A church has been standing on this site since the end of the eleventh century. Records show that the manor and church of East Chinnock were endowed to the Cluniac Priory at Montacute when it was founded by William, Earl of Mortaine (1091-1106). It remained in the possession of the Priory until its dissolution in 1538-39, after which it was granted to Sir Richard Moryson, who, in 1551, sold it to Stephen Hales. In 1561 it was sold to Henry Portman, remaining in the Portman family until 1924 when lands and property belonging to the estate were sold. The oldest surviving parts of the church are the tower, south porch, south wall and chancel.
The conspicuous tower is fifteenth century. It rises in three stages to a height of 63'10" (nearly 20 metres), having 96 steps leading out onto the roof with a battlemented parapet. The tower clock, with two dials facing west and north, was dedicated in 1919 and paid for by public subscription as a memorial to those who died in the first world war. There are five bells, the oldest dated 1659, hanging in a timber frame.
The exterior of the church is typical medieval Somerset work. The porch and south doorway go back to the thirteenth century. To the left of the entrance is a scarcely legible date "A.1684", which refers to work done at that time. At one time the porch was used as a vestry. In 1840 the outer gates were sold, the arch built up and a window inserted. It was reopened in 1892.
The nave was originally half its present width. An old plan of the church shows the layout in 1835 with a door on the old north wall opposite the present south door and windows corresponding to those on the south wall. At the west end was a gallery reached by a staircase which passed through the window in the west wall. At that time the timber roof was found to be in a serious condition and with a growing population of 700 it was decided to enlarge the church by taking down the north wall and setting it back to its present position.
The nave pews are made of Kauri timber. This had been sent back from New Zealand as ballast in the ships which took families out from East Chinnock and the surrounding area to make a better life for themselves, following the decline in living standards of the farming community in the 1840's.
The stone pulpit was given by Lord Portman about 1877 to replace a previous wooden three decker pulpit. The vestry and organ chamber were added to the north side of the chancel at this time.
The oak screen, by the vestry, was erected in 1955 to the memory of George J. Baker Rendall who was a chorister for seventy years and churchwarden for thirty.
Stonework on the south side may rouse suspicion and a glance outside will confirm that here was once a priest's door. The piscina, once concealed, was re-instated in 1877.
St. Mary's Bells
The bells are anti-clockwise minor 5, unique in this country.
On Christmas Eve 2009 a peal was rung for 3 hours 5 minutes and many favourable comments have followed. This was only the second time a peal has been rung according to the records. At the first in 1936, Bill Turner, late of Hardington Mandeville, was among the ringers. The bells used to be rung on the first floor until the memorial clock was installed and since then they have been rung from the ground floor.
The Original 13th Century Font
The font is made of ham stone and is unusually low, the bowl is octagonal but the sides are rounded at the base to a moulded necking. The stem is a short circular column rising from a well formed water-holding moulding.
George Ganden's Chair
George Ganden was the headmaster of East Chinnock school for 27 years. He was appointed in February 1878 and there is a chair to his memory in St. Mary's Church.
The Ancient Yew In The Churchyard
By measuring the girth of the tree its age can be estimated at between 700-900 years. This would be commensurate with the age of the church itself. It has a large clean bole, with fluting and buttressing and many large branches from 8ft. It's a male tree and its girth is 572cm at 30cm or 18'9" at 1ft.
The tree has been recognised by the Ancient Yew Group and is noted on their website. For anyone interested their website is: