DUNDRY, a well spread village of more than one thousand
inhabitants, stands four miles south of Bristol, (just off the A38), and
twelve miles west of Bath. Its lofty situation, seven hundred feet above sea
level at the western end of an exposed four mile long ridge, makes it a
notable landmark in North Somerset and its dominance is emphasised by a
spectacular fifteenth century church tower.
Perhaps as compensation for its apparent bleakness, Dundry commands some of the most extensive and beautiful prospects in the west of England.
Northwards, historic Bristol provides a fittingly impressive foreground, enabling visitors to Dundry to test their knowledge of this city's ancient past and its continuing progress as displayed so clearly before them. By night, Bristol's lights create a breathtaking scene.
To the north-west is a magnificent scenic spread covering some forty miles length of the River Severn in the area of Chepstow, Newport and Cardiff, backed by the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons. The Severn Bridges are more recent additions to this aspect and an interesting comparison can be made with Brunel's famous Clifton Suspension Bridge which spans the Avon Gorge just west of Bristol.
To the south west of Dundry lie the delightful Mendip Hills, and continuing to the south-west can be seen the Quantocks. In the foreground to the south are the Yeo Reservoir at Blagdon and the Chew Valley Lake, the latter reservoir being opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956. This lake is well known to anglers and to ornithologists and there is an active sailing club.
To the south-east the view extends to the hills between Warminster and Salisbury. Eastwards lies the Roman city of Bath, this aspect being bounded by the hills beyond Calne and Devizes in Wiltshire, where on a clear day is visible the intriguing White Horse carved in the green chalky hillside. The panoramic circle is completed to the north-east by delightful views of the Cotswolds around Stroud and Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire.
The First settlement here probably owed its existence to
the quarrying of stone. Dundry stone can be found at Cardiff Castle,
originally a fort built by the Romans as part of their defences against the
invasions of the Anglo-Saxons. The stone was often used in mediaeval
Bristol, notably for the beautiful church of St. Mary Redcliffe and it was
still being worked as late as 1921.
The nucleus of the community would have lived from the quarrying and transporting of the stone as well as from agriculture.
There are at least two opinions on the derivation of the
Collinson's 'History of Somerset' - 1791, states that the name was derived from two Erse words, 'Dun' and 'Draegh' signifying hill of oaks. The comment is made — 'of which wood without doubt there was plenty in ancient times in this neighbourhood'.
Another view is that Dundry is an Anglo-Saxon name given to the early community by the Germanic speaking people who conquered Somerset in the late seventh century. It comes from the Old English 'Dun' meaning a down, hill or mountain with the whole name meaning the steep ascent of the 'Dun' or ridge. This derivation receives support in the 'Concise Oxford Dictionary of Place Names'.
A waggish local assertion is that the name originated from the builder of the church tower, his third, who proudly boasted that he had now 'done three' — 'dun dree' in local dialect!
Anciently Dundry was part of the manor of Chew Magna and
the modern ecclesiastical parish of Dundry was only carved out of the parish
of Chew Magna in the nineteenth century.
The Parish Church is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel. Dundry was first a chapelry of St Andrew's Church, Chew Magna. The first burial in Dundry was in 1559. In 1745 Dundry became a parish in its own right and in 1855 came the official separation of Dundry from Chew Magna Church.
The two parishes became the joint benefice of St Andrew's Chew Magna and St Michael's Dundry in 1977. In 2000 our two parishes united with Holy Trinity Norton Malreward to become a joint benefice of three churches and the Vicar became the Rector of the united benefice.
The striking and beautiful tower, ninety seven and a half feet in height, ranks amongst the best examples of the type for which Somerset is famous and was erected in 1482 in the reign of Edward IV. It is so placed that it can be seen from almost every part of Bristol and is a natural landmark for ships out in the Bristol Channel. The Merchant Venturers of Bristol are said to have donated money towards its building. Probably, at that time, the Venturers were not sufficiently organised as a body to do this corporately but the story does reflect some of the truth, that the tower was put up both to the glory of God and as a guide to navigators. Records show that the tower originally had a lantern containing a light which acted as a beacon for ships.
Built in the Perpendicular style of local Dundry stone it is surrounded by a parapet which is quite independent of the buttresses on top of the tower and sits rather like a crown on a head, pierced with arcading. Late Gothic is here to be seen at its most fantastic, with pinnacles that are quite transparent, carrying their own buttresses and flying buttresses, pierced battlements and spirelets.
The tower was completely renovated in 1987 following very successful fund raising, with over £110,000 being raised in a little over six weeks. This renovation was completed and a service of thanksgiving held at Easter with Bishop George Carey officiating (now Archbishop of Canterbury). Within a matter of weeks a severe storm hit the village and the top of the tower was extensively damaged. Fortunately this was covered by insurance so repairs and modifications were once again necessary.
