Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton hundreds together occupy the Lower Parrett valley stretching from the Quantock ridge in the west to King's
Sedgemoor in the east, and from the Bristol Channel in the north to the river
Tone in the south. Roman river ports at Combwich and Crandon bridge and
farming settlements at Bawdrip, Spaxton, and Wembdon indicate early exploitation both
of alluvial grasslands and corn-growing uplands. Changes in water levels after the 4th
century left the lower ground more liable to flooding, and field boundaries in Bridgwater,
Chilton, Pawlett, and Wembdon parishes suggest that the course of the Parrett may have
been subject to frequent and significant change over a long period.
By the late 11th century the settlement pattern was dense, especially between the
Quantocks and the Parrett, an area crossed by the Saxon 'herpath' in the north and including
the 10th-century strongholds of Athelney and Lyng in the south and the Domesday royal
manors of Cannington, North Petherton, and Creech St. Michael. The origin of the
medieval royal park at North Petherton can be traced to a pre-Conquest royal forest on
the Quantocks, and North Petherton was an extensive minister parish which included the
later parishes of Chedzoy, Pawlett, Thurloxton, and probably St. Michaelchurch.
Bridgwater, a chartered borough from 1200, is the only significant town, although
Stogursey acquired borough status by 1225 and a burgage at North Petherton was
mentioned in 1251-2. By the later Middle Ages Bridgwater's port served central, south,
and west Somerset, and until the 19th century heavy goods continued to be transported
along the Parrett, the Tone, and the Bridgwater and Taunton canal into Dorset and Devon.
The pattern of settlement is varied: a few nucleated villages like Bawdrip, Cannington,
North Petherton, North Newton, and Stogursey; roadside villages like Chedzoy, East
Lyng, Durston, and Creech St. Michael; and parishes with dispersed hamlets like
Broomfield, Charlinch, and Otterhampton. Interlocking parish boundaries, notably
between Bridgwater, Chilton, Durleigh, and Wembdon, and between Cannington,
Otterhampton, and Stockland Bristol, indicate complex economic units and late parochial
Agriculture was also varied: arable farming predominated until the 16th century,
partly in open arable fields, two of which survive in Chedzoy. In the 17th century
there was an emphasis on stock rearing and an increase in dairying and orchards, largely
the result of improved drainage. Cheese was an important product of the area in the
18th century, and in the 19th baskets from locally grown willow. Medieval Bridgwater
provided an outlet for surplus food products, notably for military operations; in the
19th century it imported fertilizer and animal feeding stuffs for the farming community.
Local woollen cloth was the most significant product of the area in the later Middle
Ages and production continued into the 17th century. Attempts at copper mining and
silk production in the early 19th century were largely unsuccessful, but from the late
17th century the alluvial clays of the Parrett valley provided material for the bricks
and tiles for which Bridgwater became well known in the 19th century.
There was no dominant medieval landowner, but among the substantial estates built
up in the later Middle Ages were those whose houses wholly or partially survive, including
Fairfield, Gothelney, Gurney Street, West Bower, and Sydenham. Halswell House was
from the later 17th century the grandest mansion in the area. Enmore Castle was the
creation of the earls of Egmont in the later 18th century and the Quantock Lodge estate
of Lord Taunton derived in part from the Egmonts' estate.
Andersfield Hundred c.1840