East Coker Church, following ancient tradition for churches built on a hill, is dedicated to St Michael. The first documentary reference to a church on this site is in 1276. St Michael’s is situated on a hill to the south of the village of East Coker with magnificent views across the village to the countryside beyond. Situated adjacent to the west of the church is the Grade 1 listed Coker Court, a 15th century manor house, originally owned by the Courtney family but bought in 1616 by Archdeacon Helyar, who extended the south transept of the church and added a private entrance. Below the church are the Helyar Almshouses built in the mid-17th century.
The building is late twelfth century, with fifteenth and nineteenth century work although there is evidence of Anglo-Saxon building at the west end. It is a cruciform church with a nave, added side aisles and a north porch.
The north door is 15th century, above which is the royal coat of arms dated 1660 with the sovereign’s cipher for William and Mary. The war memorial was placed in the church in October 1920, of carved Ham stone. It commemorates the dead of the First and Second World Wars. The brass lectern in the form of an eagle was placed in the church to mark the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.
Two people of international significance are commemorated in the church.
William Dampier, sea captain, buccaneer and explorer, was baptised in East Coker church in 1651. He became the first Englishman to explore parts of Australia and the first person to circumnavigate the world three times. A plaque on the south wall records his achievements and a second one commemorates the visit of the Agent General for Western Australia in 1988, the 300th anniversary of the landing of William Dampier in Australia.
The ashes of T S Eliot, poet, whose family
emigrated from East Coker in 17th century, were interred in the church in 1965.
A plaque on the west wall which quotes the beginning of his poem ‘East Coker’,
commemorates his life. In 2012 his second wife Valerie was also interred, and
her name added to the memorial. The north aisle window of 1936 by Leonard
Walker in streaked Tiffany colours is dedicated to the Eliots who emigrated to
Salem, Massachusetts c.1660.