A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 10. Originally published by Boydell & Brewer for Victoria County History, Woodbridge, 2010.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by VCH Somerset. All rights reserved.
THE FORMER tiny ancient parish, (fn. 1) a detached part of Whitley hundred because of its pre-Conquest ownership by Glastonbury abbey, (fn. 2) occupied the western end of a low ridge between the rivers Brue and Cary to the north and south and the parishes of Lovington and East Lydford to the east and west. Its boundaries suggest the deliberate division of an easily-defined tract of land, including the later East Lydford, whose western edge was marked by the Fosse Way. (fn. 3) Contraction of population in the later 19th century brought absorption of the parish into Lovington in the 20th (fn. 4) and the subsequent closure of the church. (fn. 5) In 1901 the parish measured 325 a. (fn. 6) and was less than 1 km. wide by 2 km. long. Most of the centre of the parish was on clay with outcrops of limestone, and alluvium is found along the two boundary rivers and a tributary, together with a small pocket of terrace gravel. (fn. 7) A large part of the former parish is occupied by a golf course and practice grounds.
The Castle Cary–Somerton road, the former London– Barnstaple route (fn. 8) turnpiked 1753–1879, (fn. 9) runs across the northern part of the parish. From it a single, twisting lane runs south near its western edge to pastures; a road described in 1901 as a 'pudding-bag and leads nowhere else'. (fn. 10) Since 1906 the railway in its deep cutting has divided the former Lower Farm and the main road from the village. (fn. 11)
POPULATION AND SETTLEMENT
Wheathill may have originated as a single farmstead on good arable land and even in the 11th century there were no more than three households. (fn. 12) The former demesne farm and four small holdings including the rectory at the end of the 17th century (fn. 13) probably represented the extent of medieval settlement. There were said to be 15 inhabitants in 1379. (fn. 14) About 1780 there were five houses, three of which were farms. (fn. 15) Between 1801 and 1881 the population fluctuated between 28 and 56 for no apparent reason; between three and five local children were baptised in the early years of the 19th century and in 1821 the five houses were occupied by ten families. (fn. 16) There were seven householders in 1851, nine houses in 1861, and five in 1881 with two uninhabited. (fn. 17) Cottages on the rectory estate were taken down in 1887 (fn. 18) and in 1896 and 1929 there were two houses and four cottages, although three houses were unoccupied in 1901 when the population had fallen to 17. (fn. 19) Figures thereafter seem to have included parts of East Lydford. In 1917 the parish meeting wanted more cottages built but it was later said that two of the existing cottages would not be relet at the expiration of tenancies. (fn. 20) In the early 21st century the hamlet comprised the church, which has been a house since the 1970s, (fn. 21) and seven purposebuilt dwellings including two former substantial farmhouses, Wheathill Farmhouse next to the church having been built in the 17th century as the manor house (fn. 22) and Lower Farmhouse, developed with its buildings in the early 18th century and added to in the 19th. Other houses have been converted from farmbuildings at Wheathill farm and, in 2002, at Lower farm.
Wheathill was a single manor parish with absentee owners. An estate there was given by King Edgar to Glastonbury abbey between 959 and 975. (fn. 23) The abbey evidently lost it soon after 1066 and in 1086 it was owned by Serlo de Burci. (fn. 24) An owner in 1303 claimed he held the estate of William Martin (fn. 25) which suggests that, like other estates of Serlo, Wheathill was part of the feudal honor of Blagdon (Som.) which had passed from Serlo's daughter Geva to the family of her first husband, Martin. (fn. 26) The manor in 1396 and 1435 was still held of Blagdon, of the earls of Huntingdon. (fn. 27)
Geoffrey held one part of Wheathill manor under Serlo in 1086. (fn. 28) His successors in the 12th and 13th centuries are not certainly known, though it was said that Reynold of Wheathill had been owner (fn. 29) and a Jordan of Wheathill held land in neighbouring Lovington in 1227. (fn. 30) The heir of Reynold of Wheathill is said to have married into the Wellesley family, owner of Wellesley near Dulcote, south of Wells, (fn. 31) and Thomas of Wellesley was holding ½ fee at Wheathill in 1303. (fn. 32) By 1327 he had been succeeded by Philip of Wellesley who died in 1348 having already settled Wheathill on William Banastre, husband of his second daughter Elizabeth. (fn. 33) Banastre died in 1396 leaving an only daughter Joan, wife of Robert de Affeton. (fn. 34) Before 1403 Joan was the wife of John Stourton of Preston Plucknett. (fn. 35) Their daughter Cecily, then wife of Sir Thomas Kyriell (d. 1461), succeeded at John's death in 1438. (fn. 36)
