Footsteps into History - Clapton in Gordano
This week Gerry Brooke visits the village of Clapton in Gordano, near Portishead
Most people visiting the North Somerset village of Clapton-in- Gordano are probably making a bee line for that centuries-old hostelry known as the Black Horse.
In fact, the 14th century building once doubled as the local lock-up and it’s rural, unspoilt character make it very popular.
But this little village, nestling below the busy M5 and looking out across the moors to an ever expanding Portishead, holds many other secrets.
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Who, for instance, would believe that coal was mined here for almost a century?
And that’s how, some say, the horse ended up black, carrying the sulphurous fuel, packhorse style, to households in nearby Portishead.
The village’s Grade I-listed 13th century church, St Michael’s, now safely in the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust, is yet another secret.
This historic building, standing on the hillside above Clapton Court, the ancient seat of the Arthur family, is hidden away, overshadowed by the concrete pillars of a noisy 20th century intruder - the M5 motorway.
The well connected Arthurs, one of whom was once constable of Bristol Castle and another High Sheriff of Somerset, cared for their little church.
After all William Arthur was its builder and John Arthur its first priest.
But in the 17th century the family, who married into the Winter’s of Dyrham Park, lost their fortune.
Gossips say it was lost at the gaming tables, and the court, as has happened to many fine houses over the centuries, eventually became a lowly farmhouse.
In fact only the imposing tower and some walling survive from a 15th century rebuild.
But one treasure - a 13th century wooden screen, described by one expert as a “priceless relic of Early English domestic woodwork” - found its way, thankfully, into St Michael’s.
This wonderful piece of carving once ran between the court’s main hall and the buttery (where the servants prepared the food) but in 1860, when the hall was demolished, the screen was thrown out.
Miraculously, it was later rescued undamaged and presented to the church by a member of Bristol’s wealthy tobacco family, Sir Ernest Wills.
An elaborate monument in the church depicts Henry and Katherine Winter plus their young son Edmund, who died in 1672.
The boy sits in a chair in a red dress, with a skull on his lap, with his mother and father praying sorrowfully beside him.
All around are cherubs and angels plus a turned down torch, mown grass and a closed book, all symbols of a life extinguished before its time.
Another church feature is a rare survivor - the original 14th-century wooden benches.
In 1924 real treasure was found in Clapton - 5,000 Roman coins - a hoard hidden away, no doubt, in troubled times.
The village school and post office may be long closed but quaint cottages still adorn the narrow lanes.
And the meaning of Clapton - or Clopton as it was once known?
It’s said to derive from the Saxon meaning a “hill settlement”.
It’s Saxon too and descriptive of the triangular shape of the whole valley from Clevedon to Portishead.