General HistoryThe Battle of Sedgemoor July 6th 1685 – the last battle to be fought on English soil. The ringing chamber is dedicated to the Duke of Monmouth, it was from the battlements of this tower that on the 5th July the Duke spied upon the assembled army of King James II under the command of the Earl of Feversham.
His intention was to spring a surprise attack on the kings forces under the cover of darkness that night but during the march to the battlefield, when crossing a rhine, a pistol was accidentally discharged which alerted the kings army. The element of surprise was lost and the Dukes pitchfork rebel army suffered huge losses.The Tower and SpireThe spire is a distinctive local landmark, which can be seen for many miles in various directions. It is greatly out of proportion with the tower being 114 feet 7 ½ inches tall, set on top of the tower which is 64 feet high. The tower is built of sandstone quarried from Wembdon near Bridgwater and must have belonged to a smaller 13th century church on the site, as the present church was almost completely rebuilt in the 14th century. The spire was added in 1367. The financial accounts still exist showing that the money was raised by a town rate and income from a rate in the surrounding hamlets, plus legacies and gifts. The total cost came to £143. 13s 5 ½ d. The work on the spire started on 28 June 1367. It is built of Limestone from Ham Hill near Stoke-sub-Hamdon which had been a source of stone since Roman times, and brought along the River Parrett. Mr Nicholas Waleys was probably the master mason who designed and then built the spire. He was paid the sum of £90. 7s. 4d.
The Churchwarden accounts show many entries for building work on the tower and spire since this time, and it is probable that the weight of the spire caused settlement in the tower, which then needed extra reinforcement. The two strong buttresses at the corners of the tower may have been added in 1383-5. On the east side there is an iron plate inscribed GB-HP-1694 which recalls some repairs. The spire has also been struck by lightning several times, and in 1814 the top 35 feet needed to be rebuilt following damage by lightning. This repair was carried out by a local builder Mr Thomas Hutchings who also built the Dome on the cornhill market house. In 1887 further buttresses were added to the tower and extensive repairs were carried out on the spire in 1994-5.
The weathercock on the top of the spire is 2ft 3 in. high, 2ft 7in. in length and weighs 16 lbs. Inscribed on the comb are the names Thomas Brimble and John Rouckleiffe, 1770, and we think these are probably the makers. It has been re-gilded in 1887, 1923, 1937 and 1994.
The ClockThere has been a clock at Saint Mary’s Church for hundreds of years. A document still survives from 1393 which stated that it was the duties for one of the chaplain’s to regulate the clock.
The previous clock to the present one had a black face and was located several feet lower down, over the east window of the tower. By the middle of the nineteenth century it became very unreliable. The present clock was installed in 1869. It was made by the Nottingham firm of S. and W. Cope, and the workings are constructed on the principal of a double three legged gravity escapement, which was invented for the great clock at the Houses of Parliament. It is considered to be the best escapement ever devised for use in large clocks subject to wind and weather. The clock face has a diameter of 7 feet and is illuminated at night.