Cecily died in 1472 and was followed by her granddaughter Genevieve (d. 1480), wife of William Say, (fn. 37) and the heirs on Say's death in 1529 were the descendants of Elizabeth Cheyne, Genevieve's aunt, namely John Waldegrave, Thomas Hussey, William Clopton the younger, and Ellen Babington. (fn. 38) Wheathill passed to John Waldegrave who died in 1543. (fn. 39) He was followed by his son Sir Edward (d. 1561) (fn. 40) whose widow Frances, then wife of Chidiock Paulet, received Wheathill as part of her jointure and retained it until 1588–9. (fn. 41) Her son and successor Charles Waldegrave held his first court at Wheathill in 1600 and survived until 1632 (fn. 42) and was followed by successive baronets and barons Waldegrave until James, Earl Waldegrave, between 1724 and 1730 sold Wheathill to Edward Phelips. (fn. 43) Phelips's heiress Elizabeth, wife of Edward Phelips of Preston Plucknett, directed that her elder son Edward should convey it to his brother John. (fn. 44) John Phelips of Yeovil (d. 1766) left the manor to his widow Mary (fn. 45) and she in turn left it in 1790 to her niece Rhoda (d. 1846), wife of William Harbin. (fn. 46) In 1849 Rhoda's son George conveyed his whole estate to his widowed sister Elizabeth, widow of Major Thomas Potter Milles and then living at Seaton (Devon). (fn. 47) Mrs. Milles died in 1878 and was presumably succeeded by her only son Thomas, a major-general, (fn. 48) who was described as patron and landowner in 1883. (fn. 49) He was followed by 1884 by R. Phelps of Yeovil who by 1894 had been succeeded by a Mrs. Mayo. (fn. 50) Mrs. Mayo was said still to hold the lordship in 1902 although the two farms which constituted almost the whole of the parish were owned in 1896 by Thomas W. Mayo, described as lord of the manor by 1906 and until 1914 or later. (fn. 51) No further reference to lordship of the manor has been found.
The medieval manor had a hall which was repaired in 1475–6, (fn. 52) but the capital messuage, later known as Wheathill, Priory, or Higher Farm, was let to successive members of the Melliar family of Edington from 1654. (fn. 53) It was rebuilt for the Melliars, perhaps in two phases resulting by 1838 in a U-plan house with ovolo-moulded mullioned windows lighting the symmetrical 3-bayed façade of the main late 17th-century west range (fn. 54) The original interior has been gutted. Early 18th-century gatepiers of rusticated stone give access to a farmyard, which includes a barn of the 18th or early 19th century, converted into a house in the 20th century.
In 1086 Wheathill was divided between a demesne estate of two hides, worked by a ploughteam with a serf and a bordar, and a separate one-hide holding although the whole had gelded for three hides and was thought to merit four teams. (fn. 55) There were four taxpayers in 1327 of whom the largest, the owner Philip of Wellesley, was assessed at 12d. and three others at 6d. each. (fn. 56)
By 1472–3 the whole estate appears to have been let for cash rent, producing £16 7s. 2d. but three years later the demesne farm alone was let for £6 to the manorial bailiff and was accounted separately from tenant holdings in Wheathill, Lovington, and Foddington in Babcary, three of which were let to the bailiff or his son for rent totalling £5 1s. 6d. That total, marginally increased by 1478–9, remained constant into the 1490s and seems to have been collected in full. (fn. 57) In the 1450s and 1460s there is some evidence of overstocking of common land with sheep. (fn. 58) Sheep had evidently declined in importance by the 1530s. (fn. 59) Shortage of wood probably accounted for an order against selling firewood and a man was presented for cutting withies in 1510. (fn. 60)
The process of inclosure was under way in the later 16th century but there were still arable strips in Great and Little fields and strips in a common meadow in 1571. (fn. 61) Exchanges of strips between the two fields were licensed in 1592, (fn. 62) and there was still apparently some open arable in the 1670s or later. (fn. 63) Five men paid a subsidy for their holdings in the parish in 1641 (fn. 64) but the total rental of the manor in the parish was less than £9 in the 1690s, supplemented by substantial fines and heriots. The demesne farm then measured 182 a. while the other four farms were between 28 a. and 42 a. (fn. 65)
