The History of St. John The Baptist Church (1)
The 11th Century

The Church in 1050

During the 10th century it was popularly believed that the world would end at the year 1000 (the millennium) and consequently very little permanent building work was carried out in the latter half of that century.
However, when the year 1000 Came and went uneventfully there was a great revival in building, particularly of churches, and our parish church owes its origin to this period, the llth century.
It is possible that the original Saxon church, although primarily of timber, may have contained one portion in stone, which could have been incorporated into the new church when it was built alongside the old.
This could account for the odd alignment of the old north transept (See Figure below), which is still discernible in the present building in the most easterly arch of the north arcade.
11th Century Floor Plan

The original llth century church (Above) is thought to have been begun in about the year 1050, and to have been cruciform in plan.
Evidence of the north transept still exists, but there is no definite evidence of a similar south transept. Much of the south wail of the north transept still remains and its south west corner is marked by a break in the wall above the present pulpit, and a corresponding straight joint in the masonry of the clerestory walling above is visible externally, although partially obscured by a rainwater pipe.
The arch between the nave and the north transept seems to have been reformed or enlarged in the following 12th century, but the still existing stone corbel above it supported the original lower nave roof, and indicates that the transept was higher than the nave.
The outline of the east gable of the original nave can be still seen in the remaining raking string courses externally above the chancel roof, and the east wall of the present nave on either side of the chancel arch is doubtless original.
On the south side, below the later hagioscope, are the remains of the jamb of an opening which may have been the south jamb of the original chancel arch or of a flanking recess.
To the left of and above the hagioscope there is an original ornamented arch stone (See Photograph below), and a similar one occurs in the outside wall of the rebuilt south porch, both of which may have formed part of the original chancel arch or flanking recesses.
Apart from possibly the core of the westerly square pier of the north arcade which marked the north west corner of the original nave, no other parts of the original ilth century church remain in situ above floor level, having been removed in subsequent extensions
South Hagioscope

Although the original chancel has been entirely removed its former dimensions are known, as an excavation carried out in August 1963 revealed portions of its foundations in the form of large flints bound together with a mixture of chalk and clay.
It can be seen (Diagram below) that the later chancel was for some reason built with its central axis a little north of that of the nave, and it was thought possible that the original chancel might have been on the same axis and of the same width as the original nave, and that if this were so, the foundation walling would have lain outside the perimeter of the present building along the south wall of the chancel.
13th Century Floor Plan

This proved to be the case and the foundations began to appear at a depth of about 1 foot (30cm) below the existing ground level.
Although somewhat disturbed and displaced by grave digging close under the chancel wall at various times in the past, sufficient remained to show that the original chancel was some lft. 3in. (37cm) wider than the present chancel, and therefore the same width as the original nave.
Its length was 18ft. 6in. (5.5m) coinciding approximately with the present step in the chancel floor at the altar rail.
A trial excavation on the north side to discover confirmatory evidence was abandoned when 1875 concrete underpinning was encountered.


The 12th Century




About the middle of the 12th century, just after the pointed arch had been introduced, but when traditional Norman ornament was still being used, sometimes known as the Transitional Period, the original cruciform church was enlarged by forming an arcade of three arches in the south wall of the nave and adding a narrow south aisle (See Figure below).


Mid 12th Century Floor Plan

The aisle itself has disappeared through subsequent enlargement, but the mid 12th century arcade still remains.
Originally it terminated in semi-circular attached half columns at each end, and although that at the east end has since been replaced, the half column at the west end remains, as it was retained and incorporated as part of a subsequent isolated column.
The two central columns are circular with square capitals and bases, and are interesting for the carvings at the corners of the capitals (Photographs below) depicting (A) a man's head with mouth held open by the hands, popularly held to represent a sufferer from toothache, (B and C) a man's head with a hand held to the forehead, popularly considered as representing headache, (D) a dog biting the ear of a wolf or bear, believed to represent the mediaeval sport of bear-baiting, (E) a crowned head, and (F) a monkey. One of the carvings (B) appears to be an 1875 restoration, but the remainder are original.
There is a nail head patterned architrave over the arches on the nave side, and two carved heads (G and H) occur above the intersections of the arches on the aisle side.

