I took the road for the village of Beckington. This is a most interesting place for many reasons. The church, which is dedicated to St. Gregory, was originally Norman, as the work in the tower manifestly shows, but was in the days of Perpendicular architecture considerably enlarged, and the church is in fact a Perpendicular one.
It would seem as if the addition of a clerestory was an afterthought, as the roofing of the aisles is different from that usually to be found in a clerestoried church, that is to say, it is high-pitched instead of lean-to or flat. The effigies and brasses within are of very great interest. One brass is that of Sir John St. Maur, who died in 1485, with his wife Elizabeth (Darrell). On the south pier of the chancel arch will be found a small circular brass plate bearing a curious merchants’ mark. This belonged to the brass of John Compton, merchant, and Edith his wife. Upon the north pier a small brass shield has also been fixed, which bears, I believe, the coat armour of the St. Maurs. On the wall of the north aisle is the monument with a half effigy which was erected by the Lady Anne Clifford, Countess Dowager of Pembroke, Dorset, and Montgomery, to the memory of her old tutor, ” that excellent poet and historian, Samuell Danyell.” Samuel Daniel was born near Taunton in 1562, his father being a music-master. At the age of seventeen the boy was entered as a commoner at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, where he resided for three years, but did not take his degree. About the year 1603 Daniel took up his residence at Ridge, near Beckington, where he, according to Fuller, ” turned husbandman and rented a farm.” He died September 4, 1619, and was buried in the north aisle of Beckington church. Space will not permit me to give a list of Daniel’s works in poetry and prose, but it ought to be mentioned that the tradition that he succeeded Spenser as Poet Laureate in 1599 lacks documentary evidence. Moreover, too, the inscription on his monument makes no mention of the fact, an omission which is seemingly conclusive under the circumstances.
In the village street there are not a few old houses, two of which are of considerable interest, and I sketched one of them which bears the rather exalted title of ” Beckington Castle.” It is a square, many-gabled stone house, whose ivy-clad sides are lighted by rows of mullioned windows. The porch, which projects, is crenellated, and alongside the porch is a built-out turret stair. Very interesting, too, is the interior of this quaint old place, for the rooms, winding stairs, and passages are for the most part in their original condition. Here and there, however, modern additions and insertions of a decorative character could be at once detected, such as woodwork, panelling, etc. But in its main features Beckington Castle is an extremely old-fashioned and well- cherished dwelling.
The other house specially worth noting is a long, low building chiefly remarkable for its extensive mullioned windows and stamped plaster ceilings. Like Beckington Castle, its walls are nearly completely concealed by creeping plants. Elsewhere in the village there are, as I have already said, other quaint old houses, but beyond their age they have no particular features to entitle them to special notice.
Two other spots close to Beckington require passing mention, chiefly on account of their associations. One of these, formerly called Cliffords, and now Clifford’s Farm, is stated to have been the residence of the Somersetshire family of that name. The second house is called Seymour’s Court, and was once the home of Thomas Lord Seymour of Sudeley, who married Queen Catherine Parr, and was subsequently executed, March, 1548-9. But to the fact that Beckington was the birthplace of the celebrated builder- bishop of Wells it owes its chief interest, and I feel bound to briefly touch upon his career.
Thomas Beckington or Bekynton was born about the year 1390 at this village, though of what parentage there are no records. He went to Winchester in 1404, and two years later entered at New College, Oxford, where he seems to have obtained a fellowship in the short space of two years. Beckington took holy orders, and on resigning his fellowship in 1420 was, probably through the patronage of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, the recipient of several clerical preferments. In 1423 he was Dean of Arches, and his name occurs in various prosecutions of heretics which took place at that period. In February, 1432, Beckington, in conjunction with Langdon, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Henry Bromflete, was sent on an embassy to France for the purpose of negotiating a peace. The embassy did not start till December, when the celebrated Sir John Fastolf was joined to the commission in lieu of Bromflete. Beckington did not go to the Congress at Arras in 1435, but he did proceed to Calais in 1439 as a member of an embassy. To the diary kept on this occasion by the ambassador we are indebted for many particulars, and in a journal written by one of his followers the details of his journey to the Court of Armagnac in 1422-3 are related with considerable minuteness. Early in 1423 Beckington was made Lord Privy Seal. Twenty years later he was nominated to the see of Salisbury, which it was thought that Bishop Ascough would vacate in his favour, to be himself rewarded by the primacy—a course which that prelate declined to take. The story how Beckington obtained papal favour by a present of scarlet cloth to the pontiff is very amusing, and, being based on absolute documents, can be at once accepted. Beckington, however, became Bishop of Bath and Wells, succeeding Bishop Stafford, who was promoted to Canterbury. The new bishop was consecrated on October 13, 1443, in the old Collegiate Church of Eton. I need not recall his controversy with Abbot Frome of Glastonbury. On June 18, 1452, being very infirm, he obtained leave of exemption from attending Parliament. He died at Wells, on January 14, 1465, and was buried beneath a beautiful canopy in a tomb which he had prepared for himself. About forty years ago the cathedral authorities had the bad taste to open the tomb of their builder-bishop. It is also much to be regretted that the splendid canopy of the tomb no longer stands where it should, but is poked away inside the iron gates of one of the smaller chapels.