History of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The foundation stone of the Church was laid in the summer of 1853, on the site of the old church, probably erected in new Tudor times. There had been a Norman church on the site, of which no records exist, although it is said that the cross which is affixed to the war memorial in the churchyard was from the Norman church.

A watercolour painting of the Tudor church can be seen on the wall of the south aisle. The old church was much smaller than the present one.

The Rector at that time, Reverend John Edwin Lance, had the new church built and he paid for the majority of the works, the parish providing £500. Much of his wealth was invested in France and, to his consternation, his funds were seized by the revolutionaries in 1848. Fortunately for Buckland St Mary he was able to recover every penny and proceeded with the construction. He spared no expense in specifying the finest materials and chose the best available artisans.

The structure is built of flint-stone and Ham stone, with polished marble and decorated tiles adorning the interior. Much of the work was done by local craftsmen, the most notable of the sculptors being Mr Gahagen. It was he who carved the swallow which can be seen at the top of the column on the north side of the nave opposite the door and a little to the left. This was included to represent other birds that frequently flew into the interior during the construction, and still do so on occasions to this day.

When you go outside the church, you can meet Mr Gahagen and his wife if you look at the window between the porch and the belfry doorway. The two heads at the lower ends of the scrolls over the window are said to be a good likeness of the couple.

Other notable features inside the church are the statues of the 12 Apostles high in the nave and the magnificent hammer-beam roof. The name of each apostle is written below, and many other inscriptions are to be found throughout the church, painted on the stone in the form of Gothic script.

The Chancel roof timbers are finely decorated, and the walls are carved and painted, in a style known as ‘diaper tiling'.

Mr Forsyth of London carved the monument to Madelina Lance on the north side of the Chancel erected by her brother Henry Porcher. It is a unique feature, depicting her breaking out from her tomb, and the idea being taken from a monument near Berne in Switzerland. The plaque above the tomb indicates that both Madelina and her infant son died within a short time of his birth.

Mr Davis was the builder who oversaw the works and he presented the Font. It's carved oak canopy is made of wood taken from the old church, which had probably been in that church since its erection some 350 years before. This could therefore be said to be the oldest part of the present church.

One of the most notable features of the church is the stained glass. The three Chancel windows are by O'Connor, the West and Tower windows by Clayton and Bell, the West window being to some degree copied from the famous glass in Fairford Church, Gloucestershire. The East window is a Kempe.

The tower originally had a ‘spirelet' on top, which can be seen in some old photographs. After the tower was completed, the mortar was allowed to set properly before the newly installed peal of bells was rung, some time in 1861. The 6 bells were cast by T Mears and Co at the Whitechapel Foundry in London.

In 1978 the bells were sent back to the Whitechapel Foundry for tuning. Following this the wheels were rebuilt and new fittings provided, including steel headstocks, iron clappers, ball bearings and new hardwood pulleys. The bells were then rehung in the old wooden frame which had been strengthened. The total cost was £4,350, this sum being raised by parishioners and friends in less than one year. The whole of the work was carried out by the firm of Arthur Fidler, bellhanger, of Bow, Devon. In charge of the operations was Jack Wonnacott, ably assisted by 17 strong men of Buckland. A Service of Thanksgiving was held on October 15th 1978, the preacher being the Archdeacon of Taunton, the Venerable L. E. Olyott.

The inscription on the Old Bell (V) is "Come when I call both great and small" and on the others "T Mears & Co LONDON 1861".

In 1863 the Church was finished and an organ purchased and presented by Rev'd W. Turner, ready for the consecration. It is a double manual organ by Sweetland of Bristol. The consecration took place on 28th August 1863, St Bartholomew's Day, ten years after the foundation stone was laid. this event was celebrated with 2 services and a huge lunch in between, at which all those who had donated windows, carved figures and other features were thanked by the Rev'd Lance.

In 2003, the village celebrated the laying of the Foundation Stone with a special service in the Church followed by refreshments. Visitors who had ancestors buried in the churchyard came from various places in the country and candles in containers were lit and placed around the churchyard.

In 2002 a repair project had been started to re-roof the church and to re-point the masonry. English Heritage oversaw the project and provided the major grants, with parishioners and other agencies providing the rest of the funding to cover the cost of some £206,000. Other repairs were carried out on the lych gate, the tower roof and the Kempe Tower window in the north aisle.

The works were completed at the end of 2004 and to celebrate the completion of the project a service was held on 2 June 2005 (with a Flower Festival of Celebration) in the presence of The Right Reverend Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells.

In 1972 the organ was restored by Osmonds of Taunton, and an electric blower installed. In 2008 an overhaul and upgrading was undertaken, including the installation of a full-size pedal board, and additional pipes to complete the compass of the pedal stop, giving the organ the proper depth of tone.

The following year, 2009, a refurbishing of the tower clock was undertaken, restoring the mechanism and strike action to full working order.

In 2012 the original electric heating and lighting, installed in 1964, was replaced by a system of chandeliers, incorporating lighting and quartz-ray heaters in the same unit, as well as upgrading the lighting of the chancel, lady chapel and vestries.