Low Ham is a hamlet within the parish of High Ham in Somerset. Its Church is known locally as the Church in the Field.
The Church was built around 1620 on the instructions of Sir Edward Hext, Lord of the Manor 1596-1624 (d. 1624), as his private chapel and is on the site of an earlier Church. In 1645 the building suffered damage during the battle of Langport, one of the most significant battles of the Civil War which was fought nearby. Hext’s grandson, George Stawell, (d. 1669) had the building repaired and was subsequently consecrated in 1669. In 1921 the Church was given in trust to the Church of England. The Manor House built nearby was demolished many years ago. The Church is Grade 1 listed and is considered a unique example of early Gothicism in England. Unfortunately time has taken its toll and the fabric of the Church is in need of restoration.
The Church-in-the Field Charitable Association (CFCA) was formed in 1990 and its purpose is to raise funds for the repair and maintenance of the Church. The charity does this by organising local events, receiving donations and by seeking grants from other organisations. All the Charity’s trustees and workers are volunteers, and we are fortunate in having David Heath CBE as our Patron.
The Church in the Field is an historically and architecturally important building and in 2013 the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) was approached to take on the responsibility of the significant repairs required to make the building water tight, safe and to continue to improve and restore the many interesting features both externally and internally. The Churches Conservation Trust is a national charity that protects churches at risk, caring for the churches vested to them by the Church Commissioners of the Church of England. Following consultation between the CCT, the Bath & Wells Diocese and the Church Commissioners, the church was vested to the CCT on 1st June, 2017. More details of the CCT and the work they do can be found on their website https://www.visitchurches.org.uk/
We are delighted that the CCT is now able to carry out the refurbishment work, a timetable of works is currently being compiled. The church will of course be closed while the work is being carried out, but it is proposed to hold ‘Hard Hat Tours’ when it will be possible to look at the work being carried out. If you would like to book a tour please contact Kim Thompson of the CCT by email: email@example.com. Details of tours will be published at a later date.
On completion of the works the church will be once again open to visitors daily.
This beautiful Church remains consecrated and will continue to be a place of worship as well as a focal point for the community. With the Rev. Jess Pitman as incumbent, up to six services a year will be held, baptisms, weddings and funeral services may still be held by arrangement. Please contact the Langport Team Ministry for details http://www.langport-team-ministry.org.uk/links/ . We are hoping that the services will begin next year with a ‘Resurrection’ service for Easter 2018.
The Church in the Field Association will work with the Churches Conservation Trust to continue to fund raise once the major weatherproofing refurbishment has finished. This will include the future restoration of some of the internal monuments and stained glass. We have recently raised funds for the repair of the clock but need to raise additional funding for the re-gilding of the clock face, One of the ways you can help us with this AT NO COST TO YOU is by signing up to Easy Fund Raising. Full details can be found on this website or use this link
Low Ham Church dates almost entirely from the early 17th century, but there is sufficient evidence to prove that an earlier Church once stood here. Adrian Schael, who was Rector of St Andrews Church, High Ham, from 1570 to 1599 clearly gives this impression in his writings.
It is believed that the earlier Church may well have been built by Serlo de Burcy, (d. Circa 1086), one of the Knights who ventured life and fortune in the invasion of William the Conqueror. He received Low Ham Manor, amongst others, as his reward and his name figures in several charters of William the First and William the Second. The Burcy’s are found in Low Ham until 1377. In Adrian Schael’s day the Manor House was still called Burcy’s Court.
THE PRESENT CHURCH
The Tower, at first sight, gives the appearance of being 15th century, while much other work, including some of the windows, seems to a date hundreds of years earlier.
The building was actually consecrated in 1690. A copying of earlier styles accounts for the confusion!
The present Church was built partly by Sir Edward Hext. He had been active in the training of men to meet the Spanish Armada in 1588 and he became Sheriff of the County in 1603 and was knighted in 1604.
