© Somerford Keynes Parish Council and contributors 2014
About All Saints Somerford Keynes
The Parish Church at Somerford Keynes
incorporates one of the oldest stone built
churches in Gloucestershire. In 675 a monastery
was founded in Malmesbury that became a great
mission centre. In 685 a nephew of King Ethelred
gave some land at Somerford to the Abbey at
Malmesbury and we may assume that from that
date a preaching centre was established at
Somerford. The first converts were baptized in
the River Thames and Mass would have been said,
first in the open air, and then perhaps in a rough
wooden shelter. By 695AD a stone church had been built under a
thatch roof. The north doorway of this church still remains today.
The font (1100) has a Norman
bowl on a 14th century stem of
Between the font and the Saxon Fragment are
stone coffin lids. They were used from about
1150 to 1300 to cover the graves of well-to-do
people and were incised with an ornamental
cross or emblems: a sword for a knight, a key for
steward, a chalice for a priest, a pair of shears
for a wool merchant. These lids may have
originally been in the church but reset in the
present position in 1968
In the reign of Henry 1, the manor of Somerford came by marriage into the possession of Ralph de
Keynes of Dodford, near Daventry and thus ‘Somerford’ acquired ‘Keynes’. Around 1215 the Keynes
family, who held the Manor from about 1100 to 1300 – started rebuilding the church. William, the
grandson of Ralph, in 1218 gave ‘Somerford Church’ – the advowson and the greater tithe – to Merton
Priory perhaps as a thank-offering for the recovery of his lands, which he had forfeited to King John
after joining a rebellion! Most patrons and incumbents from that day to this are known. It is possible
Merton Priory rebuilt the chancel making it larger and lighter and adding windows. Some years later,
about 1250, the greater part of the church was rebuilt. The eastern end of the north wall of the Nave
was pierced with two arches and the North Chapel created. The south wall was built of squared stone
and contained four two-light windows and the main door then, or later, protected by a porch.
The main south door and porch
from about 1250 showing a stone
bench, as painted about 1865 by
Rev. Fawcett’s daughter.
The piscina, elaborate for a village
church, could well date from around
this time and may have been a gift
from a religious house.
The Chancel Screen was carved in 1483 and may have originally stood between
the nave and the north Chapel before being moved beneath a gallery that
stood on the west wall between 1710 and 1875. After this date it was moved to
its current location. The lock is original and still works!
The interior walls would have been covered with paintings the last one being the
great St Christopher about 8½ ft high painted on the plaster around 1500 when
the north doorway was blocked up. This painting was plastered over at the
reformation and replaced by a Bible text. It was rediscovered in 1822 but
destroyed by damp during the restoration of the church in 1876.
Between 1505 and 1545, three bells were added . The oldest is the treble,
shown left nearest the door, when in 1999 they were lowered and converted
to swing chiming, as our Millennium Project. The tenor bell and Sanctus are
shown with their old (16thC.) headstocks. As they were before nuts and
bolts, these were fixed by wedges. The bell frame is an original oak frame
dated 1682. The three bells were made by the Bristol Foundry, the Sanctus
bell bearing the initials of Thomas Gefferies and, would have hung in a
wooden turret and then moved into the current stone tower built in 1715.
The fourth (centre) bell, by Rudhall, is dated 1747 and is inscribed ‘When
you me ring I’ll sweetly sing’. The bells can be rung by swinging, or when
fixed, using the Ellacombe chime, allowing one person to ring three bells.
This chime allows exact timing for tolling at funerals for example. There are
more details and pictures of the bells in the room below the tower.
In 1554, Robert Strange of Cirencester bought the Manor of Somerford Keynes
from Queen Mary. One hundred years later in 1654, his great grandson,
another Robert, died in London of the smallpox aged 23. His three sisters
erected the great marble monument in the north chapel, his figure reclining
dressed in Cavalier fashion with long hair and ribboned shoes. His original
Helmet can be seen in Cirencester Museum.
In 1859 the church was visited by Mr.& Mrs.Hall who wrote
‘the beautiful and graceful little church is covered with flowers, roses and
honeysuckle intertwined with green ivy from the base to its roof – a model of
cheerful aspect and simple beauty.’
In 1874 it was discovered this picturesque covering was hiding serious decay
such that the church was in a dangerous condition, so Frederick Waller,
architect for Gloucester Cathedral was called in. Among other alterations, the
church was re-roofed, the walls rebuilt, a vestry added which entailed
relocating the Strange monument, heating installed, the gallery removed, a
new pulpit, reading desk and pews were provided. The Chancel screen was
moved from the gallery to the present position. All the memorial inscriptions
on the walls were lost, as were those in the floor when the flagstones were
replaced with Victorian tiles.
In 1968 Canon Gibbon instigated removal of the stones
that had sealed the Saxon doorway since 1500. A
removable wooden door was put in the doorway until in
2004, when through the generosity of a local
parishioner, the doorway was glazed and the glass
engraved so that the full beauty of the opening could
be appreciated. During the work on the doorway, the
mortar was carbon dated to AD695.
Articles in Trans.BGAS describe this activity.
HM Taylor vol 88 pp68-73
RG Gibbons vol 88 p208
When, in 2007, the organ in the chancel required an
overhaul, opportunity was taken to reposition it in
the North Chapel which had been reordered to
create an open space for youth activities.
The church and the tabletop tombs are all Listed by English Heritage, The
church is Grade II*, the tombs all Grade II. The Tabletop tombs are called
Chest tombs by English Heritage.
Words and pictures by Judy Monger
Theft from Somerford Keynes Church
The rare Saxon stone fragment pictured right was
stolen from the church between Tuesday 16 and
Friday 19th October 2012. The thieves may like to
know that it is unique and therefore very easily
identifiable. It is a rare piece of late Saxon sculpture
from the Cotswolds, dating from the reign of King
Cnut (1016-1035). It is probably part of a standing
headstone to a grave and depicts two beasts facing each other, their mouths touching and holding a
round ball between them. This fragment is fully described and discussed in Transactions of the
Bristol And Gloucestershire Archaeological Society by R. Bryant and D.J. Viner Vol 117 pp155-158
This item was stolen despite having been firmly fixed to the wall.