Visit Nunney has bought a selection of early photos of Nunney landmarks, including the earliest known photograph of the nave of Nunney Church.
The tiny images were taken around 1860 by R. Wilkinson, a photographer from Trowbridge whose photos of Somerset and Wiltshire were often sold as postcards and provide a unique record of the region in a bygone era.
Click on any of the images below to see a larger version.
Exterior of Nunney Church
|The chest tomb of John and Maria Fussell (1853) is visible to the right of the west tower. The wrought iron railing around it has since been removed, possibly for the war effort.|
The path is now lined on both sides with clipped trees, similar to the double line of clipped yew designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for St Andrew’s church in Mells.
The typical Somerset tower is stylistically similar to the Perpendicular west tower of the church of St Mary in Bruton, built in 1465, and was probably built by the same masons.
The churchyard was enlarged in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.
The carved stone slab on the west front of the tower, below the clock, shows a knotted key, part of the De la Mere coat of arms but used by later lords of the manor too. It may have come from the De la Mere tomb removed in 1819, although it is more likely that the Paulet family continued to use the old De la Mere elements in its coat of arms and paid for the new tower.
The key displayed on the church tower led to the church wrongly being considered dedicated to St Peter from before 1757 to after 1849, although St Peter is always symbolised by two crossed keys, not one. Since then it has reverted to All Saints, as it was called in the wills of Richard Mawdley in 1509 and John Scorton in 1545.
At the time that this photo taken, the organ of the church was still in a west gallery close to the tower as described in an account by antiquary Sir Stephen Glynne, Prime Minister William Gladstone’s brother-in-law, in 1849.
The gallery was created in the 18th century as a result of a petition, to create more seating. It was removed in 1874, when the old organ was sold to Wells Cathedral School.
The current single manual pipe organ was made by Sweetland of Bath in 1887 and brought here from St Mark’s Methodist Church in Mark, near Bridgwater, in 1968.
The aisles were extended alongside the tower early in the 19th century when more seating was required. These spaces are now used as a kitchen and meeting room.
Before the extension the area next to the tower was popular with village boys for playing football. The parish records for Nunney of 1794 include: “At a Vestry meeting that we do agree that whoever is seen throwing stones or any thing against the Church shall be prosecuted as the Law Directs That is to say to prevent Vise playing and all Sport that Shall be Seen in the Church Yard.”
Note that the tracery in the large window at the front of the tower was still missing in 1860. It was not added until 1896, when £71 was spent on stained glass and tracery for the west window.
Interior of Nunney Church
|At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that not much has changed inside All Saints Church since 1860. Admittedly, the barrel-vaulted ceiling is no longer there. The earliest reports of fundraising events to fix the ceiling date from 1864, just four years after this photo was taken.|
A lack of funds meant that green timber was subsequently used for repairs to the ceiling, which introduced worms, beetles and both wet and dry rot. The roof began to leak, with rain falling onto the pews.
The situation became so bad that the church could no longer be used for services. In 1939 the congregation moved to the neighbouring Church Rooms, the former parish school next to Castlebrook House. By the 1950s the nave was temporarily covered with corrugated iron and only the chancel was available for occasional services, screened off from the rest of the church.
“The financial outlook is not very pleasant at present and the Council have as yet not received any help from National bodies,” a 1951 report said. “A large proportion of the Parishioners have done, and continue to do, their best to help as they wish not only to retain their old church but also to hand it down to coming generations.” Remarkable how little has changed since then, although the fundraising target at the time was a ‘mere’ £10,000 by comparison to today’s Raise the Roof campaign.
The pews shown in the 1860 photograph were high box pews, with doors on side of the aisle. They were replaced in 1874 by lower, open pews.
Seating arrangements were regularly changed, and seats were largely allocated based on status within the local community. Until 1822 the poor had no seating at all. In 1840 the owner of Court House, next to the church, was held responsible for the upkeep of the south aisle and in return was entitled to allocated seating during services.
The most noticeable change is perhaps that the early 15th century rood screen is not in place under the 13th century chancel arch in the 1860 photo. It originally provided privacy to the local gentry seated in the Lady Chapel and was removed from the church in the 19th century.
It was sold more than once. In 1875 it was owned by Mr Singer, owner of the famous Frome metal foundry and a keen collector, who displayed it in a temporary museum set up by the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society.
Eventually it was found in storage in Bath. Heavily damaged, it proved too small to be placed back in the Lady Chapel and ended up under the chancel arch instead.
The crucifix – or ‘rood’ – that now hangs above the rood screen was carved by J. Wippell of Exeter in 1937, and placed here by Rev. Percy Clough in memory of his father – the previous vicar of Nunney. The oak pulpit was already in place in 1860; it was made by Henry Spencer, a builder and carpenter from Frome, in 1742.
The large object on the left is a stove. Although closed metal stoves were popular on the continent for centuries, English buildings were still largely heated by open fires. The first metal stoves were imported from Holland around 1609 to heat the orange houses of the nobility.
The word ‘stove’ may be of Dutch origin; the first English heated greenhouses were in fact called stoves. The firm of G & J Haden set up in business in Trowbridge in 1816 to construct steam engines for Boulton & Watt in the West Country. Within a few years Haden was manufacturing heating stoves for churches and the country houses of the gentry. Between 1824 and 1914 they manufactured and installed nearly 7,000 stoves.
Warm-air stoves were increasingly used to heat Victorian buildings – from churches and prisons to hospitals and schools – from the middle of the 19th century.
Dr Goldsworthy Gurney introduced a popular large stove that became known simply as a Gurney. It was later sold by the London Warming and Ventilating Company which in 1897 claimed it had been used to warm 22 cathedrals and over 10,000 churches, schools and other buildings.
