A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.
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Somerton parish, the largest in the hundred, shares with Pitney and Kingsdon the 200 ft. Lower Lias ridge between the valleys of the Yeo and the Cary. (fn. 1) It is over 6¼ miles from the Eighteen Feet Rhine in King's Sedgemoor in the north-west to Catsgore in the south-east, and is up to 4 miles from east to west. The river Cary forms the natural boundary with Compton Dundon and Charlton Mackrell in the north and east and, before the loss of Kingsmoor at the end of the 19th century, the southern limit was the Yeo. Elsewhere the boundaries follow no natural features and those with Pitney and Kingsdon interlock in a manner suggesting relatively late formation. (fn. 2) Even later are the limits of Somerton on King's Sedgemoor, suggested c. 1625 (fn. 3) but not finally defined until inclosure of the 'moor' in 1795. (fn. 4) In 1841 the total area was 6,928 a. (fn. 5) In 1885 the detached parts of the parish were absorbed by neighbours: Kingsmoor went to Long Sutton and Kingsdon, and two smaller areas to the east were added to Charlton Mackrell and Kingsdon. (fn. 6) In 1901 the area was 6,610 a. (fn. 7)
The parish came within the 'wealthy corn-growing hinterland' of Roman Ilchester and was evidently cultivated by farmers who in the 1st century were purely native but later increasingly Romanized. At least eight such farms and a larger settlement at Catsgore have been identified, not necessarily occupied at the same time. (fn. 8) The position of these sites has had no obvious effect on later settlement with the possible exception of Hurcot, north-east of the town beyond the Cary, where alabaster was quarried on the Keuper marl. (fn. 9) There a Romanized farmstead site was succeeded by a medieval manor with its own field system. (fn. 10) There was a population there in 1604–5 of 18 adults and 22 youths, (fn. 11) and in 1765 there were 16 houses. (fn. 12)
The suggested origin of the name Somerton as 'summer dwelling' is at variance with the physical position of the town and of most of the parish. (fn. 13) The town itself has two main suburbs: Lower Somerton, the manorial settlement of Somerton Erleigh (fn. 14) south-east of the town, and West End or Western Town, until the 20th century an irregular group of small cottages between the Langport and Long Sutton roads, probably settled in the 17th century. (fn. 15) In 1630 complaints were made against the 'great number' of cottages erected about the town and occupied by poor people liable at any time to fall a burden on the rates. (fn. 16) Points of early settlement elsewhere in the parish include St. Cleers farm, Melbury, and Highbrooks. St. Cleers, traditionally the site of a Saxon royal dwelling, (fn. 17) was a farm complex in 1336. (fn. 18) Melbury seems to have originated as the site of a windmill, and a settlement, probably with a chapel, grew up around a green. (fn. 19) Buildings there were in decay in the early 18th century, and the settlement had disappeared by the 19th century. (fn. 20) Highbrooks, on the southern boundary of the parish, was a small farm at least from the 14th century. (fn. 21)
The parish had three field systems centred on the three main manors. Hurcot had one common field in the 17th and 18th centuries; Somerton Erleigh had East, South, West, and Lower Somerton fields at the beginning of the 17th century, though the last two may have been the same. (fn. 22) Somerton manor had four fields, named after the cardinal points, in the Middle Ages, which were rearranged in the 16th century. (fn. 23) By 1806 North field occupied the plateau north of the town, including Bancombe, Bradley, and Brockle hills. North-west field was in the angle formed by the Langport road, extending to Somerton hill, and the High Ham road. Southwest field lay immediately south of the Langport road, to the west of St. Cleers Farm. South field occupied South hill and the southern slopes of the parish. These fields were inclosed in 1806.
Grassland was largely on the alluvium of the Yeo and Cary valleys, but Hibroc, now Highbrooks, occurs as meadow in the 12th century. (fn. 24) By 1484 Somerton manor alone had at least 62 a. of meadow in demesne at 'Blakmore', 'Newdich', 'Rodehampe', and 'Lowdeche'. (fn. 25) New moor in Somerton Erleigh occurs in 1597, (fn. 26) and Somerton New mead in 1672. (fn. 27)
In 1352 woodland attached to Somerton manor amounted to 64 a., 'from which nothing can be carried in winter owing to the depth of the road there'. (fn. 28) This was known in the 16th century as West wood or Westwood Park. (fn. 29) Under West wood the present Park farm recalls the position of a park which in the 13th century was used to impound stock. (fn. 30) Copley wood above Hurcot covers a field known as Parks, and adjoins others which may have formed another area for stocking game. (fn. 31) Most of the wood on the Somerton Erleigh estate is of 19thcentury origin, though ornamental planting was begun by William Howe in the late 18th century. (fn. 32) The total amount of wood in the parish increased from 219 a. in 1841 to 322 a. in 1905. (fn. 33)
The parish is not well watered, only two streams draining the whole area south of the town. The town itself was supplied by four common wells and by Pound Pools, a spring near the pound at the western end of the town, which fed a stream running through the streets. (fn. 34) The Cary did not drive a mill, but fishing rights produced a small income. There was a ruined fish house near the river bank in 1484 and rights to fish between Cary bridge and Pitney Steart (Stertewethy) allowed the tenant to use a fish weir and instruments called 'elesperes', 'shybbes', and 'stryngas piscare'. (fn. 35)
The road system of the parish, as of several of its neighbours, demonstrates the importance of the east-west market routes, though the centre of the town is now so placed as to make all but its western access indirect. The eastern and northern routes converge at the north end of Cary bridge, which was in existence by 1258. (fn. 36) The medieval route from Ilchester via Kingsdon entered from the east. Its course, passing close to the north side of Somerton Randolph manor-house, was diverted by John Frederick Pinney in stages between 1824 and 1846 in order to improve his own property. (fn. 37) The direct western route from Langport entered the town by the long slope from Somerton hill and joined the built-up area at Shorn Tree. (fn. 38) The western limit of the town proper was marked by a cross, first referred to c. 1225. (fn. 39) The west, north, and east routes into the town were turnpiked by the Langport, Somerton, and Castle Cary trust in 1753, the stretch from Cary bridge to Kingsdon in 1777–8, and a road south to Catsgore Farm in 1856–7. (fn. 40) The last was one of several which criss-crossed the southern part of the parish, serving the former open fields. North of the town the roads were fewer in number and now serve only the 'moors'.
There was a ford through the Cary below Bradley hill, known in 1447 as Stonyford, and now as Grove Steining ford. (fn. 41) Pitney Steart, Park, Somerton Door, and Etsome bridges are modern and comparatively new structures crossing the Cary. (fn. 42) Earlier bridges in the parish included Stonebrugge in 1447, (fn. 43) Lady bridge in Lower Somerton by 1484, (fn. 44) Levorum and Sedgemoor's bridges in 1599, (fn. 45) and Miss bridge in 1760. (fn. 46)
Somerton was gradually isolated in the 19th century because of the development of the more southerly route eastwards from Langport through Long Sutton, and by the absence of a railway. The Southern Junction Railway was mooted in 1881 and again in 1898 and 1901, all schemes taking roughly the same route as the present course of the railway. (fn. 47) The link between Castle Cary and Langport was constructed in 1906, involving a viaduct over the Cary, (fn. 48) a deep cutting in the centre of the town, where the station was built, and a tunnel under South hill. The station was closed to passengers in 1962 and to goods in 1964. (fn. 49) Plans for a tramway linking the town with Keinton Mandeville, Castle Cary, and Evercreech were put forward in 1891, 1892, and 1894. (fn. 50)
The town itself seems to have originated as a short-lived Saxon burh in the area north-west of the church, known as Bury by 1349. (fn. 51) The abandonment of the original settlement centre probably dates from the creation of the new market and surrounding burgage properties south of the church before 1290. (fn. 52) A new alignment of streets involving the creation of West Street and Broad Street gradually obliterated the original network, which comprised a direct east-west route north of the Vicarage and church, with a junction or crossroads later providing access to the new market place. There were 'ancient burgages' north of the churchyard in the 17th century in a street then referred to as East Street, (fn. 53) now represented by the road between Cow Square and the Vicarage. New Street, so named by 1349, (fn. 54) was a continuation of East Street, and serves as further evidence of the town's expansion in the 13th and early 14th centuries.
North Street first occurs in 1624–5, (fn. 55) Pig or Swine Street, Long Acre Lane, and Kircombe Street by 1664–6. (fn. 56) Pig Street became known as Broad Street in the late 18th century. Kircombe Street probably derives its name from the Kirkham family: Robert Kirkham occurs in 1447, (fn. 57) and Nicholas Kirkham of Winchester, lunatic, held 100 a. in the parish in 1486. (fn. 58) Other features of the town plan include the old pound at the end of West Street, so named in 1572, (fn. 59) on which three houses had been built by 1661; (fn. 60) Pye Corner (by 1700), Webber, Warber, or Pollum Lane (1656); and Pester's Lane (by 1739). (fn. 61)
1. St. Michael's Church
3. Old Hall
4. Site of Horse Mill
5. Scott Gould Homes
6. Former Free School
7. Red Lion Inn
8. Tithe Barn
9. Old Parsonage
10. White Hart Inn
11. Town Hall
12. Market Cross
13. Lady Smith Memorial Hall
14. Bank House, Site of Great House
15. Methodist Chapel
16. Congregational Chapel
17. Unicorn Inn
18. Hext Alms-houses
19. Former Bible Christian Chapel
Houses in and near the Market Place were among the most substantial in the town in the 17th century. They were followed by several dignified 18thcentury residences and by the re-fronting of earlier houses. By the end of the 18th century Somerton had an 'air of neatness and respectability' (fn. 62)—a description which could still be applied to the town centre in the 1970s. No wholesale redevelopment has taken place and few shop-fronts have been inserted. At the same time the continued use of lias and Ham stone as building materials has preserved the unity and scale of the older town. The Market Place, with its buildings irregularly disposed round the 17th-century Town Hall and Market Cross, has been called 'one of the most happily grouped urban pictures in Somerset'. (fn. 63) From its north-east corner runs the tree-lined Broad Street with Cow Square opening out of it. In this area Somerton's better 18th-century houses are situated, several of them still occupied as residences. Beyond, in North Street, the houses are rather smaller and date mostly from the earlier 19th century.
Several domestic buildings in Somerton, including the Vicarage, (fn. 64) contain medieval features. The present White Hart inn (formerly the Bear), which stands on the south side of the Market Place, was re-fronted in the mid 19th century. It contains an open roof of late-medieval date on the upper floor of what was originally a gable cross-wing. The presence of very thick walls and other masonry in outbuildings behind the inn has often been quoted in support of a tradition that a castle once occupied the site. This tradition dates from the late 18th century, and evidently arose from a confusion with Somerton (Lincs.), where there is a castle. (fn. 65) The name 'Somerton Castle' was also at one time applied to a large house which formerly stood further east on the south side of the Market Place. (fn. 66) It was evidently a late-medieval building with a single-storeyed hall lit by mullioned and transomed windows with traceried heads. To the west of the hall was an imposing two-storeyed porch with Perpendicular windows and an embattled parapet. When the house was demolished in 1842 the porch was removed to Chilton Polden and reerected as a garden feature. (fn. 67) It is possible that the 'castle' remains associated with the White Hart represent parts of the medieval or Tudor outbuildings belonging to this house. The remains were much more extensive in 1828, when they were assumed to be the walls of 'Somerton Castle', and included what appeared to be several incomplete stone buildings. One contained a small roundheaded doorway, described as 'Anglo-Norman', and another had, high up, two very small pointed windows. (fn. 68)
The Unicorn in West Street, recorded as an inn of that name from 1756, (fn. 69) is also a building of latemedieval or 16th-century origin. A formerly open roof of seven bays covers the long range fronting the street. The roof trusses are of jointed cruck construction and have cambered collars with chamfered arch-braces. The timbers are not smokeblackened, suggesting that the range, although having a basically medieval plan, was always twostoreyed. At its east end a large walled-up fire-place has a former smoke chamber beside it. The front of the house was remodelled in the mid 17th century and given a two-storeyed gabled porch with a semi-circular outer arch and an inner doorway with a four-centred head. The former Nag's Head, also in West Street and recorded as an inn from 1672 onwards, (fn. 70) is a timber-framed structure. It was divided into two dwellings and largely faced with lias in the 19th century. There are remains of a moulded bressummer of the late 15th or 16th century to the former jettied upper floor and the side wall in the yard entry is of stud and panel construction.