Click the image below to view the album, (click left side of an image or the right side to traverse through the album)

(Top Row L-R - A,B,C. Middle Row - D,E,F, Bottom Row - G,H)

The crowned head on one of the capitals (E) in association with the mediaeval sporting scene at one time gave rise to the supposition that the building of this arcade and aisle was financed by King John who frequently visited Bere Regis, but this cannot be so, as the arcade must have been built at least 40 years before the beginning of his reign.
At the end of the 12th century the church was further enlarged by forming an arcade in the north wall of the nave and adding a similar narrow north aisle (See Figure below).
Again, the three arches remain, and although similar in shape and size to their counterparts on the south they are devoid of ornament and carving, and the outside arches sprang from corbels in the end walls instead of from half columns.
This corbelled springer remains in situ at the east end, and the painted consecration cross below it is thought to date from about 1200, probably marking the completion of this arcade.
Late 12th Century Floor Plan

This north arcade terminated at its east end against the original north transept, and as the east end of the earlier south arcade terminated at a similar point, this suggests that it did so for the same reason and gives indirect evidence for the existence of a south transept also in the original building.
The font (Left Photograph below) is often referred to as being Norman and therefore of the lith century, but it is now generally considered to belong to the 12th century.
The bowl is original and shallowly carved with interlacing semi-circular arches and star shaped flower patterns (right Photograph below), but the stem and base were added in 1875 to replace the original roughly hewn rock like base, when it was removed from its former position in the north aisle.

The Font & Font Detail
The Church was starting to take the form we see it in today
The 13th Century



The only portion of definite 13th century work now remaining consists of the lower portion of the chancel east window, identifiable by the attached circular shafts on the mullions and reveals internally, typical of this century.
This window may of course have been inserted in the east wall of the original smaller chancel and subsequently re-used, but if it is in original position, then the chancel must have been rebuilt to its present extent in the 13th century.
The picture below shows this window (internally & externally) with the top replaced in 1875.
The Chancel
Most of the features in the present chancel are of the 15th century, and its outside facing is of the same date, but this could result from the partial rebuilding and general renovations which were carried out at that time.
The piscina, with double bowl and shelf at the east end of the chancel (Photograph below) is of the 14th century and further suggests that the enlarged chancel must be earlier than the 15th century, but again this feature could have been removed from a former position and re-used.
14th Century Piscina
The present chancel arch may be of the 13th or 14th century, but the original llth century arch could have been removed and replaced by the present larger one independently of the rebuilding and enlargement of the chancel itself.
The springing stone of this arch on the south side is rather curious and appears to have originally served some other purpose, perhaps in association with stone vaulting.
13th Century Floor Plan

The Church in 1250



It is considered by some authorities that the westerly arch in each of the two nave arcades belongs to the end of this century, and that the nave and both narrow aisles were therefore extended to the west at this time.
In spite of the appearance of the work, the arches are rather large both in span and height for such narrow aisles, and the completeness of the existing west wall of the south aisle (visible internally when plaster was removed for repairs in 1969) suggest that this extension westward was carried out after or at the same time as the widening of the south aisle in the following 14th century.
Also in 1969, when the ground level was reduced against the wall around the west end of the south aisle to minimise rising damp, the lower parts of the walling including a double plinth were exposed, and although the plinth is somewhat irregular there are no signs that the wall was built at two different periods.





The 14th Century




The 14th CenturyThe Church in 1320

The Turbervilles, as lords of the manor were probably largely responsible for the 14th century work which seems to have been confined mainly to the south aisle.
Their family fortunes and influence appear to have been increasing during this century, and they used the south aisle as their family chapel with its burial vault below.
In addition to the work on the south aisle, the whole building, including the nave and both aisles was extended westward to its present extent by constructing large additional arches at the west end of each nave arcade.
On the north side where the 12th century arcade terminated at a wall corbel springer a square pier was formed, but on the south the semi-circular half column was converted into a complete isolated column by building a new half against it, and the two styles of work can still be clearly seen in this column.
A new west wall was then built at the end of the nave, probably containing a west door and window above, which has since been removed.

14th Century Floor Plan



At the time of this westward extension the 12th century narrow north aisle had not been widened, and the extension was therefore a narrow one, necessitating a complete rebuilding of this section in the 15th century when the whole aisle was widened.
However a small portion of the west wall was retained and can be seen externally, together with part of the jamb and sill of the west window, just south of the present north aisle west window.
North Aisle west window
The north doorway  belongs to this century, but it has since been re-used in a new position
The North Doorway
It is difficult to reconcile the westward extension of the whole building and the widening of the south aisle.
If as is generally believed the westward extension was carried out in about 1300, then both aisles would have been in their narrow 12th century form, and the westward extensions would therefore have been of the same width.
This was quite clearly so on the north side, but on the south the widening of the aisle appears to have occurred before or at the same time as the westward lengthening.
The date of the west end of the south aisle is therefore uncertain, especially as a small window in the south wall at this end was replaced in 1875, and a new one inserted in the formerly windowless west wall.
The work on the rest of the south aisle can however be definitely assigned to the 14th century. The supposed original south transept and 12th century narrow south aisle were removed. and a new wider aisle built.
At the east end a new arch was constructed between the nave and aisle where the north wall of the transept had been, and the old half column at the eastend of the 12th century arcade was probably converted into a complete column as at the west end, but it has since been rebuilt.
The east window was probably small and similar to the centre one on the south (See photograph below - click to enlarge), but it has twice been replaced since the 14th century.
South Aisle 14th Century window
It was at this time that the south hagioscope (right photograph below) was formed to give a view into the chancel, and is interesting for its original iron grill, but the hagioscope on the north side (left photograph below) is no more than a roughly cut tunnel-like opening of indeterminate date.


