The Parish Church of the Holy Trinity stands slightly remote from the busy commercial and industrial life of Street, which is perhaps why it preserves within the walls of its churchyard its ageless sense of quiet solitude and peace. It is situated within the Vale of Avalon, whose history stretches back in time until it merges with legends of King Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea.
Street in Roman times
According to legend, the first Christian Church in England was built by missionaries in or about 62 A.D., less than two miles from the site of the present Parish Church. It was a small wattle church situated in what later became the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey. It is thought that a very early Celtic Church dedicated to Saint Thecla, a Saint held in high esteem in the Celtic Church, may have been built in Street soon afterwards, but not necessarily on the site of the present Parish Church. At this time an inlet of the sea separated what is now Street from Glastonbury, but they were later linked when the Romans built a causeway from Wearyall Hill to the Mead parallel with, and slightly east of, the present road, and which reached solid ground at this point.
It was part of a road used by the Romans to transport lead from the Mendips to the Southern ports. In those days this site would have been almost an island and a tiny Celtic hamlet grew up here and became known as Lantokay, which means 'the sacred enclosure of the dear Kay'. It is likely that a Romano-British dwelling or group of dwellings stood here or nearby, since many Roman remains have been found in the Churchyard, including fragments of an old wall, parts of two wells, pieces of pottery and a pre-Roman gold coin of the Dobunni tribe.
The coin was a gold stater of the Dobunni tribe, whose capital was in Cirencester. Street lies near the borders of Dobunni territory. The coin bore the name 'Corio'. Corio was King of the southern Dobunni in Gloucester towards the end of the first century BC. Although his coins are found throughout the Dobunnic territories, they are clustered mainly in the south, while the northern lands appeared to have been under the control of another Dobunnic overlord, Bodvoc, who issued his own coins. It is possible that the splitting of the Dobunnic territories occurred during his reign. Corio was succeeded at around the turn of the millennium by Comux[...].
After the Romans left Britain in 410 A.D. the hamlet came to be known as Lega.
After Saint Thecla's, the next Church connected with Street to which reference is made in early writings is that of Saint Gildas , and it is to him that this Church owes its dedication. St. Gildas was an erudite man who wrote a book entitled "Concerning the Ruin of Britain" which dwelt on shortcomings of both church and state - which has been dubbed by historians as the 'Complaining Book'. He built many Churches, and was reported to have performed many miracles of healing.
St. Gildas appears to have enjoyed travel at a time when this must have been far from easy, and he used to spend most of Lent in prayer and meditation in the solitude of either Flat Holme or Steep Holme in the Bristol Channel. In the writings of John of Glastonbury he was driven by pirates from Steep Holme to Glastonbury where he was welcomed by the Abbot. "The most religious Gildas again desired to lead the life of a hermit, and departing, by the river's bank near Glastonbury he built a Church to the Holy and Undivided Trinity and called it the 'Chapel of Happy Retreat'. Here he died and with great mourning and great honour was buried in the middle floor of the 'old Church' (of Glastonbury Abbey) in 512 A.D. Moreover, on that spot where he lived a hermit's life, is now a Parish Church dedicated to the name of this Saint."
The Middle Ages and a royal visit to Street
Street Church, together with six other neighbouring Churches, was given into the care of Glastonbury Abbey, probably in the eighth century. The Domesday Book does not refer to the name Street, but it does record that Glastonbury held Lega with 300 acres of land. The Hundred to which Street belonged at that time, was known as Ringoldsway and included Ashcott, Walton, Greinton, Butleigh and "Lega". Lega, meaning a forest clearing, was the name then in use for Street and this name survives today in 'Leigh Road', and 'Overleigh'
In 1278, King Edward I and his queen, Eleanor, came to Glastonbury for Easter. The King had intended to hold his court at Glastonbury, but was refused permission to do so by the Abbot as it would have infringed the privileges of the Abbey and the Assize was therefore held in Street. Entries in the Somerset Pleas of the Rolls of Itinerant Justices speak of permission being given to defer a lawsuit 'taken before the King in the Chapel of Saint Gildas near Glastonbury on Monday the morrow of Easter in the sixth year of King Edward'.
