The last few times I’ve gone to visit the other half’s family in Somerset, we’ve driven through the town of Langport, a small place now but once an actual port and quite an important site in the Middle Ages. As we rounded the corner in the car, I kind of obliquely wondered why there was a great big portcullis painted on a wall, standing out with stark menace against the whitewash . Or why the local pub was also called ‘The Portcullis’ and had a sign depicting the same emblem.
And then the penny dropped…there might be an association with Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor’s mother.
I should have guessed already; on an earlier trip to nearby Taunton, I had noticed a stained glass window dedicated to her wily servant, Reginald Bray, in one of the churches and thought there had to be a local connection. As it happens, Margaret Beaufort, owned the manors of both Langport and Curry Rivel. Forget the modern portcullis emblems on wall and pub sign–original late 15th carvings of the Beaufort portcullis appear on the towers of both All Saints Church in Langport and St Andrews in Currey Rivel.
Curious, I decided to take a walk around All Saints, which stands at the top of town, on a very steep hill, near a remaining section of Langport’s ancient town walls. It is a fine church, although now disused, and is covered by carved stone ‘hunky punks’, a local type of Somerset grotesque (they aren’t actually gargoyles as they are not functional but are merely decorative.) The word ‘hunky punk’ is deemed to be from old English and means something similar to ‘hunkered down on haunches and squat legs.’
Going into the nave of the church, there was a Norman door remaining from an earlier church on the site…and on one wall, a rather flattering framed portrait of Margaret Beaufort ( not the usual one we are used to seeing, one in which she looks much younger). There is also some fine 15th c glass depicting several saints, possibly the finest medieval glass in Somerset.
But it was the hunky punks that intrigued me most, so it was back outside the building to look around the rear of the church…especially since I’d had a ‘tip off’ that two of the carvings were not the usual gurning goblins that danced sinisterly along the Somerset church rooflines.
Tucked out of the way, near a window, I spotted two hunky punks that didn’t quite match the mouth-pullers, wide-grinners, and tongue-pokers all over the rest of the church.
Do these two hunky punks look vaguely familiar to you?