The drastic restoration undertaken in that year greatly altered the internal appearance of the church, and destroyed much that might better have been left alone.  The restorers almost doubled the sixe of the building by adding a south aisle, linkiing it to the old church by an arcade of arches made in a thirteenth century style.  They also added a south transept and vestry, and a set of mock gothic windows modelled on a fourteenth century original which now overlooks the passageway to the vestry.  

A new chancel arch was built in replacement of a ‘nondescript piece of masonry’ and to make the transformation complete the church was fitted out with red deal pews, oak choir stalls, and a Ham stone pulpit.  In Febryary 1865 the church was opened for worship once more, the Revd F.B. Portman providing a suitable sermon the for occasion and the choir singing the responses from their new choir.

The thirteenth century tower fortunately escaped a suggested rebuilding, but the eighteenth century chalice and paten were not so lucky: in 1872, they were replaced by a modern set of medieval design.


BUILDING HISTORY. When thirteenth century masons and car­penters finished work on St. Mary's Church, they left a simple structure consisting of chancel, nave, and tower. It is largely that thirteenth century building which the visitor sees today on approaching St. Mary's down the churchyard path: the plain, battlemented tower, in particular, stands almost unchanged after 700 years, and is one of very few entirely thirteenth century towers surviving in the county.

Though the interior of the church is dominated by work of later periods, striking reminders of the thirteenth century building also exist. They include an especially fine tower arch (unfortunately no more than a Victorian copy of the original), the shafts which support the chancel arch, and traces of the church's former roof line, visible high up on the west wall.

Almost every medieval church in Somerset benefited from the attention of fifteenth century builders, and St. Mary's Church, in its modest way, was no exception. It gained a new south porch, a Ham stone font (of which only the base is now original), and a variety of new windows: the chancel windows survive as fine examples of late fifteenth century workmanship; others of similar date in the nave were removed in 1864.

ST. ANNE'S CHAPEL. The chapel of St. Anne was created in the south aisle in 1972 during the incumbency of the Revd Arthur Stevens, and was inspired by the presentation to the church of a fine oak altar table. Designed by Mr. Arthur Holland, then church treasurer, and made by Mr. Arthur Matravers, a local woodcarver, the altar was given by Mrs. Agnes Fewings and her brother Mr. Sam Vile as a memorial to their parents James and Susan Vile. The chapel was completed by the addition of an altar rail, given as a memorial to his son Richard by Mr. Harry Adcock of Aplens. The rail came from the redundant church at Curland, and was reconstructed in its present form by Arthur Matravers.

THE ORGAN. The organ was brought from Stogursey church in 1978 through the generosity of Mr. John White as a memorial to his wife Ellaline who died in 1976. It was built in 1834, possibly by the firm of Flight and Robson, and in its original state could also be played as a barrel organ.  It has six stops, including an unusual sesquialtera and cornet mixture, and has been restored by Osmond's of Taunton.

THE KNEELERS. As a result of a tapestry class held in the village hall in 1969, a group of volunteers, both men and women, began work re-covering the church kneelers. No elaborate pattern was laid down, the only stipulation being that the background should be blue. Two larger kneelers were also worked, one for the Rector's stall and one for the chapel of St. Anne, and a few years later the choir kneelers were re-covered to a pre-arranged pattern worked on red. The kneelers now form a much treasured addition to the church, and reflect the dedication and skill of the 15 villagers who took part in the project.

CHURCH PLATE. The present chalice and paten, based on a medieval design, were acquired by the church in 1872, and bear the simple inscription 'Stoke St. Mary'. A silver salver was presented to the church in 1943 under the will of Miss Maud E. V. Wynter who lived in the house called Tuckers. The church still possessed its earlier plate as late as 1870. The chalice bore the inscription 'Stoke St Mary 1759 Wm Philpott John Granslade Church-Wardens', and the paten 'This Belongs to the Parish Church of Stoke St Mary 1737 Wm: Burridge, Robt: Philpott Church Wardens'. Both were evidently sold by the Revd William Lance as being unsuitable for the High Church services he introduced.