The history of the building
The earliest part of the present Church is the Chancel, built about 1270, and the first recorded Rector was John de Hancle in 1304. In 1325, Street combined with Walton and the two parishes were united for 581 years and separated in 1866 when a new Church, also dedicated to The Holy Trinity, was consecrated in Walton. In fact, as previously mentioned, the original dedication of this Church was to Saint Gildas and the parish records refer frequently to 'the Churchyard of Saint Gildas' when quoting wills made as long ago as 1543, although elsewhere the name had become Gylds, Geld or Gelys. (Likewise Street is variously spelt Strete, Streatt, Stret, Streate and Streat.) The date of re-dedication to The Holy Trinity is not known, but was probably after the Reformation. The influence of Glastonbury Abbey over this Parish remained until the Abbey's dissolution but evidently the Rector of Street and the Abbot did not always see eye to eye. At the back of the nave is a photocopy and an abstract of an agreement reached between them in 1454 as to tithe rights, clearly reached only after some dispute.
The Chancel is thirteenth and fourteenth century with original window tracery and a roof of a type rare in Somerset Churches. The sculptured sedilia are a notable feature; these stone seats for the priests are enriched with decorated arches and pinnacles with 21 tiny heads among the leaves. There is also a decorated pinnacled piscina (washing place) with a canopy. At one time there was a doorway in the north Chancel wall, the position of which is clearly visible from the exterior. The Chancel arch is also of note and now no longer partly obscured by an organ. A metal inscription plate records the gift of a painted glass window, no longer in existence, by a member of the Homer family of Mells, near Frome, who were closely associated with Glastonbury Abbey.
On the floor on the north side near the altar rail is a brass to the memory of Margaret, the wife of Thomas Dyer, who died in 1583.
The altar is modern and made of panelled oak. The communion plate comprises a chalice and cover (1724) presented to the Church in 1726 and a handsome silver flagon dated 1841. Records tell us that in 1890 the choir was 'robed' and occupied the choir stalls, where previously had sat the 'village farmers'. In 1843 a stained glass East window was presented by the Duchess of Buccleuch, but this was later replaced by a plain window. In 1951 a modem stained glass window, designed and executed by Mrs. R. de Montmorency was given in memory of several notable parishioners by their children and by friends. The subjects of this window are The Madonna and Child, The Ascended Christ, the boys Samuel and St. John the Baptist and two local Saints - Gildas and Dunstan.
The south wall and roof of the nave, the south porch and the tower belong to the early part of the fifteenth century, a time when Somerset was prospering as England's leading producer of woollen cloth. In 1730 a gallery was built at the west end of the nave, but removed in 1886. In 1826, at a time when perhaps church attendance was a social custom, the incongruous north aisle was added and other restoration work done. The vestry was added in 1843.
The first organ was installed at the west end of the nave in 1831 and was moved when the gallery was removed in 1886. A later organ was a gift from Miss Hickley in 1905 in memory of her father, who was Rector from 1850 to 1886. (The same benefactor left a sum of money by her will for the establishment of a new church in Street and this legacy helped to build the new Mission Church in 1990.)
In the late 20th century the pipe organ, inconveniently sited by the chancel arch, was failing; it was replaced by an Eminent electronic organ. (Specification, pictures, and videos of the organ in action to be added).
The window in the north aisle was also designed and executed by Mrs. R. de Montmorency and given by Preb. J.A.L1. Armstrong (Rector from 1950 to 1956) and his wife in memory of their respective fathers. Glastonbury Abbey is the subject of this window, represented by the figures of St. Joseph of Arimathea and Abbot Whiting - the last Abbot of Glastonbury at its dissolution in 1539 and cruelly put to death on nearby Glastonbury Tor. The stained glass window in the south wall was added at the same time. Traces of a former stained glass window can be seen in the other window in the south wall.