Warm-air stoves declined in popularity towards the end of the 19th century. Records indicate that in 1897 Nunney Church too was heated by a hot water heating system, possibly the “handsome stove” presented by Mr Baily of Springfield House (he later changed the family name to Baily Neale).
The chandelier was possibly produced by the Singer art metal foundry in Frome. Established in 1851, the firm was best known for its brass ornaments for local church before developing the expertise and facilities to produce large bronze statues, such as that of Queen Boudica next to the Houses of Parliament in London.
The church nowadays houses a brass eagle lectern that may be by Singer’s, but this was donated in 1921 in memory of Mr and Mrs G.A. Daniel.
The chandelier was replaced by lamps in 1874. Church records show that in 1833 the sexton claimed expenses for ‘308 pieces of candlestick in church’.
The chancel was largely rebuilt in 1874 by the Rector Thomas Theobald at his own expense. Nevertheless, the vestry minutes of 1877 state that ‘the Holy Table, Altar cloth, Carpets & kneelingcushions are decayed’.
Maintenance was always a problem. In 1825 the church authorities paid ‘T. Hillier for repairing chancel by order of the Bishop £7 10s 0d’. Two years later, in 1827, ‘the Archdeacon gave orders for the repair of the church’.
When the church was repaired in 1896, a painting of a knight in full armour – most likely St George – was discovered between two arches on the north side of the nave. At the time this photo was taken, this gem was still hidden.
Remarkably, when this photo was taken in 1860 the medieval and Tudor effigies in the north transept on the left were hidden behind the organ. The organ was turned in 1896 to show the tombs.
Exterior of Nunney Rectory
|The young girl and two women standing outside the Rectory on the High Street in Nunney are most likely members of the household of Rev. Thomas Theobald. The 1861 census shows that the Theobald household consisted of the following people:|
Thomas John Theobald, head, 57
In October 1860 Theodotia married the eldest son of the Rector of Bloxworth, near Wareham in Dorset, at Nunney Church. Clearly the couple lived with her parents in Nunney.
There was a son as well, Charles Percy Theobald, who was described in a wedding announcement in 1873 as the “only surviving son” of the Theobalds. He was born in Nunney in 1838 and a major in the Royal Artillery at the time of his marriage.
The girl in the picture doesn’t look old enough to be 18; was the photo in fact taken a few years earlier than 1860? If the girl is the youngest daughter Matilda, the woman in the middle could be her mother Elizabeth. The woman on the right looks older; the only other older woman in the household was the cook, Mrs Haggett, but is it likely she would have joined them for a walk?
Alternatively, the woman on the right could be Rev. Thomas Theobald’s wife Elizabeth and the woman in the middle her eldest daughter, Theodotia – which would make this a family outing.
Matilda would go on to marry Patrick Warner from Ayrshire in Nunney Church in June 1864 and have six children, three boys and three girls. Under the terms of a local charity, the Harris Trust, as a woman born, baptised and married in Nunney she was entitled to a one-off payment upon her marriage.
The amount paid out by the trust varied, depending on how many women were eligible in any given year. In one example, a Miss Martineau from nearby Cloford received £80 after the money went unclaimed for two years, enough to buy her a house.
Matilda, however, decided to donate the money to children at the local school. Her parents presented cake, new dresses for all the girls and cash for the boys on her behalf, as well as New Testaments and hymn books. Best of all, the children were given a day off school.
The Rev. Thomas Theobald was Rector of Nunney for 47 years, from 1830 until his death in 1877. A Theobald family had been in Nunney since 1749, however, when they inherited the manors from the Whitchurch family. Thomas Theobald’s family had considerable property in Somerset and he was also domestic chaplain to Lord Palmerston, who was twice Prime Minister.
It was said at the time that Lord Palmerston’s idea of a domestic chaplain was “a man who could carve, play a rubber of whist, preach a plain sermon, and tell a good story” and that “Mr Theobald was a man after his own heart”.
According to some sources, Theobald was gifted the role of Rector of Nunney by Lord Palmerston, with a house and salary of £500 a year.
Theobald paid a vicar £100 a year to do the day to day church duties. In nearby Whatley the Rev. Richard Church received £200-300 a year, which was considered small according to his correspondence.
Perhaps the tiny salary was one of the reasons why Rev. Theobald was forced to advertise regularly for a new vicar throughout the 1860s. The rapid succession of curates in Nunney during this period includes:
Rev. T. Peters (appointed June 1864)
Rev. John Louis Challen took over as Rector of Nunney after Rev. Thomas Theobald died in 1877. It was Rev. Challen who knocked down the Rectory in the photograph and replaced it with a new building in 1877, known these days as the Old Rectory Retirement Home.
Challen took out a £150 mortgage on the glebe, tithes and other income linked to his position as Rector of Nunney. He miscalculated his finances badly, however, and was declared bankrupt.
This photograph gives us a rare glimpse, therefore, of what the original Rectory on the site looked like: a strangely asymmetrical building with Victorian gothic windows on the right and much simpler rectangular windows on the left.
Newspaper reports tell us that the house was burgled in February 1845, when rings and other valuable items were stolen.
It would seem that the Theobald family had already moved out of the Rectory several years before the death of Rev. Thomas Theobald, for in 1875 Challen’s attempts to deepen a well in the garden of the Rectory landed a man in court. The Theobalds had a house in Bristol.
Albert Ricketts of Bedminster, Bristol, twice supplied Rev. Challen with dynamite, ordered by mail order and posted in unmarked brown paper packages that were transported to Frome on regular passenger trains. You can read the full story in our article An explosive court case.