I often get packed-off all over the place to paint a scene, but here I was only asked to take a very short walk down Bread Street to our local church here in Pilton, Somerset. The Church of St John the Baptist.
I have painted the church before but this time I thought I would take a bit of time to learn more about its history.
Pilton sits in a steep dell with the church sitting on a rather precipitous Somerset hill. As you come into the village you are more or less level with the top of the tower!
The road then drops steeply in an arc following the line of the modest graveyard to finally end up in front of the church that looms above. It looks very grand from this point of view as you are now beneath the floor level. In fact you then have to climb a set of stairs just to get to the front door.
Painting Pilton Church
If you are up close this angle makes it a tricky building to paint, so I decided to cross the stream at the bottom of the small valley, and paint it from the opposite side of hill.
This vantage delivered a fine view and allowed my preparation drawing to take in the main features outlined above, including the hill in the background.
In this painting I wanted to indicate how green the village is. In some parts it almost feels as though the houses are placed within a forest. I’m told it used to be a lot less wooded as, in the early 20th century, every spare bit of land was given over to vegetables, poultry or sheep. I suppose modern shops and transport put paid to that.
A history of Pilton Church Somerset
Like many ancient sites the church here in Pilton has been added-to over the centuries. In this case thats a very long time indeed, over a thousand years in fact. It was first mentioned in a charter by king Ine (whoever he was) in 725, and was under the direct obedience to the Abbot Of Glastonbury, the town of which, is about six miles up the road. Nothing of the original buildings are visible today, with the earliest visible part being from the 12th Century, namely the base of the tower on the left. Most of the rest of the exterior was built in the 15th Century when the wool trade was generating a fortune and swelling the coffers of Glastonbury Abbey. That lasted until the 16th century when the party was shut down by Henry VIII’s reformation.
Of course additions, and repairs still go on to this very day. Some of the recent funding for this was provided by The Glastonbury Festival, which is held a few hundred meters away, on the opposite side of the hill.
Pilton Village today
As Pilton is still a thriving community, we still have a fully functioning bell tower, complete with local bell ringers. As well as ringing for weddings, they practice each Tuesday night and we push open the windows just to listen. The voice of a community.
I often paint in The Cotswolds, where there are equally beautiful churches. Many of the local houses however, are now second homes so there is no one to ring the bells. And no one to fill the church notice board announcing jumble sales and fetes. Very sad.
We are fortunate to still have a working clock as well. On wandering back from the pub or village club on dark nights, I hear it toll midnight, and lament that I was initially determined to get back home by 10.30.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I often get sent all over the place to paint though very often some of the most wonderful locations are right on your doorstep.