The increasing prosperity of Somerton in the 17th century is reflected by the number of substantial houses which were built or improved at that time. The largest was the Great House. With its outbuildings it occupied the whole west side of the Market Place, covering six ancient burgage plots. It was built by Sir John Strangways (d. 1666) who had acquired the manor of Somerton St. Cleers in 1638. (fn. 71) The plots, on some of which buildings were already standing, were leased by Sir John from several owners. By 1661 his 'great dwelling house', which included his hall, was described as 'new'. There was also 'a stable, anciently a barn', a 'gate court', garden, and orchard. Old buildings which survived had 'a little court' amongst them. (fn. 72) At the south end of the block, on the corner of West Street, was a burgage called Lady House. (fn. 73) After Sir John's death the Great House was divided, tenants at subsequent periods including an apothecary, a post-master, and a grocer. (fn. 74) Lady House was rebuilt after a fire in 1671 and later became a shop. (fn. 75) During the 18th century most of the remaining property was occupied by an inn called the White Hart. (fn. 76) The inn was afterwards sub-divided. The southern half was rebuilt in 1786 (fn. 77) and evidently re-fronted in the 19th century; it is now occupied as a bank. The northern half became a shop and, by 1841, the Crown inn. (fn. 78) The only part of Sir John's house to survive apparently corresponds with this northern half and is now known as Bank House. The two-storeyed stone front was probably rebuilt in the 18th or early 19th century. The ground floor contains the original hall, divided by later partitions, with a parlour to the north of it. Both rooms have Ham stone fire-places and several stone doorways, some with moulded arches and jambs. At the back is a projecting wing which probably housed a large staircase, but no trace of this remains. A cellar below had evidently been used by the inn. The service rooms of the Great House are likely to have been in the rebuilt portion to the south, now the bank. The first-floor room above the hall has an enriched plaster ceiling with a geometrical design of moulded ribs, panel ornaments, and pendants. Its style is surprisingly early for a mid-17th-century house. Above the fire-place is an elaborate overmantel incorporating the arms of the Doddington family. (fn. 79)
In front of the Great House, on part of the site now occupied by the Lady Smith Memorial Hall (built 1901), (fn. 80) a barn and other buildings which had belonged to the White Hart survived at least until 1841. (fn. 81) There were also houses, now demolished, at the southern entrance to the churchyard. (fn. 82) Cross House, so called by 1661, was a 17th-century building forming part of the island site east of the Town Hall and Cross. (fn. 83) It was apparently rebuilt in its original style by William Pinney in the 19th century and bears his initials. (fn. 84) The 'Market House' on the north side of the Market Place, has a mid-17th-century stone front. There are, however, indications of timber construction internally. The front has two oriel windows on the first floor with attic gables above them; all the windows have ovolo-moulded mullions. The roof of the house next to the east has curved windbraces.
In the 17th century William Taylor had a 'fair dwelling house' on the east side of North Street which had been divided by 1714. (fn. 85) It occupied several burgage plots, one formerly known as the 'Star'. (fn. 86) Another divided house is now represented by Medwyn and Stockers House on the east side of Broad Street. Together they form an L-shaped building with a long wing, now part of Medwyn, at the rear. The room at the far end has a large open fire-place flanked by a spiral stone stair on one side and a former smoke-chamber on the other. There is a decorative plaster frieze of late-16th- or early-17th-century date in an upper room, (fn. 87) and some re-set panelling dated 1623 in the entrance passage. The original front doorway is of Ham stone with a four-centred head. The Jacobean overmantel now at the Old Parsonage is said to have come from Medwyn. (fn. 88) Stockers House, with a later addition at the rear, appears to incorporate the parlour and former staircase wing of the original house.
Craigmore, adjoining Stockers House, dates from c. 1700. The front was altered later, perhaps in the mid 18th century when a new wing, now called Narrow House, was added. Narrow House has a pedimented gable facing the road, below which is a round-headed window. The present Westminster Bank on the same side of Broad Street was built as a house in 1708. (fn. 89) The two-storeyed front of five bays has rusticated quoins to the angles and to the window openings, a moulded string-course, and a bolection-moulded doorway. At the south end of Broad Street stands the Red Lion, which has the most ambitious 18th-century facade in the town. The south end of the range may be of 17th-century origin but the northern end, including the stableyard of the inn and a house which was formerly the post office, was built c. 1770. (fn. 90) The whole frontage, which has uniform three-light sash windows, was remodelled at this time. The central feature is a segmental-headed archway to the yard, surmounted by a Venetian window and flanked by stone pilasters supporting an open pediment; in the tympanum are the arms of the earls of Ilchester, carved in relief. The southern half of the building contains a large Ham stone fire-place with a baking oven, perhaps part of the earlier Red Lion inn. A square stone column supporting a lion, said in 1828 to have been 'carved in good style by a medical person residing in the town who had never had any instruction in the sculptor's art', stood in front of the building until 1897. (fn. 91)
Donisthorpe in Cow Square is said to have been built in 1770. (fn. 92) It has a symmetrical front of seven bays with moulded window surrounds and a classical porch. The forecourt is bounded by contemporary wrought-iron railings, gate, and gatepiers. Hopefield next door is of similar date and may represent a converted stable range. The Georgian group in Cow Square is completed by the Old Hall which has a mansard roof and a late-18thcentury front with a central porch.
On the western outskirts of Somerton a few scattered 17th- and 18th-century cottages survive. Pipers Green, in the Langport road, is one of two identical detached stone cottages with steeplypitched thatched roofs. They are L-shaped in plan and have two small rooms to each floor, the upper rooms being in the roof. Each cottage has an open fire-place on the ground floor with a spiral stone stair beside it. They probably date from c. 1700 and are said to have been built for lime-burners in connexion with the nearby stone quarry. (fn. 93)
In 1604–5 a rating assessment of Somerton parish revealed the names of 348 inhabitants. (fn. 94) In 1801 the population was 1,145, a figure which rose gradually to a peak of 2,302 in 1871. It then fell to 1,797 in 1901, rose temporarily, and then fell again, to 1,776 in 1921. It had recovered to 2,182 in 1961, and has risen rapidly in the last decade. (fn. 95)
As a royal possession until the 14th century, visits to the town by Saxon kings and their successors may not have been unusual. Ethelred was almost certainly there in 860, (fn. 96) and Edward I from 12 to 15 December 1285. (fn. 97) The town was used as a temporary base both in the Civil War and during Monmouth's rebellion. The marquess of Hertford was there with troops in 1643, and it was probably one of these soldiers who was buried in the church in that year. (fn. 98) Charles I came to Kingsmoor, a popular place for musters, (fn. 99) to meet the posse comitatus in an abortive attempt to raise troops in July 1644. (fn. 100) Parliamentary horse were reported marching to the town in September 1644, and Goring was there with Royalist foot in May 1645. (fn. 101) Only two months later Parliamentary troops came to the town just before Goring was defeated near Langport. (fn. 102) The militia commissioners used the town for their meetings during the Interregnum. (fn. 103) The earl of Feversham used the town as a base from which to 'observe the rebels' in July 1685 on the three days before the battle of Sedgemoor. (fn. 104) During the 18th century Kingsmoor was 'considered by sportsmen as one of the best coursed in the Kingdom'. (fn. 105)
Distinguished natives of the town include Humphrey Philips (1633–1707), a Presbyterian divine, Marmaduke Cradock (1660?–1716), a painter of animals and birds, and Joseph Sams (1784–1860), the orientalist. (fn. 106) Richard Newcourt (d. 1679), the topographical draughtsman, lived in the town and was buried there. (fn. 107) The barony of Stawell of Somerton, granted to Ralph Stawell in 1683 in consideration of the loyal services of his father, Sir John Stawell (d. 1662), took its name from the family's estates in and near the town.
Manors and Other Estates.
In 733 Ethelbald of Mercia occupied the 'royal town' of Somerton, formerly in the possession of the West Saxon kings. (fn. 108) The kings of Wessex re-established themselves there by the early 9th century, (fn. 109) and continuous ownership by them may thereafter be assumed. By the time of Domesday parts of the original estate had been alienated, (fn. 110) but the manor included most, if not all, of the present parishes of Kingsdon and Pitney. (fn. 111) The area of the estate was later contracted in consequence of the separation of Somerton Erleigh by 1176, of Hurcot by 1207 and, in the 13th century, of Pitney Lorty and Pitney Plucknett. (fn. 112) The remainder, known as the manor of SOMERTON, was granted during pleasure to a succession of royal servants: Hugh de Neville in 1215, William de Torinton in 1217. (fn. 113) By 1242 the men of Somerton were holding the manor at farm for £60, (fn. 114) but ten years later they were superseded by Adam Wymer, king's serjeant. (fn. 115) From 1262 the farm was assigned to Queen Eleanor in dower, (fn. 116) and from 1265 was paid by Eleanor of Castile, wife of the lord Edward, first as keeper, in February 1266 as farmer, and later in the year as tenant for life. (fn. 117)
On her death in 1290 it was resumed by the Crown, until settled as dower on Edward I's second wife, Margaret of France (d. 1318), in 1299. (fn. 118) On her death the manor, town, and hundred, with Kingsmoor, were given to her second son Edmund of Woodstock (cr. earl of Kent 1321, d. 1330). (fn. 119) The earl's heirs were his two infant sons Edmund and John. (fn. 120) William de Montacute (cr. earl of Salisbury 1337, d. 1344) was given the property for life, (fn. 121) but Kent's rehabilitation in 1331 gave Montacute custody only during the minority of the heir. (fn. 122) Edmund, the elder son, died in 1331; John took possession in 1351 but died in the following year. (fn. 123) His widow retained the manor as dower until her death in 1411. (fn. 124) Her successor was Eleanor Holand, grand-daughter of Joan, countess of Kent (d. 1385), sister and heir of John, earl of Kent. (fn. 125) Eleanor's husband, Thomas de Montacute, earl of Salisbury, held the manor in 1412. (fn. 126)
Montacute (d. 1428) was succeeded by his only daughter Alice, wife of Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury (d. 1460). (fn. 127) From his son Richard, earl of Warwick (d. 1471) Somerton passed through his elder daughter Isabel to George, duke of Clarence (d. 1478). Their son Edward, earl of Warwick (d. 1499), succeeded as a minor to his mother's lands which remained in Crown custody. (fn. 128) Warwick's attainder was reversed in 1513–14, (fn. 129) and his lands were given to his sister Margaret, countess of Salisbury, wife of Sir Richard Pole. Her estates were, in their turn, forfeited in 1539, and remained in the hands of the Crown until 1552 when they were restored in favour of her grand-daughter Catherine, wife of Francis Hastings, earl of Huntingdon (d. 1560). (fn. 130) Their son Henry (d. 1595) sold the Somerton property to his brother Francis and to Sir Edward Hext (d. 1626) of Low Ham in 1592. (fn. 131) Later in the same year Hastings sold his share to Hext. (fn. 132)
The estate passed to Hext's only daughter Elizabeth, wife of Sir John Stawell, K.B. (d. 1662). (fn. 133) It was sequestrated in 1646 because of Sir John's political activities but was discharged in 1653, (fn. 134) The manor was settled in 1661 on Sir John's eldest son George, and it passed on George's death in 1669 to his brother Ralph (cr. Lord Stawell of Somerton 1683). (fn. 135) Lord Stawell's elder son John succeeded in 1689, but the estate was so heavily encumbered at his death in 1692 that a trust was established which sold the whole property in 1700 to Col. (later Sir) Thomas Strangways, already owner of the manor of St. Cleers. (fn. 136)
Strangways died in 1713 leaving a son Thomas (d. 1726) and two daughters Susanna (d. 1758), wife of Thomas Strangways Horner of Mells, and Elizabeth (d. 1729), wife of James Hamilton, duke of Hamilton and Brandon (d. 1743). (fn. 137) The younger Thomas died without issue, and on the death of the duchess of Hamilton in 1729 the property passed entire to Susanna. Susanna's only daughter Elizabeth married Stephen Fox. He took the additional name of Strangways and in 1741 was created Lord Ilchester and Baron Strangways. He became earl of Ilchester in 1756. (fn. 138) On his death in 1776 the property passed successively to Henry Thomas his eldest son (d. 1802), and to two grandsons Henry Stephen (d. 1858) and William Thomas Horner (d. 1865), successively earls of Ilchester. (fn. 139) Henry Edward, the 5th earl, nephew of the last, sold 2,500 a. of the estate as separate farms in 1874. (fn. 140) His son, who succeeded in 1905, sold the remainder in 1913, 1920, and 1921. (fn. 141) The lordship of the manor was not included in any of these sales.
