A guide to the church


WELCOME to our beautiful Parish Church. Here, generations of Thorncombe folk have worshipped Almighty God and known His joy and peace. You may like to sit quietly and enjoy the stillness and beauty of this holy place, spending a little time in prayer and reflection. You may wish to learn more about the Church and Parish of Thorncombe by walking round the Church — the centre of the Parish. Enjoy this Parish Church and feel at home in it.



The original Church at Thorncombe was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Bishop Brewster of Exeter in 1239 A.D. The building of the Church, as well as nearby Forde Abbey (found-ed in 1136), was superintended by Cistercian monks from Waverley, Sur-rey. Abbot Chard, alias Tyblis, the last Abbot, was Suffragan Bishop to the Bishop of Exeter from 1508 and was appointed Vicar of Thorncombe in 1529, 10 years before he left Forde Abbey at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. The Rev. John Bragge was Vicar of Thorncombe from 1644 - X 1647, when he was deprived of his Living, probably because he was involved in a Royalist plot against Cromwell, and was transported to Barbados. The old Church stood about 50 yards to the south of the present Church, the site being where the Wellingtonia tree now stands.



Until 1843, the Civil Parish of Thorncombe was in Devon, at which time it was transferred to Dorset. At the same time, it was transferred ecclesiastically from the Diocese of Exeter to the Diocese of Salisbury and, in 1982, it was transferred to the Diocese of Bath and Wells.



Thorncombe takes its name from the Saxon words 'torn' and 'cumb', meaning a 'low ground subject to thorns.' Thorn trees were originally planted at selected spots to mark the site of open air assemblies of Parishes and Hundreds.



The Parish of Thorncombe covers 5,500 acres. Its history goes back many centuries, being mentioned in the Domes-day Book (1083-1086). The Book of the Axe (1875) says that, in 1770, the Old Church at Thorncombe was not large enough to contain 'the fourth part of the inhabitants'. The present Church was built to seat 400. This shows that 200 years ago the population was over 1,600. At that time, the village was a centre for the wool trade and had a thriving lace-making industry. The population was 1,308 in 1851 and 1,189 in 1871. The most recent survey gives a population for the Parish of about 650. Despite this fall in the number of people living in the Parish, the sense of community and the general participation of the inhabitants in the life of the Parish is strong.



The present Church, incorporating a number of items from the old Church, was built in 1886-87 at a cost of £4,000. The Foundation Stone was laid on 26th April 1866 by Margaret Bragge, widow of Col. Bragge of Sadborow, and was dedicated by the Bishop of Salisbury on 15th October 1867. It was built in the Perpendicular style, the windows being modelled on those of the doisters of Forde Abbey. The chief vestiges of the old Church are:


  • the late 14th cent. arch under the Tower 
  • the Font, refixed on a Hamstone pedestal - the old High Altar, a wonderful example of 17th century work, now in the Lady Chapel
  • the early 16th cent. oak Pulpit - the 17th cent. Reading Desk
  • several pew ends carved in the linenfold pattern
  • the Sanctuary Chair, dated 1650
  • the small oak Coffer, dated 1725, standing in the Tower, and used 'to put the Parish Writings in'
  • a wonderful piece of mediaeval brass workmanship to the memory of Sir Thomas and Lady Brooke of Holditch Court, dating from the first part of the 15th cent.one of the finest pieces of church brass in England.
  • the 15th cent. 'Recess' with moulded jambs and 3 centred arch, restored and placed in the North Wall - above the Brooke brass effigy
  • the 18th cent. Weathercock on the Tower



On entering the Church, on the left is the Baptismal Font, from the old Church. Baptism usually takes place during a normal Church service, emphasising the involvement of the newly baptised person, the parents, Godparents and the congregation in the family of God's Church. Behind the Font is the Children's Corner, linking the newly baptised person with those who have been baptised in recent years.


Moving up the centre aisle and approaching the Chancel steps, the 16th cent. Pulpit, transferred from the old Church, is on the left and, on the right, is the 17th cent. Reading Desk.


Continuing towards the Altar, the hatchment on the left is in memory of Capt. John Arthur Bragge, a veteran of the Crimean War. The Bragges were Patrons of the Living from 1576 until 1922. The East Window above the Altar was erected in memory of Wil-liam Bragge, his wife and daughter, and is of the Virgin and Child and St. Joseph, with the Shepherds on one side and the Wise Men on the other. On the left is David and, on the right, Ruth. The window to the North of the East window repre-sents St. Luke and St. John, while the one to the South shows St. Peter and St. Paul. These windows were erected in memory of Charles Eggerton, Vicar of Thorncombe for 40 years, and his wife.


