The Bathford Society

Picture: St Swithun's Church (D. Howells 2006)

St Swithun's Church - Building

There is evidence of the existence of a church at Bathford before the Norman conquest. Collinson, in 1791, described the nave of the church being divided from the chancel by 'a clumsy Saxon arch'. Found when rebuilding the church in the 1870s and now built into the outside of the east wall of the Lady Chapel is what appears to be the cover of a Saxon stone coffin. Discovered at the same time were some Norman arch stones, the effigy of a bishop, supposedly St. Swithun, and a piscina. These are now built into the east wall of the churchyard.

The earliest documentary evidence of the existence of a church at Bathford seems to be a reference in 1140 by Archbishop Theobald to 'the church at Forde'. At a date between 1173 and 1191 Reginald Fitz-Jocelin, bishop of Bath, set apart the revenues of the church at Forde for the maintenance of the priory at Bath.

Picture: St Swithun's Church 1784

The earliest known description of the church is that given by Collinson in 1791 which reads 'The church is an old building, eighty feet in length and twenty in breadth, consisting of a nave, chancel and porch, all tiled [meaning stone tiled roofs]. At the west end is a square tower, containing two bells. The nave is divided from the chancel by a clumsy Saxon arch'. This arch has already been mentioned. Collinson also records the inscriptions on a number of prominent monuments. An engraving of this church by T. Bonnor was published in 1784. Bonnor engraved many views of Bath and its neighbourhood and he was the illustrator of Collinson's History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset. It is known that this building contained an early minstrels' gallery and ceiling completed in 1753.

Whether this church described by Collinson bore any resemblance to the original church or how and when the original one was altered or rebuilt is not known. Alterations subsequent to Bonnor's engraving included an additional gallery above a new south aisle in 1818, a new tower in 1842 and a new north aisle in 1856. In 1870 the church was almost completely rebuilt except for the then recently completed north aisle. The present tower was completed in 1880 and the last major new building work was the extension of the north aisle in 1911 to form the Lady Chapel. The tower contains a peal of six bells first rung in August 1880.

The church has fourteen fine stained-glass windows several of which are by Frederick Preedy, the architect of the rebuilding in the 1870s. Preedy not only designed such windows but also made his own glass. The east window is modern, dating from 1947. The east window in the old church is on record as an 'ancient painted east window by Cornelius Jansen, mysteriously stolen some years since', probably around 1840. It would have been a valuable window because Cornelius Jansen was a notable Flemish painter born in London in 1593. He worked in England from 1618 until 1643 and was patronised by James I and Charles I. Numerous portraits by him adorn English collections.

The font is thirteenth century and the Jacobean pulpit is thought possibly to have been originally part of a three decker. The present stone base is by Preedy in 1870.

Click on St Swithun's Church Bathford - A Brief History of the Building for a history of the building.

Source: Bathford Past and Present

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