The estate of HURCOT occurs in 1205 when it was to be given by the Crown to Ralph de Forz in exchange for land in Puckington. (fn. 142) The exchange was evidently not made, but a similar one with Robert de Newburgh for Powerstock (Dors.) in 1207 seems to have been effective, though at least until 1214 Robert appears only as tenant of Hurcot and continued to hold his Dorset lands. (fn. 143) Robert died in 1246 holding an estate at Hurcot valued at £9 12s. (fn. 144) Eleanor, queen of Edward I, acquired it from Henry de Newburgh in 1276. (fn. 145) On her death in 1290 the property, described as a manor, was resumed by the Crown, and was administered directly by Crown officials. (fn. 146) In 1302 it was given to the king's daughter Mary, a nun at Amesbury (Wilts.), 'for the maintenance of her chamber'. (fn. 147) Its subsequent descent is not clear, but it seems probable that the grant of dower lands in Somerset to William de Montacute in 1330 included Hurcot. (fn. 148) Montacute's holding was evidently smaller than Queen Eleanor's, nearly 100 a. having been alienated by 1302. (fn. 149)
In or before 1337 William de Montacute gave the manor to his newly-founded priory at Bisham (Berks.). (fn. 150) The priory was dissolved in 1536 but was refounded as an abbey in the following year, when the estates were given to it. (fn. 151) The abbey was dissolved two years later, and in 1541 the manor of Hurcot was given to Anne of Cleves. (fn. 152) After her death in 1557 it was resumed by the Crown and then in 1559 settled in tail male on Sir John Grey (d. 1564), son of Thomas Grey, marquess of Dorset (d. 1530). (fn. 153) Grey's son Henry, Lord Grey of Groby (d. 1614), left Hurcot to his own son also Henry (cr. earl of Stamford 1628). (fn. 154) The earl sold it in 1629 to Thomas Bennet (cr. Bt. 1660), whose son Levinus (d. 1693) was succeeded by Richard, of Babraham (Cambs.) (d. 1701). (fn. 155) Richard's daughter Judith died under age in 1713 and the property was therefore divided between his five sisters. (fn. 156) In 1765 it was reunited in the hands of Richard Henry Alexander Benet of St. James's Street, London, and later of Beckenham (Kent), son of Benet Alexander (later Benet), son of Richard's sister Levina. (fn. 157)
In 1798 Benet sold the manor to Joseph Bradney of Ham (Surr.). (fn. 158) Bradney's son, the Revd. John Hopkins Bradney, sold it to Francis Henry Dickinson (d. 1890) of Kingweston about 1839. (fn. 159) The estate was then just over 600 a. in area. (fn. 160) Capt. W. F. Dickinson sold his holding in Hurcot, then consisting of Hurcot farm and other lands, amounting to over 540 a., to the tenant in 1930. (fn. 161)
The 'court house' in Hurcot in 1297 included a hall and chamber, with associated stall and barn. (fn. 162)
William de Erleigh paid 100s. in 1176 for lands in Somerton which may have been alienated from the royal estate in that year. (fn. 163) His grandson John (II) de Erleigh, who had succeeded in 1199, held the estate in 1210–12 as a royal chamberlain; (fn. 164) the serjeanty service was later the duty of carrying a towel (tuellam) before the king at Pentecost. (fn. 165) Lands late of William Peverell in Somerton were added to John's holding in 1217. (fn. 166) John de Erleigh was still alive in 1231. (fn. 167) Henry de Erleigh, his brother, succeeded by 1251–2 to an estate then known as Little Somerton, (fn. 168) and is said to have died in 1272. (fn. 169) His heir, Philip de Erleigh, succeeded by 1280 but was dead by 1284–5 when his own son was still a minor. The property, then called East Somerton, was in the custody of William de Montfort. (fn. 170) John (III) de Erleigh, who came of age by 1299, died in 1324. (fn. 171)
John (IV), his heir, died in 1337, when the estate was first described as a manor, later known as the manor of SOMERTON ERLEIGH. (fn. 172) John (V) succeeded as a minor and his lands were held by his mother Elizabeth until 1361. (fn. 173) In 1371–2 John (V) made over the manor to his father-in-law Sir Guy Brien, providing the tenants, Richard Brice and Edith his wife, with a life interest. (fn. 174) This settlement was altered in 1386 in favour of Sir William Brien and Philip Brien, (fn. 175) and again in 1388 in favour of Sir Guy's eldest son's, children. (fn. 176) A disputed succession followed the death of Guy the elder in 1390, and the manor passed to his elder granddaughter Philippe, wife successively of John de Ros and Henry le Scrope of Masham. (fn. 177) She died in 1406 and her heir was her sister Elizabeth, wife of Robert Lovell. (fn. 178) The manor was said to be held of the countess of Kent as of her manor of Somerton. (fn. 179) Scrope held it of the Lovells until his execution in 1415. (fn. 180)
Maud, sole heir of the Lovells, died in 1436 leaving as heir her son Humphrey by John d'Arundel, earl of Arundel (d. 1435). (fn. 181) Humphrey's death two years later brought the manor to his half-sister Avice, daughter of Maud by Sir Richard Stafford. Shortly afterwards Avice (d. 1457) married James Butler, earl of Ormond (cr. earl of Wiltshire 1449, d. 1461). (fn. 182) Butler's estates were forfeited to the Crown in 1461 and a year later the manor was given to William Neville, earl of Kent (d. 1463). On his death the manor was granted to George, duke of Clarence, already lord of the capital manor. (fn. 183) Eleanor, countess of Wiltshire, received part of the estate as jointure in 1470, (fn. 184) but Clarence retained the remainder until his death in 1478, when possession of the whole reverted to Eleanor, then wife of Sir Robert Spencer. (fn. 185) Eleanor died in 1501 and was succeeded by Thomas Butler, earl of Ormond. (fn. 186) Under his will the former Brien estates passed in 1515 to Henry Algernon Percy, earl of Northumberland (d. 1527) whose wife, Catherine, was one of Eleanor's heirs. (fn. 187) Their son Henry (d. 1537) sold the estate in 1530 to Thomas (later Sir Thomas) Johnson, though apparently he retained an interest at least until 1531. (fn. 188) Johnson sold the manor to William Popley in 1536, though he was still credited with property in the parish in 1538. (fn. 189) Popley, of Chitterne All Saints (Wilts.), sold the manor with Somerton Randolph to John Wysse, founder, in 1546. (fn. 190)
John Wysse (d. 1554) was succeeded by his son Thomas; his grandson, also Thomas, of Longhope (Glos.) inherited in 1585, (fn. 191) but sold both properties in 1597 to James Fisher (d. 1636), whose father Richard had been tenant of part of the estate since 1587. (fn. 192) Almost immediately the Fishers began leasing parts of the estate for long terms of years, and thereafter claimed no manorial rights. (fn. 193) Those parts retained by the family were held by James Fisher c. 1661, followed by a John Fisher who occurs between 1662 and 1719, and another John in 1730; James Fisher occurs in 1732 and his brother John in 1748. (fn. 194) The death of John Fisher in 1752 revealed the complications of the long leases. (fn. 195) Fisher's heirs, Samuel and Jane Barnard and Joseph Gill, contested their respective shares. The whole property was in 1785 made the subject of a fine in which it was described as 'the manor of Somerton Erle alias Somerton Erle and Rendall'. The estate, then comprising over 355 a. of land, was vested in Joseph Gill and Jane his wife, John Fisher Barnard and Mary his wife, and William Cornish Barnard. (fn. 196)
Gill's share, 'late Mr. Fisher's farm', included the capital messuage of the estate. Some of the land was sold in 1796 and the house and remainder, called Gill's farm, were absorbed into John Barnard's holding. (fn. 197) Barnard put the property, described as the manors of Somerton Erleigh and Randall, up for sale in 1800, (fn. 198) but in the same year described himself as lord of the manor of Lower Somerton. (fn. 199) Some of the land was acquired by John Frederick Pinney in 1802, (fn. 200) but Barnard retained the house and most of the estate until 1807. From 1808 until 1812 the house was owned by John Jacobs and in 1812 was first called the Court. In 1813 it was acquired by Edward Stephenson, (fn. 201) and was occupied by his successors, later Hall-Stephenson, until 1933. (fn. 202)
Somerton Court, the former manor-house, is a stone building of two storeys, basement, and attics. A tablet on the porch is dated 1641 with the initials of, presumably, James Fisher and his wife. Fisher's house consisted of a long range, one room deep, perhaps having a staircase wing at the rear. The seven-bay entrance front was symmetrical with a central two-storeyed porch and three-light mullioned windows with hood-moulds. Two canted bay windows terminated in attic gables resting on angle corbels. (fn. 203) The entrance arch to the surviving porch is round-headed with prominent keystone and imposts, but the doorway inside has a four-centred head—a combination which seems to have been standard practice in the area for much of the 17th century. Early in the 19th century the house was gothicized, perhaps at the time it became known as Somerton Court. The parapets were raised and embattled, hiding the attic windows and destroying the gables. The porch became a tower-like feature with angle turrets and a rose window, while the other windows were given diagonal glazing bars. A new range, with front and back staircases, was built along the back of the house in a similar style. Further extensions were made later in the 19th century.
The origin of the manor or reputed manor of SOMERTON RANDOLPH or RANDALL seems to lie in certain lands and tenements held by Richard Mucheldevre of Sir Guy Brien in 1384. (fn. 204) The hold- ing was described as a manor four years later. (fn. 205) Its descent followed that of the manor of Somerton Erleigh, though in 1457 it was said to be held of Sir William Paulet, (fn. 206) and in 1489 and 1501 of the prior of St. Swithun's, Winchester. (fn. 207)
The whole property, including the capital messuage, was let at least by 1538 when Sir William Sydney was occupier. (fn. 208) By 1597 the tenancy had been acquired by John Still, bishop of Bath and Wells, (fn. 209) and he later apparently purchased the freehold. The property passed to his son Thomas (d. 1640). (fn. 210) Thomas's successor, John Still of Shaftesbury (Dors.), who acquired more lands from the owners of Somerton Erleigh on lease in 1657, (fn. 211) assigned his rights in 1662 to John Howe, late of Berwick St. Leonard (Wilts.). (fn. 212) Howe's holding in 1664 amounted to just over 148 a. (fn. 213) He died about 1672 (fn. 214) and was succeeded by William Howe, who added the tenancy of Cranes farm to his holding. (fn. 215) William died in 1742 and his son John in 1764. (fn. 216) George Howe, son of John, died in 1768 leaving his estate to his brother William, subject to the life interest of his sister-in-law. (fn. 217) William Howe sold the estate to John Pretor Pinney (d. 1818) in 1799. (fn. 218) It then comprised a house and pleasure grounds with some 40 a. of surrounding land, and a farm of 49 a. (fn. 219) Pinney's son and grandson John Frederick (d. 1845) and William (d. 1898) considerably increased this estate by the purchase of adjoining farms: Midney farm was acquired by 1837 (fn. 220) and Catsgore farm in 1865. (fn. 221) The latter originated in a lease by the Fisher family in 1665 and was thus part of the manor of Somerton Erleigh.
William Pinney was succeeded in 1898 by his cousin Frederick Wake Pretor-Pinney (d. 1909), who in 1906 made over the estate to his eldest son Charles Frederick. The latter died of wounds in 1917 and his heir was his brother Robert Wake (d. 1950). Giles Robert took over the estate in 1935 and was killed in action in 1942. The present owner of the estate, in 1971 comprising some 880 a., is Robert's grandson, Mr. A. R. E. Pretor-Pinney. (fn. 222)
The capital messuage of the manor, then known as the Farm, was occupied by the Stills by 1597. (fn. 223) It was described as newly built, evidently by Thomas Still, about 1633. (fn. 224) William Howe rebuilt it, and it was described as 'newly erected' in 1789. (fn. 225) It was a large L-shaped building with detached wash house, stables, and other offices to the east. About 1846 the house was extensively remodelled if not entirely rebuilt to form the present square block of two tall storeys and attics in grey lias ashlar, with a plain garden front of seven bays. (fn. 226) The new north entrance front has a projecting bay with Tuscan portico of Ham stone, surmounted by a Venetian window and pediment. The house was extended eastwards to include the 18th-century stable block, and a new stable court with entrance archway and ornate tower was erected to the north east about 1860. (fn. 227) The house has been known as Somerton Erleigh since the early 19th century.
In 1223 Robert de St. Clare entered on two virgates of freehold land in Somerton, held of the manor, probably in succession to Geoffrey de St. Clare his father. (fn. 228) Another Robert died in 1336 and his estate was charged with dower for both his mother and his widow. (fn. 229) His son, also Robert, died in 1359 and in the following year the estate was settled on his grandson Richard and on Richard's wife Margaret, with remainder to William Bonville. (fn. 230) Bonville succeeded to Richard's property in 1362, and to the dower holding of Sibyl de St. Clare ten years later. (fn. 231) William, Lord Bonville (d. 1461), grandson of William, settled the property on his daughter Elizabeth, on her marriage with William Tailboys (d. 1464). (fn. 232) It descended through the Tailboys family like the manor of Yeovilton, and during the 16th century acquired manorial status as the manor of SOMERTON ST. CLEERS. (fn. 233) It was acquired by Thomas Cary of Cockington (Devon) in 1560, (fn. 234) and probably passed from him directly to James Hodges. (fn. 235) Hodges died in 1601 leaving a daughter Mary, wife of John Rosse. (fn. 236) Their son James, of Shepton Beauchamp, sold it in 1638 to Sir John Strangways of Melbury Sampford (Dors.). (fn. 237) Sir John died in 1666 and his property passed to his son Giles (d. 1675) and then to his grandson Col. Thomas Strangways (d. 1713) owner of the capital manor from 1700. (fn. 238) St. Cleers manor thenceforward descended with the capital manor.
There was no manor-house attached to St. Cleers manor, but Sir John Strangways built a large dwelling, known as the Great House, on the west side of the Market Place, mostly on land which he leased from other owners. (fn. 239) After his death in 1666 the house was abandoned by the family and was divided among tenants; much of it was later rebuilt.
