ST MICHAEL’S CHURCH,
St Michael’s closed in 1995 but due to its architectural interest was adopted by the Churches Conservation Trust. The parish of St Michael’s, Clapton, was joined with All Saints, East Clevedon. There is a group of ‘Friends of St Michael’s’ who administer the church locally and if you would like more information please contact Mr Peter Hills tel: 01275 858809 email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Black Horse Public House
Peter Hills 01275 858 809
Although the church is ‘closed’ occasional services are held throughout the year in conjunction with the East Clevedon Benefice. For 2018 they are:
Sunday 29th April, 3pm Spring Service
Thurs. 10th May, 7.30pm Friends St. Michael’s AGM
6th -9th & 13th -16th Sept. Over two weekends, the church will be open 11am until 5pm as part of the Gordano Open Days event
Sunday 30th September. 3pm Harvest Service
Sunday 11th Nov. 10.45am Remembrance Sunday
Sunday 23rd Dec. 3pm Carol Service
Everybody is most welcome to these services.
Contact for Bellringing at St Michael’s – Carolyn Dawson 01275 843770
Weddings at St Michael’s can only take place with an Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Marriage Licence
The earliest knowledge of Clapton stems from the Doomsday Book in which it is listed as the smallest manor in the valley – 51/2 hides in area (a hide consisted of about 120 acres) but it was the most populous with 23 males while Portishead consisted of only 14 males (women were apparently not counted). There was only one riding horse, 16 beasts, 40 swine and 50 she goats – curiously no mention of sheep, yet the other manors in the valley had a flock each.
During the eleventh and twelfth centuries the manor of Clapton passed to various Lords and Bishops at the will of the reigning monarch and in the early thirteenth century the manor was held by a family who adopted the surname Arthur. They were in the service of the Lords of Berkeley, to whom they may have been distantly related.
The first document relating to the manor and the church is an agreement dated 1226 between William, son of Arthur de Clopton and Richard, Abbott of Keynsham. Abbott Richard was quite a powerful man. Keynsham Abbey had been founded nearly a century earlier by William, Earl of Gloucester, and was endowed, among other things, with certain rights in the manor of Clapton which included the rights of ‘husbote’ and ‘haybote’, probably meaning the right to cut timber and gather fodder, and also common pasture for 4 beasts and 2 cows. Other rights were mast for 10 pigs in the wood and pasture for 100 sheep on Clapton down – which was probably along the top of Clapton Ridge. In return for these rights the Abbott sent a priest to administer the sacraments to the Arthurs’ and their retainers, but whether he lived in the parish or only visited occasionally is not known.
William Arthur purchased the avowson of the church from the Abbot for 15 marcs – probably only a token payment – and by this agreement was empowered to take over the right to run his own church and appoint his own priest.
The Arthurs were now coming into their own, William started to build a new church using local red sandstone, much of his work still stands, and they appointed their relations as priests, the first on record is John Arthur followed by his cousin, Walter de Boley in 1319, followed by a William Arthur.
The church today is a Grade 1 listed building. Entering through the fifteenth century porch in which the small door on the right opens onto a narrow stair, blocked at the top, which presumably led to a small singing gallery, and the masonry shows an entrance high up in the porch, which would probably have been a sleeping place for a visiting priest, the church is entered through the south door. The thirteenth century font on the left has four ugly faces and four dogs heads under the bowl and directly opposite is a blocked north door … The reason for the 2 opposing doors with the font in between was the belief that when the baby was caused to cry at baptism, by a pinch of salt being placed on its tongue, the devil, coming out of its open mouth and finding itself in church, would fly out through the open door.
Behind the font are the ancient pews – early fourteenth century if not late thirteenth century, recorded as being the oldest wooden pews in an English church. The whole nave was furnished with them until the Victorian restoration. Before the pews were installed the congregation stood for the service except for the old and weak who would sit on the stone kerb which ran around the walls – from which comes the saying that ‘the weak go to the wall’. It appears that in the winter it was the custom to fill the nave waist high with rushes and sweet herbs for warmth and support.
At the back of the church under the tower is the thirteenth century oak screen which originally divided the Great Hall and the Buttery in the Court House. When the Great Hall was demolished in 1860 the screen was thrown our and used for a time under the arch to the garden until, due to the generosity of the late Edmond Paysom Wills, it was moved to its present place.
Now to the east end of the nave, where the small door on the right gives access to a spiral stair, enclosed by an abutment outside the main wall, which led to a roof loft lit by the two small windows. High up the niches for the timber still remain, as do the Arthur coats of arms on the arch pillars. Near the little door a pew was built in 1699, according to the church register, for the society of singers. The money for this was raised in the parish and contributors included the Hollyman family, who were then tenants of Clapton Court.
Behind the present modern altar table the reredos is extended forward on each side, supported by two columns of Purbeck stone, to carry 2 large candlesticks made of Latten, a metal similar to brass but of much lighter weight. Their age was never determined but unfortunately they were stolen some years ago.
In the north chapel is the Wynter memorial to commemorate the little boy, Edmund Wynter. The memorial shows the parents kneeling on either side of a prayer desk with the child sitting beneath holding a skull. The centre panel records the death of Edmund who died in 1672 at the age of 2.
The church was restored by the Victorians about 1881.
When the tower was restored in 1897 the 3 ancient bells were removed, 2 of them were made in 1550 by Henry Jefferies of Bristol and the tenor was by Ruger Purdue of Bristol in 1618. The 3 new bells were made by Llewellin and James, Bristol. To make the present ring of six it is said that when the work was being done the bell-hangers spent more time in the Black Horse than they did in the tower which may be why 2 of the bells tend to ring up the wrong way if one it not careful.
Clapton Civil Parish has a website which may be of interest.