Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Leaning Tower of...Burnham On Sea!

The lighthouse on legs on the beach at Burnham On Sea
If you find yourself in Somerset, as I did this weekend, I can highly recommend a visit to Burnham On Sea.  Burnham was originally a small fishing village until the late 18th century, when it then grew in popularity during the Victorian period as a seaside resort and spa.  Today it still retains an old-fashioned charm, where you can enjoy a huge (and very clean) beach with its own a lighthouse on legs, a long promenade, the shortest pier in Britain and plenty of history to boot.
St Andrew's Church with Sam in the forefront.

One good place to experience this history is the Medieval church of St Andrews. A church has existed on the site since the late 11th century and the building has  subsequently been enhanced and replaced over the centuries.  The church is notable at first glance for its leaning 78 foot tower which was built in the late 14th or early 15th century.   The 3 foot difference in angle from the top to the bottom occurred almost immediately it was built and is believed to have been caused by poor foundations and settlement.  During the 18th century a light was put in the tower where it acted as a guide for boats in the harbour until 1801 when a round tower was built next to the church as a replacement lighthouse.  The round tower became redundant in 1832 and was replaced by the High and Low lighthouses. Six bells were placed within the tower in 1823 and a further 2 were added in 1902.  I experienced the beautiful sound of these eight peals on Sunday morning!

Lion head outside the church
Walking through the huge oak door of  St Andrew's (built in 1315), we received a warm welcome by the Revd. Graham Witts and the lovely guide on duty who both enthusiastically shared their knowledge of the church's history with us.  Seeing we had left Sam, our dog, outside, he was promptly invited in to have a cool bowl of water...a lovely gesture on a very hot day!

There are a number of beautiful marble sculptures inside, which can be found behind the Altar, in the Nave windows and in the Baptistry.  Known as the Gibbons Sculptures, these were originally commissioned by James II and once formed part of the Altar piece by Grinling Gibbons for the chapel of Whitehall Palace.  Later, they were taken from the Palace to Westminster Abbey and placed behind the High Altar on the order of Queen Anne.  In 1820 the sculptures were removed by the Dean and Chapter  and came to Burnham on Sea at the instigation of the Bishop of Rochester, who was at that time also the vicar of Burnham.  The sculptures are exquisite and St Andrew's are righty very proud of them.  Photography is actively encouraged, and there are plenty of information sheets for you to take away.

Gibbons Sculptures at the back of the Altar 
Angels - part of the Gibbons sculptures

There is much enjoy at St Andrew's, including the stunning 1773 brass chandelier which was happily switched on for us to take a photograph underneath.  Beautiful and well maintained grounds, a wealth of history, stunning architecture and monuments and a fantastic welcome are just some of the reasons to visit this lovely church.  Oh...and the leaning tower of Burnham makes a great photo too!

The beautiful brass chandelier

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