Last Updated on March 10, 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Compton Pauncefoot is a picturesque small village in Somerset, where many of the properties are constructed from the mellow golden stone that’s so typical of the region. The picture perfect 15th century Church of St Mary the Virgin is no exception and is home to a magnificent collection of 19th and 20th century stained glass windows.
The Quirky Origins of the name – Compton Pauncefoot
The first half of the village name is still in common usage throughout many areas of England, especially the South, and is a composite derived from two Old English words. Cumb means a short straight valley and ton being the Anglo Saxon word for an enclosed village, farmstead or, most likely in this scenario, a manor.
With the arrival of the Normans to England came the addition of the quirky Pauncevolt. The word can be found in the Domesday Book (1086), but, not in relation to this village. It’s believed to have derived from the Old French words of ‘pance’ meaning stomach and ‘volt’ meaning vaulted and was, most probably, the nickname for someone with a bit of a paunch or pot belly.
For whatever reason, the nickname stuck and, with the slight change to Pauncefoot, became a surname to generations of family members. The name is now believed to have become extinct and has vanished from usage
The Church of St Mary the Virgin and Sir Walter Pauncefoot
It’s not known when Pauncefoot was first added to the village name of Compton, which was listed in the hundred of Blachethorna in the Domesday Book. Or even when the first Pauncefoot moved to the area. However, by the 15th century, it’s known that Walter Pauncefoot(e) (1398-1485/6) who lived to the ripe old age of 87/88, lived at the Manor.
He bequeathed, according to Orbach and Pevsner in their book Somerset – The Buildings of England, “ten marks in 1485 for building the church and £20 for ‘the making of myne ile there’.”
In the south aisle, there’s a frieze bearing the arms of the Whyting and Pauncefoot families and a memorial below to Anne Whiting who was the widow of John Whiting and daughter of Walter Pauncefoot.
There was, almost definitely, an earlier church on the site, but, no records have survived. The 15th-century church was constructed from the local Maperton limestone, similar in colour to hamstone, and consisted of the nave, chancel and south aisle with a square tower.
The Spire – An Unusual Feature for a Somerset Church
By the 16th century, the Hunt family had become the owners of the Manor at Compton Pauncefoot and the family connection with the church was to continue for over two centuries.
The spire, a rarity in Somerset, of which there are only a handful in the whole county, was built by the Hunt family in 1804 and further renovations and remodelling were carried out by Sir Bernard Husey Hunt in 1864.
The Hunt Family and Compton Castle
Many memorials to various members of the Hunt family can be found within the church, including that of John Hubert Hunt who built the nearby Compton Castle, a fantastical Gothic castle set in a Romantic landscape in the 1820s.
The property was on the market in 2015 for £20 million and had been home, up to 1986, to the Showering family, creators of the Babycham empire in the 1950s. The photo below shows Windsor Lodge and presumably the main entrance to Compton Castle.
The Magnificent Stained Glass at the Church of St Mary the Virgin
One of the main attractions of the interior of St Mary’s Church has to be the sheer number of jewel-like stained glass windows created and installed in the 19th and 20th centuries. (Above detail of a geometric design by Whitechapel Glassworks).
Probably one of the most unusual features to be found in a small English parish church are the five 19th century continental stained glass windows, that are so different in style to those of English glassmakers. The Belgian artist – Jean-Baptiste Capronnier (1814-1891) was commissioned to carry out the five windows and all are signed – ‘J B Capronnier Bruxellensis Fecit.
There’s a stunning piece of stained glass by Charles Eamer Kempe to the rear of the church, in the West window depicting the Archangels: St Gabriel, St Michael and St Raphael.
The piece was created as a memorial for Bernard Husey Hunt, whose family had resided at the Manor House (see below) for a couple of centuries, and was installed in 1896.
A slightly later window design can be found in the north aisle by the well-known Birmingham glass studio, Hardman and Co. and depicts St John, St George and St Barnabas. It was installed in 1909.
The chancel, like the rest of the church, has a magnificent barrel-vaulted roof that was installed during the renovation and alteration works carried out in the mid-19th century. The vaulted roof has been recently restored and is divided into sixteen panels. Each one depicts an angel holding a different symbol representing the last days of Christ.
The stained glass above the altar is the Crucifixion, one of the five panels created by Jean- Baptiste Capronnier. The north and south windows within the chancel are by the well known 20th-century stained-glass window artist, Hugh Ray Easton.
Easton (1906-1965) designed the Battle of Memorial Window in the RAF Chapel at Westminster Abbey.
Cadbury Castle – Just down the road is a Bronze Age Hillfort that’s been associated with the legendary King Arthur. Though little is left of this fortified hill, the place was used for a variety of purposes over the years, and even operated as a mint during the 10th-century!
Nunney Castle – A stunning 14th-century moated castle set within a picturesque village that has a great pub and tea room. Though a little off the beaten path, the village of Nunney is well worth exploring over the course of a day or so.
Stourhead – Lose yourself within the enormous Stourhead Estate, run by the National Trust, which boasts a Palladian Mansion, 18th century landscaped gardens and even a village, Stourton. And, if you’re a fan of fall foliage there is no better place to visit in the autumn than here in Somerset.
Tony Beadles says
I came across this piece when teaching my seven year old grandson in Inverness, forced recently into home schooling, about the Domesday Book. Your article sprang out of google.
It is a splendid piece. Many congratulations. The script is entertainingly chosen and constructed, and the photography very high class.
I am the author of all the written material in the church, some of which you have used, especially the sections on the stained glass.
My only sadness is that you did not contact us before or during your visit, and I was surprised that you did not even sign the visitors’ book.
I have much enjoyed looking at many of your other articles. Congratulations on your work.
Sophie Nadeau says
I’m sorry that this is a little late. I hope that you’re doing okay. Thank you for your comment. We visited the church en route to a friend’s house and thought that it was so splendid that we took some photos with our phones and wanted to share them here!