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History of The Church of St. James the Great, Dauntsey, Wiltshire
The following is copied from a leaflet available inside the church.
It was put together by Robin and Joan Slade with input from other
church members – their information coming from church documents.
Our thanks go to them for allowing it to be copied here
ST. JAMES' DAUNTSEY
"Except a man be born of water and of the spirit he cannot enter into
the Kingdom of God"
A church with much character and legend, it can be accurately dated back to 1177
when it was claimed by Malmesbury Abbey. However, since the Abbey had granted
its Dauntsey estate in fee by 1086 and since the manor house and estate was later tithe
free, it is possible that Dauntsey church was built before the Norman conquest of
1066 and at that time belonged to the Abbey, having given it away in 1086 it was then
reclaimed in 1177. Then or later, but before 1263, the Abbey gave up its claim to the
church: the benefice became a rectory gifted to the Lord of the manor. As with many
rural parish churches, the history and development of the church is intimately
connected with that of these Lords. Parish priests can be traced back to as early as the
13th century. In 1961 the living was united with Brinkworth rectory.
1763 heralded the renaming of Dauntsey church – it became, as we know it today, 'St.
James the Great of Dauntsey'. Although it stands within the precincts of Dauntsey
Park the church is approached via a lane at the rear.
We enter the Church on the south side, and directly walk into a church whose obvious
history cries out to be investigated. Directly opposite, above the north door, hang the
Royal Coat of Arms* of George II; a possible reason for this could be that from 1611
the King was patron by lapse (negligence), as was the Bishop of Salisbury in 1757.
The earliest remaining parts of the church are the doorways and doors on the north
and south entrances - they date from the 12th century. It is believed the nave is also
from that same period. The aisles, arcades and porches were added in the 14th century
with the possibility that they were refurbished in the 15th or early 16th century, but
kept in the style of the 14th century on the orders of Henry Earl of Danby (d. 1644).
The tower, which contains a peal of five bells, was built in 1630, probably by Sir
Henry Danvers. The pews situated directly in front of the tower are from early last
century, 1906, when the roof and aisles were renewed. At this time the tympanum
(Doom board*) was discovered under stone slabs by the north porch doorway.
Looking now to the east, the nave and aisles house several rows of 17th century pews
in 15th century ends. Over the eastern bay of the nave is a finely panelled ceiling with
angel bosses. These are a rare feature in a country church they are normally found in
larger town churches. The Rood screen is 17th century with 14th century tracery
consisting of delicate vine leafs and bunches of grapes. It is believed that the panels
on the pulpit are English of around the 14th century. The windows to the north and
south, believed to be from around the 14th century, have an apex of ogree lights with
blank spandrels within a square frame. The bottom section of the windows to the
right still have their original square openers.
Along the centre and transverse aisle are some interesting if well worn tomb slabs.
More are to be found partially showing under the choir stalls and one rarity written in
Latin beneath a radiator on the north wall in front of the chapel.
The earliest monument in the church lies in the chancel: It is an alabaster slab
immediately in front and to the north of the Communion Table. It is to Joan
Dauntesey, who died in 1455, and to her third husband John Dervale, who
predeceased her. Joan was the daughter of Sir John Dauntesey who died in 1413 and
it was through her that the Dauntsey estate went to the Stradling family. Dauntsey
folklore relates that the parish priest named Cuthbert murdered Edward, the last male
member of the Stradling family. The murderer was caught on the evidence of a
kitchen boy who had hid in an oven and was an eyewitness. Cuthbert was starved to
death in a cage hanging from a tree in the Rectory gardens, whilst his two
accomplices were buried up to their necks in the entrance to the Manor gardens.
There are no actual memorials to the Stradlings in the church, although Edward's
sister Anne married Sir John Danvers, and so introduced the Danvers family to
Dauntsey; later in the 17th century the family left a prominent mark on the church.
To the north of the chancel is the tomb of Sir John and Lady Anne dressed as a knight
and his lady in brasses on the slab; around the top edge - also in brass - is given the
occupancy and dates of the tomb. Above the tomb can be seen fragments of a stained
glass window with Sir John and his wife kneeling, and their sons and daughters
behind them. Anne out lived her husband by 25 years; she had a fine canopied tomb
built for her on the south wall of the chancel set in a recess with a brass place and
ornate surround. As the shield of the Danvers arms Anne's initials are to be found on
the roof of the chancel and on the choir stalls, it can be presumed that she was
responsible for furnishing at least this part of the church. Above is what remains of
another 14th century window with three female figures. Originally there were
probably four - they would have been Mary Magdelene, Margaret the Saint for Child
Birth and missing Catherine or Dorothy.