About 1280 the men of Somerton finally won their dispute with Ilchester for possession of Kingsmoor, some 1,000 a. of land stretching along the north bank of the Yeo from Pill Bridge in the east to Load Bridge in the west. (fn. 240) Ilchester had evidently gained control by 1242, but when its claims were disallowed ownership of the 'moor', described as warren and pasture, lay with successive lords of the manor of Somerton. (fn. 241) It was separately administered until inclosure in 1797. (fn. 242)
By 1499 William Strode held some property in Somerton and in that year was succeeded by his son Richard. (fn. 243) John Strode (d. 1581) of Parnham (Dors.) and later his son Robert were tenants of Somerton manor in respect of land in Lower Somerton. (fn. 244) Robert, later Sir Robert, increased his holding and by 1597 it was described as a manor. (fn. 245) In the following year he settled it on his daughter Catherine and on her husband Sir Richard Strode of Newnham (Devon) (d. 1669). (fn. 246) Sir Richard's son and grandson, William and Richard Strode, sold the manor to Robert Burridge of Lyme Regis (Dors.), merchant, in 1661. (fn. 247) Burridge sold it in 1665 to Solomon Andrews of Lyme, also a merchant, (fn. 248) and Andrews conveyed it to John Stocker of Somerton in 1672. (fn. 249) Stocker settled it in 1702 on his daughter Frances, wife of Henry Norton of Somerton. The property then comprised 23 houses and just over 20 a. of land, and was described as a manor or reputed manor. (fn. 250) Thereafter it was never given manorial status, was absorbed into the rest of the Norton holdings, and was divided on the death of John Stocker Norton, Henry Norton's son, in 1785. (fn. 251)
The rectorial estate granted to Muchelney abbey in the early 12th century (fn. 252) and increased by a pension confirmed in 1191 and by the tithes of Somerton Erleigh in 1254, (fn. 253) was valued at £20 in 1291 and at £37 13s. 4d. in 1535. (fn. 254) The glebe amounted to 149 a. in the 15th century. (fn. 255) On the surrender of the abbey in 1538 the estate was granted to Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, (fn. 256) who in 1542 exchanged it for other land with the newly-founded chapter of Bristol. (fn. 257) In 1649 the property was said to be worth £262 but the chapter normally leased it for £38. (fn. 258) Humphrey Worth, the first lessee, was followed by Hugh Worth in 1602–4. (fn. 259) Hugh assigned his lease in or before 1614 to Thomas Preene of London, and Preene's family held the lands, comprising 220 a. by c. 1625, (fn. 260) until 1665. (fn. 261) George Clarke of Swainswick had the lease from 1665, (fn. 262) and in 1674 began the long tenure of the Wyndham family, beginning with John Wyndham of Norrington, in Alvediston, (Wilts.). (fn. 263) He was followed in 1724 by his younger son Thomas (cr. Lord Wyndham of Finglass 1731, d. 1745) and then by his elder son John (d. 1750). (fn. 264) John's daughter and sole heir Anne, wife of James Everard Arundell, succeeded as lessee. (fn. 265) Their son James, Lord Arundell of Wardour (d. 1817), farmed the parsonage until 1812, when the earl of Ilchester acquired the lease. (fn. 266) In 1841 the holding measured just over 196 a. (fn. 267) Lord Ilchester purchased the fee simple of the rectory from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1907 and 1911, (fn. 268) and it was absorbed into the rest of his holding. Parts, including the parsonage house and tithe barn, were sold in 1913 and the remainder in 1920 and 1921. (fn. 269)
The parsonage house, known as the Old Parsonage, seems to have been built or substantially altered by Thomas Preene 'within four years' of 1619. (fn. 270) It is a long two-storeyed stone building, one room deep, having stone-mullioned windows with hood moulds and a frontage of five bays. The central two-storeyed porch has a semi-circular outer arch and an inner doorway with a four-centred head; a stone balustrade has been added above the parapet which at one time was embattled. (fn. 271) The house has been extended at the rear and altered internally, but retains several original fire-places of Ham stone. There was formerly a spiral stair at the north-east corner. A Jacobean overmantel and oak panelling are said to have been brought from the house called Medwyn in Broad Street. (fn. 272) To the north stands the tithe barn, a very long stone building with buttressed walls; the original roof has been replaced.
The claim that Somerton was 'capital' of Wessex (fn. 273) is based on a belief dating from the 16th century that the West Saxon kings had a residence at St. Cleers, the ruins of which were said to be visible in 1579. (fn. 274) The county name has been interpreted as being the people who looked to Somerton as their centre. (fn. 275) There is written evidence for only one meeting of the witan at Somerton, in 949, (fn. 276) and the etymology of the name of the town has been taken to suggest only temporary settlement for summer grazing. (fn. 277) The choice of Somerton as the county town in the 13th century may have been made in the knowledge of its ancient status.
Somerton's brief period as a county town began in 1278 when the shire courts were transferred there from Ilchester. (fn. 278) The county gaol was established in the town in 1280, and itinerant justices began to deliver it in the same year. (fn. 279) Early in 1366 the justices met again at Ilchester and, later in that year, in order to relieve Ilchester's economic depression, both shire and circuit courts were again permanently established there. (fn. 280) By 1371 the gaol at Somerton was no longer holding county prisoners. (fn. 281)
The gaol and its adjacent hall of pleas, where a riot had taken place in 1344, (fn. 282) then went out of use. In 1434 John Harper leased a parcel of the house formerly called the court hall (aula curie), probably the hall of pleas, which stood 'by the churchyard of the church of Somerton'. (fn. 283) Four years later Richard Smyth held a waste site within the lord's gaol on the west of this hall. (fn. 284) The burgage known as the 'gayle' was by 1507–8 a total ruin, and was still so described in 1537, (fn. 285) though in 1529–30 money had been spent on the court-house (domus curie) to provide 'barrez' for the safe keeping of prisoners during sessions, (fn. 286) presumably in connexion with the last visit of the circuit judges to the town in 1530. (fn. 287)
In 1579 'an old tower embattled about castlelike' was thought to be the remains of the gaol. (fn. 288) A house in Cow Square, near the north-eastern corner of the churchyard, has been known as the Old Hall since at least 1661, and may stand on the site of the former hall of pleas. (fn. 289)
Although for much of its history Somerton was the site of a weekly market it has never been other than a town on the smallest scale. The cloth industry made an impression upon it in the 17th century but until the 20th century the main occupation of its inhabitants was agriculture. The failure to develop lasting urban characteristics was due in part to the proximity of Ilchester and in part to the fragmented manorial holdings in the parish.
Agriculture. Somerton was royal demesne and paid no geld, but was linked with Cheddar to provide the firma unius noctis; Somerton paid roughly four fifths of the required sum. (fn. 290) In 1086 there was land for 50 ploughs, but it is likely that this area included the later parishes of Pitney and Kingsdon. (fn. 291) The main features of the estate were its extensive arable land and small demesne. On the main holding then held directly by the Crown, 45 ploughs were recorded, but only 5 were on the demesne, which was farmed by 4 serfs. The remainder was divided between 80 villeins and 28 bordars. There were 100 a. of meadow, pasture measuring a league by half a league, and wood of a league by a furlong. Stock on the demesne comprised 2 riding-horses, 9 pigs, and 500 sheep. An additional estate, possibly the origin of Pitney parish, was held in parage by three thegns T.R.E. and by 1086 was divided into three holdings. Together they amounted to 5½ hides, and were worked by 7 villeins and 5 bordars with 4 ploughs. (fn. 292)
In 1176 King's Somerton was required to contribute 20 marks towards an aid, (fn. 293) and from that time it regularly paid tallages and scutages: in 1189 £4 16s. 9d.; (fn. 294) in 1198 £20, the same as Ilchester and more than any other town in Somerset and Dorset; (fn. 295) in 1199 20 marks, the same as Bath and more than Ilchester; (fn. 296) but thereafter at a lower level. (fn. 297) In 1234 a tallage of 10 marks was reduced by half. (fn. 298) The last such imposition was in 1260–1. (fn. 299) It was thus a large and valuable property, and seems to have been regarded as the centre of royal estate administration in the area. Until the mid 13th century there was a chequer there for the receipt of royal rents, (fn. 300) and in 1285 a quantity of the king's silver was held there. (fn. 301) The king's park at Somerton was used for keeping stock taken as distresses for debts to the Crown. (fn. 302) Somerton was also a base for the king's serjeants by 1239, and in 1255–6 buildings were erected to house them and to store the king's corn. (fn. 303)
The estates at Somerton T.R.E. were 'in various ways alienated and dismembered' by Crown grants beginning before 1086 and continuing until the early 14th century. (fn. 304) By 1246 Hurcot comprised 2 carucates in demesne worth £4, rent worth £3, and services valued at £2 12s. (fn. 305) By 1296–7 income from the manor amounted to £24 16s. 8½d., of which rents accounted for just over £3. Services, worth £4 3s. 1d., were mostly commuted, though labour charges of a similar amount were incurred, largely for harvest work. The demesne estate was predominantly arable: in 1297 120 a. were sown with wheat and 17½ a. with oats. Sales of corn were relatively high, amounting to £16 5s. 4d. in that year and to £30 16s. 4d. in 1300–1. (fn. 306) Barley, beans, and vetches for the familia had to be purchased outside the manor. Grassland and wood were limited in area; sales were low and stock, mostly draught animals, included neither cows nor sheep. The permanent staff of the manor, however, included a hayward and a 'repreve' besides the bailiff, four ploughmen, and a woman who kept the courthouse and made their pottage. (fn. 307)
Somerton Erleigh was predominantly arable. In 1324 the estate comprised 200 a. of arable, compared with 20 a. of meadow and 20 a. of old pasture. There were 6 free tenants, 10 'ferdellers', and 5 'half-ferdellers'. (fn. 308) By 1337 the same property was described as 220 a. of arable, half sown, half fallow, 40 a. of meadow subject to commons after haymaking, 15 a. of wood, and rents worth £10. (fn. 309) On the other side of the town the St. Cleers estate demesne comprised 152 a. of arable, 17 a. of meadow, and 7 a. of pasture, the last used only in alternate years. The tenants were 3 'ferlingers', 2 'half-ferlingers', and 5 cottagers. Only the 'ferlingers' performed boon works. The whole estate was worth £3 10s. 6d. (fn. 310) There were several smaller freeholds also predominantly arable. (fn. 311)
Nearly as large as the other holdings combined was Somerton manor. In 1331 it comprised 430 a. of arable, just over 48 a. of meadow, and extensive pastures including Kingsmoor. The agricultural as distinct from the urban tenants were 3 freeholders, 9 'virgaters', 5 'tresferdellers', an unspecified number of 'half-virgaters', 10 'ferdellers', 3 'half-ferdellers', and 10 cottagers, all rendering rents and works, probably commuted. The total valuation of the manor was just over £88. (fn. 312) The manor retained this pattern well into the 16th century, though customary payments like church scot and 'wodeshope' were being absorbed into the category of assessed rents in the late 15th century. (fn. 313) By 1484 the demesnes were let to the manorial tenants, producing an income of £17 9s. from 425 a. of arable and 62 a. of meadow and pasture. (fn. 314) The Hastings family continued the same policy, and in 1583–4 had a net income from the manor of just over £130. (fn. 315)
Much of the improvement in the economy of the town in the 17th century was due to the division and allotment of King's Sedgemoor about 1625. The landowners of Somerton acquired an additional 1,505 a. of rich pasture land where cattle for the market could be fattened. (fn. 316) The pasture in the parish was already extensive: about 1,000 a. at Kingsmoor (fn. 317) and over 250 a. at Staplemoor, Southmoor, Goosemoor, Stertmoor, and Waggmoor, some intercommoned with Kingsdon, Long Sutton, and Huish Episcopi. (fn. 318) The lord of Somerton manor also had a prey or right to levy a charge on pigs on West Sedgemoor around Midsummer. (fn. 319)
Small parcels of open arable were being inclosed out of East field in Somerton Erleigh and South field in Somerton in the late 17th century. (fn. 320) The process continued on Somerton Erleigh manor, and was complete before 1806. (fn. 321) Hurcot, evidently an estate of consolidated farms at least a century earlier, still had a common field c. 1661 (fn. 322) and 1765. (fn. 323) St. Cleers and Somerton manor continued traditional patterns, though the former was better managed and its value rose from £6 10s. 10d. in 1602 to £25 5s. 3d. in 1676. (fn. 324) Total rents from over 240 holdings on Somerton manor about 1661 amounted to £98 2s.; by 1700 the value was £104 9s. 8d., and during the next twenty years the net income did not rise much above £80. (fn. 325) The holdings themselves were divided between 102 copyholders sharing 2,623 a., and 125 leaseholders with 905 a. (fn. 326) Elsewhere in the parish the farms were relatively small: Ralph Stawell's holding c. 1661, amounting to 678 a., was divided into three farms and smaller units, and Somerton Randolph farm was only 148 a. in 1664. (fn. 327)
Inclosure in the south of the parish continued by agreement in the 18th century, and spread into North field. (fn. 328) The remaining open fields, North, Northwest, South, and Southwest, and the common 'moors' and meadows were inclosed in 1806. (fn. 329) Some 1,363 a. of arable, 938 a. of King's Sedgemoor, 83 a. of Southmead, 13 a. at Catsgore, and 415 commons on Kingsmoor were allotted among 52 owners, principally to the earl of Ilchester. (fn. 330) In 1796 William Marshall commented unfavourably on the uninclosed land he passed on his way from Langport, though he noted 'large, good oxen' and 'good horned wedders'. (fn. 331) There was no immediate improvement after inclosure, and rents in arrear on Lord Ilchester's estate alone in 1815 totalled £1,757. (fn. 332) Later in the 19th century consolidated farming units were formed. By 1841 Hurcot was being worked as a single farm, and the Pinney estates were being rapidly made into compact units. The latter then measured 855 a., of which 254 a. formed Midney farm and 258 a. Cranes farm. (fn. 333) In contrast the farms on the Ilchester estate were widely dispersed. The most compact was St. Cleers farm, measuring 341 a., the largest single unit after Hurcot. Others on the estate had been affected by inclosure: in 1802 there were at least eight farms, including Park, Vagshurst, Whitfield, Eastmoors, Grove, and Kingsmoor farms, some of which were altered or absorbed after 1806. (fn. 334) By 1841 there were four holdings of between 180 a. and 190 a. including Park and Vagshurst farms, and four of between 107 a. and 115 a. Mowries farm, in 1841 in independent ownership, illustrates the dispersed character of the holdings: most of its land lay on and below Brockle hill, while its barton and buildings were in Pound Pools, just north of West Street, a mile away. (fn. 335)
Amalgamation of holdings continued during the 19th century. By 1874 St. Cleers farm measured 420 a.; Home farm was a new creation from twelve separate holdings; Somerton Door farm, its farmhouse the capital messuage of the earlier Whitfield farm and later known as Sedgemoor Folly House, and Etsome farm absorbed holdings on and near the northern 'moors'. (fn. 336) These new farms on the Ilchester estate were put up for sale from 1874 onwards: just over 2,400 a. were offered in 1874, and only 587 a. remained by 1921. (fn. 337) Most of this was then sold. There remained in the parish a considerable number of smallholders, who in 1897 founded the Somerton Cottagers Horticultural Society to add to the agricultural society already in being. (fn. 338) In the sixty years from 1841 there was a substantial increase in the amount of grassland in the parish, and the trend continued in the 20th century. (fn. 339) Another distinctive feature from the 1920s was the creation of small poultry farms, nine of which were concentrated on South hill by 1939. (fn. 340) Grassland predominated in 1971.
