high littleton holy trinity church

High Littleton & Hallatrow
History and Parish Records


Click to enlarge the photos

Holy Trinity Church 1885

Just before the old church (apart from the tower) was demolished in 1885, Reverend Edmund Streeten, the vicar, made this drawing of it. The south isle, prominently featured here, had only stood since 1824.

Nave and chancel of the church c.1900  

Nave and chancel of the church c.1900. Oil lamps provided the lighting at that time but otherwise the interior is easily recognisable today.

Holy Trinity Chancel postcard

Chancel of Holy Trinity, Postcard 1906

Holy Trinity Church c.1910

An unusual view of the church taken from the school over the road c.1910

  Church Hill as sketched by Samuel Loxton 1911 Church Hill as sketched by Samuel Loxton c.1911

  Church Hall (Church House)

Church Hall, originally called Church House, sketched by Samuel Loxton c.1911 showing its enclosed yard, mullioned window & adjoining cottage

  Wesleyan Methodist Chapel

Wesleyan Methodist Chapel c.1898

  High Littleton Primitive Methodist Chapel c.1911

Primitive Methodist Chapel as sketched by Samuel Loxton c.1911

Church and Chapels

High Littleton Church – Early History
Christianity came to Somerset in the first century AD and the first Christian church was supposed to have been built at Glastonbury in 60. Over the next 400 years Glastonbury remained a centre of Christianity, receiving missionaries from Rome and even St. Patrick in 425. Somerset was spared the worst excesses of the heathen early Saxons, who destroyed churches and virtually eliminated Christianity in other parts of the country. It was not until after a missionary called Birinus landed in Wessex in 634 and began to convert the West Saxons in meaningful numbers that Christianity took a strong hold. In 669 Theodore of Tarsus set about the organisation of the English church, establishing bishoprics with their own territorial sees, responsible to Canterbury. In 692 Berthwald, Abbot of Glastonbury, was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury. In 704 Ine, one of the greatest of all the Saxon kings, hastened the spread of Christianity in the region by founding St. Andrew's Church in Wells, on the site of the present cathedral. In this task he was aided by his kinsman Aldhelm. Aldhelm was a monk of Malmesbury, who went on to found a monastery at Frome in 705, became the first bishop of Sherborne and was later declared a Saint. If the name sounds vaguely familiar, St. Aldhelm's was the name of the old High Littleton vicarage, built c.1840.

Over the next 300 years the parish system we know today gradually evolved within the sees and many churches were built. By the time the Normans invaded in 1066 the parish map of the country was almost complete, with a church and priest in every parish. Virtually all these Saxon churches were small timber built structures, although it was not unknown for some to be built of stone, there being a plentiful supply of that commodity in some areas, in the form of ruined Roman villas. 

We know from Domesday Book that High Littleton and Hallatrow were then thriving Saxon communities with a likely population of around 100-120 and it is inconceivable that there was no parish church and priest. The area of the manors of High Littleton and Hallatrow recorded in Domesday equate to the area of the parish of High Littleton in modern times, suggesting that the parish is well over 1,000 years old. Information for Domesday was obtained by commissioners, who visited each community and collected data from various persons, from the sheriff and barons down to the priest and 6 villagers. Details were derived from the answers to 6 questions, which related to land areas and cultivation, ownership, population, and danegeld paid. None of the questions related to churches so of course they received no mention, unless they held land. In the whole of Somerset only about 15 churches are mentioned, as landholders, yet there was likely to have been 200-300 all told.

The Normans respected the church and understood the power that it had over the ordinary people. They were also inveterate builders and, besides erecting hundreds of castles in strategic places, they gradually pulled down all the wooden parish churches and replaced them with larger stone ones, which also served as prominent landmarks for travellers. Over the following centuries Norman churches have been rebuilt, some several times over but very often the original tower has been retained.

