The Church of St Michael and All Angels

Church Website

Stockland Pastoral Care Team

Stockland First World War Project

Bryan Drew and Charles Holme have been researching the stories of the men of Stockland who fought in the First World War, 1914-19. You can read the full details HERE and a bound copy of the final draft of the document is kept in the church .

The Church

Our Church in Stockland has a long history. There are certainly Saxon foundations and there may have been a pagan shrine on the site in pre-Christian times. According to Finberg, 'A dedicationto St. Michael would strengthen any other evidence that the village story reached back to the Dark Ages and beyond, especially if the church stands in a low-lying spot. Such a church would have had its beginning in the cell and attached oratory of some holy man. The archangels associated with hilltops in a later development.'

At the time of Domesday (1068), Stockland belonged to the demesne of the monks of Milton Abbey and was assigned towards the expenses of their food and clothing, so it seems probable that there was a church here then.

The first Vicar was appointed in 1336, but there was a visiting priest prior to this. In 1291, the Rectory was valued at 20 marks, of which 5 were paid to the Abbot of Milton. In 1335, it was appropriated to the Abbey, who took all profits, and instead of a Rector, a Vicar was appointed with a yearly stipend of 4 marks.

In 1948, the then Vicar wrote: 'When I first came here some 15 years ago, the custom was to ring the church Bell every Sunday morning, whether there was a service or not. When the Vicar had a Curate (till 1917), there would be an 8 o'clock service every Sunday. But when there was only one priest, the services would alternate with Dalwood. Nevertheless the custom continued, and when the last of the ringers to continue was asked why, he said it was to give notice to the people of the "parson over the hill". Can this refer to the visiting priest before 1335? It would seem he came from Chard, which is the only road to be seen from the tower. The ringer said the priest was supposed to come by horseback, which is the only way that he could have travelled on that road, so bad it was in surface and gradient. The war stopped all bell-ringing and the custom was abandoned.'

The present church is mainly 15th century and built of dressed flint and Ham stone, with the original tracery, door surrounds and pillars in Beer stone. [Editor's note - Beer is a nearby coastal village and the creamy-grey Beer Stone from its quarries was favoured for its workability for carving; Ham is in the parish of Stockland but Ham stone comes from the quarries at Ham Hill Somerset and is characterised by its honey-gold colour] The church was originally thatched, the thatch being replaced by slate in the 18th century. The church underwent a thorough restoration in the 1870s, when roofs were renewed. New benches of pitch pine replaced the former high pews and a new wood block floor was laid. The central passage between the chancel seats was widened and the floor paved with tiles. The altar was enlarged and new oak altar rails, supported by wrought iron standards, were fitted. Much other work was done, including the provision of underground chambers for heating stoves, with gratings over them.

On the South side of the chancel, the square headed windows show former arches above, the earlier windows being not later than the 13th century. A priest's door was made in 1770, but later blocked in. The two carved oak chairs were made in 1848. The head of a monk appears on the pillar north of the chancel. This may have been the stonemason's 'signature'. John Kite (1500-1573) is buried in the chancel. He held the rectory and advowson of the vicarage and tythes of the King as his manor. There is a mediaeval cottage in the village still called 'Kites'.

In the south transept, now called the Broadhayes Chapel, but formerly a Lady Chapel, is a small 13th century lancet window and a reused arch widened in the 16th century. The floor has been lowered, and there were once gates across the archway.

The font is of 15th century Ham Stone of unusual style and is not the original one. The pulpit and lectern date from the Victorian restoration.

The north aisle was added in the 15th century, possibly built by Sir William Courtenay of Powderham, who married Margaret Bonville. Their shield appears on a pillar at the back of the aisle. The aisle may have been the extension of a north chancel chapel, east of the transept, as it is divided on the north from the chancel by a moulded arch resting on a corbel.

There is a rood stair turret on the north side, with two bricked up doorways leading into the church, one behind the side altar and the other one higher up, where the rood screen would have been entered. The small communion table is associated with the Wordsworth family of Grasmere. It was given to St. Michaels in 1957, by the then Rector of Awliscombe.

At the base of the tower is a cusped opening in a direct line with the altar, probably to serve the ringer of a sanctus bell. The tower, which is nearly 100 feet high, contains six bells, the earliest dated 1603, the sixth being added in 1780. There is a fine west doorway, the arch of which is of Ham stone, decorated with fine carving. The tower clock is by Smith of Derby, dated 1896.

In the south porch is a mutilated piscina. Towards the end of the 13th century, the Pope decreed that it was not seemly for hands to be washed in the same piscina as the holy vessels, and so a double piscina was ordained. A century later, a single piscina again became the practice, and so the second one was sometimes removed to another part of the church.

In 1425, a tenement for the priest in Stockland was granted to Hugh Edwards. This was probably the house in the churchyard, which was sold for £85 and pulled down in 1905 to enlarge the churchyard. It was at one time a chantry school.

The author of the above history is unknown.