Trade and industry. In the late 13th century the prosperity of Somerton was increased not only by the acquisition of Kingsmoor in 1275 and by the transfer of the county and assize courts and county gaol in 1278–9, (fn. 341) but also by the market grant of 1255, (fn. 342) and by burgages and newly-built ovens and a windmill, worth in all £46 by 1275–6. (fn. 343) By 1290 the number of burgages had been increased to form a 'new borough', probably around the market-place, which then accounted for a third of the income from the manor. (fn. 344) By 1296–7 borough and manor together produced £80, and just over that sum was paid by the inhabitants when they were farming the property in 1309–10. (fn. 345) The new borough alone produced rents of £6 14s. in 1331. (fn. 346) Further physical expansion of the town along New Street took place before 1349, (fn. 347) and by that time the town had several shops and its craftsmen included dyers, skinners, webbers, shearers, and smiths. (fn. 348) The withdrawal of the assize and county courts in 1366 must have damaged the rather narrow economy (fn. 349) but the market continued and in 1447 7 butchers, 2 tailors, a tanner, and a baker were presented for breaking trading regulations there. (fn. 350) The income from the borough rose slightly by the end of the 15th century, half the increase being due to the conversion of a burgage into the 'Neutaverne' and the erection of a pair of shackles for shoeing horses. (fn. 351) Rents rose from £8 3s. 4½d. in 1485–6 to £9 3s. 11½d. by 1507–8, but were thereafter stable until at least 1537. (fn. 352)
In 1540 Somerton was one of the towns to be 're-edified' under Act of Parliament, but there is no evidence of action or economic recovery. (fn. 353) In the early 17th century neighbouring parishes were required to support its poor, many of whom had moved into the town because of the great number of cottages built there. (fn. 354) There were said to be 360 paupers there in 1616, (fn. 355) compared with only 348 rated inhabitants in 1604–5, (fn. 356) and by 1631 the number of paupers was said to have increased threefold. (fn. 357) By 1635 the town was described as 'very poor, having no trade to subsist on, and having many poor people inhabiting'. (fn. 358) Yet by 1630 it was evidently a cloth town, and leases of property in the next fifty years show clothiers, mercers, linen-drapers, woollen-drapers, haberdashers, and craftsmen in wool, linen, silk, serge, and felt concentrated in the town. (fn. 359) This narrow range was supplemented by a few glovers, tanners, masons, and two tobacconists. (fn. 360)
Buildings, especially in the Market Place, suggest that the 17th century was a period of prosperity in Somerton, and the social life of the town in the first decades of the 17th century does not suggest a depression. The parish house was a frequent resort of strolling players and entertainers such as Lord Chandos's men in 1605–6, the 'interlude players' in 1607–8, and the traveller 'showing of his child' in 1615–16. (fn. 361) Other similar activities left their mark as place-names in the parish: a cockpit, west of the churchyard, a bowling green behind the Red Lion, and Bull-baiting Close in Lower Somerton. (fn. 362)
Markets and fairs saved the town, and a reflection of increased business is the growing number of inns in and around the market place. (fn. 363) In 1620 6 innholders and 5 tipplers were licensed to trade there, and by the 1660s there were a number of substantial inns including the Red Lion, the Bear, the Swan, and the Angel in the Market Place, the Three Cups in North Street, the Bell in West Street, and the Dog or Greyhound in New Street. (fn. 364) By 1760 the number of inns had risen to at least sixteen to cater for the traders, including London drovers who came to the town to buy lean cattle. (fn. 365)
The range of trades seems to have widened slightly during the 18th century and included fellmongers, braziers, gunsmiths, a pewterer, clockmakers, and a succession of apothecaries and surgeons. During the same period the cloth industry was evidently abandoned: no clothier occurs after 1740, no mercer after 1730, no serge-weaver after 1710. (fn. 366) In 1796 the western suburbs of the town were described as in ruins and the whole town as a 'decaying place'. (fn. 367) Some recovery was made in the 19th century. Somerton Brewery, later Somerton Steam Brewery, in West Street, was established by 1840 and by 1883 supplied an area of 40 miles radius. (fn. 368) By 1866 Edward Welsh (later Welsh and Clark) had a factory for linen shirt collars in Broad Street which by 1868 employed 100 girls. (fn. 369) Rope, twine, and straw bonnets were manufactured in the town by 1840, (fn. 370) and twenty years later women and girls were employed in gloving and binding shoes. (fn. 371) Market gardening was a common means of livelihood. (fn. 372) Later in the century there were three booksellers, a printer, a professor of music, and a photographer. (fn. 373) By 1897 a cardboard box factory had been established, and by 1902 the patentee and manufacturer of the 'celebrated "Wee Wee" liver pills' was in business at 'Apothecaries Hall' in the town. (fn. 374) Somerton was, indeed, the natural focus of a wide community until the railway was brought to Langport. In 1840 there were two auctioneers, four attorneys, three surgeons, and three veterinary surgeons, and by 1859 two banks had been established there. (fn. 375) The town was also the headquarters of a division of the county police force, the meetingplace for magistrates, and the headquarters of a volunteer battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. (fn. 376)
During the same period the town's communications were virtually cut by the development of the railways. Until the 1840s Somerton was served by coaches to London, Barnstaple, Bristol, Bath, Chard, Axminster, Wincanton, and Langport. (fn. 377) A daily van went to Bridgwater, the nearest railway station. (fn. 378) By 1859 there were only carriers, travelling merely to Langport, Glastonbury, and Castle Cary. (fn. 379) Somerton had no railway station until 1906. (fn. 380) The town's industry could not compete with larger concerns; the brewery closed soon after the First World War and the shirt factory in the late 1930s. Some new employment was provided by a milk factory established in 1926, and by the Beam Radio Station, in 1971 part of the External Communications Executive, set up about the same time. Increasing use of road transport is reflected in the growth of motor businesses from 1919, and during the 1920s two restaurants and an antique dealer came to the town. (fn. 381) Tourism and local shopping remain important in Somerton's economy.
Building stone was accessible in many parts of the parish, and several quarries were opened in North field in the early 18th century. They were later filled and either built on or converted to orchards. (fn. 382) During the 19th century quarries were opened further south at Ashen Cross and Highbrooks, both of which were in use until the early 20th century. (fn. 383)
Market and fairs. In 1255 a weekly market on Monday was established in Somerton for the improvement of the manor. (fn. 384) The grant was said to have damaged the market at Ilchester, but Somerton's market was itself later harmed by a rival at Queen Camel. (fn. 385) A market-place was established south of the church and was surrounded by newlycreated burgage plots, the whole area being described by 1290 as a new town or new borough. (fn. 386) By 1331 the market and fairs combined were valued at only 30s. but by the late 15th century the market alone was let for £5. (fn. 387) Its existence was threatened c. 1583 and it may have ceased shortly afterwards. (fn. 388) A new grant was made by the Crown in 1606, (fn. 389) and in 1688 market day was changed to Tuesday. (fn. 390)
An eight-day fair was also granted in 1255, to be held on the eve, feast, and morrow of All Saints and on the five days following (31 Oct.-7 Nov.). (fn. 391) A second fair, for nine days from the eve of St. Andrew (29 Nov.-7 Dec.), was granted in 1320. (fn. 392) Only the first fair survived until 1485, but it was then of little consequence and does not thereafter occur. (fn. 393)
By the 1630s there were weekly fairs from Palm Sunday until the middle of June, (fn. 394) described in 1664–6 as on Palm Monday, Hock Monday, Procession Monday, Trinity Monday, and St. Simon and St. Jude's Day (28 Oct.). (fn. 395) All but the last were probably, in effect, augmented markets. In 1686, on the petition of Lord Stawell, the Crown granted a horse fair, a fair for cattle and other commodities for ten days before Michaelmas, and a similar one for ten days before Christmas. (fn. 396) The lease of all these fairs and markets in 1688 included new fairs on 24 February and 19 September or on the Mondays after those dates as well as the October fair. (fn. 397) About 1665 the fairs and market, valued at £100, were leased for £13 6s. 8d. (fn. 398) Seven 'fairs' in 1700 were valued at £60, and the rent in 1731–3 was £90 a year and in 1768 £110. (fn. 399)
About 1740 the spring fairs for fat cattle, 'the great resort even of London drovers', had been recently changed from Mondays to Fridays because 'Sabbatical notions' had prevailed 'to prevent dealers from driving their cattle . . . on the Sundays'. (fn. 400) By 1840 the market was still held every Tuesday and fairs on the last Monday in January, on the Tuesday in Passion week and the third, sixth, ninth, and twelfth Tuesdays following, all for cattle; and on September 30th and November 8th for cattle, sheep, hogs, and pedlary. (fn. 401) The market was 'quite obsolete' by 1897, and by that time fairs were largely for entertainment only. (fn. 402) The spring fair, presumably the Palm Tuesday fair, survived longest for the sale of stock. (fn. 403)
Goods and cattle were sold not only immediately around the High Cross or market cross; (fn. 406) the eastern end of the market-place, at its junction with Kircombe Street, was the site of the sheep market by 1664–6, and beasts were exhibited for sale in the present Broad Street, known as Pig or Swine Street, North Street, and Cow Square. (fn. 407) Some householders paid increased rents for the privilege of erecting posts and rails to protect their property during fairs and markets. (fn. 408)
The lease of the markets and fairs in 1688 included a shambles house, a tolsey house, and a shed to store sheep hurdles. (fn. 409) The position of the tolsey is unknown; it occurs in 1669–70 but not after 1688. (fn. 410) The hurdle house in the Sheep Market was later separately leased and survived until after 1767. (fn. 411) The shambles house is the building later known as the Market House or Town Hall. It was extensively repaired in 1719 (fn. 412) and by 1841 was used by the town's butchers. (fn. 413) The borough court jury in 1855 asked the owner, Lord Ilchester, to rebuild it 'because of its delapidated condition as not adapted for its purposes'. (fn. 414) A further suggestion to rebuild was made in 1887. (fn. 415) In 1913 the Town Hall, used until the 1870s by local magistrates, was sold by Lord Ilchester. (fn. 416) It then comprised a billiard hall and other rooms on the ground floor and an assembly room above. In 1970 it was owned by the Somerton Club, and the upper floor used as a furniture store. The building is a rectangular structure of lias with Ham stone dressings. It is of 17thcentury or earlier origin but has undergone much alteration. Surviving buttresses along the north and south sides do not reach the eaves, suggesting that the walls have been raised. Several features appear to date from the improvements of 1719, including a large round-headed mullioned and transomed window at the east end. A floor which cuts across both this window and one in the north wall was inserted later to provide an upper room for public assemblies. In the early 19th century the building had arched entrances at the centre of each long side and a bellcot above the west gable. (fn. 417) There was a porchlike structure against the west wall, said to have been used as a lock-up. (fn. 418) Outside it a well-head, later replaced by a pump, belonged to one of the common wells. (fn. 419) Late-19th-century and subsequent alterations included the insertion of a large west window to the upper floor with a corresponding lowering of the 'lock-up' roof, the construction of a chimney on the north side, and other modifications.
There was a cross at the market by 1390. (fn. 420) In 1799 traders were presented for putting carts and waggons in the cross, and the borough crier was ordered to give notice that butter and cheese should be sold there. (fn. 421) Lord Ilchester sold the cross to the parish council in 1916. (fn. 422) The present cross is dated 1673 and was restored in 1925 and 1950. (fn. 423) It is an open octagonal structure of lias with a central pier resting on a stepped base. The eight segmental arches are separated by low angle buttresses. The octagonal roof has an embattled parapet and terminates in a ball finial. Sparse Ham stone dressings include a string course, parapet coping, gargoyles, and keystones.
Mills. By 1275–6 a windmill de novo levatum was part of Somerton manor; (fn. 424) it was still in existence in 1330. (fn. 425) By 1334 there was also a windmill on the parsonage estate, standing at Mileburgh, now Melbury; it had gone out of use by 1484. (fn. 426) In 1575 Thomas Wysse sold a grain mill to James Hodges. (fn. 427) By 1619 it was described as a windmill and stood in South field. (fn. 428) It presumably passed with the St. Cleers estate to Sir John Strangways in 1638, and was let by him in 1657 to Richard Applin of Shepton Mallet. (fn. 429) It may be the 'old mill near St. Cleers Pitts' mentioned in 1715, (fn. 430) and probably stood in a field called Mill Close, later cut by the railway and the new road north of Wasps Nest. (fn. 431) Elizabeth Moore of Shepton, sister of William Applin, became tenant in 1721, and the mill, still called Applin's mill, passed to James Bown or Brown by 1745 and to John Edwards in 1770. (fn. 432) Ten years later it was let to George Nutt, but had evidently gone out of use by 1802. (fn. 433)
By 1616 there was a windmill on Crane's farm. (fn. 434) It was described in 1674 as near Lower Somerton field, and passed with the farm to Henry Parsons. (fn. 435) By 1737 it had been acquired by Adam Pitman, though it retained the name Crane's mill. (fn. 436) Pitman still held it in 1779, but it had been dismantled by 1802. (fn. 437) It evidently stood south-east of the crossroads on Perry hill, near fields called Crane's Mill Close, Mill Ground, and Mill Close. (fn. 438) A windmill in the parish was devised by William Champion of Shapwick in 1650–1; (fn. 439) its site is unknown. Another mill, on South hill, was owned and occupied by John Coolin in 1685; (fn. 440) it was called Cullen's mill in 1692 and was still standing in 1749. (fn. 441)
There was apparently only one water-mill in Somerton, which stood east of the town. (fn. 442) It first occurs in 1513. (fn. 443) By the mid 17th century it was known as Tanckers mill, later Tankins or Tanketts mill. (fn. 444) By 1732 it belonged to John Fisher, and passed with a share of the Fisher estate to Joseph Gill by 1778. (fn. 445) Gill sold it in 1785 to Robert Chappell who occupied it until 1810. (fn. 446) John Jacobs, owner of Somerton Court, acquired it in that year, and sold it to John Pinney in 1814. (fn. 447) It was known as Somerton Flour Mill in the 19th century. (fn. 448) A steam engine was installed there by 1910 and the mill continued in use until soon after 1935. (fn. 449) The buildings were still visible in 1970.
