Saint Michael’s church may have its origins in the 12th century, but most of the visible fabric of the church dates from the late 13th century, with additional work of the 14th and 15th century.
A chantry was founded in the parish church in 1330, when a small estate was granted to the Hospital of Saint John in Wilton, who were to celebrate an annual obit to the memory of Robert Chamberlayne and to provide two candles before the high altar each day at high mass.
In 1553, the parish retained a chalice weighing 7 oz., and 10 oz. of plate was confiscated for the King. There were three bells at this time. The vicar Humphrey Dale was still performing ceremonies ‘in the lattyne service’ in 1558, and parishioners were leaving bequests for the ringing of the church bells for a month after their funeral in 1561. Another tradition at this time was the provision of a cake for the parish clerk at the time of a woman’s churching.
New bells were procured in 1614 and 1616 - the latter with the inscription ‘HONOUR THE KING’ - possibly indicating the acquisition of the rectory by the Penruddocks. The third bell was replaced in 1656 and was inscribed with the initials of the infant Lay Rector George Penruddock, despite the confiscation of the family estates for his father’s treason in the previous year.
Perhaps because of the poverty of the benefice, the vicarage was often held by pluralists who may also have been absentees.
The church fabric was restored in 1877 by James Soppitt of Shaftesbury, who was also responsible for executing drawings for a mortuary chapel in the cemetery south of the village. The plan of the church is cruciform, with buttresses and a late 13th-century tower, the top remodelled in the 15th century. The north transept is also late 13th-century but has 19th-century lancet windows. The nave has a 14th-century reticulated tracery window and a perpendicular window on the north side but is altered with the addition of 19th century windows on the south side. The south transept is 15th-century with 2-light windows. There is a pointed priest’s door in the chancel. The east end has a 3-light pointed Perpendicular window with grotesque terminals. A lean-to vestry is attached to west. Inside the porch is a loose square bowl from a 12th-century font with blind arcading. Plans from 1877 reveal what may have been a bell-cote in the roof of the nave, not visible in 1804, and subsequently removed during restoration work. Little is known about the interior of the church before its restoration in the 19th century, but accounts for restoration work in 1788 reveal that there was a gallery in the body of the church, and rails and a communion table in the chancel. A seating plan of 1811 gives details of 27 pews, although this may not include privately owned pews. By 1877, the gallery appears to have been transformed into a loft for the organ. It was removed during the restoration at that time, when the nave and transepts were re-pewed, and the arch between the nave and chancel was raised. The modern nave has a 5-bay 19th-century archbraced collar roof on stone corbels. The north transept has a 3-bay restored collar roof, and a double chamfered arch on 13th-century compound half-piers, which appears to contain 12th-century material. The transept was rebuilt in the 19th century, when its pews were removed and a vestry was added to the west. There is a part of a former doorway on the west side of the transept. Opposite, the south transept has a 19th-century double-chamfered arch and 2-bay 19th-century roof. In the chancel is a barrel-vaulted boarded roof.
In 1878 Charles Penruddock (d. 1899) donated two new bells and a third was donated by his wife and daughters, bringing the total to six. This coincided with his appointment as parish clerk, following dissatisfaction with the state of church at that time. Holding this office, together with that of Lay Rector and churchwarden, along with being the principal landowner, led to him being described as ‘lay-bishop’ of Compton Chamberlayne. With this concentration of power, acrimony between Penruddock and the vicar, Dudley Digges, over changes to the nature of services in the church led to the vicar and his churchwarden being locked out of the churchyard, and the confiscation by Penruddock of the grounds and outbuildings attached to the vicarage in 1897. The vicar had introduced an evening service and increased the use of music during services, changes which were apparently popular but met with distinct disapproval from Penruddock, who withdrew from attending the church and set about obstructing the vicar. Penruddock’s death in 1899 relieved the tensions.
The modern day parish is a cordial place, without the tensions of earlier centuries!
Compiled from the Victoria County History (see https://www.victoriacountyhistory.ac.uk/sites/default/files/work-in-progress/compton_chamberlayne_religious_history_final_0.pdf)
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