St Nicholas’ Church at Nether Compton (near the Somerset/Dorset border, and 3 miles west of Sherborne) stands in a peaceful and rural setting. It is beautifully kept and on the day of my visit was filled with the most beautifully scented flowers.
The purpose of my visit to St Nicholas’ was twofold; firstly, to admire and soak up the atmosphere of this ancient House of God and secondly to wander in the footsteps of my ancestors, some of whom possessed the Cure of Souls here in the distant 16th Century.
St Nicholas’ has stood at Nether Compton since the 13th Century – when the nave, chancel and entrance porch were erected. The tower was added later in the 15th Century, at which time the church was further enlarged, becoming the building we see today.
It’s likely the first clergy to minister at Nether Compton were the Benedictine Monks from the nearby Sherborne Abbey. This assumption is based, according to the Church Guide, from the fact that there is no appointment of a Rector to the parish until 1405.
My own interests at Nether Compton begin in the 1530s just prior to, and after the Reformation and the Dissolution of Sherborne Abbey. At this time we meet one Rev. Pancras Growte who was instituted as Rector of Nether Compton in 1535. Growte appears to have begun his religious career at Sherborne, originally as a school teacher and later as organist at All Hallows Church, Sherborne from 1524-1527. His appointment to Nether Compton began soon after his Ordination in 1533. Growte’s name also appears amongst those given an annuity after the Dissolution of Sherborne Abbey in 1539 so he must have spent some time there, possibly as a Monk.
Pancras Growte remained as Rector of Nether Compton until his death there in 1579. His Last Will and Testament prove of great interest since it is within this document I find reference to my own ancestors, thereby giving me a potential family link to this interesting man.
In his Will he leaves legacies to his cousins Elizabeth of Stanlinge, Edith and Agnes of Armitage (where are these places?) but primarily his estate is left to members of the Fathers family, including my 12th Great Grandfather, John Fathers and his children; Giles, Thomas, Nicholas and my 11th Great Grandmother, Agnes Fathers.
My presumption is that John Fathers’ wife was possibly a relation to Pancras Growte, thereby creating the family link.
Agnes Fathers, my 11th Great Grandmother, married the Rev. John Keyllwaye alias Clarke at Nether Compton in 1581. This man was of a greatly religious family where most males became Anglican clergyman. John Keyllwaye alias Clarke (sometimes known as Rev. John Clarke or Rev. John Keyllwaye) was Rector at Nether Compton from 1579-1608 and members of this family served as Rector here until the early 1630s.
In feeling such a personal connection to St Nicholas’ Church it was natural for me to wonder how much the place had changed and ponder upon their lives in this lovely place.
Both Pancras Growte and John Keyllwaye alias Clarke lived through those turbulent post-Reformation years embracing willingly, or perhaps not, the many ecclesiastical and liturgical changes of the time.
The Church Guide offers some interesting insights into the life of St Nicholas’ after my ancestor’s connections. In the summer 1645 for example, we learn that Oliver Cromwell’s men stabled their horses inside the church and “burnt popish furnishings” – presumably any of those relics which had already survived the purges of the century before. St Nicholas’ is unusual in possessing a late 15th Century stone rood-screen. Perhaps this rather permanent structure saved it from destruction?
Of interest to many are the internal fixtures and fittings of the church including the lovely 17th Century pews and the pulpit, thought to date to circa 1600. The Font which is octagonal and made of sandstone dates to the 14th Century.
The Chancel is plain with a beautiful two light stained glass window depicting the Resurrection.
Around St Nicholas’ Church, internally and externally, one is able to see a number of Consecration Crosses. This is one of a few churches in which I have noticed so many. There is also a wonderful ‘scratch dial’ cut into the stone of the south porch. This primitive form of sundial provided each villager with correct time for Mass.
This is a very beautiful church and one that glows golden in glorious summer sunshine, as indeed it did on my visit.
© Images and Text by Graham Naylor