Church of St John the Baptist, Frome

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Coordinates: 51°13′47″N 02°19′14″W / 51.22972°N 2.32056°W / 51.22972; -2.32056

Church of St John the Baptist, Frome
View through an archway of end of a church with a central door flanked by canopied niches containing statues. Arched window above the door and spire behind
St John the Baptist, Frome
Denomination Church of England
Churchmanship Broad Church
Dedication St John the Baptist
Heritage designation Grade II* listed building
Parish Frome
Archdeaconry Wells
Diocese Bath and Wells
Province Canterbury
Vicar(s) Revd Colin Alsbury

The Church of St John the Baptist, Frome is a parish church in the Church of England located at Frome within the English county of Somerset. It is a Grade II* listed building.

The first church on the site was built by Aldhelm in the late 7th century. Major building work was undertaken in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries with little remaining of the Norman and Saxon structures. In 1852 the controversial priest William James Early Bennett was appointed as the vicar and undertook major changes both in the organisation of the parish and the fabric of the church.

The restoration by C. E. Giles included stained glass by Charles Eamer Kempe and statuary by James Forsyth. The entrance to the church passes a holy well and stone-sculptured Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) depicting seven scenes from the Stations of the Cross. It is unique in the Anglican church in England.


The parish church of St John the Baptist, with its tower and spire, was built between the late 12th century and early 15th century replacing a Saxon building that had stood since 685 AD. The first church had been established when Aldhelm obtained a grant from Pope Sergius I to establish a foundation of mission priests to spread the faith in Selwood Forest.[1] By the second half of the 11th century the church was under the control of Regenbald. Nothing remains of the original church apart from some fragments of masonry.[1] The fabric of the current church was built in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries but largely rebuilt in the 19th.[2]

Around 1418 William Starke was the vicar.[3] In the 1540s separate chantry chapels to St Andrew, St Nicholas and Our Lady were established.[1]

The controversial priest William James Early Bennett was appointed as the vicar in 1852. Bennett is celebrated for having provoked the decision that the doctrine of the Real Presence is a dogma not inconsistent with the creed of the Church of England. As a leading member of the Oxford Movement he had served as vicar to various churches in London but resigned in 1851, following doctrinal complaints and a theological dispute with his bishop, Charles Blomfield - after being accused of ritualism. His publication The Old Church Porch (1854–1862), issued at Frome, is sometimes cited as being in effect the first parish magazine,[4] although this claim has been disputed.

Within a few years of Bennett's arrival the system of pew privilege, by which the wealthy bought their pews was abandoned and many of the pews and the galleries were removed.[1] He also divided the parish into 12 districts and established schools, classes, a dispensary and other charities for the population. He set up a choir school for 12 boys and creches for the children of the town's factory workers.[1] He bought some of the properties surround the church of the school which is now used as the church hall and known as the Bennett Centre.[5]

The altar and reredos

The chancel was restored in 1844 and further restored in the 1850s and 1860s by C. E. Giles, which entailed almost total rebuilding. Bennett employed the sculptor James Forsyth to carve statues of saints, the reredos and 18 medallions. Forsyth was also responsible for the carving of the Via Crucis alongside the steps on the north side of the church.[6]

It was designated as a Grade II* listed building in 1983.[2][7]

The parish and benefice of Frome (St John the Baptist) is within the archdeaconry of Wells and the Diocese of Bath and Wells.[8]


The font surrounded by a pavement showing the seven virtues and seven deadly sins.

The church contains a chancel, Lady chapel and baptistery and has a 7 or 8 bay nave.[2] Fragments of Norman work are left including carved stones at the base of the tower and parts of the arch into the Lady Chapel.[2]

The interior is elaborately adorned with sculptures and stained glass, most of which is by Charles Eamer Kempe.[2] The font was moved from St Andrew's Chapel to the Chapel of St Nicholas which became the baptistry. It is surrounded by a pavement showing the seven virtues and seven deadly sins.[9]

Outside the east end of the church is the tomb of Thomas Ken (July 1637 – 19 March 1711) who was an English cleric who was considered the most eminent of the English non-juring bishops, and one of the fathers of modern English hymnology.[10] He is remembered in the Church of England with a Lesser Festival on 8 June. Ken is honoured with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on 20 March.

The Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) is unique and stone-sculptured.[11] It was added in the 1860s, when several buildings were demolished to make way for it.[12] The carvings by James Forsyth depict seven scenes from the Stations of the Cross.[13] The first shows Christ being condemned by Pontius Pilate, while the second is Christ carrying his cross. The third sculpture illustrates Christ falling under his cross, supported by Simon of Cyrene. The next tableau is of Christ meeting his mother and then having his clothing removed. The final representations as you climb the steps towards the church are of Christ being nailed to the cross and then his death, which is displayed on the gable of the north porch.[9][14][15]

In the southwestern corner of the churchyard a well rises.[11][16] This is used as a site for well dressing each year in May.[17]

The screen and gates at the entrance to the forecourt of the church was built in 1814 by Jeffrey Wyatt.[18]


The church has a large three manual pipe organ. The earliest parts of the organ date from ca. 1680 by Renatus Harris, but there is later work by Young, Richard Seede and Vowles. In 1923 the organ was rebuilt by William Hill & Sons and Norman and Beard.[19]

List of organists[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Dunning, Robert (1996). Fifty Somerset Churches. Somerset Books. pp. 160–163. ISBN 978-0861833092. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Parish Church of St John the Baptist". National Heritage List for England. Historic England. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  3. ^ Plea Rolls of the Court of Common Pleas; National Archives; CP 40/629;; 4th entry. The executors of the will of William Starke, parson of St John the Baptist in Frome (Woodland,) are given as Robert Crass & John Perys
  4. ^ "William James Early Bennett". Project Canterbury. The Catholic Literature Association. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  5. ^ "The Bennett Centre". The Bennett Centre. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  6. ^ "St John the Baptist Anglican Church, Frome, Somerset c1860-1866". theforsythbrothers. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  7. ^ "Parish Church of St John the Baptist". Images of England. Retrieved 2006-12-31. 
  8. ^ "St John the Baptist, Frome". A Church Near You. Church of England. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  9. ^ a b Janes, Dominic (2015). Visions of Queer Martyrdom from John Henry Newman to Derek Jarman. University of Chicago Press. pp. 42–44. ISBN 9780226250618. 
  10. ^ "Tomb of Bishop Ken". Images of England. Retrieved 2008-11-16. 
  11. ^ a b "Frome St John the Baptist". Sacred Somerset. BBC. Retrieved 16 November 2008. 
  12. ^ "Via Crucis — historical background of the site". Viacrucis. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  13. ^ "James Forsyth". Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951. University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  14. ^ "Bennett". Viavrucis. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  15. ^ "Via Crucis and Fountain". National Heritage List for England. Historic England. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  16. ^ Rattue, James. "The Holy Well of Frome — Somerset". Source Online Archive. University of Bath. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  17. ^ Williams, Glyn. "Frome". Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  18. ^ "Screen and Gates". Images of England. Retrieved 2008-11-16. 
  19. ^ "Somerset Frome, St. John the Baptist [N06858]". The National Pipe Organ Register. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 

External links[edit]