In 1821 of ten families, eight were occupied in agriculture. (fn. 66) In 1839 the remains of two arable fields lay in closes either side of the Somerton–Castle Cary road although some closes had been converted to pasture. Arable accounted for only 66½ a. while grass covered 217½ a. To the north along the river Brue were closes of meadow called Wyvills and Brewlands and to the south along the river Cary were meadows called Birdle and Spearham interspersed with closes of pasture. Orchards were confined to the area around the farmsteads and there was ½ a. of wood. Between 1839 and 1888 part of the arable land was planted as Wheathill Covert and a circular plantation was made in Birdle pasture further south. (fn. 67)
By 1851 the parish was shared between two farms, the later Higher Wheathill farm of 200 a. on which 6 men were employed, and the other, Lower farm, of 165 a. on which there were five men and two boys. On each farm there was a dairyman. (fn. 68) At the Lower farm fields such as Great Wyvills and Longhill were trenched and drained with guttering and pipes in 1852. The same year a machine was employed to thresh oats and wheat, four women each planted c. 30 peck of beans, and the farm kept a small herd of cows. (fn. 69) Dairying continued to predominate for much of the 19th and 20th centuries although beans and wheat were grown on small acreages in the early 1900s, only 4 a. in 1905. Arable perhaps expanded in the 1920s, (fn. 70) although the railway line had cut through the heart of the arable fields. (fn. 71)
In 1946 Lower farm was sold, still with two cottages on the main road and 150 a., as a dairy farm with stalls for 43 cows besides pigstyes, stables, and barns. However, c. 82 a. of a farm previously all grass had been ploughed under orders and was described as good wheat land. The farm also had an orchard and a withy bed. (fn. 72) At the end of the 20th century the owner of Priory, formerly Higher, farm added hot-air ballooning to his enterprises and in 1993 converted his farm to an 18-hole golf course. Later in the 1990s the land of Lower farm was divided, some becoming part of a new farming unit in Lovington. (fn. 73)
The parish had a taxable population of three in 1327, excluding the almost certainly absent lord. (fn. 76) In 1581 there were five taxpayers, one of whom was resident a few years later in adjoining Lovington, and another was licensed in 1599 to live off his tenement in Wheathill. (fn. 77) The occupier of the capital messuage headed the list of five taxpayers in 1641 (fn. 78) and the lease of the capital messuage for three lives from 1654 established a succession of resident landholders of social standing beginning with members of the Melliar family of Edington, where they were also Waldegrave tenants. (fn. 79) By the end of the 17th century Elizabeth Melliar and the next most substantial tenant, Robert Banbury, had acquired other land on lease, reducing the number of separate holdings and probably the resident population. Lower Farmhouse, possibly Banbury's house, was doubled in size in the 17th century from a low two-room 16thcentury dwelling into a two-storeyed house with a stair tower and a rear wing which became a brewhouse and bakehouse in the early 18th century when the house was given new windows and doors. (fn. 80) In the former churchyard, there is a 17th-century chest tomb of William Hole or Malet (d. 1642) and another, probably 18th-century in the former churchyard as well as a decorative 18th-century slab to the Gardner family. (fn. 81)
By the early 19th century the population was too small to support a school or any community activity and there was only one landowner. (fn. 82) The family of a widowed labourer were paid regular relief and house rent in the 1830s and two other men were relieved when sick, possibly through accidents for which a doctor was paid for surgery. (fn. 83) The only cottage property in 1839 was a house opposite the rectory divided in two (fn. 84) but further houses were built shortly afterwards including two on the main road, (fn. 85) probably the four labourers' cottages equally divided between the two farms in 1910. (fn. 86) In 1901 Higher Farm had two cattlemen living in and Lower Farm had been divided to accommodate two related households although there were three empty houses in the parish. (fn. 87)
Because of its ownership by Glastonbury abbey before the Conquest, (fn. 88) Wheathill formed part of the abbey's hundred of Whitley and the tithingman attended the hundred court twice a year in the 1530s. (fn. 89) In the 16th century it was sometimes linked with Blackford, Holton, and Cary Fitzpaine in a single tithing incorporating several of the detached parts of the hundred. (fn. 90) In 1672 its responsibility to choose a hundred constable was undertaken by Cary Fitzpaine. (fn. 91)
