And they all came home… (from the Daily Telegraph 19 July 2014)

The hamlet of Woolley, near Bath, reached by narrow hedgerow-flanked roads and sheltered by Solsbury Hill, contributed 13 young men to the First World War and 13 to the Second. Here too, the magnitude of everybody surviving both never truly sunk in. “When I was growing up we just didn’t appreciate the significance of it,” says Margaret Foster, 71, who still lives in the house where she was born.

Five of her cousins – all brothers – fought in the Second World War. One, Dennis Kurle, is still alive, aged 92. “This village is so small that you didn’t really appreciate the rarity that everybody returned alive. Families knew their own had come back from the war and so were a bit removed from the true scale of it all.”
Some of the survivors of the trenches bore hidden scars; many more suffered all too visible wounds. Of those who returned, 1.75 million had suffered some disability and half were permanently disabled.

Mrs Foster says the residents of Woolley tried to help its sons to forget their experience of the horror – apart from a plaque put up in All Saints’ Church, there was no mention of war. “All the soldiers who returned were marked by what they had seen,” she says, “especially the First World War veterans. When war broke out and they signed up, they just thought they were tough boys, but they had no idea what they were going to face.”

The village, which has never hosted a Remembrance Day, will join the centenary commemorations in the first week of August with a small ceremony alongside the other Doubly Thankful villages to honour their good fortune. But for the grace of God, they too would have had a stone cross to bear of their own.

A short history walk round St Mary the Virgin, Swainswick…….

This little church was built towards the end of the 12th century, with later additions showing the architectural styles of the time.

You enter through the South porch, built in the 14th century, under a simple ogee arch, typical of the Decorated period. Inside the porch you see the richly carved 12th century late Norman doorway with scalloped capitals and a round arch of zigzag and dogtooth motifs, with two head-stops each of a man.

On entering the church you would have used the holy water from the stone stoup on the right of the door to make the sign of the cross. The ogee gable over the stoup has three carved finials.

To your left you will see the bell tower which has six bells, the earliest of which was cast in 1636; these are regularly rung by a team recruited, and subsequently trained, at the time of the Millennium. Anyone keen to learn how to ring would be warmly welcomed at the Thursday evening practice.

Don’t miss the two 12th century stone head-stops on the tower arch, in the form of bearded men, and also the carved bust of an angel.

Crossing in front of the tower, past the font, which still has fragments of the paint that once decorated it, you enter the North side aisle.  Follow the aisle, through the arch supported by two columns with attractively carved capitals, and into the 15th century chantry chapel with its four-light Perpendicular window. This chapel was built by the local squire of the time, Edmund fforde; he and his party could enter the chapel from the Manor House through the door in the North wall to be seated well apart from the villagers and to have a clear view through the arch of the priest at the altar – a view now blocked by the organ.

You will notice a stone head of a man looking down at you; he was found in the churchyard and could have been a prototype for a corbel or head-stop. Below him is a piscina cut into the wall, where the vessels used for the Eucharist were washed.

Before you leave the chapel look out for the burial slab of John Wood the Elder (1704-1754), architect and developer of Georgian Bath, including the Circus, Royal Crescent and Prior Park. His son, John Wood the Younger, also an architect in Bath, is buried beside his father. From the churchyard, looking South-West, you will see, just appearing over the trees, the cupola of Woolley Church, built by Wood the Younger in 1761.

If you walk through the chancel and into the sanctuary you will find the memorial brass to Edmund fforde, builder of the chantry chapel, set into the floor. He is shown at prayer, dressed in an ankle-length tunic, with a girdle and scabbard. At his feet is a Latin inscription giving the date of his death, 17th February 1439; above his head are three inscribed scrolls. This memorial is a modern copy of the original which was stolen.

Walking back through the nave you will see on the South wall one of two examples of stained glass in the church. The window consists of two lights depicting St George and the Dragon in one and St Margaret in the other, made in 1924. In the kitchen area is a portrayal of Mother and Child with St John of the same date. There is no medieval glass in the church apart from a few fragments in the tracery of one or two windows.