The carved oak pulpit was given in 1927 in memory of Mrs. F.J. Clark by her children and at the same time the oak lectern was given in her memory by the parishioners. When the interior of the Church was restored and re-decorated in 1947, several pews were removed so that the font could be placed in its present position. Like many fonts in nearby Churches, it is made of coarse-grained limestone, probably from Doulting Quarry, and, although it is not classified as a good one, it is of the 'decorated' period of architecture and would have been installed when the Chancel was built, so that it is about 650 years old. Fonts are usually carefully preserved as they used to demonstrate the right to administer baptism and therefore full parochial status. Marks of pre-Reformation cover fastenings are visible on the rim of the font. The inner basin is 12" deep, so that total immersion was presumably still the general practice when the font was made. The text on the lead-lining on the rim is probably Victorian. It is interesting to note that the font is cracked horizontally around the bowl below the top moulding, perhaps due to freezing of the water, which was kept in the bowl for long periods prior to the Reformation.
The belfry houses a peal of eight bells, the tenor being 51" in diameter and weighing 23 cwt. In 1777 the first four bells were installed, being the present 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th bells. The 3rd bell bears the inscription 'My treble voice makes hearts rejoice.' The 5th and tenor bells were added in 1805, the 5th being recast in 1891 when the inscription 'God be our Guide' was added. The treble and 2nd bells were installed in 1903 and the 2nd bell bears the reminder 'Keep Holy the Sabbath day, worship God'. There is sufficient room for the installation of two further bells. The bells were formerly rung from the ground floor and the present ringing chamber was added in 1958, two years after the bells had been rehung. A remarkable set of 37 handbells was kept in the ringing chamber and is now housed at the Mission Church.
The clock was originally installed in 1865 and the face restored and electrical mechanism added in 1953 by a bequest of the late Mrs. M. Voake.
The earliest Parish Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials dates from 1599, one year after Queen Elizabeth I had commanded that every parish should provide itself with a parchment register, and records are fairly complete since that date. The earliest records are written on vellum and contain references to wills made as early as 1543. The Churchwardens' accounts date from 1684 when the wardens were John and Daniel Rood and are prefaced by the sober warning:-
'Whosoever this office take,
Many heads at him will shake.'
These records made interesting reading and contain such curious entries as:-
1700 Paid for a nomination warrant for ye Highwayman - £2.6.0d,
1790 To the ringers for rejoicing for his Majesty - 5.6d
To gunpowder used on ye same Occasion - 1.6d.
There have been 46 Rectors since 1304 and a list of incumbents can be seen on the wall of the south nave near the door. From 1325 until 1554 the Patrons of the Living were the Abbot and Convent of Glastonbury and since then it has changed hands many times and is now vested in the Diocesan Board of Patronage. Notable among the Rectors and Curates have been The Hon. John Thynne, who was Rector from 1823 to 1850 and a sub-Dean of Westminster, also a Curate-in- Charge Nathanial James Merriman, who later became Bishop of Grahamstown in South Africa in 1840. Merriman Gardens are named after him. Perhaps the most interesting figure is Walter Raleigh, M.A., a nephew of the great Sir Walter, who became Rector in 1635 and Dean of Wells in 1641. He was also Chaplain in Ordinary to King Charles I. He was an ardent Royalist and during the Civil War was taken prisoner at Bridgwater and later brutally murdered at Wells in 1646 by his Parliamentarian gaoler.
Looking back and looking forward
It comes perhaps as a surprise to realise that this Church has a history at least as long as its renowned neighbour - Glastonbury Abbey - and that the present building is in parts considerably older than parts of the Abbey.
As has been shown, the building has undergone many changes over the centuries reflecting different times and needs. Major works have now been undertaken to improve the heating and lighting in the Church, to provide a more adaptable seating arrangement and a 'Lady Chapel' for quiet prayer and contemplation.
Because the Church stands within a Celtic enclosure, the new layout has been based on a Celtic Cross. The work could not have been considered but for a legacy from Mrs. Joyce Bailey, who, with other members of her family, was a long serving member of the Choir.
This history is almost entirely based on that prepared in 1977 by Mr. Roger Burdock, then Churchwarden of Holy Trinity. We are most grateful to him for his kind permission to use his work.
Gold stater of the Dobunni like the one found in the churchyard
The St Gildas window in Street Parish Church
The holy water basin or piscina
A memorial of the nave enlargement