Church of St Thomas, Cricket St Thomas, Somerset: Built for naval heroes

Church of St Thomas, Cricket St Thomas, Somerset: Built for naval heroes

Sitting close to a large hotel complex is the flint-built church of Cricket St Thomas where you’ll find memorials to the famous Hood and Nelson families. The sturdy little church of Cricket St Thomas, near Chard has no connection whatsoever with the noble game of cricket. It gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon cruc, which in modern English means hill or ridge. It may not have any sporting associations but it isn’t short of heroes as you find out when you first step inside this intriguing building.

Built on the site of an original 14th century Anglican church, it was almost completely rebuilt around 1868 by the order of the 2nd Lord Bridport. The striking thing about the building is the patience, skill and time, not forgetting the cost it must have taken to build it. For it isn’t built out of brick and stone, like the nearby Thomas St Cricket House, its original name, but of knapped and squared flint supported by blocks of hewn Ham stone.

The appearance under certain light or when the flints are wet means the church shines in the sunlight. Closer inspection of the flints reveals the cleanly knapped stones chipped into roughly brick like shapes held together with mortar. Many thousands of natural flint stones must have been used and the pile of chippings left by the stoneworkers impressive.

The church sits comfortably under a sturdy Welsh slate roof with a short tower on the west nave gable that sits squarely on a corbeled platform topped by miniature gables on all four faces rising to a stunted steeple with a wind vane sitting on the top.

Before entering the church study the magnificent marble monument of Alexander Nelson Hood, Viscount Bridport, Duke of Bronte represented as an effigy of St Michael complete with angels wings and battle sword. It is said that the white ethereal effigy frightened the locals so much that for many years it was laid flat on the ground.

For those who remember their school history the monument gives a clue to the church’s famous connections and what you might expect to find inside the church. Opening the main door the first thing you see to the right, sitting on one of the windowsills, is a large scale model of HMS Victory, and further down the aisle, which is covered by an arched wooden rib and panel ceiling, there’s a gleaming white Royal Navy battle ensign.

The connection, of course, is the joining of two famous naval dynasties, the Hoods, the Lord Bridport family, and the Nelson Bronte family who had their roots in Norfolk. The connection is Charlotte, Baroness Bridport, Duchess of Bronte, the only daughter and heiress of William, 1st Earl Nelson, who was Horatio Nelsons brother. Many members of the family lie in the crypt under the south sanctuary, including two of Charlotte’s young children.

Today the church nestles, not that uncomfortably, in the middle of a hotel complex. Casual visitors may not realise how unusual the flint knapped church walls are or what famous people are commemorated inside the church itself.

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Mel Russ