings in Tudor times. The front statuary was added in the 19th Century.

The Nave is light and graceful. The exposed stone is from Ham Hill. It is divided from the aisles by slender pillars to form six arches. The south- west one still has some original painted decoration where it was preserved by the gallery. The nave has uniform Perpendicular windows and unusual upper Dormer windows set into a coved ceiling. This has bosses decorated with angels or flowers. The window glass in the south aisle has an unusual female theme of three saints and three queens. Nearby, the generous gift of £30 to the poor of Chard by Elizabeth Knight, widow, is detailed on a board. At the west end of the north aisle, a transformed window dates from 1829. Of the two aisles, this has the better ceiling.

The Transepts are where the two chantries had altars and statues of saints. Niches and squints (to co-ordinate with actions at the high altar) survive. In addition, the north transept has two piscinas for washing the sacred plate and cup. Excavation has found a statue base, possibly the source of the image that is broken and wedged into the piscinas. The fine oak roofs of the transepts, with their magnificent bosses, are particularly noticeable.

The south transept entrance has a panelled arch and the fine Willis organ of 1814 stands within. There was an organ loft    mentioned in 1659 and an organ mentioned in 1783. An early memorial here is to John Lane d.1688, who was a former Cavalry Quartermaster.

The North transept was, before the dissolution, the site of two chantries, one dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and one to St. Katherine. In 1975 it was completely refurbished as a memorial to Robert Anthony Fawcus, a much loved local doctor and a freeman of the borough.

Appropriately, the finest memorial in the church is also in this transept and is to a physician. He was William Brewer, d.1618, “being happily married for 40 years and having six sons and five daughters, all grown up” and who are also shown on the marble and porphyry memorial.

The Chancel arch has a small doorway leading to a turret stair that formerly opened onto the rood loft. This was a carved wooden screen that divided the church. There are traces of a (model) sepulchre of 1517 and a three-decked pulpit. The present altar nearby is made of wood and is well forward from where the original one stood. A Sedilia (three stone seats for clergy and clerk) is on the right beside an arch marking one of the earlier church. The east window of 1829 has five lights with good stained glass. The side statues of Saints Mary and Andrew date from 1936.

There is a hagioscope or squint each side of the Chancel arch and also one in the Chapel. Provision was made for a rood screen and steps leading from the Chapel to the rood beam are there, but it is unknown whether a screen was ever made

The stained glass windows are comparatively modem and, excepting for one, all with the same basic colourings. The East window to the memory of a former Vicar is particularly good and was made in 1829.

Historic Events have often left their mark on the religious life of the people and the building. By 1065, the Manor of Chard was held by the Bishop of Bath and Wells. His steward had a gate and path from the Manor Court to the south porch.

The church’s Spiritual Patron is mentioned in 1486 as ‘the Blessed Mary’ (the Mother of Jesus). Linked to Chard Church were the Chapel of St. Margaret at South Chard and also a private chapel at Walscombe.

The first mention of a parson at St. Mary’s was in 1198. In 1234, the Bishop granted most of the income of Chard to his Provost and left the remainder to support a Vicar. It was at this time that the ‘new town’ of the Borough of Chard was laid out.

In 1386, the Black Death plague appears to have killed three successive vicars. Their sacrifice, while caring for the community, should not be forgotten.