St Mary’s Church
There has been a Christian church on the St Mary’s site since 500AD. The church is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. A few Roman remains discovered near the site led to the idea that there may have been a Romano-British temple before that.
Although now in the Bristol Diocese, Bitton was previously in the See of Worcester and Gloucester, as the arms in the North window of the chancel show. St Mary Bitton is inscribed on one of the prebendary stalls at Salisbury Cathedral.
Help needed to find more information about some of the names on the War Memorial:
A few names of soldiers from the Bitton area that are not on the village memorial. Also there is some information that suggests some shown on the War Memorial actually survived.
If you can help, please contact us at the History Group
The Church Building
The Grade 1 building is thought to date from 1086. The church is Norman, but began as a tall Saxon structure with a rood screen over the chancel arch. The feet of that screen remain in situ; the head has been found, and the arm is on display in the chancel.
There are Norman archways and doorways.
The chancel was built in 1450 by John Grimsthorpe,who was later Dean of Wells.
The groined moulding of the vaulted roof shows the story of St Mary of Egypt, a popular penitent saint of the Middle Ages. The reredos was erected by Canon Ellacombe in memory of his sister. He also imported some Italian marble, now a major feature of the chancel.
The windows are early 19th century in high Victorian style using vibrant colours.
The south wall of the church leans, and so in the 1840s the Rev HT Ellacombe installed a hammerbeam roof. It is of mahogany, popularly believed to have come from salvage in the Bristol Channel. The angels rest on gilded stone bosses, each one different and in the design of popular garden plants.
Prior to that there had been a gallery, which was removed, along with a Georgian reredos, during the Ellacombe years. The Victorian pews, each with an intricately carved pew-end, and the pulpit were then installed. Prior to Tudor times the church was an open space.
The original west door, destroyed at the Reformation, was replaced in 1968. These doors and the screen beneath the organ were designed by Mr Ernest Caisley and donated as a memorial to his wife.
The Ellacombe chimes were installed in the church porch in 1821. People often say this was because of quarrels with the bellringers. The chimes allow one person to ring.
The church tower was built circa 1370.
Bitton Bell Ringers in 1911 – Coronation of Queen Mary and George V. Top row: L-R Edwin (Harry) Short, Albert Miller, Constable Higgins, G Miller. Front row: L-R Frank Beer, Rev David Mathey, Canon Ellacome, Charles Beer (photo courtesy Pete Davies)
Jim Allen remembers ringing the bells of St Mary’s, Bitton on New Year’s Eve in 1938: KEEP THEM CLEAR by Jim Allen
The Lady Chapel
The Lady Chapel, built in 1299, is dedicated to St Catherine who was martyred on the wheel, and was a chantry chapel. The triple Sedalia is the seating for the priest who said prayers for the dead. On the wall is the Millennium patchwork that contains the signatures of many local residents, and was stitched by a dedicated group to commemorate the beginning of the 21st century. From 1822 until 1830 it served as the village school.
The oldest part of the churchyard is on the west side, somewhat sparse of tombstones because prior to the Reformation people spent money on masses said for the dead and not on tombstones. There are many fine 18th and 19th century tombstones. Canon HN Ellacombe’s is located on the east side. Rev HT Ellacombe is also buried in the churchyard. The lych gate, for the resting of coffins before committal, was erected as a memorial to him.
The stone War Memorial, in the form of a Celtic cross on a stepped base, is located on the north side of the churchyard.
Jim Allen remembers ringing the Church bells on New Year’s Eve 1938, heralding in a year that was to bring The Second World War: KEEP THEM CLEAR by Jim Allen