about_int2There has been a church on the site of St Mary’s for roughly 1,000 years. The Saxon Church was standing in 1066 and in 1086 it was held for the King by Nigel the Physician (as mentioned in the Domesday Book). In order to rule effectively, the King of Wessex had to see and be seen, and so was constantly travelling around his kingdom, which covered Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset and Hampshire.

Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury gave the church to Salisbury Cathedral in 1091. The church was served by chaplains until 1241, when a vicarage was ordained. Almost certainly, the 12th century Norman church was situated on the site of the old Saxon church. Nowadays, nothing really remains of the Saxon church except perhaps a small fragment on the north side of the nave.

The church is Perpendicular in style and is mainly post medieval, constructed of ashlar and limestone rubble. The late 12th century nave has many later additions. The light airy clerestory belongs to the 14th and 15th centuries. Corbels of Kings and Bishops heads hold up the fine roof dating from about the same time.

The original central tower and steeple fell on 21st April 1628 causing much damage to the east end of the church. It is believed that Inigo Jones had a hand in the design of the new tower and chancel, and by 1650 the north transept and the chancel, complete with a higher roof and rounded arches had been reconstructed. The new tower was built in 1697.

In 1715 a singers’ gallery was converted for the use of both the lessee of Bowood Park and the owner of Studley Manor and, between the north and south doors at the west end of the church a new singers’ gallery was built. There were other galleries around the interior walls which were later removed to make the building lighter and more spacious.

The tower has a peal of eight bells in D major and a Sanctus bell which is the oldest and is pre-reformation, probably cast in 1500 AD. There was an earlier peal of bells in the original tower, but it is presumed that these were damaged when the tower fell in 1628.

The existing peal were cast and installed at a variety of times. The old third, which now sits at the west end of the church, was cast in 1658. The current treble and fifth date from 1707 and the old sixth from 1717. All the bells were rehung in 1929 and the tenor was recast in 1989.

All the bells have inscriptions, for example on the sixth, which includes:

I call the living mourn the dead. I tell when days and years are fled.

The clock is ‘Flat Bed Turret Clock’ dated as being presented in 1848 by the Earl of Shelburne.  The maker’s name on the clock is EJ Dent of London, who is also the maker of the clock in the Houses of Parliament, known as ‘Big Ben’.  The clock room is above the bell ringing chamber and below the bell chamber, a climb of over 80 steps.

A clock ‘wind’ involves checking the accuracy of the clock and making adjustments as required.  Time is usually maintained to plus or minus 90 seconds of Greenwich.  At each visit the winder also has to raise three separate weights, the heaviest of which is nearly 2cwt to a position just under the bell chamber.   Each weight is carried on a cable running through pulleys onto its own winding drum in the clock frame.  This winding has to be carried out manually.  A full wind from the bottom of the weight well to their position under the bell chamber is about 50 feet.  The two heavier weights provide the drive for the quarter hour and hour chimes, whilst the lightest provides the drive for the clock itself.  The clock is wound twice a week, usually Monday and Thursday.  To do this St Mary’s currently has a team of five regular winders.

The clock is registered with the Antiquarian Horological Society as part of their project to record and document as many turret clocks as possible in the UK.  Servicing of the clock is carried out annually by the Cumbrian Clock Company.  Following their advice the team were able to, in March 2014, repair a frayed cable on the quarter hour striking train saving an expenditure of about £300.


Charles Robert Ashbee was an English designer and entrepreneur who was a prime mover of the Arts and Crafts movement that took its craft ethic from the works of John Ruskin and its co-operative structure from the socialism of William Morris.  He designed the beautiful screen in St Edmond’s chapel and the fabulous organ casing.

The screen in St Edmond’s chapel depicts the three wise men and Mary. The three wise men are based on the grand old scientist Sir Francis Galton, the father of eugenics; the middle-aged George Bernard Shaw; and the youthful H G Wells, with his new interpretation of science. The interesting thing about these three is the fact that none of them was a believer in God.

The organ was donated by Henry George Harris in 1908 at a cost of £2048 and was built by P A Conacher & Co of Huddersfield. The case of grey oak was commissioned from Miller & Hart of Chipping Camden and designed by Ashbee. The casing has medieval and 17th century motifs and was made at the Campden Guild at a cost of £200.

The organ originally had five manuals and this was reduced to four in 1963 by Conacher & Co. When it was inaugurated in February 1908 there was an eight-day festival of services and a dedication service on 19th February.


The large east window was given by Miss Eleanor Gabriel in 1891 and depicts Christ in Glory. The four sections show:

  • The Glorious Company of Apostles
  • The Goodly Fellowship of Prophets
  • The Noble Army of Martyrs, and
  • The Holy Church Throughout the World.

The west window was given by Lord Crew in memory of his mother, Henrietta Maria Hungerford Crew in 1867.

The north facing 3-light windows at the west end of the church are almost certainly by Charles Clutterbuck (1806 – 1861). The medallions were copied from well known cartoons by Raphael and the glass is mid-19th century.

The magnificent window in the north transept (see right) is in memory of Charles Mercer-Nairn, the son of the Marquis of Lansdown, who was killed at Ypres in 1914. The window is by Christopher Whall whose work is renowned throughout the world.


Saint Edmund (1175 – 1240)

Saint Edmund was born in Abingdon and was sometimes known as Edmund Rich. He lived in turbulent times, over the reigns of Richard the Lionheart, King John with the signing of the Magna Carta, and Henry III. He was appointed to Salisbury as cathedral treasurer, in which role he was faced with the cares of the extensive building works then in progress.

He was also given the task of ministering to the small town of Calne, so for several months each year he was found attending to the spiritual needs of the Parishioners and fulfilling the many tasks of an incumbent living in a rural area.

Edmund was a great scholar and teacher at Oxford University. He was in Calne when the monks came from Canterbury to inform him that he had been elected as Archbishop, a role that he had apparently refused several times before. He was ordained as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1234. He died in 1240 while travelling in France, and was canonised by Pope Innocent IV in 1247.

Robert Grosseteste

Robert was vicar of Calne in 1221 and then achieved fame by becoming Bishop of Lincoln from 1235 to 1253. As Bishop he was a great reformer of the Church, and although from peasant stock from Suffolk, he rose to eminence at Oxford University where he became Chancellor.

He visited Rome and spoke out about the iniquities and abuses in the Church. He was constantly in conflict with the Pope and lived in fear of excommunication. Robert was a prolific author noted for his reforming zeal and condemnation of Miracle Plays and May Festivals. He was present at the signing of the Magna Carta.