It seems probable that there was a Christian Church on this site in Roman Times. There are the remains of a substantial Roman villa one mile to the west of the Church and the Church is dedicated to a Roman saint. The Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity in Rome in 323 A.D. so the Romans were possibly Christians before they left Wellow circa 400 A.D.
A Saxon church is also a possibility. In 766 the King of the West Saxons granted land on the Welwe river to the monastery of St. Andrew at Wells. Welwe seems to have been a thriving community by “Doomsday” with a manor, four cottages and two mills.
In 1117 Henry I established an order of Augustinian Canons at Cirencester and gave to them the “ancient churches of Froome and Wellow”. This gift was confirmed by charter of Edward III in 1337. In this century Black Death was rampant in Somerset and three parish priests are known to have died in the years 1349, 1350 and 1351. The church, we may imagine fell into decay. So, early in the 12th century there was a church in Wellow. Could this have been built by the monastery of St. Andrew in the 8th century?
Kenneth Wickham in his splendid study of churches in Somerset (David and Charles 1965) says “Tradition which I have been unable to verify, holds that the church of Wellow was built by Sir Thomas Hungerford, First Speaker of Parliament in 1372. Pevsner in his North Somerset (Penguin 1958) says, “If the date circa 1372 could be established, the historical importance of this church would indeed be high. But the late Kenneth Wickham, in spite of his extensive and careful checking of evidence, could not find a source of the tradition.
However, we know that in 1369 Sir Thomas Hungerford bought Farley and Wellow for 1100 marks. He was a follower of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and became the first recorded Speaker of the House of Commons. We can imagine the Abbot of Cirencester persuading the new owner of Wellow to rebuild the parish church. We believe he agreed, and built the present church which was consecrated at the feast of St. Philip and St. James on May Day in 1372 by John Harewell, Bishop of Bath and Wells. Thomas of Cirencester was vicar.
Tradition is strong in Wellow. In May 1972 the sixth hundredth anniversary of the building of the church was celebrated with a service of thanksgiving at which a commemoration stone was unveiled by the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Robert Grant Ferris, M.P.
The Church – Exterior
Pevsner calls it “A proud, little altered stylistically very uniform church, masculine rather than refined”. It consists of a nave. north and south aisles, western tower, two chapels and a modern chancel and vestry. The Diocesan architect in 1973, described it as “An early perpendicular building of great merit both in its stonework and its timber roofs. Various slight deviations from the normal Somerset type add interest to good proportions and vigorous detail.
Externally the church is dominated by the tall west tower. It is not a typically “Somerset” tower. Built in three stages it is flanked by massive square set buttresses, surmounted with an embattled parapet and crocketted pinnacles. It is a noble early perpendicular tower 84 feet high and ashlar faced. The stair turret is prominent on the south east corner. To the west there is a three light window with a three light louvred bell opening above.
The Porch. There is a splendid robust south porch, surmounted by a broad unpierced curved parapet. The central niche over the south doorway contains a recent statue by Gilbert Sumpsion, a Wellow craftsman, of St. Julian with oar in hand, blessing the parish. Within the porch is a massive14th century oak door with blank tracery, the door handle being a large ring held by a hand in wrought iron.
The South Aisle. At the western end the angle buttress bears a mason’s mark; at the east end a similar buttress carries the scratch dial of a mass clock. The west window is good example of perpendicular tracery.
The Chancel. The chancel is modern with a fine light east window, about 1890. The south rood stair turret, octagonal and embattled with finial, is about 1450 A.D.
The West Door. In 1975 new corbel stones were carved by Peter Watts, another Wellow craftsman, placed in position either side of the west door. The northern corbel depicts a likeness of the Right Reverend Edward Henderson, Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1960 to 1975. The southern or right hand carving shows the features of Major George le G. G. W. Horton-Fawkes, Patron of the living. The Horton-Fawkes family have been associated with St. Julian’s for over 100 years.
The church stands well in its beautiful valley. It can best be seen in its setting either from Hassage Hill to the south across the valley of from Farm Lane to the north.
The Church – Interior
In 1936 it was discovered that the timber work had been attacked by Death Watch beetle. After the war an appeal was launched jointly by the Dean of Westminster and the Bishop of Bath and Wells. Sufficient money was subscribed to save the roof and restore the church. the work was completed in 1952.
The simplicity and dignity of the church, the broad nave and the clerestory above, should be noted. To the west the great tower arch dominates the interior facing the delicate tracery of the rood screen with its modern rood loft. Above is a magnificent carved timber roof carried on corbels carved as angels. Below, the fine mediaeval benches with their “Popey” heads and panelled ends provide uncomfortable seating for the congregation.
At Christmas services, when the fine trident candelabra carry burning wax candles, the church is beautiful and filled with a sense of timelessness.