Approaching the Altar, the Sanctuary Chair to the left is dated 1650. The panels behind the Altar are Reredos pain-tings on wood in memory of Canon Bragge, as mentioned on the brass tablet on the South wall of the Church, to the right of the Altar.


Proceeding from the altar toward the Church entrance, the Chantry or Lady Chapel is on the left. This Chapel was, originally, where the servants of the Bragge family had their pews. The Altar is an early 17th cent. Jacobean Communion Table from the old Church. The stained glass win-dow in the South wall is the oldest in the Church, having also come from the old Church.


Also on the left is the Choir Vestry. This was the family pew of the Evans of Forde Abbey, the pews in front being used by the Forde Abbey servants. The Evans' family vault is under the floor of this area and holds a number of lead-lined coffins.


Also to the left is the Golden Disc of St. Mary's Guitars who play regularly in this Church and other Churches in the area — an example of how the Church is bringing the young (and not so young!) into the Body of Christ.


On the right, returning to the Church entrance, is the Organ. This was given to the Church by the Parish in 1967 and cost £3,000.


Also on the right, under the ‘Recess’ in the North wall, is the Brooke brass effigy, dating from the first half of the 15th cent. It is a likeness of Sir Thomas and Lady Brooke of Holditch Court, 3 miles from the Church, and is in their memory.

The stained glass window in the middle of the North Wall is in memory of Canon Bragge. The kneelers in the Church were dedicated in 1984 and represent the Bendicite. The idea originated with V the Hon. Mrs. E.M. Eyre to mark Alix the amal amation of the Parishes of [ii ‘ Thorncogibe, Winsham and Cricket St. Thomas and the move of Thomcombe into the Diocese of Bath and ‘Alf ‘ - Wells in 1982. 100 kneelers were worked in just over 2 years, the ages of the embroiderers, which included 3 men, ranging from 12 years old to over 80 years old.


When first hung, the 5 bells in the old Church were the heaviest ring of 5 bells in the Diocese of Salisbury, the second heaviest in England and the fourth heaviest in the world, the total weight being almost 3 tons. The oldest bell is dated 1613. It is said that the bells were buried in the Churchyard whilst the Tower of the present Church was being built. The Tenor Bell, recast in 1936, bears the inscription:  


I to the Church the living call And to the grave do summon all.


In 1962, with the help of the Barron Bell Trust and local inhabitants, the bells were increased to a peal of eight and rehung. 


The Tower is surmounted by the 18th cent. Weathercock from the old Church.


The most notable items of Church Plate (not displayed in the Church for reasons of security) include:

  • an Elizabethan Chalice and Cover - 1571
  • a George I Paten - 1718
  • a George I Flagon, given by Elizabeth Bragge - 1722
  • a George II Salver, given by Rev. Thos. Cooke, Vicar 1725
  • a George III Goblet - 1819
  • a Silver Trowel used at the Dedication of the new Church 1866
  • a 17th cent.-style silver plated dish. given by the Bragge family - 1915
  • an Alms Dish given by the Bragge family - 1924
  • a Wafer Box, given by Rev. Richardson - 1936.


The Bragge family were the owners of Sadborow Estate (of which most of Thorncombe, including the Church, was part) from 1576 and, as it was the tradition for the elder son to go into the Army and inherit the Estate and for the younger son to go to University and become a Minister, the List of Incumbents (on the wall near the Font) includes several members of the Bragge family. Indeed, starting in 1644, six Bragges held the Living for 131 years out of the next 280 years.


Another Vicar, Samuel Hood (appointed 1751), who married a lady from Beaminster, was the father of two celebrated Admirals - Samuel Viscount Hood and Alexander Viscount Bridport. There are several memorials to this family in the Church of Cricket St. Thomas, a few miles away.


DONATIONS towards the considerable cost of the upkeep of the Church will be gratefully received and may be deposited in the Offerings Box by the Font.

Grateful thanks to Mrs. I. Hanchard-Owen, Rev. B. Sutton, Mr. A.E.O. Jordan, Mr. W.E. Potter and Mr. E.A. Vicke for information and advice in the preparation of this Guide. Also to Mr. A.A.C. Hunter and Mrs. R.M.S. Hunter for the illustrations.

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