A Brief History

A brief history

 

The earliest mention of the village of Bishop's Hull is found in the Codex diplomaticus aevi Saxonici of 750 AD where it is called "Hylle". In the Domesday Book of 1086 it appears as "Hilla" and in 1225 it is mentioned as "Hulle". The Assize Roll of 1327 calls it "Hulle Episcopi" - the hill belonging to the bishop. This was the Bishop of Winchester who had purchased the manor (administrative area) of Taunton Deane in 904 AD. In 1120 Bishop Gifford of Winchester transferred the tithes to Taunton Priory, subject to an annual payment to the parish priest of "Hill Bishoppes" which then became one of the abbey's endowments. The stipend was to be £6 13s 4d; it was still recorded as £6 in 1535.
The earliest part of the present church - the base of the tower - dates back to the 12th century. The octagonal upper part of the tower
dates from the 13th century and is believed to be in the shape of a weaver's shuttle, reflecting the importance of the weaving industry at the time and possibly that it was a gift of the local weavers.

In 1308 the Bishop of Bath and Wells ordered the Prior to appoint a secular priest on a separate stipend to live and serve in Bishop's Hull. Previously services would have been taken by a canon from the priory. Permanent accommodation for the priest does not appear to have been provided until 1447/8 when the churchwardens paid 20 pence and an annual rent of one penny for a piece of land for a church house.

The church originally consisted of a nave with north and south aisles, side chapels and tower. The side chapels may have been chantries (endowed for priests to say masses for the soul of the founder). In 1449 Robert Cole directed that his body be buried in the churchyard of the Apostles St Peter and Paul of the Priory of Taunton: to Sir Geoffrey, Chaplain of Hull, 2s 6d to celebrate for my soul and the soul of Agnes my wife - to the said Sir Geoffrey 6d for tithes forgotten.
In the first half of the 16th century the church underwent a major refurbishment. In 1522 the Prior of Taunton employed a Taunton mason, John Bird, to build a new chancel. The operative mason and designer was John Denman who competed for the contract with Richard Pytt and John Gyll. The date of 1530 on a scroll held by a small angel on the east wall of the north chapel may indicate that the chapel was rebuilt at the same time and this was the date the works were completed. The oak benches with carved bench ends may have been installed as part of this refurbishment or towards the end of the century when further work is attested by an entry in the 1597churchwardens' accounts: "payd to the hillier [a tiler] more for mendinge of the church and 2 illes - 6d".

In 1538 when Richard Duddridge, the reeve (chief magistrate) belonging to Taunton Priory, was buried "in the holy sepulchre of Petr and Pawle nigh Taunton", he left a benefaction to "Hilbushoppes Church". A year later the Priory was dissolved and ownership of the church passed to the Crown. It appears to have been granted to the Farewells who owned the Great House or Manor in Bishop's Hull and had strong connections with the church, as is attested by the fine effigy and memorial in the church. Their own house was completed in 1538, so some of the construction work for both buildings may have been contemporary; there are certainly similarities in the stonework.

About 1550 the first of the church's present six bells was cast by Roger Semson of Ash Priors.

In the late 16th century several cases were heard in the court of the Bishop of Wells.

The parish registers of 1642-1645 show the burial of 16 soldiers during the Civil War.

During the Protectorate 41 inhabitants of Bishop's Hull petitioned Oliver Cromwell on behalf of their minister Nathaniel Charlton: "Being almost past hope of having a godly, able minister settled among us, our means being only 20 nobles a year, we recommend to you Nathaniel Charlton our present minister who is holy, useful and well affected even to blood and imprisonment. We also have our goods plundered and our houses burned and we are 500 or 600. Some years ago Mr Charlton had £50 a year granted him from St John Stowell's parsonage but received nothing, they being overcharged. We beg the settlement elsewhere." The minister pursued his calling until the Restoration when, refusing to use the public liturgy, he was removed from his living in 1662. He became minister of the village's first dissenting congregation, now the United Reformed Church.

The Visitation Return of 1815 records that the "perpetual curate" Richard Codrington resided at Milverton because there was no parsonage house in Bishop's Hull which then had a population of 844. He also served the parish of Staplegrove, saying prayers and giving a sermon each Sunday alternately morning and evening. The annual value of the living was about £110. Patronage of the living of Bishop's Hull appears to have passed from the Priory to the Crown and thence to the Farewells, Edmund Downyne and Peter Assheton, the Raban family and, from 1968, the Archdeacon of Taunton.

In 1827 the population increase at the Taunton side of the parish and, reputedly, the popularity of the preacher made it necessary to enlarge the church. The arcade between the nave and south aisle was pulled down and the south wall moved outwards to double the width of the nave. The two existing windows were repositioned in this new south wall. The roof was replaced by a flat-pitched roof, the interior plaster ceiling being made of a single span below scissor type supporting beams. Galleries were erected on the north, south and west walls. The ones in the north and south were taken down in 1923-24 but the west balcony remains, accessed by a wooden staircase within and a stone one outside the church. The vestry and west porch were built. The latter had to be rebuilt in the 1950s. During this reconstruction work most of the oak benches were lost, replaced by deal box pews, and the rood screen was destroyed, only fragments of it surviving in two kneeling stools (one being in the clergy stall) and as panels in the pulpit.

In 1949 the west windows of the nave were completely renewed by John Hall of Bristol and the bell of 1688 recast by Mears and Stainbank. Electric light was installed in 1951-52.

More substantial works became necessary in the 1950s and 1960s when the structure of the north chapel and west porch began to cause concern. Both had to be rebuilt on new foundations, the entrance porch in 1956 and the north chapel in 1960. Partial demolition of the chapel and rebuilding were carried out by Frederick Bird and Sons of Curry Rivel. The east window was rebuilt and reassembled by John Hall of Bristol. The restoration and refurbishment of the chapel was completed in 1968 in memory of Bessie May Harris of the Manor.
Outside the church, the forecourt was remodelled in 1956 and in 1961 the high boundary wall of the churchyard was lowered. In 1966 a new vicarage was built and the following year the Parochial Church Council bought and demolished the old vicarage. This created space on the south side of the church for a hall and car park, with a new boundary wall and wrought iron gates whose design mirrored the arches of the main porch.

In 1993-94 the floor in the centre of the nave began to collapse and had to be replaced with the present wooden floor. When it was dug up, some 17th century gravestones were found beneath the old floor. The central pews were replaced by chairs and the main altar, pulpit and font were moved to their present positions.

In 2012, following advice from experts, the pipe organ was removed and taken away for restoration by a professional company. It is thought that the organ would be rebuilt and transferred to a church in Eastern Europe, but no confirmation has been given to date. The space that was created by the pipe organ being removed has transformed the North Chapel area and it is now a much used worship space in the life of the church, including Midweek Communions, Quiet Days and Prayer Ministry activities.