To the north of the chancel stands the chapel that houses the tomb of Henry Danvers,
created 1st Earl of Danby by Charles I. In his youth he was page to Sir Philip Sidney
and later became a distinguished soldier. The village school and Alms Houses are
only one monument to his philanthropy. On the east end of the tomb is an epitaph by
George Herbert, the Elizabethan poet who stayed for some time at Dauntsey Park. In
the same tomb lie buried Henry Danvers' father, Sir John Danvers, and his sister Lady
Gargrave. On the north wall of the tomb chamber is the Bisset Memorial, and it is
interesting that the charitable distribution of coal mentioned here thereon certainly
continued for many years well into the 20th century.
On Henry Danvers' death in 1643 the Dauntsey estate passed to his younger brother
Sir John, named after his grandfather. His political views were the opposite of his
brothers; he sat in judgement on Charles I and with the Restoration he was
condemned as a Regicide, he died in 1655. As a result the estate was forfeited to the
Crown and then granted to the Mordaunt family in 1690, whose name is linked
principally with Charles Mordaunt, Earl of Peterbrough. Above the doorway can be
seen the burial cloth from a coffin depicting the arms of the Earl of Peterbrough.
Returning to the chancel we find in front of the altar steps two memorial slabs to the
Mordaunts, neither of whom were of great renown. But of Charles Henry, the last
Earl of Peterbrough who died in 1814, it is said his grand funeral cost £3000, and the
funeral cortege travelled 11 miles around the village carrying his body from Dauntsey
Park to the church next door to allow all the villagers to be able to partake of the
spectacle. His memorial with its raised marble coronet is an ever-present hazard to
Lord and Lady Meux lived in the Manor house in the late 19th early 20th century. The
east window above the altar was commissioned by Lady Meux in memory of her
husband Sir Henry, who died in 1900. It is said that the central figure, St. Catherine
of Alexandria, bears a striking resemblance to Lady Meux. Lady Meux, a former
chorus girl, was indeed a person of great character and determination. Due to her
background she was not considered the right person to marry Lord Meux and the local
gentry made it quite plain she was not welcome in their homes. The stories
concerning her activities are many; on one occasion having quarrelled yet again with
the vicar of Dauntsey and wanting no more to do with his arguments she tethered one
of her pets, a tiger, to the front of the house to prevent any further communication
One or two other little items worth looking out for in the church are: the remains of
the paupers' pews situated just to the right inside the door of the bell tower where it is
being used as part of the doorway. The screen to which it is attached is possibly part
of a larger screen that hid the paupers from the gentry. The paupers' pews still
remained in the church until the early part of the 20th century - one dear lady no
longer with us remembered them well. Also standing in the chapel are four statues of
Saints made of wood with a cloth and plaster covering - they date from before the
Reformation when the church was a Roman Catholic Church.
The Doom board*, believed to be from around the 14th century or possibly earlier,
was used to put the fear of God into the people. Most people, particularly the poor,
could not read and these paintings put the message across in a very effective way.
In the centre our Lord is exalted and seated on a rainbow, with His hands raised in
blessing. High on his left is a representation of the sun, and the Angel Gabriel
sounding a trumpet. On his right is depicted the moon. Also on his right but lower
down, is an Angel with a drawn sword thought to be Michael driving Adam and Eve
out of the Garden of Eden; the fiend is seen blowing the hunting horn and calling the
wicked to Hell. On the opposite side is shown the Celestial Mansion which is
Heaven, with the redeemed souls being received at the gate by St. Peter who holds the
key of admission. An angel above sounds a note of triumph. A further figure, again
with a trumpet, is shown leaning over the battlements of the walls welcoming the
people home. In the lower right hand side of the board is the entrance to Hell
depicted as the jaws of a vicious mythical beast, and the sinners are being pulled
reluctantly in by a large chain. No hope of escape for them. On the left are those
chosen to enter Heaven walking along the path to their judgement. Some poor souls
are still in their shrouds awaiting their doom. In the top centre at the feet of Jesus are
two kneeling figures, believed to be depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John
and Apostle. Over the many centuries it is thought this particular part of the painting
has been over painted several times on the instructions of the Lords and Ladies of the
Manor who have had themselves painted in this place of honour. This was quite a
common occurrence as they often thought wealth brought one closer to God.
* Unfortunately the Doom board and the Royal Coat of Arms were not on display when we visted
the church to take photographs - they had been sent away to be renovated. Hopefully we will
visit the church again after they have been re-hung and add the photographs to the site.
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