Courts for the manor seem to have been held twice each year between 1435 and 1519 and because of common ownership were sometimes held with those of East Lydford. Wheathill manor then comprised lands not only in the parish but also in Lovington, and Foddington in Babcary. Many records survive for the 15th to 17th centuries. The tenants, at least one still unfree, were required to maintain the 'Lychway' in Moor Lane in 1517 and in 1519 to hedge and ditch between the fields and meadow. (fn. 92) Courts held between 1588 and 1604 were described as of Wheathill and East Lydford and were normally once a year in April or May. (fn. 93) One tenant, licensed to live off his holding in 1601, was accused of taking wheat and beans to his other tenement in Alford. (fn. 94)
The farmer of the demesne in the 1470s and at least one of the lessees of the capital messuage in the 1670s acted as manor bailiff. (fn. 95) In 1654 the capital messuage was let with the obligation to entertain the lord and his officers twice a year for two days and two nights, with a limit of six men and six horses. (fn. 96) Land in Lovington was still held in 1697 for service to the manor court. (fn. 97) A pinfold was mentioned in 1600. (fn. 98)
Few records survive but one warden and one sideman were in office in the earlier 17th century, (fn. 99) and there was only one pauper c. 1780. (fn. 100) A single overseer kept accounts with the union. (fn. 101) A vestry met annually and in 1887 elected a churchwarden, a waywarden, and guardian. The rector, who was also the guardian, chaired the meetings and minutes were also signed by the overseer who resigned in 1918 after 25 years service because he did not live in the parish. In 1892 a sexton was elected. On 4 December 1894 the first parish meeting was held and the rector was the chosen chairman. There was normally one meeting a year in one of the farmhouses to choose an overseer. The only other business was to express concern over roads, the path over the railway, and lack of a post box. Some years only two people attended but by the 1920s when women were included there were six. In 1919 they refused to merge with East Lydford but there is no record of a meeting after 1924. (fn. 102)
In 1933 the civil parish became part of Lovington civil parish. (fn. 103)
Wheathill church, dedicated to St John, is a late foundation: there is no reference to it in the taxation list of 1291 but the benefice was in existence in 1313. (fn. 104) The earliest part of the church fabric was a fragment of a decorated window, probably the cinquefoiled east window, thrown away in the restoration of 1858. (fn. 105) The living was a rectory, from 1854 held with East Lydford, from 1873 until 1902 with Lovington, (fn. 106) and in 1905 united with East Lydford. (fn. 107) In 1965 the two were joined with West Lydford, to be known thereafter as the Lydfords, and from that time Wheathill was described as a chapelry. (fn. 108) From 1971 the benefice became a united parish known as Lydford on Fosse. (fn. 109) Wheathill church was declared redundant in 1971 and in the following year was about to be sold. (fn. 110) It is now a private house. From 2000 the former parish became part of the Wheathill Priory group, in the following year renamed Keinton Mandeville with Kingweston. (fn. 111)
Successive lords of the manor presented rectors to the parish with only a few exceptions. The bishop collated by lapse in 1455, 1459, 1562, 1715, and 1720 and the Crown presented in 1556. (fn. 112) The recusancy of the Waldegrave family required that trustees should present on their behalf in 1629, and in 1677 presentation was made by Robert Melliar of Wheathill and John Frank alias York of Chewton Mendip, appointed in 1672 for the purpose. (fn. 113) After 1905 the patrons were the patrons of East Lydford. (fn. 114)
Income and Property
In 1445 the living was valued at only £4 and in 1535 at £4 5s. 2d. net. (fn. 115) In the early 1660s the reputed value was £30 and in 1707 just under £40 net. (fn. 116) In the early 1830s the average net income was £105. (fn. 117) The income in 1535 comprised tithes worth just over 40s., glebe worth nearly 30s., and the rest from offerings. (fn. 118) The same proportions obtained in 1707, (fn. 119) although the size of the glebe seems to have increased between 1571 and 1628 from nearly 17 a. to over 27 a. (fn. 120) There were 27 a. of glebe in 1839 but most was sold in 1903 and the rest to the Great Western Railway before 1905. (fn. 121) In 1851 the tithes were said to be worth £70, the glebe £40. (fn. 122) By 1929 the tithe rent charge had fallen to £45. (fn. 123)