Hanging over the South door there is a diamond-shaped painted panel depicting the Royal Arms of Charles I, dated 1647. This date is a puzzle as, by that date, the King had been defeated and was in prison, later to be executed. Was Swainswick parish bravely cocking a snook at Cromwell and the Parliamentarians?

Before you leave the church, take a moment to read the memorial tablet on the right of the door, dedicated to Jane Danvers died 5 July 1801, Aged 82 years, seventy of which were passed in this Parish, in the exercise of Benevolence to her poor Neighbours, and in social Intercourse with the more affluent.

Was she a pillar of the community or the resident village snob? Or both?

On the outside South wall of the church are two sundials: one is very primitive and consists of a hole into which you push a stick which then, if the sun is shining, will cast a shadow onto one of the short incised lines; the other is more sophisticated and is set on a square tablet with a metal gnomon or rod and Roman numerals.

And a much longer history of St. Mary the Virgin, Swainswick (or Swanswick or Swayneswycke).

As with the majority of ancient English churches, each unfolding century’s congregation has left their legacy in the fabric and furnishings of St Mary’s. Valued at 30 shillings in the Domesday Book, Swainswick was a wooded settlement so it is possible that a wooden building for worship existed here before the first simple stone church was built towards the end of the 12C.

Vestiges of this are still to be seen in the south wall, the door entrance with its distinctive Norman pillars supporting a Romanesque zig-zag decorated arch and the simple loophole window to the west of the doorway with its corresponding loophole in the north wall at the base of the tower, the deep inner splay indicating that this was the north wall of the original building.

A small lean-to structure was added, probably early 13C at the west end on the outside of this north wall, consisting of two rooms, one above the other. Each room had a window in its north wall – the openings existing to this day and the upper room had an additional window in the west wall – the blocked outline visible from the outside. During restoration work in 1924, one wall of the upper room revealed the blackened traces of a domestic fireplace. The roof would have rested on the corbel still to be seen on the north wall of the tower.

It is possible that, in not having a resident priest until 1297, when it is recorded that Willelmus was appointed, services  would be conducted by visiting clergy, (perhaps a monk from the abbey at Bath) riding out to the hamlet and accommodated in the rooms attached to the church, for as long as required.

The tower was added in the 14C and because the western end of the church was close to the manor boundary. the structure had to be built inside, using the existing west and north walls, together with a south and east wall supported by arches with a massive common footing. Carved headstops and an angel ornament these arches.

The porch was also built in the 14C  with an innovative ogee arched entrance – the ogee design was a feature of the new Decorated style of architecture. It is possible that the dogtooth moulding and headstops, were added around the much earlier zig-zag ornament above the inner doorway, at this time.

The ogee window with its reticulated tracery, in the south wall to the east of the porch was also inserted, probably replacing a smaller simpler window, as was the addition of the holy water stoup inside on the south wall to the east of the door, at this time. The ornate gabling with complex ogee arches over capped by three elaborate finials around the recessed bowl (unfortunately broken-off flush with the wall) is a splendid example of the Decorated style.

Even greater alterations and additions were made in the 15C when Edmund Forde lived at the manor. As the church was in his patronage, he spent some of his wealth in rebuilding and enlarging the church on a grand scale in the modern Perpendicular style.

The north wall from the tower to the chancel was replaced by an arcade with two supporting shafted piers and a small round-headed arch at the east end (probably the original north doorway), all opening into a new north aisle.

To the east end of the north aisle a chantry chapel was added which in turn connected with the chancel by a panelled four-centred arch. The chapel was probably intended for the exclusive use of the family at the manor as there is a small north door into the chapel with an external holy water stoup set in the wall leading from a door in the manor boundary wall inside, set in an arched recess in the south wall of the chapel, is a piscina (a draining shell-shaped bowl in which the sacred vessels were washed) indicating that an altar was originally positioned at the east end.