W.J. Robinson, who visited hundreds of churches and knew a thing or two about them, wrote of High Littleton in West Country Churches "from the appearance of its low and somewhat insignificant tower, it is probable the original church was built at the beginning of the 12th century”. He reinforces his view that the tower is late Norman "judging by the curious turret on the east angle of the north side, which rises just above the second stage." Nikolaus Pevsner made no attempt to date High Littleton Church tower, merely referring to it as perpendicular. Rev. R.G, Bartelot, FSA writing in the 1930s, stated that Gilbert Aumery having rebuilt the church, became the Patron of the Rectory in 1310 but Bartelot's source for this statement has not been located.

At this point it is worth mentioning Peter Poyntz Wright's scholarly work The Parish Church Towers of Somerset. His research into the distinctive "Somerset Perpendicular" towers, which were of great height, intricately decorated and unmatched anywhere in England (apart from a few in Yorkshire and the Fens), covered the mid 14th to mid 16th centuries. Through a combination of architectural and documentary evidence he was able to identify and date convincingly the work of several individual teams of builders, who moved around and built this series of towers. The series begin with Churchill in 1360, closely followed by Compton Martin, includes such local churches as Cheddar, Blagdon, Chew Magna, Dundry, Publow and Chew Stoke and ends with Chewton Mendip in about 1550. In passing, Poyntz Wright describes Norman towers as short and squat with very thick walls, tiny windows and very little decoration. Despite later repairs and minor alterations, High Littleton tower is closer to the description of "utility Norman" than the grander towers of the 14th century onwards.

From the beginning parish priests were rectors, enjoying the benefits of the Great Tithes, out of which they were expected to provide alms for the poor. The tithes were a valuable source of annual income and some rectors, for altruistic reasons or as a result of being leant on, gave the right to receive the tithes (rectory) to a religious or educational institution, which then appointed a vicar to minister to the parishioners. In this way High Littleton changed from being a rectory to a vicarage in 1322. There is in the church a board containing the names of the vicars from that date, starting with John de Eton. Although the Diocesan Registry provided Rev. Tunstall with a checked list in 1939, prior to the board being erected, they omitted James Systerman, who was appointed vicar in 1536.

Some churches, which also changed from being a rectory to a vicarage, have boards with the names of successive rectors and vicars. With only having a list of vicars, one could be mislead into thinking that 1322 was when the first priest was appointed to High Littleton. In fact there would have been a long line of priests before John be Eton, who fulfilled the spiritual needs of the parish in the same way as him, the only difference being that they were called rectors instead of vicars. Few of the early rectors can now be identified by name but evidence of them and the church can be found in printed records. In 1310 Gilbert Aumery became patron of the living and agreed to give the advowson of High Littleton to Keynsham Abbey. A grant of land to St. John’s Hospital c.1250-75 contained a reference to the rector of Littleton, whilst in Bishop Giffard’s Register a licence was granted in 1266 to William (this was in the pre-surname era), rector of Littleton, to let his church for three years to a fitting person. In the seventeen years following the founding of Keynsham Abbey in 1166, William Earl of Gloucester made a grant of property to the abbey, which included Littleton and several other churches. It is possible that a search of the manuscript diocesan records would reveal further early references.

Click to view/download the documents (in pdf format)

Parish Church
History from W.J. Robinson’s “West Country Churches”

Building etc.
Enlargement of Church 1842
Rebuilding of the Church in 1884/5
New Churchyard 1893

Monumental Inscriptions (Indexed) - all denominations – inside and outside church/chapel 

Churchwardens’ duty, 1734
Brief history of Churchwardens and their Accounts
Churchwardens’ Accounts 1754/5 (earliest surviving) to 1786/7 & 1841/2 (Indexed)
(Book from 1787/8 to 1840/1 is missing)

Church Electoral Roll 1920-30 (Alphabetical order)
Church Missionary Society Carriage at Hallatrow Station
Rectors, Vicars, Queen Anne's Bounty and Glebe Terriers

Early History of High Littleton Wesleyans & amalgamation with Primitive Methodists 

Record of Hallatrow Meeting Houses and Burying Ground
Early History & Sufferings of Hallatrow Quakers

Other Nonconformists
Record of Baptists, Methodists, Independents and Plymouth Brethren, who were active in the parish at one time

See also under Registers, Poor Law and Rates & Taxes