By 1628 the rectory buildings included a house, a detached kitchen, and farm buildings. (fn. 124) In 1815 the house was described as a very small cottage and 'not very fit', (fn. 125) but was occupied by the rector. (fn. 126) It was still unfit in the early 1830s but the rector in 1840 was said to have been resident and it appears to have been occupied in 1839. (fn. 127) It was later unoccupied, possibly reduced in size, and was sold in 1882–3. It was demolished before 1960. (fn. 128)
Pastoral Care and Parish Life
The small living attracted no distinguished clergy and Thadeus Omuryssy, one of perhaps three foreigners in the 15th century, was collated by the bishop in 1459 but was required to be examined after ten months as to his educational progress, notably his command of English. (fn. 129) Laurence Colberd or Coulbere (rector 1511–23) was deprived for an unknown reason. (fn. 130) The church suffered in 1568 because the rector also served Lovington and neglected his duties at Wheathill, and although his successor was resident (fn. 131) in 1600 Edward Hill (d. 1629) was accused of paying more attention to his farm. (fn. 132) Between 1745 and 1763 William Marsh combined the living with that of East Lydford (fn. 133) and the church was little used as in 1791 an elm sapling had grown to 2ft inside the building. (fn. 134)
John Harbin, rector 1793–1831 and appointed by his brother's wife's aunt, was in 1815 living at Wheathill and serving North Barrow and Lovington. Services at Wheathill were held alternately morning and evening. (fn. 135) The parish registers date from this period except for the marriage register, which survives only from 1838, although a register from 1777 was still in existence in 1831. (fn. 136) By 1827 Harbin was living in his rectory house at Compton Pauncefoot but still served North Barrow; his curate, his son Wadham, served Wheathill but lived at Castle Cary. (fn. 137) Charles Harbin, rector 1831–54 was already incumbent of Hindon (Wilts.) (fn. 138) and was not living at Wheathill in 1843. (fn. 139) Alexander Greet, rector 1865–1902, was in 1871 living at South Cary and later at Lovington, (fn. 140) although he gave his address as Wheathill Rectory in 1874. (fn. 141)
In 1840 there were two Sunday services but in 1843 only one, with quarterly communions. (fn. 142) The 50 people attending morning service on Census Sunday 1851 included people from East Lydford, where there was no morning service; the average congregation was said to be 40. (fn. 143) In 1870 there was one service each Sunday and communion once every two months at 10 am. (fn. 144) A Sunday service was held in 1906–7, (fn. 145) but communion may not have celebrated as the plate, comprising a cup and cover of 1573 by I. P. and a plate of 1674 by R. C., (fn. 146) was offered to the bishop in 1903 and lent to the Somerset County Museum from 1906 until 1918. (fn. 147)
The church was a simple, rectangular building of combined chancel and nave, with a porch on the south side and a bellcot on the western gable but all evidence of fabric earlier than of the Perpendicular period was removed in 1858 when the church was restored. (fn. 148) The furniture included a pulpit of panelled deal described as modern c. 1780. (fn. 149) There was a single bell although a new bellcot for two had been erected shortly before 1858 (fn. 150) but by 1915 there were two small ones, which were recast into one in 1917. (fn. 151) The church was restored again in 1886 when the floor was lowered and the ceiling boarded, but some of the earlier woodwork and the octagonal font were retained. The total seating was reduced from 34 to 28, although the church could hold more. (fn. 152) An 'ancient' pulpit was discovered and replaced in 1937. (fn. 153) The chancel was said to be roofless when sold and the bellcot had earlier fallen in the ridge damaging the roof and leaving the bell unusable and the west end of the church closed off. (fn. 154)
A service was held in 1917 to mark the third anniversary of the beginning of war and a new bible was given by Miss R. Webb. Archdeacon Farrar was invited to preach for the patronal festival in 1918. (fn. 155) However, shortly afterwards services were only held quarterly. (fn. 156) The plate was at East Lydford rectory in 1934 with the registers and the last baptism was in 1952. (fn. 157) The church was certainly disused by 1965 and the plate had been placed in a bank. (fn. 158) Conversion to a dwelling involved the insertion of two circular windows at the east end and a dormer on the south side. The 'Jacobean' altar was transferred to West Lydford. (fn. 159) The monuments were placed in the porch. (fn. 160)