Reprinted from Newsletter 121, dated 2006 December

Chilton Priory’s tower was built 1839; Bligh Bond added to it for Zodiac lady

Adrian Pearse

An old stone building with battlements, next to a modern road.

Rushing along the Polden spine on the A39 toward Bridgwater, this is all we usually see of Chilton Priory. [Photo added 2018 from web]

An old stone building with battlements, much of which is covered in vegetation. Despite this, it looks to be in a good state of repair. In the foreground is a well-tended lawn with trimmed bushes and trees.

The other side, lower down the hill, is more interesting. The photos above and below [added to this page 2018] are by “Oort”. There are more in his blog about an apparently surreptitious visit to the house (inside too) when it was empty in June 2015.

An old stone building as seen from its internal courtyard. A patch of well-tended grass is inthe centre, with stone walkways around it. Various windows and doorways to the building's interior are in view. Some of the stone walls are covered in ivy or other such vegetation.

Generally viewed in haste from the A39 halfway to Bridgwater, Chilton Priory is normally dismissed as a minor Victorian folly — but closer inspection reveals an interesting history. It was the subject of a talk on November 10 after the Antiquarian Society’s AGM by Tim Hopkinson-Ball.

Chilton Priory was the creation of eccentric William Stradling, 1788–1859, an antiquary, freemason and deputy lieutenant of Somerset. In 1830 he was living at Roseville in Chilton Polden and had become an obsessive collector of antiquities, architectural fragments and furniture from a wide local area, including Glastonbury Abbey.

The original portion of Chilton Priory, being the tower, refectory and oratory, was built in 1839 to incorporate and house his collection, and also to serve as an eyecatcher from his residence, which was a Masonic meeting place and a guesthouse; one Halliday was installed as a warden.

On Stradling’s death his collection — of which a catalogue survives — was dispersed and the building allowed to deteriorate. In 1902 a Mr Kennedy bought it and selected Frederick Bligh Bond in 1909 to build an additional domestic wing in Tudor domestic style. Kennedy lived there until 1918.

In that year it was purchased by John Maltwood, whose wife Katherine was a noted sculptress; she is better remembered today around here as the promoter of the Glastonbury Zodiac. Bligh Bond was again commissioned to make alterations and to improve the gardens.

It was sold again in 1939, by which time the amount of traffic on the A39 was significantly detracting from its attractions, and falsely attributed by the estate agent to mediaeval origins. Having passed through various ownerships, it has been long unoccupied but remains well maintained and preserves some interesting stone sculptures and stained glass from Stradling’s collection.

The Chilkwell Street fragment

Tim Hopkinson-Ball went on to talk about an interesting carved fragment from the Abbey that he spotted in 2005, used to decorate a fireplace at 43 Chilkwell Street. It had been rescued from a rockery in the garden, and had previously been removed from an interior wall of the house.

It comes from a late-mediaeval screen, dating from 1490 to 1520, and consists of the top left portion of a two-light opening. The spandrel, though weathered, contains a branch with foliage — perhaps a wild rose — and a shield containing a ragged staff and two cruets: the arms of Joseph of Arimathea.

Another fragment from the same screen is in the Glastonbury Abbey museum. This one was discovered by Bligh Bond in his excavations at the Abbey. Precisely where has not been recorded, but it is believed to have been found in the north transept where it may well have formed part of the Loretto chapel that was mentioned by Leland.