The church of St Nicolas, consisting of chancel, clerestoried nave, aisles, south porch and west tower with short timber spire, is sited on rising ground and the fabric itself follows the upward slope from west to east so that the levels of the windows are on a slant and the capitals of the piers of the arcades are parallel to the floor level.

On the other hand, the roof of the south aisle is set at a fixed level with the result that the eastern portion of the aisle appears considerably lower than the west end. the same effect is apparent outside. The fabric is, it would seem, entirely of late mediaeval date but not of one build.

north arcade of four bays is all quite uniform in character but the south, on the other hand, is most irregular, the easternmost arch being much wider than those in the north; this peculiarity would suggest that there may have been a transeptal chapel on this side before the aisle was added. What adds greatly to the confusion on this side is the fact that the three remaining arches vary considerably in span, which suggests faulty setting out.

The tower is of pleasing outline with bold projecting buttresses and a low lead-covered timber spire. The most striking feature is the arcaded parapet with a niche of each side; this treatment occurs also at Croscombe, Wraxall and elsewhere in Somerset. The late Dr. F. J. A. Allen, the great authority on Somerset towers, believed that the spire was originally higher and covered the whole of the top of the tower, but as a result of decay in the timber, the ends were sawn off and the spire reconstructed in the shortened form. The lower part of the south wall has a smooth ashlar facing, which is believed to date the beginning of the 19th century so as to be suitable for playing fives, a purpose for which church towers were often used in the Georgian era, especially in Somerset. It was to discourage this practice that fives-court walls came to be erected, often near the local inn. They resembled the gable end of a barn; good Somerset examples occur at Castle-Cary, Milbourne Port (double) and Stoke-Sub-Hamdon.On the west face of the tower are four canopied niches, two flanking the west doorway and one each side of the window above, all now, alas, deprived of the sculptured figures they once contained.

A feature of the exterior are the parapets to aisles, chancel, clerestory and tower, which hear and in many other Somerset churches add much to the finished elegance of the external appearance. Here three rarities occur; plain (north aisle), blind arcaded (south aisle and tower) and pierced quatrefoil (chancel and clerestory). The windows show a great variety of tracery design which is by no means invariably the case with late mediaeval work; those of the clerestory, curiously enough look earlier than the rest, though in point of fact they are probably the latest. It has been suggested that they are actually post mediaeval and this is possible as there was a tendency to revive tracery of the 14th century in the early 17th century. The present writer, however is of the opinion that they are more probably mid-16th century, Note the Holy Water stoup on the right of the west doorway.


The Church of St Nicholas, West Pennard


SIAMS Report