Simon Warman - Medieval woodcarver

Simon's Story

My name is Simon Werman and I was born when Henry V11 was still on the throne. I come from Broomfield and I am a wood carver. So was my father, his father, and generations before, and so will be my son and his son. There’s always call for the skills of craftsman like me. Oak grows plentifully on the Quantocks. It is a wonderful timber, lasts for hundreds of years. It’s hard to carve, but the results are worth the effort. Look around, especially in the churches, and you will still see examples of my work and my fellow woodcarvers.

All the churches round here make much use wood, for screens, pews, alters, pulpits, sometimes panelling on the walls. We could just leave it all plain but that would be very dull and then what would people look at while the priest was droning on in Latin? So we carve patterns and stories and all sorts. It’s quite something to think that carvings by humble craftsmen like us will remain in God’s house long after we are dead, buried and forgotten about. So we do our very best, working to God’s glory.

I sometimes imagine that in some future time people will look at our work and wonder what life was like when the carvings were new. Well, none of us have the learning to write down our stories, so they will just have to look hard and ‘read’ the carvings themselves.

People sometimes ask us how we decide what to carve. That partly depends on how skilled you are - you wouldn’t give a complete novice a bench end to do. To begin with we stick to simpler designs, leaf patterns are a good bet, twisting and twining all over the place, they sort of grow as you carve, and they always look right. Some of us get so good at this that you can tell what tree or plant the leaves are from – vines, oaks, thistles, Tudor roses and so on. Symmetrical patterns are harder, then the mistakes show!

As we get more experienced we might have a go at carving what we see going on around us, sheep-shearing, weaving, hunting, all the usual everyday things. People sometimes ask us to carve something special for them, maybe to do with the work they do. Animals are hard to get right, especially if you’ve never seen the animal in question in real life. At East Quantoxhead we had to do a coat of arms with a crown and lions – imagine! How were we supposed to know what lions look like! The unicorn and the minotaur were easier even though none of us have seen those either!

We do sometimes carve Christian symbols, often to do with Our Lord’s crucifixion: the nails, the whip, the ladder and so on, or his poor hands and feet or even his sacred heart. We hope it helps people to think about Jesus.

Lots of people still believe in the old stories as well as the Christian ones, like the Green Man who is a sort of god of the woods. You’ll see him popping up here and there, keeping an eye on things, living plants growing form his mouth and ears! We carve him too as we feel it’s better to know where he is, better not to exclude him, or he might cause mischief, you never know. Sometimes we get a bit carried away and depict the creatures of our imaginations, monsters, dragons, mermaids, fantastical beasts! We hope we don’t give anyone nightmares in church!

Oh, one more thing...most people think that we we’re all ignorant peasants, but some of us know our letters and our numbers too. That’s why of all the Quantock woodcarvers, I’m the one people will still talk about in 500 years time! I have carved my own name! But that’s enough talking. Take a close look at the pictures below or better still visit the churches to see the carvings for real, and see what you think.

Amazing carvings by Simon and his friends

  • Old churches used much wood, often finely carved, for benches, screens and pulpits. East Quantoxhead.
  • Twining branches and tudor roses. You can see how the branches have been pruned (cut back) to encourage new buds to form. This woodcarver understood roses! Bicknoller.
  • A greedy bird amongst vine leaves pecking at grapes.  Look at the realistic curling tendrils.  Cothelstone
  • Ouch! Realistic thistles. East Quantoxhead
  • A fine vase of flowers. West Bagborough
  •  A symmetrical pattern of leaves. Crowcombe.
  • Two odd-looking heraldic lions supporting a royal crown and a tudor rose. East Quantoxhead
  • Two mythological creatures: a unicorn and a half man-half horse (centaur). East Quantoxhead
  • Martels: heraldic birds with no feet on the Luttrell coat of arms. East Quantoxhead
  • Christian symbols polished smooth.  Cothelstone
  • Christian symbols polished smooth.  Cothelstone
  • Half human-half plant.  Is this a tree-spirit or ‘green woman’ from pre-Christian beliefs? West Bagborough
  • Some people think these are a merman and a mermaid. Or are they another tree-man and a tree-woman?
  • The Green Man. Plants sprout from his mouth, strange creatures emerge from his ears and fish jump from his head. What does it all mean?  Crowcombe
  • A plant grows from the mouth of a dead creature or bird. Another mystery. Over Stowey
  • A vine grows out of  a monster’s head. underneath another peculiar snake-like beats and a bat. Crowcombe.
  • An elaborately carved date. It says ANODMI, short for anno domini, which means ‘In the year of our Lord’) M CCCC XXX IIII. (1534)  Crowcombe.
  • SIIMON WERMAN’s own signature.  Broomfield

"People are so Puzzling!"

Click on the framed picture for tour stop 5

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There are good examples of medieval carved bench ends in the churches of Bishops Lydeard, Kingston, Broomfield, Cothelstone, Bicknoller, Stogursey, Spaxton and East Quantoxhead.