A visit to Kewstoke Parish Church
As part of the CBA Festival of Archaeology we offered a free guided visit to the Parish Church of St Paul's, Kewstoke. We were very happy to greet some new faces amongst the select band of enthusiasts who turned up for the event. Our guide on the day was Mike Tedstone who is both organist and churchwarden at St. Paul's.
Mike introduced us to some of the features of the Church fabric, beginning with the Norman porch which dates back to the period 1125-1150. Other features of note included the Early English font and the ogee arch with a very primitive Green Man over the entrance to the Rood Loft. The beautifully carved pulpit is almost identical in design to that at nearby Wick St Lawrence and is thought to be the work of the same stone mason. One of the Church's most notable episodes was the finding during some restoration of the stone work on the North wall in 1849 of a reliquary containing a wooden vessel with dark stains in the bottom. Obviously placed there for safekeeping, it was believed to have come from nearby Woodspring Priory and been concealed there at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. One of the founders of Woodspring was reputed to be the grandson of one of the knights involved in the murder of Thomas a Becket, and the reliquary is thought to be associated with the bloody event. It is now on display at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.
Mike's obvious commitment to the church shone through and his account of recent changes was a study in how all these sacred buildings have developed over time to meet changing social needs. The screen separating nave and chancel had been lost at the Reformation but a new one was built in 1938. Perhaps in an echo of earlier practice it was now regularly decorated with flowers at Church festivals.
Some of the pews had been removed at the front of the nave to make access easier for wheelchair users and the timber thus made available was recycled in the creation of various new elements of church decor, including some seating in the former Chantry Chapel and parts of the new organ console housing. As organist, Mike was able to give an expert account of the installation of the new organ which had resulted in further major changes to the structure of the building including the blocking up of the West window in order to accommodate the pipes.
Mike reassured us that the Church was always open to visitors and had a full and active congregation. It was pleasing to learn that the Church was engaged on a programme of reinstating the toppled gravestones, which along with those of other churches in the area had suffered as a result of an overzealous reading of the health and safety regulations.
We concluded our visit with an ascent of the Tower. The 66 steps (did anybody count them?) were characterised by their extreme narrowness which was also a feature of the entrance doorways at both bottom and top. Those who negotiated the obstacle race were rewarded with a fine view and the merest touch of vertigo.
Our thanks go to Mike for an intimate and personal account of this local treasure.