St Lawrence, Didmarton
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The Church of St. Lawrence in Didmarton had been redundant but since 1992 has been restored to the status of Parish Church of Didmarton with Oldbury-on-the-Hill.
The interior of Didmarton church provides an excellent example of the appearance and internal arrangement of an 18th century country church, with its tiny sanctuary, large box pews and the dominating ‘three-decker’ pulpit of fine quality which includes the minister’s pew, the clerk’s desk and the oak pulpit itself with its large tester or sounding board, all framed within an elegant wooden arch and well lit by large windows on either side.
There were formerly two galleries to accommodate additional worshippers, one in the north transept for which a window, now blocked, can be seen high up in the east wall, and the other at the west end of the nave where hat pegs remain at eaves level, and where the evidence of the former door to the stairway can be seen on the outside of the south wall to the west of the porch. A row of hat pegs also remains in the north transept. The galleries would have been used by those who could not afford to rent the box pews, and the west gallery may also have been used by the musicians who provided the accompaniment to the services.
The font is of three periods; the circular stem is Norman work of the 12th century,the octagonal bowl dates from the 14th century, and the elegant wooden cover was added in the 18th century. The older altar table has been taken to St. Michael’s church; the present altar is a very plain deal table and the small sanctuary is enclosed by wrought-iron altar-rails capped with mahogany, dating from the 18th century.
Note that the lower part of the east window is blocked in order to accommodate the reredos or back for the altar. During the repairs in 1982 the original Commandments were found and returned to the present position behind the altar. The later boards were placed against the west end of the nave. In the south wall to the right of the altar is a 13th century piscina or drain at which the priest would have washed the communion vessels during Mass.
The painted box pews with their narrow uncomfortable seats which remain on the south side of the nave were previously matched by similar pews on the north side and in the north transept. The wooden staircase in the north transept gives access to the clock and to the bell turret.
On the walls and floor of the church are numerous memorials to the Codringtons and other local families. Note the monuments on the south wall of the nave to Samuel and Grace Wood by Reeves of Bath. Their tomb is immediately outside in the churchyard, and contains the memorial to Mary Bence which was mentioned earlier. In the chancel is a good quality marble memorial to Elizabeth Tyrell (died 1745), one of the daughters of Robert Codrington, and another to Cornelius Robins, by I Ricketts of Bath, who died in 1775. Ledger stones commemorating several members of the Codrington family cover the floor at the east end of the church around the altar. Note also the fine lettering and decoration on the memorial slabs on the floor at the west end of the nave, especially that to Elizabeth Wallis who died in 1616 and the early 17th century memorial to Prudence Burton aged 20 who was the wife of Holas Burton, rector of the parish.
In the north transept is a good example of a Benefaction Board recording the parochial charities and dated 1818.
Evidence of the fact that there was once an altar in the north transept can be seen in the small recess in the east wall which probably contained a piscina. Lighting in the church was formerly provided by a large brass chandelier, dated 1818.
The Redundant Churches Fund (which restored the Church) is indebted to Dr I H Bettey whose notes form the basis for this guide. Information on the history of the church has been provided by Mr Steve Walker of Didmarton, and a record of the observations made by Mr Richard Bryant during restoration work in 1981 was published in the Transactions of Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 101, 1984, 183-5.
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