By 1330 there was a horse-mill in the town, then part of the estate of the earl of Kent. (fn. 450) By 1484–5 it was held with 3 a. of meadow to provide grazing for the tenants' horses. (fn. 451) Thereafter, for a time, it was let with the common oven in the town, but in 1529–30 it produced no income and was in need of repair. (fn. 452) Ownership remained with the lord of the capital manor, and the Stawells leased it to John Stocker in 1673. (fn. 453) By 1701 it was described as a customary malt mill, and was evidently still in use in 1766. (fn. 454) The mill stood on the east side of North Street at its northern end, and gave its name to Horse Mill Lane. (fn. 455)
There was at least one other mill in the town in the 15th century, presumably horse-driven, and occupied from 1438 by Richard Smyth. (fn. 456) By 1841 there was a steam mill on the south side of the Market Place, (fn. 457) and the owner of the brewery in West Street was described as a miller in 1859. (fn. 458) In 1914 there was an oil mill called Bury Mill in the north of the town. (fn. 459)
Local Government and Public Services.
Successive alienations from the Domesday manor of Somerton led to the creation of independent manorial jurisdictions both within and outside the parish. (fn. 460) Within the parish there developed courts for Somerton, Somerton Erleigh, and Hurcot manors, for Somerton Borough, and for Kingsmoor.
The men of Somerton achieved some kind of autonomy within Somerton manor by 1242 when they farmed it from the Crown for £60 a year. (fn. 461) They were superseded by a royal keeper in 1252, but farmed it again in 1296 and 1310. (fn. 462) Before 1275–6 a piece of ground by Cary bridge, formerly used for trials by combat and including an ordeal pit succeeded by gallows, had been taken from the manor. (fn. 463) New urban development, complete by 1290, gave rise to a separate jurisdiction which by the mid 14th century had its own court and common seal. (fn. 464) The borough, however, was always in the hands of the lord of the capital manor, and the distinction between the two jurisdictions is not easy to define.
There are court rolls for the borough for one session in 1349, (fn. 465) for the years 1390–1, (fn. 466) 1394–5, (fn. 467) 1413–14, (fn. 468) 1447–8, (fn. 469) for one session in 1542, and for the years 1543–4, (fn. 470) 1565–6, and 1571–2. (fn. 471) They record the business of a court held every three or four weeks, described normally as a curia, but in 1391 as a halmote, and the twice-yearly sessions or lawdays of Michaelmas and Hockday. During this period the court dealt with cases of debt, trespass, breaches of the peace, and breaches of the assize of bread and ale, and recorded entries into burgage property. At the same time it exercised control over the haywards of the arable fields of the manor, and much of its business concerned the maintenance of ditches and roads.
By the early 17th century the three-week courts had in practice disappeared, though they survived nominally until the mid 17th century to try cases under 40s. between party and party for both borough and manor. (fn. 472) The twice-yearly lawdays became at the same time the borough courts, in theory held jointly with the manor and attended by all inhabitants of 12 years and over. (fn. 473) Records survive as court books for 1617–20, 1701–16, 1730–96, and 1799–1860, and as court papers for 1617, 1693–1800, and 1830–63. (fn. 474) Two courts continued to be held each year until 1765, when it became the practice to adjourn the October session for a month and then appoint officers.
The presentments of the borough court in the early 17th century were concerned almost exclusively with the removal of tenants and lodgers. A century later there were no presentments and the only business apart from the appointment of officers was the occasional change of tenancy of a burgage. The jury began to take more interest in local affairs after 1726, though presentments repeated annually over a period of more than a century suggest that the court was powerless to prevent people from tying their horses to the Market House windows or to the sheep racks, or to ensure that the pillory and stocks were kept in repair. Detailed presentments of nuisances in the 19th century reveal a greater interest in the conduct of the market and of shopkeepers, in the condition of streets and buildings, and in the need for some kind of lock-up. (fn. 475)
During the 15th century the officers of the borough court were a constable, a bailiff, a reeve, aletasters, and five haywards each for the north and south fields. The bailiff was evidently nominated by the steward and the reeve chosen by the steward from three nominees of the jury. The steward himself had a residence in West Street, let permanently by the mid 15th century. (fn. 476) By the mid 17th century there were two constables, one for the manor and one for the borough but both answerable to the borough court; a bailiff to collect chief rents, fines, and reliefs and to attend the constables when they tried offenders; two assizers of weights and measures and of bread and ale, two searchers and sealers of leather, and a street warden. (fn. 477) With the exception of the street wardens and the assizers of weights and measures, these offices were retained at least until 1863. By 1617 the eastern common well of the borough was controlled by a surveyor. From 1720 onwards two wardens were appointed annually for each of the three, and from 1736 the four common wells in the town, with power to levy rates for maintenance. (fn. 478) From time to time committees for viewing gutters and streams in the town were set up or persons appointed to keep pigs from churchyard and marketplace. (fn. 479)
Somerton manor court met three times a year by 1484. (fn. 480) Its records survive as extracts from 1562, 1565–6, and 1572; (fn. 481) as more continuous series for 1617–20 and 1694–7; (fn. 482) as court books 1701–1860; and as presentments 1757–89 and 1832–63. (fn. 483) In the early 17th century the court met twice a year, in March and September. By the early 18th century it was described as a court baron, and was held in April and October, usually a day or two after the borough court. Annual sessions in October only began in 1748.
At the end of the 15th century the manor was administered by a reeve. (fn. 484) By 1617 the reeve and two haywards each for the north and south fields, and a variable number for the 'moors' served the court. By the mid 18th century one man seems to have performed the duties of hayward for the whole manor, though four continued to be appointed each year for the fields and one for the borough and the 'moors' together. The court concerned itself almost exclusively with farming matters; as late as 1860 it was reporting beasts straying in the streets, horses and carts left standing to cause a nuisance, and farmers burning grass in the 'moors'.
Hurcot formed a small and unremunerative jurisdiction by 1290, and in 1296–7 the court employed a reeve, a hayward, and a 'repereve'. (fn. 485) No courts were mentioned in an extent of the holding in 1246. (fn. 486)
Courts were held at Somerton Erleigh manor by 1324. (fn. 487) Court rolls survive for single sessions in 1508, 1513, 1527, and 1530, of what is described simply as curia. (fn. 488) No officers occur, and business was confined largely to entries and orders to repair houses.
The parsonage estate was administered by a bailiff in the early 16th century, but courts in 1484–5 provided no income. (fn. 489) Farmers under the chapter of Bristol held courts baron at will for the admission of copyholders 'by the rod according to custom'. Court books survive for the period 1742–1910, and sessions were described variously as courts baron, special courts baron, and private courts baron. (fn. 490) Copies of court roll exist for 1718 (fn. 491) and 1768, (fn. 492) and admission and surrender papers for 1838–58 and 1879–88. (fn. 493)
Courts baron for entries in the 'manor' of St. Cleers were held in the 17th century, but no separate records seem to have been kept for the manor after 1700, when the Strangways family acquired the main manor. (fn. 494)
Kingsmoor was administered by the borough court in the 14th century, but by 1484 a separate session of the court was held for the 'moor' alone. (fn. 495) Courts were held twice a year by the 1540s, but the borough bailiff was still in control, assisted by the manorial reeve and two moor reeves. (fn. 496) Court rolls survive from 1543, (fn. 497) 1563, and 1572, (fn. 498) court books for the periods 1618–20 and 1701–96, and papers for 1730 and 1765–97. (fn. 499) By 1701 the 'moor' was described as a liberty, administered through a legal court and view of frankpledge. The court met twice a year, in April or May and October, and until 1706 was staffed by a reeve, a bailiff, and two haywards. From 1706 only one hayward was appointed, and from 1775 the offices of reeve and bailiff were combined. In the 16th century the court controlled pasturage and the maintenance of bridges and banks; its income was from fines for encroachments including 'weyne silver' and 'lever silver', fines on non-commoners for using the 'moor' as a thoroughfare, and on commoners for cutting too much grass. Control of sheep, cattle, and geese on the 'moor' was the main business of the 18th century, together with fines on coal-barge owners for using the river bank at Pill Bridge as a wharf, and for allowing their horses to stray from the towpath. The 'moor' was inclosed in 1797 and allotments were made in respect of 415 commons. (fn. 500)
Parochial administration developed slowly in face of strong manorial and borough courts. The annual 'general day of account', forerunner of the Easter vestry, was the only regular assembly of the parish in the 17th century. This body in 1678 decided that of the four men put forward as overseers, two should be churchwardens. (fn. 501) By 1687 a salaried parish clerk was employed. (fn. 502) The 'parish meeting for the town and borough of Somerton' continued in the early 18th century, passing the wardens' accounts and approving the sale of pews. (fn. 503) From 1746 onwards it was known as the vestry, and was open in character. (fn. 504) Its interest gradually widened to include the destruction of vermin from 1754, (fn. 505) the provision of a ladder 'for the use of the town in case of fire or any other accident' in 1775, (fn. 506) payments to men raised for the local militia by the overseers in 1813, (fn. 507) and in the same year the appointment of a committee to discuss 'the various burglaries, felonies, and depredations' committed in the town. (fn. 508) Regular payments to paupers were supplemented by grants to those 'in necessity'; gifts of food and clothing were frequently made, and work was occasionally found at favourable rates. (fn. 509) From 1782 the vicar established the right to choose one of the two churchwardens. The number of overseers varied: there were usually four in the 18th century and two in the nineteenth. A salaried assistant overseer was employed by 1817. (fn. 510) Waywardens occur from 1772. (fn. 511)
The borough court seems to have won back many of its public functions in the 19th century, though the vestry from 1838 housed and later regularly supported the town's fire engine. (fn. 514) The abandonment of the manorial courts after 1863 left the vestry the sole governing body of the town. From that date the public officers comprised two churchwardens, two overseers, two constables, two waywardens, an assistant overseer and vestry clerk, and three inspectors of public lights. (fn. 515) The constables, who survived only until 1872, and the overseers were chosen from lists of ten names submitted annually by the vestry. A poll of the town was taken in the event of two or more names for the same office. The vestry concerned itself with minor roads and pavements, lighting and drainage and, from 1880, with the accounts of local charities. A Burial Board was formed in 1871, a sanitary rate was levied from 1878, and a School Board was established in 1888. (fn. 516)
The parish council constituted in 1894 continued the work of the vestry. Early activities included an improved sewage system and the formation in 1896 of a parish council fire brigade. (fn. 517) The Somerton Gas Company Limited was formed in 1857 and acquired a site for its works in Horse Mill Lane in the following year. (fn. 518) The centre of the town was immediately supplied, and by 1890 the main streets were so lighted. (fn. 519) Electricity replaced gas for public lighting in 1930. (fn. 520)
Only one impression of the seal of the medieval community of Somerton survives, attached to a surrender of 1355. (fn. 521) It is vesica-shaped, 6 cm. X 3.8 cm. Legend, lombardic: sigillum comu[nitatis bu]rg[i] . . . on; device a winged mailed figure, probably St. Michael, his left hand holding a spear piercing a dragon beneath his feet, his breast protected by a shield charged with a cross.