The Nave. This consists of four bays with beautiful octagonal piers carrying slender columns. The clerestory above was added by Walter Lord Hungerford in about 1430 when the roof was raised. Lord Hungerford also added the arch braced tie beam roof. The principals, cornices and bosses are peculiarly decorative. Each wall piece is carried on carved corbels representing angels, a hunter with bows and arrows (St. Julian perhaps), a roe deer in flight and a large satanic(?) face at the west end.
The South Aisle. At the eastern end of the south aisle is the Warrior Chapel of St. Michael which was restored and furnished in 1950 as a thanks offering to commemorate the allied victory in the Second World War and the safe return of all serving Wellow sons and daughters. A nearby memorial mourns the loss of twenty Wellow sons of and earlier less fortunate generation. There is an original piscina, or basin for washing communion vessels, and a delightful 18th century Scudamore monument on the east wall by the door leading to the rood stairway. At the west end is the stone commemorating the restoration of the church in 1952.
The Rood Screen. This was completed in about 1430 but the later rood loft and gallery were removed, probably in Henry VIII’s time. The present rood loft and gallery were designed by Caroe Junior and erected in 1952. the design of pomegranate and vine, green, red and gold panelling , reproduce the original rood loft. Arthur Mee in his book “Somerset” reports a cross above the screen which was carved by the village policeman. But that was in 1942 and this cross is now on the south wall of the Porch above the door. The oak door at the right-hand side of the rood loft was made and installed in 1978 by the late Peter Schweder of Hassage Manor in this parish; the wrought iron hinges of the door were fashioned by Laurence Curran, also a Wellow craftsman. One squint is provided either side of the screen. These allowed people in the side aisles to have a view of the main altar. When they were cut the altar stood much closer to the screen.
The Chancel. this was built in 1890 together with the vestry on the north side. The design by Bodley and Garner unobtrusively reflects the spirit and style of the old perpendicular nave. the chancel is slightly inclined to the north. The fine east window has five lights; it shows Christ in sorrow and in glory with eight saints. In the south wall above the stalls and in the east wall are twelve fine, small, carved heads of Kings and bishops, dating from the early 14th century. They were placed here when they were discovered in 1952 during the restoration of the church.
The North Aisle. In the north aisle at its west end is the old font. The font itself, much restored, comes from about 1250. The font is an early English design on a Norman base, an eight loded bowl on a circular foot.The Jacobean font cover was cleaned in 1950 and has been preserved above the font; it is a rare example of Laudian work dating from 1623. In the north wall a slate stone commemorates the service in 1972 when the six hundredth anniversary of the rebuilding of St. Julian’s was celebrated. At the east end lies the figure of a priest vested for mass, with Gothic vestments, dated about 1400 by Pevsner. He has a cross on his forehead and a chalice on his chest.
The Tower. The tower arch is 17 feet high. Inside 44 steps lead to the ringing chamber. Above this is the bell-chamber with a fine toned heavy peal of six bells, all re-hung in an oak frame in 1949.
The Pulpit. This was given by the Patron, Major le G.G.W. Horton -Fawkes, and parishioners, to commemorate the golden jubilee as vicar of Wellow of the late Prebendary Horton-Starkie. It was made to a 15th century design.
The Hungerford Chapel. This is entered through a simple screen. On the east wall are the fine 15th century wall paintings of Christ and the twelve apostles. The recess in the north wall has a quatrefoiled front and is inscribed”For the love of Jesu and Mary’s sake pray for them that this lete make”. The east wall frescoes of Christ and the twelve apostles with their appropriate emblems, are the only 15th century examples extant of an English church mural. In the east wall is an ornate, rather heavy memorial to Dorothy Popham, 1614; the tomb is carved and painted with a figure of her in a ruff and a curious kind of bonnet. In the walls and floor are set brass tablets, memorials to the Hungerford family. Giles, who died 16 Oct 1638, Jone, his wife who died 18 Jan 1679, Giles their second son who died in 1668, John their third son who died in 1655 and Mrs. Ursula Hungerford who lived in Wilts and died in 1645. There is also a tablet to Susannah Hungerford also of Wilts who died in 1652. In the north east corner there is a fine canopied niche and overhead a superb gilt embossed timber roof. The roof was regilded, but the colours were not touched when the chapel was restored and refurnished in 1951.
The Organ. The present instrument was constructed by The Deane Organ Builders of Taunton in 1990. You can see the pipework that has been placed on top of the early 15th century screen just below the rood. Although the working parts and unit chests are new, the pipes are about 100 years old. The console, which was part of the original 1952 Compton Electronic organ, has been modified and adapted for the present instrument, and is located in the Hungerford chapel.
The church was electrically re-wired in 1982 and the wall-mounted lanterns were given by the family of Sir John Hewitt, K.C.V.O., C.B.E., Ecclesiastical Appointments Secretary to four successive Prime Ministers (1961-1974), in memory of his life and work.