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Chelwood was a settled community when the agents of William of Normandy made their survey in 1085. This was later entered into document form to be known as the Domesday Book. It was held by two lords and then known as East Celworde and West Cellwert. It is reasonable to assume that the timber built church existed then.
The church is dedicated to St Leonard, who was born in 559. The son of an officer of Prince Clovis, he entered a monastery as a young man near Orleans in France and later founded his own in the forest of Pauvain. For certain miracles performed for the queen he was granted permission by Clovis to release all the prisoners he visited and is therefore regarded as the patron saint of prisoners.
The foundations of the church and certain features are probably Norman but the main structure is 14th Century, the tower being rebuilt in 1722. Although the architecture is chiefly plain there are a number of nice features. The Norman font was made from a block of Dundry limestone around 1125 and the ironwork can still be seen which locked the cover, lest witches stole the holy water. The detailing on the corbels on the ends of the south arcade is 14th Century-vines leaves over a female head to the east, fig leaves to the west. The south windows contain many fragments of 16th Century Flemish glass.
Whilst Bristol traded extensively with the Low Countries it is curious how such glass reached such a remote a spot. It is likely that the former tower was in better style, for there are few villages in Somerset which do not have a superb tower. : It seems there was great rivalry between villages as to the height and decoration of church towers. Spires are rare- but ten in the county.
In Somerset we have an incomparable heritage and St Leonard’s Church with its roots deep in history, is a fundamental part of this.
Chelwood is one of eight 'Thankful' villages in Somerset - a title given to communities whose men did not lose their lives to the 1914-18 war. Four Chelwood men went to the conflict and all four returned.
For more information about The Thankful Villages please vist the Hellfire Corner website
Please click here to see the latest events happening in the village.
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