Bridport - St.Mary's Church


Bridport St.Mary

This is a wonderful mellow stone church with an adjacent school, set surprisingly far south from the town centre on the West Bay road.  

Although there was certainly a church on or near the site much earlier, the oldest parts of the present building are the pointed arches of 1225 in the north and south transepts.  The 72 foot tower and supporting arches are 1400.

In 1860, the Victorians employed John Hicks, the Dorchester architect, to undertake an extensive restoration.  At the time, he had Thomas Hardy, who would later become the world-famous novelist, as an architectural pupil, so it is reasonable to assume he would have worked on this important project.  Hicks was responsible for the building or restoration of at least 27 churches in the county. (For further information see East Holme) The project involved the complete rebuilding of the chancel and lengthening the nave by two new bays.  The work allowed the destruction of some unsightly galleries.  The end result is a triumph because the new and the old have been skilfully and very sensitively grafted together.  The Caen stone pulpit is also of this period and features the Sermon on the Mount in relief.

In the north transept, there is a recumbent figure of a knight.  The chain-mail covering of the head and body together with the kick spurs suggests that it belongs to the period before 1300.  The identity is uncertain, but it might well be John Gervase who held land locally and was a generous benefactor to the church.

The cross under the east chancel window was given in memory of a churchwarden and the silver-work represents the pebbles on the Chesil Beach.  The window in the Lady chapel was erected in memory of Queen Victoria.

The parvis chamber over the south porch used not to be open to the body of the church.  Originally, it would have been used by visiting priests, who served the three chantries which the church contained in Mediaeval times.  Note the chimney outside that once led to a fireplace used to keep them warm in winter.  The font is 1400.

The first organ was installed in 1815 by G B England and rebuilt in the north chancel in 1884.  In 1934, a pneumatic action and mobile console were added.  A legacy made a complete restoration by Geo. Osmond of Taunton possible in 1984, which incorporated Walker organ components from a redundant church in Tonbridge Wells.

In 1996, the roof was badly damaged by fire, although it has now been fully repaired.  During the restoration the opportunity was taken to lay a new stone floor, fit new lighting and provide modern pews.  Note the most attractive bosses in the stunning wagon roof.