The tiny church of Lilstock St Andrew nestles between the Quntock Hills and the Bristol Channel, surrounded by trees and almost hidden from the lane to the hamlet of less than a dozen houses from which it takes its name. After serving its community since being built in 1552, on the site of an earlier 12th century building, the church fell into disrepair through lack of use and was deconsecrated in 1980. By 1989 it was described in a local guidebook as “derelict”. The Church Commissioners decided it was not worth the effort and cost of keeping it up, or indeed taking any steps to prevent it falling down. They contemplated levelling it to save any further expense.
Enter the Reverend Rex Hancock, a former army chaplain and the Rector of the United Benefice of Quantoxhead, in which parish the ruined church stood. Described* as “a unique character who might have stepped out of a Trollope novel”, he would no doubt have won the approval of the author for his willingness to bless the hounds when the Rector of Seend felt unable to do so – an “incident”, if so it may be described, which was captured for posterity in the BBC documentary “A Country Parish”. The Reverend Hancock was also known to conduct the local Watchet town band in renditions of the Dambusters March at garden fetes.
Reverend Hancock, deploring the Commissioners decision, paid several thousand pounds out of his own pocket to finance the necessary repairs to restore the church – work carried out by local craftsman Arthur Booker and his family business.
Thereafter Reverend Hancock held one service each year at the church, maintaining its status as an active place of worship. A practice which continues to this day.
The church was somewhat belatedly recognised as architecturally and historically significant and is now a Grade II listed heritage site.
Reverend Hancock died in 2012 and was buried at nearby Porlock to the sound of a hunting horn after which the band played the Dambusters March in his honour.
*in his obituary which is reproduced in full in the church.