Looking back through history

Church House today

Church House today - Credit: submitted

Church House is a beautiful and recently renovated 16th century building situated in the Quantock Hills, in the heart of West Somerset.

Church House 1907

Church House 1907 - Credit: submitted

It is Grade 2* listed and one of the two surviving church houses in Somerset.

These days Church House is a venue for wedding receptions, family parties, art exhibitions, craft fairs and meetings of one kind or another.

This year it is celebrating its 500th birthday, more than 100 years of charitable status and a recent refurbishment of its facilities.

Church House was built around 1513 and was listed in 1907.

Until the early 16th century all village community events were held in the nave of the church.

However party-going within the church became seen as ‘inappropriate’, so the solution was to build Church House for the secular celebrations and fundraising events of the village.

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The word went around that parishes should each build their own church house and a great number were built in the West Country.

A deed dated 1515 granted Church House to the parish.

For Crowcombe’s fundraising activities that were held in Church House, the ale was brewed downstairs together with the baking of the bread.

Post-reformation the combination of a view that secular amusements should not take place on Sundays and the development of new ways of raising money for the upkeep of the church led to the gradual demise of church houses.

So in the 1600s Church House became a poor house downstairs and a school room upstairs.

The social and economic upheavals of the late 18th and early 19th centuries put an unbearable strain on resources for the poor.

A union was formed with Williton in 1836 and a work house was built in Long Street, Williton.

However, the Poor Law Amendment Act was not wholly enforced and the two cottages adjacent to Church House on the east side continued to accommodate two men and one woman.

In 1849 the vestry sold the cottages and moved the three occupants to the ground floor of Church House.

Over the next 30 years Church House fell into disrepair and by 1907 it was close to becoming derelict.

Major fundraising took place to rebuild the roof and make it watertight.

In World War Two Church House was used as a canteen for soldiers who manned the searchlight batteries on the Quantocks. Dances and concerts were regularly held too.

After the war the ground floor was used by the County Meals Service and the children from the school had their midday meals there.

The cottages adjacent to Church House were demolished in 1963 as part of a road widening scheme.

In the 1980s/90s the building was again rescued. The roof was retiled, and an internal staircase installed.

A major refurbishment of the premises took place in 2007. The combination of £20,000 generated by enthusiastic local fundraising and individual donations, together with £50,000 of much appreciated grants, has enabled the improvements to be seen today.