The Hexts intermarried with the Waltons of Low Ham and appear to have succeeded them as they did the Berkeleys.
In the Sherborne Muniments is a lease of lands in Aller, dated 1587, to Edward Hext of Netherham by Henry, Earl of Huntingdon. In 1597 is found a further lease by Lady Katherine, the Countess, to Edward Hext, John Marshall and John Northover at Chantry in the Parish of Aller, for lands in Aller. It was from his lands in Aller that Sir Edward Hext gave an endowment in 1622 to pay the Chaplain of Low Ham.
Sir Edward Hext’s will mentions the reversion of his lands to his daughter’s second husband, Sir John Stawel, whose family had been established in Cothelstone on the Quantocks since the Conquest. Sir John was famous for his devotion to the King in the Civil War and his son was sent to raise a Troop in Low Ham on 1st August, 1642. They were engaged the next day in the first skirmish in which blood was drawn in the War.
At some time during the Civil War the Church seems to have suffered considerable damage and it fell to John’s son, George, to whose family the Manor of Low Ham had passed, to effect the restoration.
In the East Window are the fragmentary remains of an inscription recording the restoration. In 1921 a former tenant of Low Ham Farm discovered papers relating to the Berkeley family on which was written the full inscription;
“Ad honorem et Gloria’s et divinum Dei maximi cultum et unius sumptu Georgii armigeri haec capella fuit locata XX die maii an regn sec et”
This inscription has been completed and rendered in English as follows;
“To the honour and glory and for the divine worship of the Great God and at the sole expense of George Stawel Esquire this chapel was founded and finished. The Foundation was laid on the 20th Day of May In the 28th year of the reign of King Charles the Second and it was consecrated on the 1st day of September in the year 1690 Glory to God on High”
This reconstruction apportions to George Stawel far more work than he actually did to the fabric of the Church, suggesting as it does that Sir Edward Hext’s Church was entirely demolished and rebuilt in 1675 at the expense of George Stawel – which would not appear to be the case. On the Rood Screen (or more correctly, a Screen without a Rood) can be detected the sentiments of an Anglican and a Royalist – the philosophy of George Stawel – where the words from the twenty -fourth chapter of the Book of Proverbs, verse twenty-one, are quoted;
“My sonne, fears God and the Kinge and meddle not with them that are given to change.”
With his brother Ralph, George gave a handsome set of Communion Plate to the Church which is still in existence to this day.
Ralph was made Deputy Lieutenant of Somerset in 1672 and in 1683 was created Baron Stawel in consideration of his father’s eminent services to the Royal cause. In his will, Lord Ralph orders a handsome monument to be erected in the Church of Netherham, (Low Ham Church), where he is to be buried at the side of his late dear wife and his present dear wife was to be buried on the other side of him. The latter, however, was buried at Hartley Wespall, the home of her father – William Pitt.
His son, John, succeeded as second Baron, but was so extravagant that he almost involved the family in ruin. He married the daughter of Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, and possessed 28 manors in Somerset and Dorset. When he came of age he said that he would have the finest house, the finest wife and the finest horse in Somerset. He therefore began to build a great manor near Low Ham Church and got rid of 26 manors in the process, leaving only Cothelstone in Somerset and one manor house in Dorset. He pulled down part of the Manor House built by Hext – thought to be one of the best in Somerset – and began his own sumptuous edifice of no less than 400 feet by 100 feet – spending £100,000 in the process. After his death in 1692, it was sold unfurnished. He is buried in Low Ham Church.
The terraced field to the south of the Church is the only reminder of this large manor house. Eventually it was demolished. In the 1880’s the only remaining part – the stone gateway – was taken down stone by stone and removed in 20 wagons drawn by 40 horses and rebuilt to form the entrance to Hazlegrove House near Sparkford. This can be seen today opposite the Service Area at Sparkford roundabout at the entrance to Sparkford village.