Interview with Rev. Jim Scott

Transcript of interview with Jim Scott

Hello, I’m John Harris from the Bremhill History Group and I’m here with the Reverend Jim Scott who was born in Bremhill and has served St Martin’s Church and the village for over 30 years. And he’s a keen historian, so Jim, what is the age of the actual church building?

Well we have a list of vicars going back to the twelve hundreds and its probably true to say that the church is about that age, thirteen century, and there is some evidence in the tower that there may well have been a church on the same site before that the whole thing is very much connected with Stanley Abbey which is only just down under the hill, the Abbey now well gone of course, Henry the 8th came along, but there is some evidence that the Abbey is still there and Bremhill Church was very much involved with that as well. So we do have pretty well documented the fact that there was a church here back in the twelve hundreds and possibly before that as well. But the present building though is the twelve hundreds I think with some alterations by Mr Cromwell and also by the Victorians. The Victorians were great people for altering churches, not always in the best way,

So what additions over the years have actually been made? 1.35 min

The church, over the years, well the tower was actually built several centuries after the main church the tower was there, and it’s probably the big structural alterations inside, I mean the main roof was taken away which was apparently a beautiful thing, and various other alterations inside the church. The pews themselves, right up through the knave are unique because each pew end has different carvings on it, the carvings are beautifully done so again, the pews are unique. I suppose quite a bit of the church as well, the font which is reputed to go back to the date of the Stanley Abbey down at Stanley and the pew, well, some doubt about the actual age bit, but pretty old and lots and lots of sermons preached from that pulpit including myself of course. So they are the sort of structural alterations I suppose and then we’ve had a modern heating system put in. There are plans to do other things as well, one of the main things that we really do need, basically it’s probably fair to say that the church itself stands very much as it did in the thirteenth century.

And what about the bells Jim, there’s some pretty interesting bells that are frequently rung aren’t there? – 3.26 min

We’ve got a tower of six bells, the age of the bells goes back here through the centuries, they were re hung a few years ago. We have a very, very keen and enthusiastic and committed team of ringers who ring, so every service the bells are rung, the bells are rung for every service, Sunday services and special services as well including quite often funerals, always for weddings, as I say, we have a very enthusiastic team in the tower. I don’t get involved because I’ve got no sense of rhythm and would probably end up going through the tower roof. As I say, there is a date for each of the six bells in there; unfortunately I can’t quite remember what those dates were.

And what about the Sanctus bell? – 4.25 min

There is a little tower on top of the Chancel roof for the Sanctus bell, which would have been rung during the Communion Services, and back in time before the Reformation of course, so the little tower is there but the bell’s gone. But that would have been rung for all services. There is also, not uniquely, but interestingly, in the Chancel, something called a squint window, and this is where people, I don’t know for whatever reason, who couldn’t go into the church, could actually look through and actually see the service going on, again I’m not sure how unique that is but it’s certainly unique to churches round here.

One of the other interesting parts of the church is just by the porch and there are the stone steps that wind their way up to a small room above the porch - 5.20 min

Again we are talking fifteenth century probably for this, this was over the porch itself, there is a little room and it’s said that this was actually where the priest or priest or curate would actually teach children. Whether or not the priest actually lived up there or what I don’t know. It’s not very big but it was used for teaching I gather and it’s got an interesting stone on the floor which has got interesting writings on that, so again very unique is our little room above the main porch.

You mentioned Cromwell and the Rood Screen did Cromwell and his cohorts do much damage to the fabric of St Martin’s? – 6.10 min

I think most of it was there would probably have been paintings on the walls and that’s the sort of thing his men would have got away with, but I’m not aware of a great deal of damage here that he did to the church, in fact it’s said that Doctor Tounson was actually allowed to stay in position during the time of Cromwell, which was most unusual, most of them actually had to go, but he stayed and in fact founded the Alms houses which I think in Kingsbury Street in Calne. And this is something which is really quite unique to Bremhill in as much as there are all sorts of quite famous people whose names have been linked to Bremhill in one way or another. A lot of this of course comes from one of its illustrious Vicars, Cannon William Bowles who actually was the Vicar here from 1805 to the 1840s. He retired to Salisbury; I think he died in 1852. And he and his wife are actually buried in the knave of Salisbury cathedral and he had a great deal of connection when he was in Bremhill for his long stay here with the Landsdowns at Bowood House. To such an extent that if anyone stayed up at Bowood, they could be men and women of literary bent or poets or even politicians, he used to quite often go over to Bremhill Vicarage and be entertained by Mr and Mrs Bowles and of course Mr and Mrs Bowles were often entertained at Bowood House.

I noticed, moving outside that there’s some very interesting poems on a lot of the grave stones in the churchyard, was he the writer of them? – 8.11 min

Yes, that was William Bowles as well. Bowles, before he became vicar of Bremhill, before he became a priest in fact, was a poet and he wrote some quite good sonnets, about 14 of them back in the 1790s which were published. Poets like Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth and others thought they were excellent and in fact Coleridge said that Bowles, really, was the beginning of what was known as the Romantic movement in poetry and so that was from good stuff. He continued to write poetry pretty well all through his life but some of it wasn’t too good, Byron was very critical of his poetry. When you think about it, that’s another name, Byron dropping in to Bowles’ life which of course is a connection with Bremhill so people like that, Bremhill vicarage was a very important centre for all sorts of things going on. He had no children, he and his wife, they were Ecumenical unto the fact that they used to entertain the minister of the Moravian church down in East Tytherton, with his daughters and they would have these musical evenings so again, he was quite advanced in many ways.