There are six bells dating from 1642, 1750 (2), 1765, 1796 and 1840, five of them carrying the names of the churchwardens in office when they were cast. These were lowered and hung on a steel frame during the major tower refurbishment, with the names of the current churchwardens being inscribed on one bell which had to be re-cast.
The Church clock was installed on the south wall of the Tower in August 1999 as one of the Millennium celebrations of the village. It was installed by David Jones, Clockmaker, of Helston in Cornwall and was funded entirely by a grant from the Yansec Trust.
Very little remains of the church building of the middle ages apart from the tower, since the body of the church was so heavily restored by GB Gabriel in 1861 as to amount in practice to a rebuilding. A gallery at the west end was then removed. Portions of the former church which probably dated from the 13th century have been incorporated in the present building. These include the round pillars separating the side aisles from the nave, the south doorway, the west doorway which is richly moulded, the drip-stone of which ends in effigies of a king and queen, some portions of the north windows and the stone font. A mutilated stone figure displayed on the south wall is reputed to be that of St. Giles. The stained glass dates from the 1860's.
A handsome tower screen was erected in 1972 to a design by John Bracey ARIBA, who lived at East Dundry at the time.
Standards resting in the church are those of the Dundry branch of the Royal British Legion.
Outside in the churchyard there is an octagonal village cross, a traditional site for meetings and sermons, probably of the same date as the tower. A massive slab of Dundry stone, known locally as the 'dole-stone' is said to weigh ten and a half tons. Originally lying near the village cross it was used as a table for alms given to the poor, particularly on New Year's Day. A memorial, also in local stone pays tribute to villagers who lost their lives in two world wars.
In the late 18th century, when Dundry's population was
some 300, charitable gifts were made locally for limited educational
purposes. In 1778, Benjamin Symes provided a trust which included £2.6.0. a
year to be paid to a schoolmaster in Winford for teaching two boys of Dundry
parish and £2.3.2. to a tailor for clothing them. Hester Symes, in 1782,
provided funds for two additional boys in the same way. In 1779, James
Helliar gave £100, the interest being paid to a schoolmistress in Dundry for
teaching seven girls.
Dundry School was erected in 1858 at a cost of £826 of which £476 was raised by local effort. Extra rooms were added in 1898 and 1912.
In 1952 the school came under Somerset County Authority and became known as Dundry V.C. School. Existing books go back to the start of the century. The needlework sales book shows that girls paid 10d. for a chemise, Id. for a handkerchief, and l/4d. for a pinafore in 1904. Boys were given a week's leave for the hay harvest. In 1917 it is recorded that the school year ended on February 28th owing to the weather, sickness and withdrawal of older boys to work on the land during the war. On September 1st 1939 the school closed because of the declaration of war. The immediate influx of evacuated children is reflected in the entry for September 18th — "School re-opened. Dundry in the inner room. Our Lady of Dolours in the main room, Barking Northbury in the infant room, Barking Gascoigne in the Institute, Dalgleish at the Chapel". A report on the school in 1913 stated - "The school is devoid of pictures apart from some poor ones in the infant room and the desks of Class II are too high". The present brightly decorated classrooms full of interesting work and having modern equipment provide a complete contrast to the earlier conditions.
Dundry Baptist Chapel was built in 1829 by the Bristol
Baptist Itinerant Society. Twelve persons transferred from Chew Magna as the
nucleus of the first membership. A day school was established in 1875 as at
that time it is recorded that Sunday School children were excluded from the
Parish School and this maintained a state of great efficiency for many
years. In 1878 the chapel was rebuilt and there were then about twenty
persons in the fellowship. The Church was affiliated with the Baptist Union.
Outdoor services were held and the work attained great vigour. The chapel
was registered for marriages and a baptistry provided.
In 1895, Mrs Armstrong, who had taken an interest in the work, died and left £100 which was used to purchase and rebuild an adjoining cottage.
Work carried out on the buildings in 1972 included the provision of attractive modern style windows in the chapel and schoolroom. In 2001 the interior of the Chapel has been altered, with the removal of the pulpit and the steps leading to it.
Organisations and activities within Dundry include the
Dundry Cricket Club (formed 1902), Women's Institute (formed 1922), Royal
British Legion (formed 1932) and Dundry Athletic Football Club. A W.I. Hall
was built in 1926 and the Legion Memorial Hall was opened by the Duke of
Somerset in 1950, both halls being built by voluntary labour. The W.I. Hall
site was sold in March 1988 and the total sum of £65,000 was given towards
the building of the new Village Hall which was opened in July 1988.