I had to go to Steeple Ashton today (where I took a photograph of the blind house) so on the way home I stopped to visit the substantial Edington Priory Church. A place I have passed countless times but never entered.
I parked up at the church and first went for a short walk to have a look at the Monks Conduit (also called Ladywell) which is by the B3098 that passes through the village. We mentioned this in Podcast #3 when we talked about Bratton and Edington. You have to walk along the main road, where there are no pavements, but it's a relatively short stretch before you get to the right of way down to the conduit. The site is easy to find at the moment as a lot of trees and scrub have been cleared. There are sawn logs and wood shavings everywhere. It's a bit muddy and slippy and the conduit is not visible at first. However if you go all the way down to the bottom right of the site you will find it. I took a photograph of the exterior and the interior. The water emerges from a small pipe on the back wall and flows into the stone trough before trickling out through the doorway.
I returned to the church via the footpath that leads from a lane to the west of the church back to the car park. Alongside this footpath can be seen a substantial manor house and gardens, as well as the fish ponds that were once part of the priory. The ponds are one of the few things left following the destruction of the priory after the Dissolution. The house is owned by the American Chad Pike who has invested a lot of money in the Three Daggers pub and farm shop in Edington. As I was to find out later he also made a sizeable donation to the fund to restore the church organ. I was also told that he spends little time in the village. He made his fortune working for the private equity firm Blackstone and spends most of his time living in Florida apparently. He also owns a house in London so I'm not sure there's much chance of bumping into him in the village!
I entered the churchyard via the curious stone gateway. I was a bit puzzled by the design of this. It looks like it's been designed to admit only dogs but it's of such an age I can't imagine they would have gone to that extravagance then. Perhaps it was designed to admit only thin worshippers? If anyone can shed any light on this please let me know.
After walking round the church yard (behind which is another beautiful and very old house which looked to be having a new roof) I entered the church. Frankly I was completely taken back by its size and beauty. I was fortunate that one of the voluntary team who look after the church was in there having a meeting with two guys from a lighting company. They have been charged with designing improved lighting for the church so all the lights were turned on for my visit. Frankly I thought the lighting was already lovely.
Whilst the lighting engineers made notes I explored the church. I then went to have a chat with the guy who was hosting the meeting whilst he waited for the engineers. I had an interesting 20 minutes talking to him. He explained that the 14th century church was so big because it was the priory church. It survived the Dissolution in the 16th century simply because it was the parish church as well as being the priory church.
There are two stone effigies in the church that were relocated from the St Giles' Church, Imber when it was evacuated during the Second World War. I was curious as to why the effigies had been relocated here since it was my understanding that Imber was in the parish of Heytesbury. However, the full name for the Parish of Edington is in fact the Parish of Edington and Imber, yet Imber is in the civil parish of Heytesbury. Just to confuse matters further the font from St Giles was relocated to the church at Brixton Deverill.
Anyway, the well worn effigies are of knights of the Rous family of Imber, possibly of John de Rous himself who was chamberlain to Henry II.
Next I came to the richly coloured 15th century tomb of an unknown monk. It's thought likely that he was from the Order of Bonnehommes who occupied the priory for hundreds of years. Various clues around the tomb have led people to suggest that his name may have been Baynton. But there is an Upper and Lower Baynton to the east of Edington so perhaps either he gave his name to those places or vice versa? Nevertheless he must have been of some importance to warrant such a lavish tomb.
Next I came to the even more grand tomb of Sir Edward Lewis and his wife Anne "Lady Beauchamp" Lewis. Sir Edward of Van in Glamorgan was a man of some substance having been a member of the privy chamber of first Prince Henry and then, upon his death, the heir apparent who later became Charles I. Sir Edward died in 1630 but curiously both he and Anne (who was the widow of Edward Lord Beauchamp) were both born in Wales. Sir Edward died in Edington in 1630. Anne died in 1664 in her birthplace of Brecon but was buried in Edington with her husband.
I took two photographs trying to capture the entire interior of the church, and in particular its magnificent roof. But I also kept a close eye on what lay at my feet. There are several inscribed stones which are almost impossible to read but one caught my eye - it simply said "Have Mynde".
There were other tombs and effigies in the church that I couldn't reach to photograph. All I can suggest is that you go and see for yourself. A date for your diary is the music festival that takes place every year in the church during the week leading up to the August Bank Holiday. There's a Zoom meeting tomorrow (Saturday 20 February) to discuss the format for this year's festival. It's possible the 2021 festival will simply be the Festival of Light. How appropriate.