Until the time of the Empress Maud a chapel at Somerton was a daughter of the church of Queen Camel and belonged to the Crown. (fn. 522) There was probably also a chapel at Somerton Erleigh, the tithes there having been given by King Ethelred to the monks of Athelney in 894. (fn. 523) The growth of Somerton in the early 12th century must have produced pressure to improve the inferior status of its church, and resulted in a grant c. 1140 by the Empress which allowed it burial rights and made it, in its turn, a mother church. (fn. 524) The monks of Muchelney claimed that the Empress's grant gave the church to them, though the advowson was also said to have been given to them by Henry I and by John. (fn. 525) The monks established their right before 1205, and between 1198 and 1205 a vicarage in their gift was ordained, though in 1212 the king presented to the living, possibly during a vacancy at Muchelney. (fn. 526) A further confirmation of Muchelney's rights was therefore necessary in 1239. (fn. 527) Thereafter the monks remained appropriators until their house was surrendered in 1538. (fn. 528)
Like most of the abbey's property the rectory passed to Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford (d. 1552). (fn. 529) Hertford exchanged the land in 1542, (fn. 530) but the advowson was retained by his family until the death of William, duke of Somerset, in 1671. It then passed to his sister Elizabeth (d. 1697), wife of Thomas Bruce, earl of Ailesbury (d. 1741). (fn. 531) Her sons Charles, Robert, and James sold it in 1722 to Edmund Bower of Somerton, who in the same year sold it to Thomas Dickinson of Somerton. Dickinson gave it to his son John in 1729, and John sold it a month later to William Dodd, rector of Charlton Mackrell. The Dickinsons still retained an interest for, despite a further transfer from Dodd to William Keat, later rector of Kingweston, Keat presented John Dickinson to the vicarage in 1732 and was party to a settlement of the patronage on Dickinson's wife in 1738. William Dickinson, their son and heir, sold the patronage to Stephen FoxStrangways, earl of Ilchester (d. 1776), in 1762. (fn. 532) Successive earls exercised the right until 1921, when it was transferred to the bishop of Bath and Wells, patron in 1970. (fn. 533)
By 1205 the vicarage was endowed with arable lands, altarage, all obventions, and small tithes. (fn. 534) In 1239 the income was further defined to give him the demesnes 'as well of the mother church . . . as of the chapels', (fn. 535) though he was charged with the 'ordinance' of the church, proportionately with the abbots of Muchelney and Athelney. (fn. 536) By the end of the 13th century the vicarage was valued at £5. (fn. 537) In 1334 it was assessed at £9 3s. 4d. and in 1535 at £16 0s. 7d. (fn. 538) In 1650 the income of £40 was augmented to £66 12s. (fn. 539) About 1668 it was said to be worth £60, (fn. 540) but in 1705 'not under £30 nor truly much above'. (fn. 541) By 1831 the income was £259. (fn. 542) This was the value of the tithes only in 1851, the whole benefice income amounting to £341 5s. (fn. 543)
Oblations and small tithes in 1334 were worth £7 3s. 4d. (fn. 544) In 1535 this income was divided between personal tithes and casuals at £10 13s. 4d., and tithes of wool and lambs at £4 10s. (fn. 545) By 1705 the vicar claimed a modus of 1d., 1½d., or 2d. an acre 'for most of the water meadow', 1d. for each garden, and 1d. 'cow white'. (fn. 546) By 1841 he received 2d. for every cow in lieu of tithe milk and in lieu of tithes of meadow and pasture when fed with cows. Tithe hay was payable from grounds when mown. He also claimed 2d. for offerings and garden tithes, 2d. for each cottage, and the same sum for every calf. For the keep of sheep if not shorn he received 4d. a score monthly. (fn. 547) In 1841 the tithes were commuted for a rent-charge of £259. (fn. 548)
Land and pasture attached to the vicarage were worth 20s. in 1334 and £2 8s. 4d. in 1535. (fn. 549) In area this was just over 51 a. in 1613, rising to 57¾ a. in 1633, and to 60½a. in 1639. (fn. 550) By 1841 it measured 40 a. (fn. 551) The glebe was sold by the earl of Ilchester in 1920. (fn. 552)
The vicarage house at the north-east corner of the churchyard was isolated in the early 17th century, the vicar having no right of way to it except through the churchyard. (fn. 553) A settlement reached before 1672 gave him wayleave for horse and waggon through a plot of land east of the vicarage barn and a detached kitchen. (fn. 554) The vicarage house, described as 'very good' in 1815, (fn. 555) perhaps soon after its present south wing had been built, is an L-shaped stone building of two storeys, incorporating on its north side a late medieval range which may have been built as the solar wing of an even earlier house. The range retains an original timber roof of four bays, now ceiled in. It has arch-braced collar-beam trusses, two chamfered through-purlins to each slope, and three tiers of windbraces, the top one with the curves of the braces reversed. The bay at the east end is divided by a partition truss from what was evidently a fine upper room of three bays with an open roof. On the ground floor the easternmost bay is entered by a south doorway of Ham stone with a depressed pointed arch. A large chimney, perhaps inserted in the 16th or 17th century, is built against the south wall of the range. Externally at the west gable-end are the remains of a Ham stone window with two relieving arches in the wall above; the stonemullioned window on the upper floor may be a 17th-century replacement. The south wing of the house, containing the staircase, hall, and drawingroom, was built or rebuilt early in the 19th century, and an eastern extension of the medieval range is an even later addition.
The medieval incumbents include Richard Tewkesbury, king's clerk, presented by the Crown in 1400 when the abbacy of Muchelney was vacant, who was allowed to farm the benefice on his absence in the following year. (fn. 556) Thomas Shortrugg, presented in 1450, was ordered to study for a year in view of his lack of learning. (fn. 557) William Rodbard was deprived in 1554 for being married, but was restored to the benefice under Elizabeth I. (fn. 558) John Seward, vicar from 1621, was also rector of Kingston Seymour; he was removed in 1649 and was replaced by Roger Derby, who held the benefice for ten years. (fn. 559) At least one of the 18th-century vicars, Benjamin Kebby, was a pluralist, and most employed assistant curates. (fn. 560)
The parishioners in 1554 had failed like many of their neighbours to replace the vestments sold or destroyed during Edward VI's reign. (fn. 561) An organ, acquired by 1637, was dismantled shortly before 1653. (fn. 562) From 1639 the assistant curate said morning prayer daily at 6 o'clock. (fn. 563) By 1815 morning and afternoon services, with a sermon in the afternoon, were held every Sunday, and prayers were said every Wednesday. (fn. 564) Prayers every Friday and on Saints' and Holy Days were discontinued in 1828 'in consequence of the advancing age and infirmities' of the incumbent. (fn. 565) Five years later, under a new vicar, morning prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays were discontinued because of the 'very small number indeed' who attended. (fn. 566) In 1836 the vestry agreed that the duties of the vicar, namely two sermons on each Sunday, should stand in lieu of week-day duties. (fn. 567) The same pattern continued until 1870 when Holy Communion was celebrated monthly and at festivals. (fn. 568) On Census Sunday 1851 the morning congregation was 449 including 178 Sunday-school children, and 608 with 189 children in the afternoon. The attendance was said to be 'not so good as in the summer months'. (fn. 569)
In 1349 Richard of Somerton gave a burgage in the town to the churchwardens to provide an obit for himself, his wife, and his parents. (fn. 570) By the mid 17th century the church owned 20 burgages with a total rental of 11s. 7½d. (fn. 571) In 1705 the income was £7 12s. 10½d., and by 1869 the income from the church lands comprised rent of nearly £127 and interest from securities. (fn. 572) This income is devoted to the fabric of the church. (fn. 573) Somerton Church Lands were established as a charity under a Scheme of 1889. (fn. 574)
A church house was rebuilt in 1581–2. It was of stone, with a tiled roof, and included a hall, kitchen, and cellar. (fn. 575) Part of the building was let as a shop in 1615, but at least until 1636 it was used for public functions, (fn. 576) and was still kept in repair by the parish in 1679–80. (fn. 577) Its site is not known. In 1581–2 the churchwardens bought a house known as the parish house. (fn. 578) It was rebuilt in 1582–3 to provide a hall on the first floor and a shop and kitchen beneath. (fn. 579) The shop, kitchen, and other chambers were normally leased, and the hall, approached by an external stair from the churchyard, was at first used for parish ales and other feasts. (fn. 580) It was occasionally let to outsiders. (fn. 581) By 1617–18 part of the building was used as a school, (fn. 582) part as a vestry room, and part for storing arms for the militia. (fn. 583) The house, which stood by the southern entrance to the churchyard, was demolished c. 1840. (fn. 584)
By 1355 there was a chantry, probably in the parish church, dedicated to the Virgin, with property in the town. (fn. 587) The chantry continued until after 1381. (fn. 588) Its property evidently included pasture in Lower Somerton, known as 'chauntrie' in 1657. (fn. 589)
The parish church of ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS, dedicated to St. Michael alone by 1349, (fn. 590) is a large church of grey stone with Ham stone dressings. It consists of chancel with north vestry, north transept and south tower in the transeptal position, and nave with north and south aisles and south porch. The oldest remaining parts date from the earlier 13th century when it appears to have been a cruciform building with an aisleless nave. The arches to both transepts are of that date as well as several features in the south transept. They include two lancet windows (one blocked), a former west doorway, and a trefoil-headed piscina; a tomb recess in the south wall with a much-worn female effigy may also be of the 13th century. The upper part of the tower is octagonal, the transition from the square base being made by large plain broaches. Timber for the repair of the belfry was given by the king in 1278. (fn. 591) The present belfry windows and the embattled parapet are additions of the Perpendicular period when a new window was also inserted lower down in the south wall. The north window of the north transept has enriched forking tracery of c. 1300. The church was enlarged towards the middle of the 14th century by the rebuilding of the nave and the addition of north and south aisles, each with an arcade of four bays. Two consecration crosses are still visible, one near each end of the south arcade. The construction of the south aisle, which evidently had an altar at its east end, possibly the altar of the St. Mary's chantry, enclosed part of the west wall of the tower and its stair turret within the church. The south aisle has three 14th-century windows with reticulated tracery and there is one similar window in the north aisle and one in the north transept. The large west window of the nave contains flowing tracery. The chancel, which has Perpendicular windows, was probably rebuilt in the 15th century. A clerestory was added to the nave at the same period. The nave roof, one of the finest in Somerset, dates from c. 1510. (fn. 592) It is of low pitch with short king-posts above the tie beams. The timbers are richly moulded and ornamented, the roof slopes being divided into small square panels containing carved quatrefoils. A unique feature is the treatment of the spandrels above the tie beams which are filled with carvings of dragon-like beasts.
In 1563–4 the chancel roof was re-leaded; (fn. 593) some of its present features, including an ornamental plaster frieze, may be the result of these repairs. A new window, possibly one of the Perpendicular windows in the chancel, was inserted c. 1581, and at the same time the rood loft stair was removed; (fn. 594) the doorway to the loft is still visible. The vestry on the north side of the chancel was added in 1770, the gift of Harbin Arnold (d. 1782), who also gave two of the three brass chandeliers in the nave. (fn. 595)
The church was restored in 1889, when the galleries erected in the previous three centuries were taken down and the double-gabled south porch, incorporating a stair to the south gallery, was rebuilt. (fn. 596) At the restoration bench-ends of the late 15th or early 16th century were added to modern pews. The carved pulpit is dated 1615, and the communion table with bulbous legs is dated 1626. Parts of the reredos, of domestic origin and installed when the chancel was restored in the 20th century, are also Jacobean. The pew opposite the pulpit at the chancel step was known as the archdeacon's pew, used by him during visitations. (fn. 597) The font, in the south aisle, is octagonal on a circular pedestal; it has a Jacobean cover.
There are eight bells: (i) and (ii) 1970, Taylor of Loughborough; (iii) 1914, Warner; (iv) 1874, Warner; (v) 1760, Thomas Bilbie; (vi) 1808, James Wells, Aldbourne (Wilts.); (vii) and (viii) 1914, Warner. (fn. 598) The oldest piece of plate is a cup and cover by 'I.P.' dated 1573. There is a set of cup, paten, flagon, and almsdish of 1692, probably by Ralph Leeke, and an earlier paten, probably given by Mrs. Mary Rosse, daughter of James Hodges (d. 1601) of St. Cleers. (fn. 599) The registers date from 1697 and the series is complete.
By 1280 there was a chapel at Hurcot which had probably been in existence from c. 1200. It may have originated in a grant of land made by the Crown to Muchelney abbey to celebrate mass there three times a week. There were at least two chapels dependent on the parish church by 1205, and from 1207 the Crown ceased to have a direct interest in Hurcot. (fn. 600) By 1280 the land supporting the chaplain, amounting to half a virgate, was annexed to the parish church, and the chaplain must, therefore, have been directly under the control of the vicar of Somerton. (fn. 601) The chapel was dedicated to St. James by 1457, and bequests were made to it in the late 15th century. (fn. 602) It had ceased to be used for worship by 1572 when the Crown granted it to Henry Middlemore; it was then valued at 4d. (fn. 603) It was granted by the Crown to John Cook and others in 1613, and by 1617 was owned by Hugh Worth. (fn. 604) Worth sold it to Sir Edward Hext in the same year, and Hext sold it in 1618 to Humphrey Were. (fn. 605) No further trace of the chapel has been found. Its site may have been at the junction of two 'ancient' roads, north-west of Hurcot Farm, a small plot of ground which formed an isolated part of Somerton manor until 1921. (fn. 606)
There was probably a chapel at Somerton Erleigh in the late 9th century. (fn. 607) A violent scene took place there in 1319 between the bishop and the proctor of the chapter of Wells. (fn. 608) The chapel was still in existence in 1371 when the advowson passed, with the manor of Somerton Erleigh, from Sir John (V) de Erleigh to Richard Brice. (fn. 609) The later history of the chapel is unknown.
There was a chapel near Melbury, south-west of the town, associated with the settlement of Melbury Green. (fn. 610) In 1572 'Maide Milboroughes' chapel, valued at 2d., was granted by the Crown to Henry Middlemore. (fn. 611) 'The Maid of Milboroughes chapell alias Milborough' passed, like Hurcot chapel, into the hands of Humphrey Were, (fn. 612) and has not been traced further.
A wooden church, dedicated to St. Dunstan and standing on the north side of Langport Road, was opened in 1927. It was served from Glastonbury. (fn. 613) The present church, on the same site, was opened in 1965, and is served from Langport. (fn. 614) It is a square lias building, with a pyramidal tiled roof and a central lantern.