THE BELLS. The church has a ring of five bells of which the oldest is the third. It was cast during the sixteenth century by Roger Semson of Ash Priors and is one of his well- known 'alphabet bells', bearing the letters A to N set upside down and backwards. The tenor, by William Purdie, is date c1657 and bears the names of the churchwardens William Torrey and Mary Proppter [Procter], The fourth was cast in 1779 by Thomas Pyke of Bridgwater when John Hooper was churchwarden, and the second in 1829 by John Kingston of Bridgwater when the wardens were John Tamlin of Broughton and Samuel Stodgel1 of Stoke Castle. The treble is a stock bell by Taylor's of Loughborough and was added to the tower in 1923.


The oldest memorial the church contains is the grave-slab of William Doble (d. 1687), now largely hidden beneath the Victorian pulpit. He was Stoke St. Mary's chief landowner, and a leader of the nonconformists in the years before the Monmouth Rebellion. His descendants, the quarrel­some Burridges, are buried in a vault nearby, a brass tablet on the chancel wall recording their names.

The stained glass window by the pulpit commemorates Elizabett Harman who died in 1898. Her father, Charles Harman of Stoke; St. Mary and Ruishton, became rich as the licensee of several London pubs, while his brother Henry remained at Stoke as tenant of Higher Broughton Farm. The family graves are in the churchyard.

The fine processional cross was originally given to Bathpool Church in memory of Gordon Parsons who died on active service in Italy in 1944. His brother, Mr. Dennis Parsons, arranged for the cross to be moved to Stoke St. Mary when the church at Bathpool closed.

Other valued gifts to the church include the splendid chair in the sanctuary presented in 1952 by Mrs. Hilda Loxton of Greenway Farm in memory of her parents James and Julia Barrington. The chair was made in the village, as were the two prie-dieu stools, one given by Mrs. Sessions Hodge, the other by Mrs. Loxton. The churchwarden’s staves were pre­sented by Mrs. Betty Stevens in memory of her husband the Revd Arthur Stevens, rector from 1967 to 1973.

The lights on the choir stalls are a memorial to Mrs. Ruby Rowsell (1892-1979) of Stoke Farm. As Ruby Drewe, she entered Thurlbear School at the age of five and became pupil teacher there in 1908; She was assistant teacher from 1911 to 1952, and became known to generations of Thurlbear pupils as Teacher Ruby. To the end of her long life she worshipped in this church, acting variously as Sunday School teacher, organist, and bellringer.

THE CHURCHYARD. The churchyard has been used for burials since the Reformation and was enlarged in 1956 by the pur­chase of a plot of land on the south side. A garden of rest, with fine views to the Blackdown Hills, was created in 1971 for the burial of ashes, and has recently been enhanced by the addition of a seat in memory of Mervyn Roberts.

The churchyard gates were made in Taunton and presented by Mrs. Dorothy Hardwell in memory of her husband Fred Hardwell (1922-1975), a member of the family whose name has survived longest in the village. Trainees working under the Manpower Services Commission recently rebuilt the churchyard wall (having also transformed the appearance of the church pews by removing old varnish). The flagpole near the churchyard gates is a memorial to Francis Harold Groves, a well- remembered sidesman of the church who died in 1970.

The oldest memorial in the churchyard is the table tomb of Thomas Procter, who died in 1683. The Procters, an­cestors of the Anderdon family of Henlade House, were prominent in Stoke St. Mary and Ruishton from the sixteenth century onwards, and were among numerous local families who suffered greatly in the Civil War. Thomas Procter lived on Stoke Hill, where his house was licensed as a Presbyterian meeting-place in 1672. Having survived the turmoils of the Civil War, the Commonwealth, and the Restoration, he left a resigned and warning message as his epitaph:

What's life. A vapovr. What is man.