No doubt in the vicarage which is next door to the church where I believe Bowles lived. There’s an interesting fact as well I think that you once carried out an exorcism in that vicarage – 9.58 min

Yes that’s very true, I did, a person in the house was bothered she said, by a figure of a man dressed in Victorian labouring clothes who used to haunt their upstairs rooms, so there was, yes, I called in the Diocesean expert on these things and yes we did conduct an exorcism. I’m not saying that was the first one that’s ever happened in the 800 years of the churches life, but yes that was one we did.

Ok, well moving on to brighter things, the porch has a very beautiful window engraved by Leslie Fry from drawings by the famous artist and his friend Norman Neasom. Did Leslie live in the village?

Leslie was very much part of the village, his family were bakers for generations in the village at the bottom of the village, and Leslie, after the war when his Father died, continued the tradition of being the village baker and eventually also a shop at the top of the village, so yes, Leslie was very much a Bremhill man. He got too old, he eventually went into a home if you like to call it, a Care Home where he died, but he was very, very much, and very active. Artistic in as much as he wasn’t a painter, he was a glass engraver and he did wonderful work.

I think his other famous attribute was his wine making. – 11.47 min

Yes his wine making. His wine making was mostly from fruits he grew in his garden, plums and damsons and things like that and he could produce a wine that it would be difficult to tell the difference between that and a good port or sherry, it really was some good stuff and John and he put on some Art exhibitions in the church on several occasions and quite a lot of people came along for that, including some who as far as I could remember at the time, had never been inside the church before. But it was good wine.

But certainly helped the preview evenings on the art exhibitions I seem to remember - 12.35 min

It certainly did.

So that’s some very interesting stories you’ve got there of the church, how do you actually see the future of the church panning out? – 12.45 min

Well, like all churches she has suffered over the years from declining numbers in congregations, but at present, I think I can certainly say that Bremhill church is on a very sound footing, it has a good core of regular church goers and obviously these numbers are boosted at high days and holidays, like Christmas and Easter and things so and it’s on a sound financial footing as well. Quite a few people, including me, the treasurer and his wife, and the whole Parochial church council work to make this church I think, have a good future I think, I see no fears for a period in the future.

Well that’s good news. The Friends of St Martin’s of course support it, now that’s quite an old friendly society isn’t it?- 13.55 min

Well that goes back to the 1770s and it was originally formed as a charity really to help the poor of the village and the agricultural society in which they lived. Agriculture workers weren’t very well paid and their conditions were pretty poor, so really that was what the society was formed for. And it evolved over the years and I suppose over the last 40 years or so it’s become a fund raising society for the church, obviously and the church benefits greatly from the money its raised and also any other charitable organisations in the village over the years, Youth Clubs, the Senior Citizens Club and things of that nature. The village hall actually benefitted from the money raised by the Friends of St Martin Committee, which I’m privileged to be chairman of at the moment. So yes, and that does have a very interesting history which would probably fill up a whole tape, John, if we wanted to.

Some of the facts have been lost in the mists of time but there’s some quite interesting things to talk about, about the village cross which also features in the Friends of St Martin’s Feast of Word Ale – 15.32 min

Well it does, the village cross reputably was put there in the 1760s and it became very much a preaching cross for preachers and monks, going through the village. It’s said that the Wesley’s, Charles, actually preached from the village cross and it also had a very interesting fact about it. Round about the 1840s, we were talking just now about the poor conditions of the agricultural workers, and they really were a bit of a scandal during the 19th century and there was quite a lot of protests about it and it was a time when people I think were getting on to their hind legs and deciding things that needed to be done about this. In fact there was a lady who lived in Goatacre, the wife of a local lay preacher who actually organised, well we wouldn’t call it a riot or a march, but they gathered around this village cross in Bremhill. In about 1848 I think it was I remember at the time, as a protest, and apparently there were about 500 people there, I presume mostly farm labourer, agricultural labourers and it was such a, well important thing I suppose, that it reached the London papers. The London Daily News carried a report of it and one Charles Dickens, who was always very concerned about the lot of the poor; he actually managed to read this article and decided he was going to do something about it. I don’t think he came to Bremhill, but he wrote a poem, the poem The Wiltshire Labourer, which you know you can Google at any time if you’d like copies of the words. So there again, Bremhill had connection with Charles Dickens, so all through the ages Bremhill certainly seems to have had quite a connection with the outside world, even though it is a tiny little village, comparatively so, but it’s done very well.

Well thank you Jim, that’s marvellous and very interesting and thank you for giving some time from your busy schedule and giving us some fascinating insight into St Marti’s Church, Bremhill – 18.25 min

Well if I can just say one or two lines John, Bremhill church, St Martin’s Church is part of a bigger group now as most of the Church of England, we’re part of the Marden Vale Group which starts at Calne, Calne Parish Church and also we are a part of that which includes St Mary’s Calne, Holy Trinity Calne, St Peter's Blackland, St Martin’s Bremhill, St John’s Foxham and also Derry Hill Church. So I’m one of the, I’m retired officially, but I’m one of the team ministers who actually minister in these churches and I’ve been doing it for a long time and it’s a great privilege. Thank you John

And thank you Jim, and also I’d like to say a special thanks to Alan Shellard who has helped us record this interview, thank you gentlemen – 19.22 min