There's magic in the name of Churchill

PUBLISHED: 13:55 24 April 2006 | UPDATED: 09:11 24 May 2010

Churchill Court.

Churchill Court.

The old knight lay on a seat in the church porch, the morning sunshine glancing in upon him. From a field or two away came the call of the cuckoo, but he did not hear it. He hasn't heard a sound for over 600 years. He lies there with his shield and sword,

The hall and staircase at Churchill Court

The old knight lay on a seat in the church porch, the morning sunshine glancing in upon him. From a field or two away came the call of the cuckoo, but he did not hear it. He hasn't heard a sound for over 600 years. He lies there with his shield and sword, ready for battle, but has been powerless to resist the hurt done to him. His feet are missing, small boys have chipped bits off him and tried to carve their names on his shield.We cannot be certain, but it is generally believed that this old knight is Sir Roger Fitzpayne, one of the earliest lords of the manor of Churchill, who died in 1322. On the other side of the porch lies his lady, Dame Margery Fitzpayne, who survived him eight years. The angels that smooth her pillow have not been able to protect her from ill-treatment, and her hands, which were clasped in prayer, are missing. Sir Roger and his wife once reposed together in the Fitzpayne chantry chapel at the east end of the south aisle of the church, their effigies being placed above them. They were removed in the eighteenth century, and for a time stood against one of the walls - and were whitewashed!There is magic in the name of Churchill, but the village probably only gets a cursory glance from many motorists who pass through. Some of them possibly note the time by the clock on the tower erected by that great benefactor to the district, the late Sydney Hill, and step on the accelerator.Churchill is a large, straggling, maze-like parish. There is much of interest in its story, especially, of course, in its link with the family of the great Winston Churchill. It is necessary to take one's time in looking around the parish. If one follows the sign pointing to "Churchill Green" one will not come to anything resembling a village green. One may walk down Pudding Pie Lane and fail to find the cottage of an old lady who sells pies; and one may go down Duck Lane without seeing the shed where the ducking stool was kept, in which scolds were punished by being fastened to it and ducked in a pond or brook.But just a little way past Churchill's fine secondary school one comes on the tree-lined avenue leading to the church of St John the Baptist. This is the spot around which the life of Churchill has turned for centuries. Over the churchyard wall beyond the blossoming trees one glimpses the tower and roof of Churchill Court. A fine old manor house this, standing on the site of the home where the lords of the manor lived for centuries.Churchill Court is today the home of Col and Mrs A J Murray, and Col Murray kindly showed me over it. Down in the huge centuries old cellars under the most ancient part of the Court is a well. Its presence was unknown for many years, and it was discovered when the floor over it subsided.Here was the indoor water supply of the old manor house, from which was drawn a cold, clear draught when Sir Roger Fitzpayne called for one - that is, of course, unless his taste ran to something stronger.Strolling around the grounds of Churchill Court I reflected on the people who have walked in its gardens down the centuries. Here the children of many a famous family must have played and laughed, but on this summer morning there was a chatter as if all the children who have been born at Churchill Court were suddenly there and eagerly in conversation with each other. Then a bell sounded, the conversation died away - break time at nearby Churchill secondary school was over, and the pupils drifted back to their lessons.How the children of the old lords of he manor would have appreciated the delightful open air swimming pool which Col. Murray has constructed on the garden on the site of the former sunken greenhouse which, it is thought may have stood on the foundations of a centuries old chapel.One feels of Churchill Court that every yard of its grounds is of historic interest. Beneath its lawns are believed to lie the foundations of earlier manor houses.Churchill does not get a mention as a manor in Domesday Book. At that time it formed part of the great manor of Banwell and is noted among the possessions of the Bishop of Bath and Wells.It is mentioned in an award made in 1231 by Bishop Jocelyn concerning "the chapel of Churchill." This same document names Robert Fitzpayne and John de la Stocke as local landowners. Stocke was a village on the corner of the parish. Robert Fitzpayne, a younger son of the Robert Fitzpayne who was Somerset's Sheriff in the reign of Henry II, is the first owner of Churchill manor whose name can be traced.The Court remained the seat of the Fitzpaynes for 200 years. It is not known when the first Churchill Court was built, but the manor house was referred to by its present name as far back as the 14th Century. There was probably a house on the site much earlier than that.Sir Roger Fitzpayne, son of the second Robert Fitzpayne, died in 1322 and was buried in the family chapel. He certainly lived at Churchill court, but seven years later, there is a record that his widow, Dame Margery, was granted a Licence by Ralph, Bishop of Bath and Wells, to have divine service said in her oratory at Churchill Court for one year.In those days Mendip was a Royal hunting forest, and in 1300 commissioners appointed by Edward I to perambulate the forest recommended that certain lands which had been taken into the forest bounds since the coronation of Henry II should be disafforested and returned to their rightful owners. Portions of forest at Churchill and Langford with the woods thereto should, they recommended, be given back to Roger Fitzpayne.What sort of a man was he, this Sir Roger whose likeness survives in the porch of Churchill church? He looks a man of action, although alas now minus feet, and with broken sword. He saw fit to have his effigy carved showing him in armour, but there is no record that he was a famous soldier. He held his manor from the Bishop of Bath and Wells and was under no obligation to fight for the king.We may, if we like, think of him as being rather vain, since he had his effigy carved before he died. In this, though, he was no more conceited than other knights of his time. It became quite usual for them to have their effigies made in order that they might see exactly what sort of memorial would be set up to them. One wonders whether they would have been so keen had they known what was going to happen to those memorials.The effigies of both Sir Robert and Dame Margery were carved in stone from the then famous quarries of Dundry. Antiquarians agree that Sir Roger had his effigy made several years before his death since the armour was a little out-of-date by the time he died. Still, perhaps prices were on the up-and-up in those days, and it was with due regard for economy that Sir Roger took advantage of a time when effigies were a particularly good buy. We must be charitable and confess that perhaps we do Sir Roger an injustice, and that he and his good lady may have been a delightful couple who did an immense amount for their people.There is evidence that Dame Margery was a sensible, frugal type. She did not hastily marry again or ruin Sir Roger's manor by reckless living. Five years after his death Somerset properties were assessed for tax, and Dame Margery's assessment was by far the highest in the district. It was set down that her rate was to be 3s 6d "for her goods at Churchill".The reign of the Fitzpaynes at Churchill ended in 1447 when John Fitzpayne sold the property. Of the Fitzpaynes' Churchill Court all that remains is the huge cellar in which is the well. Ralph Jenyns, who acquired the property in 1563, pulled down the old building and erected another. Of this sixteenth century house only the west wing remains. At its northeast corner stands a square tower that has an oak spiral staircase, which winds around a central oak post reaching from the ground floor almost to the roof.In the spacious kitchen the large modern domestic heating and cooking unit looks almost lost in the huge fireplace.The east wing of the Court, Col. Murray told me, was added about 150 years ago. Incidentally, at Churchill the centuries old link between manor house and church is still maintained, Col Murray being one of the churchwardens.This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on June 12, 1964

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