A group of Baptists was meeting at Somerton by 1653, and probably continued at least until 1658. (fn. 615) In 1672 a group of Presbyterians was licensed to use a barn for worship. (fn. 616) In 1719 a barn adjoining Pester's Lane, already called the 'Meeting House' and sometimes known as 'Serjeant's Barn', evidently the building the Presbyterians had used, (fn. 617) was given in trust for use by Baptists. (fn. 618) Between 1798 and 1802 the congregation, evidently led by the Revd. Richard Herdsman of South Petherton, became for a time Presbyterian. (fn. 619) In 1803, however, the premises were being used by Independents, who had worshipped in the house of Thomas Barnard since 1798. (fn. 620) The present Congregational chapel was erected on the same site in 1803, and was enlarged in 1822 and again in 1865, when the present frontage was constructed. (fn. 621) The Lecture Hall was added in 1873. Attendance at the chapel on Census Sunday 1851 comprised a general congregation of 130 in the morning; in the afternoon there were 70 children and 23 young people, and in the evening 200 people. The average attendance was usually higher. (fn. 622)
A number of Quakers in the parish suffered persecution in the 17th century. (fn. 623) By 1668 Friends from the town were evidently meeting at Pitney, (fn. 624) but in 1674 numbers had fallen so that the meetinghouse there closed, and all went to Long Sutton. (fn. 625) As a result of 'large meetings' at Somerton and 'very good service' there, it was decided to open a meeting-house in 1691. (fn. 626) William Penn addressed Friends there in 1694, possibly in the house of Henry Maber, which had been licensed in 1692. (fn. 627) The house of another Quaker, Eleanor Peddle, was licensed in 1703. (fn. 628) From 1753 Elizabeth Piddle's house was used. (fn. 629) By 1824 no Quaker families remained in the parish, and four years later the meeting-house at the Lynch was sold. (fn. 630) In 1876 a new meeting-house, on the north side of New Street, was opened, the result of the arrival in the town of Messrs. Welsh and Clark, the collar manufacturers. (fn. 631) It was closed in 1935. (fn. 632)
It is possible that a house near the Unicorn inn, West Street, licensed in 1788, may have been used by the first Methodists in Somerton. (fn. 633) The earliest certain date is the licence granted in 1810 to Thomas Connock for the use of his house in West Street. The licence was transferred in 1828 to a former carpenter's shop behind the house. (fn. 634) Connock, described as a druggist and a farrier, was born in West Camel in 1761, and was in 1788 appointed a class leader by John Wesley. (fn. 635) The present chapel in West Street was erected on or near the site of the shop in 1845, with seats for 224. The congregations on Census Sunday 1851 comprised 154 in the afternoon, including 57 Sunday-school pupils, and 123 in the evening. (fn. 636)
Five licences were issued to Dissenting groups in the period 1816 to 1825; three were almost certainly for Methodists, though it is not clear whether the same or several groups are involved. (fn. 637) Probably the Bible Christians in the town originated from one of these. Zion Chapel was built by them in 1841, and was licensed in 1844. (fn. 638) By 1851 services were held there twice each Sunday, and attendances averaged 33 in the morning and 60 in the evening. (fn. 639) The congregation became affiliated to the United Methodist Church in 1907, but the chapel was used by the Methodists until 1949. (fn. 640)
The Salvation Army began work, against considerable opposition, in 1885. (fn. 641) They occupied a hall on the north side of Langport Road, near the present Roman Catholic church, (fn. 642) and then took over Zion Chapel in West End, in succession to the Methodists. Their work ceased in c. 1964. (fn. 643)
In 1933 meetings of the Brethren began in a house known as 'Valeside', and were continued in another called 'Ringers Well', both in West Street. A building called St. Cleers Chapel was opened for worship in 1949. (fn. 644)
In 1577 Benet Parker was licensed to teach boys grammar in Somerton, and in 1593–4 William Odeams was teaching in the town without licence. (fn. 645) By 1617–18 part of the parish house was being used as a schoolroom, though the master was not supported by the parish. (fn. 646) In 1691, however, the schoolmaster was appointed to serve as sexton. (fn. 647)
In 1675 Thomas Glover, a London ironmonger whose father was born in Somerton, gave the Three Cups inn in Broad Street in trust to establish and maintain a school and schoolmaster to teach boys of the town and parish. (fn. 648) The school continued throughout most of the 18th century, (fn. 649) and was known for teaching Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. (fn. 650) By the early 19th century, however, it was said to be 'greatly in want of some interference': (fn. 651) its income, despite an increase in endowment of £5 a year in 1716 'for educating at an English school twelve poor children', given by Mrs. Alice Yeates of Hurcot, (fn. 652) had to be augmented by donations. The school had only 12 pupils in 1818, (fn. 653) though perhaps then and certainly in the 1840s the master took boarders to increase his income. (fn. 654)
By 1850 the Free Grammar School was under the control of the trustees of the parish charities, and from 1858 was known as the Somerton Free School. (fn. 655) By the 1870s the income of the school was being augmented by subscriptions, by government grants, and by the payment of fees for pupils not on the foundation. (fn. 656) From 1868 a night school for adults was held on the premises, evening classes under the County Technical Education Committee were held there from 1891, and the 'Somerton Adult School' used the rooms on Sundays from 1894. The school assumed aided status under the County Education Committee in 1903, and its endowment fund was later widened to be applied 'to education purposes for the parish'. (fn. 657) Somerton Free Church of England School, as it was known after 1903, remained a boys' school, with an average attendance in 1904–5 of 102. (fn. 658) Juniors only were taken from 1940, and numbers fell below 50. The school was closed in 1963, and was merged with Monteclefe (see below). (fn. 659)
The school occupied the former parish house at least until 1830; it moved to a room in Broad Street, next to the Bank House, successor to the Three Cups of the original endowment. A second room was added in 1878. (fn. 660) The property is now a youth club.
In the early 19th century there were several other schools in the town. In 1806 a Sunday school was established by the vestry in Broad Street, supported by subscriptions. (fn. 661) It had 126 pupils in 1818, (fn. 662) and was probably one of the 'large' Sunday schools in the town in 1825, one with a library attached. (fn. 663) In 1833 there were 113 pupils. (fn. 664) By 1841 the schoolroom was occupied by the master of the Free School, (fn. 665) and by 1889 was in use as a vestry room. (fn. 666)
By 1833 there was an infants' school, founded in 1828, for 70 children, three day-schools, apart from the Free School, for 121 pupils, and two Sunday schools for 183 pupils. The day-schools were maintained at parents' expense and the smallest, with 24 pupils, was taught by Independents. The second Sunday school was also attached to the Independent chapel. (fn. 667) By 1840 there were private schools for girls in West Street and for boys in New Street. (fn. 668) Three Sunday schools by 1846–7 had 208 pupils. (fn. 669)
Monteclefe National School, now known as Monteclefe Church of England Junior School, was built in 1851 by Miss Anna Maria Pinney, daughter of J. F. Pinney of Somerton Erleigh. It was enlarged in 1888 by Lady Smith, her sister, and in 1894 provided accommodation for 226 girls and infants, with an average attendance of 124. (fn. 670) Juniors only were taken from 1940, and since the closure of the Free School in 1963 it has been a junior mixed school. In 1969 the average attendance was 147. (fn. 671)
West Street National Infants' School was built in 1870 by Col. William Pinney of Somerton Erleigh. (fn. 672) In 1873 the vestry was required by the government to provide a school for infants in the town, and Col. Pinney leased his school for the purpose in 1875. (fn. 673) Voluntary rates for its support proved difficult to collect in the 1880s and a school board was consequently formed in 1888. (fn. 674) In 1894 there was accommodation for 63 children, with an average attendance of 58. (fn. 675) The school was taken over by the County Education Committee in 1903, and was closed in 1966. It was replaced by Somerton County Infants School, Etsome Terrace, which in 1969 had an attendance of 126. (fn. 676)
Private establishments in the 19th century included a boy's school in West Street in 1859, a girls' school in Kirkcombe Street in 1861, and a school run by a Miss Dredge, in West Street in 1866, and in Broad Street in 1872 and 1875. (fn. 677) By 1897 there was a girls' school in Broad Street, transferred to North Street by 1902, which continued until after 1914; and by 1910 the Misses Brown held a preparatory school at Selwood House, in the Market Place, which continued until after 1923. (fn. 678)
Charities for the Poor.
Between 1604 and 1642 a number of small sums were bequeathed to the vicar and churchwardens for the use of the poor, amounting to a capital sum of £50 6s. 8d. (fn. 679) Shortly after 1642 the disposition of this poor stock was placed in the hands of two men, not churchwardens. (fn. 680) From this capital, small sums were lent throughout the 17th century, the interest presumably being distributed for the benefit of the poor. (fn. 681) No further trace of this stock has been found.
In 1675 Thomas Glover, a London ironmonger, gave in trust a house called the 'Passage House', in Broad Street, the income to be used in bread for the poor. By Chancery decree in 1744 a capital sum paid as an entry fine for this property was consolidated with Churchey's charity, and the rent of the house was subsequently distributed in bread with that charity. (fn. 682) In 1869–71 the combined annual value was £21 7s. 11d. (fn. 683) Bread was distributed in 1970. (fn. 684)
Thomas Churchey of London, goldsmith, a native of Somerton, by will dated 1690, gave £150 in trust to purchase land, the income to be used to buy bread to distribute each Sunday after morning service. (fn. 685) The capital sum was consolidated in 1744 with funds from Glover's bread charity, and the income applied to unrelieved parishioners. (fn. 686) From 1768 the income was further augmented to produce £10 8s. a year, to provide bread for 13 poor families or persons in 4d. loaves. (fn. 687) This charity was further augmented with Coombs's and Pittard's charities, and continues to be distributed in bread. (fn. 688)
Jerrard Newcourt, of Ivythorn, by will proved 1704, gave the interest on £100 to provide ten coats annually for the poor of the town. There is no evidence that the bequest was effective. (fn. 689)
Mrs. Susannah Fisher, of Somerton, by will dated 1716, bequeathed £200, the interest to bind poor children as apprentices. (fn. 690) The vicar and churchwardens became trustees in 1761. (fn. 691) So much of the capital as could be recovered from a defaulting trustee was used in 1772 towards the purchase of land in Street. (fn. 692) Mrs. Fisher also gave a house and land, the rents from which were to provide gowns for second-poor widows. (fn. 693) In 1824 the income from the gown charity was £13, and by 1845 was applied in the purchase of blankets. (fn. 694) The income in 1869–71 was £12, enough to buy up to 30 pairs each year in the late 19th century. Blankets were last distributed in 1938, and since that time coal has been given instead. (fn. 695)
Part of the accrued income of the Free School charity was used in 1772 towards the purchase of an estate at Street, one third of the income from which, it was decided in 1811, was to apply to the school. (fn. 696) Other purchase money came from Susannah Fisher's apprentice charity funds. (fn. 697) In 1869–71 the apprentice charity had an income of £16, and apprentices were bound to tradesmen as funds allowed until 1887. (fn. 698) Thereafter funds seem to have been applied exclusively to the school. The estate was sold in 1936. (fn. 699)
Harbin Arnold (d. 1782) gave an annual rentcharge of £8 8s. on land in North Wootton to buy loaves for distribution on Sunday afternoons among four of the oldest and poorest unrelieved families. The rent-charge ceased to be paid in 1821. (fn. 700)
A further bread charity was founded under the will of Thomas Pittard in 1849, and comprised the income from £161 stock. (fn. 701) From 1886 the charity was administered by the trustees of the Somerton Charities, and was used to provide coal for 20 people. (fn. 702) The charity was so administered in 1971. (fn. 703)
The Edith Coombs charity was founded under will proved 1854. The capital sum of £100 was to augment the Glover and Yeates charities to provide help in kind. (fn. 704) By 1887 the charity was administered with Churchey's and Pittard's, and their combined income in 1893 was £12. Coal and bread were still provided by these charities in 1971. (fn. 705)
Sir Edward Hext (d. 1624), of Low Ham, shortly before his death, built an almshouse for eight men at the western end of West Street. (fn. 706) His widow Denise endowed it with a rent-charge of £50 on the manor of Middlezoy, and drew up orders for its government. The almsmen, of 50 years and over, were to be chosen, four from Somerton, two from High and Low Ham, and two from Langport Eastover, by Denise Hext and her successors as owners of Nether Ham House, together with two justices of the peace from the neighbourhood. Failing them, selection was to be by the incumbents of the three parishes concerned.
Each of the inmates was to receive 2s. weekly, a coat at Christmas, and an allowance of coal. A small sum was originally reserved to the man, preferably an inmate, who should 'read the common prayers of the church used for Divine Service, Catechism and other godly books or treatises, unto the said poor'. Prayers were to be said at the almshouse each morning when none were said in the parish church. An expected annual surplus of 40s. was to be lent free of charge for a year to poor artificers of the three parishes.
By the early 19th century no surplus was achieved and, in the absence of any funds for the maintenance of the building, places were left vacant in order to provide a repair fund. Under a Scheme of 1883 the number of almsmen was reduced to four, from the same parishes, and the premises were remodelled. The rent-charge was redeemed in 1908.
The Hext Almshouses, dated 1626, comprise a single-storeyed range, originally containing 8 oneroom dwellings. The range is of lias with Ham stone dressings and has a stone bellcot at the west gableend. The doorways along the front are grouped in pairs with, between them, double niches for use as seats. In 1967 the former sculleries at the rear were replaced by new kitchens and bathrooms. (fn. 707)
Mrs. Sophia Scott Gould, of North Curry, built and endowed the 'Homes for Widows', situated at the junction of North Street with New Street, in 1866. They were for widows or single women of 60 years or more, and consist of six dwellings around a courtyard. The charity also provides coal and a monthly cash payment. (fn. 708)