Also in the north wall, there is an unusual recess with a four-centred head with a carved ‘finger-like’ motif over and unfinished columns and shields at either end. The purpose of this feature is a bit of a mystery because the ‘finger’ motive is copied from the ornament above the square-headed main east window. It was obviously intended to be of some importance, yet it was left in an unfinished condition.

The chancel was also renewed at this time but what it replaced, is unknown. During building work in 1906, a decorated stone with a ‘tooth ornament’ was discovered set in the wall above the chancel arch into the nave. It appeared to be part of an arch of larger span than a doorway which was probably, an earlier chancel arch.

Matching square-headed east windows were inserted in the east walls of chapel and chancel as shown in the early photograph of  W E Lockey taken in 1855.

The church would have been full colour with a painted rood screen separating the chancel from the nave (the latter often used for secular parish activities) and wall-paintings depicting biblical figures and stories. There are recesses in the nave wall to the right of the chancel arch in which the supports of a screen would have fitted.

Stained glass in the windows and statues of the Virgin Mary on the stone brackets moulded into the arcade pillars on the nave side, together with lavish furnishings and vestments, would have provided the grandeur commensurate with the wealth and status of the Patron. Edmund Forde died in 1439 and his monumental brass effigy set in the original floor slab, lies in the centre of the present-day sanctuary (detailed in appendix).
After his death, the church suffered financially and was listed as one of the churches in Somerset too poor to pay the 15C equivalent of the Parish Share.

The Tudor 16C  saw the title of Swainswick Manor, its lands and the patronage of the church, come into the ownership of Oriel College at Oxford in 1530. There were also great changes nationally, starting with the separation from the Roman Catholic rule of the Pope by Henry 8th in 1534 and his assumption of religious leadership, although the Latin liturgy was retained in the churches. Changes at local level in parish churches began slowly and despite the great upheaval of the dissolution of the monasteries including Bath Abbey in 1539, it was with the accession of Edward 6th in 1547 that the removal of all symbols of ‘Popery’ was vigorously enforced. This coincided with the appointment at Swainswick of a new Minister, Thomas Ireland.

All services were now in the vernacular and the Prayer Book and Bible in English had to be the only books in use. Rood screens had to be torn down opening up the whole church to the people, painted imagery on the walls was obliterated with lime-wash (traces of colour have frequently appeared when the wash has thinned or flaked-off in the past), statues disappeared and any stained glass in the windows were replaced with plain.

Perhaps the bowl of the 13C  font was considered too ornate resulting in its present simple octagonal replacement sitting on the original stem (still showing remains of colour).

Queen Mary 1st, a staunch Roman Catholic, acceded to the throne in 1553 and immediately ordered the restoration of the old religious practices. Some furnishings etc  were recovered but much had been destroyed or disappeared for ever. During her reign, “ the Register book of the parish of Swainswick, faithfullie collected according to the cannons” was begun in “the Yere of our Lord 1557”. This is currently retained in the diocesan records at the Somerset Records Office, Taunton, with many historical documents belonging to Swainswick church.

With the last of the Tudors, Queen Elizabeth I, enthroned in 1558, there came a return to Protestantism but without the strict exclusion of the traditional church administration, although with a strong emphasis on teaching during the last half of the century; it is quite likely that the first wooden pulpit was installed, for preaching the gospel (biblical and political) to rural Swainswickers.

The 17C  saw the return of the Stewart kings. After James I there came a strong move once again towards Catholicism, both by Charles 1st and a large proportion of the church hierarchy, resulting in the turmoil leading to the Civil War and Commonwealth. There is no hard evidence of change at Swainswick Church during this period.

The first Churchwardens’ Accounts volume dates from 1631 and the expenditure recorded shows a remarkable proportion of payments for secular items without the slightest church connection, eg. :- bounty payments for predators …..foxes 1s – od, greys (badgers) 1s – od, ravens 1d.