A shaddow and ovr time a span.

An aged hvsband and his wife In hope of an eternal life

Here underneath this tomb do ly.

Reader look on and learn to dy.


Written History



THE MODUS BOARD. The modus board was placed in the church in 1805 following a legal dispute. For many years it hung high up in the tower, but was recently restored and moved to its present position on the west wall. A modus was a money payment made to the rector instead of tithe payments in the form of corn, hay, and other produce. The modus system was favoured more by parishioners than clergy, who tended to lose by it, and when a rumour spread that Charles Russell, the rector, intended to do away with the moduses, a bitter quarrel resulted. The case reached the Court of Chancery before the villagers were satisfied that the moduses were out of danger.        

The Owners and Occupiers of land in the Parish of Stoke St, Mary are entitled to the following  Modus or Customary charges in lieu of their tithes paid at Easter yearly.

     For every acre of Grass in the Parish in lieu of the Tithe of Hay………..2d

     For every calf reared in the Parish .…………………………………………….……4d

     For every Cow milked in the Parish in lieu of Tithes of Milk…….……… 3d      

     For every Hogshead of Cider made in the Parish .…..…………...….…….. 6d

     For every Garden in the Parish.….….….……….….…….….……………...….... 2d

     For the fall of every Colt in the Parish .………………………………….…………1/-

     For every score of Sheep fed in the Parish.….….….……….…….….….….. 4d

      but not shorn in the said Parish in lieu of

       adjustment of Tithe and growth of Wool.                                                            

In 2014 a lavatory cubicle was installed where originally the organ had stood, the organ was turned through 90 degrees to face the congregation and moved further up the south Aisle.  The pews in the south aisle were removed and replaced with free standing oak chairs.  The altar table of the St Anne’s chapel was then re-positioned beneath the centre window on the south wall.



The three stained glass windows in the south aisle of St Mary’s Church are by the stained glass artist, Patrick Reyntiens OBE (b. 1925). He is regarded as one of the finest European stained-glass makers of the last sixty years, and his work with the artist John Piper has ensured his fame. Together Reyntiens and Piper were responsible for the great baptistry window in the new Coventry Cathedral (once described as the greatest example of stained glass since the Middle Ages) as well as for the glass in Liverpool’s Roman Catholic cathedral. Patrick Reyntiens is a master of colour, a mastery displayed not least in his work at Stoke St Mary. Though he has lived in Somerset for many years, these were the first windows he was commissioned to make for any Somerset church.

The left-hand window was installed in August 2000 as a means of marking the new Millennium. The central and right-hand windows were installed in July 2003 in celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. All the windows were made possible through the generosity of local people and are a gift from the present generation to the future. The scenes depicted by the windows are as follows:


William Lance, the curate, who oversaw the restoration work.

St Anne, with her husband St Joachim, teaching the Virgin Mary to read

St Anne is traditionally regarded as the mother of the Virgin Mary and was a very popular saint during the Middle Ages, especially in churches dedicated to St Mary. She is often shown teaching the Virgin Mary to read. The story was chosen for Stoke St Mary because the window formed part of the St Anne’s Chapel. The scroll which links the figures of St Anne and St Mary bears, in Hebrew, words from the Book of Isaiah, chapter 9: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.

The Day of Pentecost

The central window is a dramatic depiction of the Day of Pentecost (Whitsun), as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2: And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of a mighty wind…And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire…And they were all filled with Holy Spirit…

The Annunciation

The right-hand window depicts the Annunciation (the proclamation to the Virgin Mary by the Angel Gabriel) as recorded in the Gospel of St Luke, chapter 1: And the angel said ‘Hail, thou that are highly favoured, the Lord is with thee…Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son and shalt call his name Jesus.’

Photographs kindly provided


David and Elizabeth Fothergill