Northern & Southern Hagioscopes
The whole of the upper portion of this 14th century south aisle has since been rebuilt and the only original features remaining lie in the lower portions, including the piscina (below, 1 st row left), part of a wall recess (below, 1st row right), the centre south window, a low recessed altar tomb (below, 2nd row left), and the south door (below, 2nd row right).
Three other windows in this aisle of 14th century appearance were added in 1875.
A Piscina & a Wall recess
An Altar Tomb & the Southern Door

During repairs to plasterwork in 1969, two interesting features were revealed in the lower part of the south wall of this aisle.
The portion of wall recess, referred to above, could be seen to be almost exactly half of the original and was probably partially bricked up when the additional doorway was cut in the south wall, and a small bricked up fireplace recess could be seen immediately east of the low altar tomb.
It was lft. 6in. (45cm) wide, 3ft. 8in. (110cm) high, and spanned by a brick segmental arch supported on a flat section iron bar, and was probably originally associated with the lord of the manor's pew enclosure.
It is very probable that in either the 13th or 14th centuries the original north transept was heightened to form a tower, and would account for the retention of this part of the original building until the present west tower was added in about 1500.
It would also account for the distortion which has occurred in the arch between the transept and the nave at some time in the past, and which is still apparent.
It is also unlikely that a church which had by the 14th century become so large, should have been without a tower. Canford Magna church (see photograph below) for example has its existing tower in just this position - the easternmost bay of the north aisle-where the llth century north transept was subsequently heightened.
Canford Magna Church

The 15th Century




The Church in 1486

The roof loft appears to have been added at the beginning of this century, and the three surviving supporting stone corbels show it to have been an exceptionally large one occupying the whole of the eastern bay of the nave.
The remaining rear corbel is plain, but the two front ones are ornamented with carved figures and date from about 1400.
15th Century Floor Plan
Two old wooden seats in the chancel which belong to the early part of this century contain linenfold panelling, and the side of one of them shows evidence of once having had a curved seat, usual in times when clergy were not allowed to sit (at least comfortably) during services.
15th Century wooden seats
During the restoration work of 1875, signs of a previous fire were said to have been observed, and it seems probable that such a fire might have occurred about the middle of the 15th century.
Apart from improvements and extensions, a great deal of rebuilding of existing work was carried out, much of it only dating from the previous century.
It appears that in 1450 money was being collected for the repair of the chancel, and shortly afterwards it seems to have been largely rebuilt as a result.
Any existing windows were replaced, and new ones were added (See photograph below), but the lower portion of the 13th century east window was retained and a typical 15th century traceried top added, which may also be seen in pre 1875 engravings and photographs.
Chancel 15th Century North & South windows
At the same time a priest's door was added in the south wall (See photograph below), decorated with carved paterae, and the whole of the external walling appears to have been refaced or rebuilt.
15th Century Priest's Door
The large amount of work carried out during the last quarter of the 15th century is thought to have been due to the influence of Cardinal Morton who was a native of Bere Regis, having been born at Milborne Stileham which then formed part of this parish, and who was said to have been "much given to building".
In about 1485 the old nave roof was removed and replaced by a new one at a higher level, incorporating clerestry walling and windows with trefoil headed double lights (See photograph below).
The old north transept which had probably developed into a tower, was retained however, and the joint in the masonry where the new clerestory walling abutted it can still be seen externally.
It also meant that at this point there could be no clerestory window, and the one which now exists in this position can be seen by its plain top to have been inserted early in the following century when the tower was removed.
15th Century Clerestry walling & windows

Cinquefoil Headed window & Triangular Headed window
The late 15th century work cannot be left without considering the magnificent nave roof of about 1485 in greater detail.
As it is so unique for this part of the country, there is a separate section covering the roof alone .