Christopher Welch, the Almshouse and the Church
by Jen Richards
Anyone who pays a visit to this church or even walks through the village of Lamyatt cannot miss the numerous references to Christopher Welch and his family.
From the parish registers we can find that Christopher Welch (or CW as I shall refer to him) was baptised on January 2nd 1833, son of Christopher and Mary Welch. I believe he lived at the Manor but in the 1851 census he can be found as a scholar in Bruton. In that year he went up to Wadham College, Oxford, where he obtained a First Class Degree in Natural Science in 1855, at a time just before Charles Darwin published his “On the Origin of the Species” in 1859.
No better picture of the academic life, character and eccentricities of the man can be given than in the letter written shortly after his death by Sir Thomas Jackson, who was, I believe, a leading architect of the day and who was his contemporary at Oxford, being in the same “Pentateuch”, an institution whereby 5 members breakfasted together on a Sunday morning in each others rooms. He was also an accomplished flautist, playing in several orchestras, and published “a History of the Boehm Flute” and also another work on the Recorder.
After leaving Oxford he studied medicine in London and Paris but gave it up owing to some trouble with his eyes.
According to Jackson’s letter “ Welch was not without his eccentricities. Like many men who have no regular occupation, he was a slave of habit and a martyr to punctuality. His arrival at the Club to dine and his departure were as regular as clockwork. He would never sleep out of his own bed if he could help it, and therefore declined all invitations to stay the night with friends. He had fixed ideas on many subjects, from which nothing could move him, even when he knew little about them. His neat and orderly ways were a pattern to everybody. His large musical library was arranged methodically, every piece of music in its brown wrapper neatly labelled, so that he could lay his hand on whatever he wanted, at the shortest notice.”
In the book of memories Mr Bert Stone remembered that he “heard tell that CW would come off the London train with his green umbrella and grey topper. He had leg of mutton whiskers and hair longer then the young ‘uns today.”
CW never married and died in Surrey on 10th September 1915. He left his estates in Somerset to Oxford University to be used for Scholarships for the study of biology. Perhaps some of his fixed views can be surmised from the press cutting of the time, as it is written that if Oxford University did not take up the bequests within 12 months then the money should go to London Hospitals. However, no hospital should be chosen where vivisection was disallowed, “Anti-vivisectionists being enemies of the human race.” Wadham College was none too pleased that he left his money to the University rather than the college itself. However, the Welch Scholarships are still running and a quick search on the Internet will reveal the names of many who have benefited. Interestingly, I believe that it was not until 1931 that women were allowed to compete on equal terms with men.
Back to Lamyatt. Perhaps his most obvious memorial is the Welch Almshouses, now a listed building and by far the most eye-catching dwelling in the village, which he had built in the early 1900s for the benefit of agricultural labourers who had resided for not less than 5 years in the district, who were over 60 years of age and not in receipt of parish relief. He put aside £75 per annum for the upkeep of the houses with any surplus being used to buy blankets for the necessitous poor of the district, a practise which continued up till 1949. At first no women were allowed to be residents in the Almshouses. Even in 1936 when Robert Mundy died, his widow was given notice to quit. CW might then not be too impressed that today two ladies are the sole residents. His initials can also be seen on other properties in the village.
CW also left his mark in the church. The most obvious example is our wonderful stained glass window depicting naturally enough the story of St Christopher carrying the Christ child over the river on his shoulders, given in 1907 (see the inscription in the bottom left hand corner). Please read the accompanying pages for the story of St Christopher as told by the window. The flute-playing angels above are perhaps in recognisance of his own musicality. He also donated the pews in 1911(again see the inscription under the carving); each one carved differently, the one under the window again with a carving of St Christopher, and the lectern in 1891 (inscription at the base).