Church of St Mary Magdalene, Wookey Hole

David Scarth, Churchwarden for St Mary Magdalene Church has compiled this article about the church as part of his work documenting the Church's significance, for the Diocesan records.  The photos are courtesy Nicky Amos. 


Wookey Hole, St Mary Magdalene

Section 1: Brief history and description of the church building, contents, churchyard and setting.

St Mary Magdalene, Wookey Hole is a small Victorian Church built in 1874.  It is built in what is probably an old quarry, occupying a visible, raised position in the centre of the village, next to the village pub and opposite the car park to Wookey Hole caves, a major Somerset tourist attraction. 

It is in the Victorian Gothic Early English style, constructed of local ‘Pudding Stone’, Dolomitic Conglomerate with Doulting freestone dressings.  The Church was listed Grade 2 in 2004. 




The Church was originally a chapel of ease to Wells, St Cuthbert until 1931, before becoming part of the parish of Easton. It only became a parish in its own right in 1973.

The layout is of a Nave with a south porch built 1873-4. The tower or spire over the porch was never built.  The Chancel was added in 1876-7 with a vestry on the north side of chancel; this was enlarged in 1922.  There is an organ chamber on the south side which contains the original organ which is in fine working order.




The grounds cover about an acre however much of this is a steep bank behind the Church to the east.  There is a War Memorial on the south lawn, built in about 1920 from Doulting limestone with bronze plaques inscribed on both sides with the names of the dead.  The War Memorial was listed Grade 2 in 2004, an area around which was consecrated for burial of ashes about 8 years ago.  Internally there are stained glass windows in the Chancel and plainer glazing in the Nave.




The ceiling in the chancel is panelled and painted with the apostle’s symbols.   A raised octagonal font is at the west end of the Church, a carved screen with rood cross above between Chancel and Nave as well as carved wall panels at the eastern end.  All the other furniture is wooden with carved pulpit and plainer pews, reading desk, Altar and Credence table.


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Section 2: The significance of the church (including its contents and churchyard) in terms of:

i) Its special architectural and historical interest

The original architects were B & EB Ferrey who were also Diocesan architects of Bath & Wells when it was built.

The building of the Church was paid for by the Hodgkinson family who were the paper mill owners at the time. They also had built the new mill building, the school, a workingmen’s club and many of the houses in the village making Wookey Hole a fine example of a Victorian industrial village with a unified architectural signature.  The Church with its pivotal position is central to the whole assemblage.

ii) Any significant features of artistic or archaeological interest

The two items of artistic significance in the Church are the excellent Neo-Perpendicular wood work designed by F.E. Howard and the stained glass windows at the east end above the Altar by Lavers, Barraud & Westlake.

The works by F.E Howard were commissioned in 1921 as part of some improvements and ornamentation. In total there is a considerable body of work including the Chancel screen with rood cross above, panelling at the eastern end behind the Altar, four gilded angels holding candles on painted riddel posts approximately 3m above the floor and a painted and gilded Chancel ceiling.  This work should be considered of moderate-high significance as he is probably one of the most important British ecclesiastical sculptors of the early 20th Century.


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Frank Ernest Howard (1888–1934) was an English architect who worked exclusively in the area of ecclesiastical furnishings and fittings. He was a pupil of Sir Ninian Comper and carried out much of his work under the auspices of the Warham Guild. He published several books and articles on medieval ecclesiastical architecture and church furnishings which continue to be regarded as authoritative.

It is possible that the octagonal font and the ¾ life size stone figures of Mary Magdalene & John the Baptist in an elevated position on the East wall above and either side of the Altar are contemporary with this work, but further work will be needed to ascertain their origin. 




The windows at the eastern end of the Church above the Altar depict six scenes from the life of St Mary Magdalene.  The artist has taken licence with scenes, depicting other women in the New Testament who are not St Mary Magdalene, for example Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus. This is itself an interesting commentary on the time it was created. This is also of moderate –high significance as it is from the workshop of Lavers, Barraud & Westlake which was in Covent Garden.

Lavers, Barraud and Westlake were an English firm that produced stained glass windows from 1855 until 1921. They were part of the Gothic Revival movement that affected English church architecture in the 19th century.

Both the above works and the Church itself are described in the newly revised edition of Pevsner for Somerset.




There is an organ chamber on the South side of the Chancel which houses the original three manual organ which was built by W.G Vowles of Bristol 1880 who also re-built organs for Bristol Cathedral and St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol at about the same time, this makes it of moderate significance.  




The organ was completely overhauled in 2009 at a cost of £12,125.00 the total sum being raised by the congregation and members of village.  Our organist Richard Kerton-Welch is from the village and has been organist for the last 18 years, he started when he was just 16, being at the time the youngest Church organist in Somerset.

There are also two stained glass windows either side of the Altar depicting each with two Angels on north side one Angel is playing a bassoon and the other swings a thurible.  On the other side one Angel plays an organ and the other swings a thurible.  The words of verse 6 of the 96th Psalm are inscribes in the glass under the Angels feet. These are early 20th century probably about 1926 as they are in memory of Julia Hodgkinson who died in 1924.  The artist and producers are currently unknown and I currently am unable to assess their significance.


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