The account for 1632 has been audited and signed by William Prynne, the renowned Puritan, Parliamentarian and pamphleteer, who was Swainswick born.

An item recorded in the accounts in July 1643, coinciding with the Civil War battle of Lansdown, is shown as…. “for kepping of a trope of hors.. 5s – od”. (Cavalier or Roundhead unknown). There are also numerous payments to crippled and maimed soldiers during the war years.

Payments for celebratory bell-ringing and repairs to bells and ringing equipment are often recorded in the accounts.  R E M  Peach, in his remarkable and valuable book of 1890. ‘Annals of Swainswick’ , records the inscriptions on the five original bells, which included the dates – 1636 (on one bell) and 1664 on the others when they were recast and reinstalled but there must have been even earlier bells for the repair payments to be recorded before 1664.

The accounts for that year state…… “for Casting of 15 st- 20ob of bell metal at 15s. per st.” and payments for the necessary installation work and equipment.  Components in the 17C wooden bell frame, removed during the 1973 restoration, were expertly identified as having been reworked from an earlier period.

A new oak inner door was made and fitted in 1634 as detailed in the accounts, now the present day outer porch door. It is not known when the door was refitted – graffiti carved WB 1749.

The legs and frame of the altar / table are early 17C  with a raised incised table-top replacement fitted in 1921. There is an oak rectangular box-basket divided centrally by a carved raised handle. The sides are carved with swirling patterns, the ends carved with a chalice design, initials EAM and the date 1645. Its purpose is not known but it may have been to hold dole-bread given out to the poor of the parish.

A painted square-diamond shaped Royal Arms of Charles I , C R and dated 1647, now hangs above the door on the south wall.  Originally its place was above the chancel arch and it is an enigma since at that date, the Civil War had ceased with the King confined  and eventually executed. The majority of C R royal arms were ultimately modified for Charles 2nd and even to the much later Georgian G R.

In the late 17C  the setting of memorial floor slabs in the church continued into the 18C  and this was augmented by wall memorials, some quite elaborate and effusive.

A monumental slab to the distinguished architect and builder of Georgian Bath, John Wood the Elder, lies in the floor of the chapel, having been buried at Swainswick as the register states ‘by special request’ in 1754. His son, the equally renowned John Wood the Younger was also buried at Swainswick in 1782 and although his daughter Anna is commemorated on a floor slab alongside her grandfather, the burial of her father, John the Younger is recorded only in the register.

With music and singing now playing an important role in worship, there was a gallery for the musicians and singers across the north aisle at the west end, used later for children and eventually removed in 1924.

19C Victorian restoration in churches is widespread and it was certainly actively pursued at Swainswick. The east end of the chancel was extended and completely rebuilt with a three-light lancet-type window.  The centre lancet is wider and taller, with coloured marble pillars between and at the sides. There appeared to be a stone reredos behind the altar but this was sometimes curtained. A new stone pulpit and a stone clergy-stall with matching style coloured marble pillars were also installed.

Wooden pews were built into the nave and north aisle and later, box-pews with doors were added. The five bells were recast and with extra bell-metal added, a peal of six bells were positioned in the existing frame with some modification.

The church was heated by a stove at the west end of the nave, just forward of the tower with the flue chimney passing through the roof – visible on W.E. Lockey’s photograph 1855.  The font was positioned further over to the south wall, behind the door and the clergy vestry was at the west end of the north aisle behind the gallery.

In 1875 a hand-blown pipe organ was donated and installed at the southwest corner of the nave and a brass lectern was also given and located in the chancel.  In the post 1914-1918 war period, a panelled wall memorial with the names of the fallen was installed against the east wall of the chapel. Family memorial pews for the chapel were also donated at this time.

The east end of the chancel was further extended and the east window replaced by a four-light window similar to the original, matching the chapel east window. In the chancel, the stone clergy stall was replaced by a choir pew with a dedicated clergy-stall in the south side and a matching choir pew on the north side.

Stained glass was inserted into the window above the pulpit in 1924 and into the small window at the west end of the north aisle (after unblocking) in 1926, as family memorials.

A central heating system was originally fitted in the church in 1921, supplied by a solid-fuel heated boiler located in a small outbuilding outside at the west end. The boiler was adapted to be oil fired and eventually renewed in 1976. Electric lighting was installed in 1935 and also the wind supply for the organ was modified. The names of the fallen in the 1939-1945 war were recorded on the lower panels of the war memorial in the chapel.

The outbuilding at the west end was extended to contain toilet facilities.  The new electric organ was bought in 1963, and cost £750. It is in the chapel behind the choir pews. The southwest corner of the nave occupied by the previous organ, was refurbished as a curtained clergy vestry.

In 1973, the bells were removed to the foundry, extensively modified, retuned and supplied with new fittings. In the belfry, the wooden bell frame was replaced with steel and the bells were rehung in a new configuration which allowed a sound deadening chamber below the bells. Following diocesan Pastoral Reorganisation in 1975/6, the parish of Woolley and the Chapel dedicated to All Saints, was united with the parish of Swainswick.

A book of Remembrance in a hinged glass case was fitted on the south wall of the chapel. Experiments with some forms of alternative modern liturgy were attempted and the he New International Bible  was introduced as the lectern bible.   Holy Communion was now celebrated with the Minister facing the congregation; this meant moving the altar further into the chancel to allow access behind the table.

Further Diocesan Pastoral Reorganisation in 1991 revised the disposition of the parishes within the benefice; Swainswick and Woolley were now a parish in the benefice of St Saviour’s at neighbouring urban Larkhall. The vicar  St  Saviours became the Rector of the benefice, with a resident officiating minister responsible for Swainswick and Wooley.

Some free standing pews in the chapel were replaced with suitable chairs to allow flexibility in the use of the chapel. The 21C has seen the liturgical Common Worship introduced and this is used at most services. The BCP rite is retained for the 8 am Holy Communion  and special occasions.

An audio-enhancing system was installed in 2006 and it was also decided to remove the block of three pews, at the western end of the arcade and pave the earth floor beneath to create an open space for easier wheelchair access and, of course, to chat after services.

A major project completely re-ordered the west end of the north aisle with the installation of bespoke kitchen units, cupboards for equipment and wardrobes for choir robes, music books etc. This replaced the ad hoc use of the box pew at the west end of the north aisle, for non-religious purposes and make effective use of the semi-redundant area of the church for social gatherings, small meetings etc, whilst still retaining the choir-vestry function.


1. Edmund Forde

In the chancel floor within the sanctuary is  a monumental brass commemorating an early lord of the Manor Swainswick. The effigy is of a wealthy civilian, with three scrolls emanating from his head, which are engraved in black-letter Latin, indicating his pious thoughts from the Book of Job.

Under his feet on a separate plate, also engraved in black-letter Latin is his commemoration inscription which translates :

Pray for the soul of Edmund fforde of Swayneswycke Esquire who died the 17th day of February Anno Domini 1439 in the reign of King Henry 6th and in the 18th year after the conquest. May his soul be pleasing unto God.

Unfortunately, the original effigy was stolen a few years ago and the figure now in place, is a replacement produced from an accurate rubbing previously taken from the original. Thankfully, the scrolls and the inscription plate were not taken.

If you have any further historic information (not just the whereabouts of Edmund fforde) or anything that might be of interest to Swainswick church and its history, please let us know.


The Elizabethan Chalice is engraved sterling silver manufactured in London in 1577. There is a domed cover for the chalice that can be used to contain the wafers.

The Victorian Chalice is sterling silver manufactured in Birmingham in 1891.

The Flagon is also Victorian and engraved sterling silver manufactured in Sheffield in 1856.

There are two Patens, one is free standing, sterling silver manufactured in London in 1760 and engraved with a Swainswick dedication: the other smaller paten is a simple plate of antiquity, thought to be silver but with no marks, its date and manufacture cannot be authenticated.