A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.
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The town and parish of Langport was formerly a corporate borough and market town, known as Langport Eastover by the 14th century to distinguish it from the manor and borough of Langport Westover in Curry Rivel. (fn. 1) It had an area of 171 a. in 1840, (fn. 2) of which total 21 a. represented Langport's allotment in Common moor, divided by private agreement between the parishes of Langport, Huish Episcopi, and Aller in 1797. (fn. 3) The parish is 5 miles west of Somerton and 13 miles east of Taunton and forms a small irregularly shaped region north and east of a bend in the river Parrett, almost surrounded by Huish Episcopi. The low-lying area beside the river is alluvium over lias, providing rich pasture north-west of the town. Above the flood plain to the east the Rhaetic clays rise to form Langport hill, above 75 ft., with a lias outcrop upon its summit. (fn. 4) To the south-west lies Whatley hill, a small spur above the river.
From the Parrett south of the town a ditch, known as the Portlake rhine by 1526 (fn. 5) and later as the Catchwater, ran through the town and north-west over the Langport 'moors' to rejoin the river. The portion through the 'moors' was filled in 1966 (fn. 6) and south of the Little Bow bridge it has been covered by a car park. The Back river, known as a common rhine in 1470–1, (fn. 7) runs west from the Catchwater south of the town and enters the Parrett above the Great Bow bridge. In 1794 it was proposed to improve the navigation of the Parrett and in the following year an Act was obtained to straighten and deepen the Catchwater through the Langport 'moors' and under the Little Bow, and also to make a new cut inland below Langport hill for ¾ mile upstream to join the river Yeo at Bicknell's bridge in Huish. (fn. 8) The work within the parish and part of the cut to Bicknell's bridge had been completed by 1797, but the project was then discontinued. (fn. 9) Two Acts obtained in 1836 and 1839 resulted in the formation of the Parrett Navigation Company and in the making of a second cut from the Little Bow, running beside the Parrett and Yeo rivers to Bicknell's bridge, completed in 1840. (fn. 10) Locks built in the Parrett opposite the Langport 'moors' as part of this improvement were later used as flood drains. (fn. 11)
Archaeological evidence suggests (fn. 12) that the crossing of the Parrett at this point was used in Roman times and that the construction of the causeway across the former marshes, along which Bow Street now runs, may have preceded permanent settlement at Langport. The town is first mentioned in the Burghal Hidage and thus was one of the fortified burhs in the defensive network of the south and west in the early 10th century. (fn. 13) It possessed a mint by c. 930. (fn. 14) By 1066 it was evidently the dependent commercial settlement of the large agricultural estate of Somerton. (fn. 15) Physically, however, the settlement had already been separated from Somerton through the grant of Huish, Combe, and Pibsbury to the bishop of Wells by 1065. (fn. 16) Langport's ecclesiastical status as a dependent chapelry of Huish presumably dates from the grant to the bishop, (fn. 17) though it does not exclude the possibility of an earlier church in the town. The name Langport suggests the use of Bow Street causeway as a trading area by the early 10th century. Possibly quays lay along its southern side which the Back river was cut to serve. The site of the original settlement is indicated by the course of an embankment which surrounds Langport hill, forming a roughly triangular enclosure. To the west of the hill a bank with external ditch ran along the lower slope and its remains may be seen in the gardens of the present Hill House and around Whatley hill. Langport hill is defended on the south by a steep slope and the line of defences probably ran along the southern limit of the churchyard, turning north-west just short of the eastern parish boundary in the area of the Hanging Chapel. It then ran through the grounds of St. Gildas Convent enclosing Dolemans close, now tennis courts. The bank and ditch are again visible at the northernmost point where they form the parish boundary. (fn. 18) The regular entrenchment north-east of the early fortifications, which forms the boundary of the present recreation ground, is almost certainly later in date, possibly 17th century. It was within this enclosed area that the initial settlement of the borough took place and the church was built.
The area below Langport hill and its early defences was known as Beneathcliff in 1344 (fn. 19) and Beneathwall from 1350–1. (fn. 20) It was treated separately in the earliest surviving manorial accounts (fn. 21) and was probably settled after the available frontages on the hill had already been occupied. The tightly packed burgage tenements along both sides of the causeway, now Bow Street, with long narrow rear yards or gardens running north and south, were probably the last to be laid out. A deed assigned to the late 12th century but now lost, refers to the reclamation from marsh of 5 a. north of the 'old street' (probably Bow Street) and another 5 a. west of the 'old wall' (probably along North Street) called 'the new land of Langport'. (fn. 22) A house 'above the bridge of Langport to the north' is mentioned in 1220. (fn. 23) It seems likely that the manor of Langport originally included the settlement known as Langport Westover on the western bank of the Parrett, so that both ends of the crossing were controlled by a single lord. Although the manor and borough which grew up on the opposite bank had developed a separate identity by the 14th century, (fn. 24) it continued in common ownership with Langport Eastover until the 16th century. (fn. 25)
The street plan of the town has changed little since the Middle Ages. The main thoroughfare from Taunton enters the parish in the west, crossing the Parrett by the Great Bow bridge, and subsequently passes over the Catchwater by the Little Bow bridge to the foot of Langport hill and the site of the former cross. (fn. 26) This street is now called Cheapside (Silver Street or Cheapside in 1827) (fn. 27) between the site of the cross and the Little Bow, and Bow Street between the two bridges. It did not receive its present names until the early 19th century. (fn. 28) North Street enters the town from the north to meet Cheapside at the site of the cross. Three houses there are mentioned in 1251. (fn. 29) The road now called the Hill and providing the principal access to the borough from the east passes beneath the Hanging Chapel, over the hill, across the site of the former marketplace by St. Gildas Convent, and runs down the hill to meet North Street and Cheapside. This road was formerly known as Cheapstreet (mentioned 1370–1) (fn. 30) between the Hanging Chapel and the market-place, and Upstreet (mentioned 1372–3, (fn. 31) called Upstreet alias Cheapside in 1596, (fn. 32) and Cornhill in 1600) (fn. 33) from the market-place to the foot of the hill. By 1659 the whole road was known as Upstreet alias Cheapstreet. (fn. 34) Subsequently it was generally called Upstreet (fn. 35) but by 1827 was known as Upstreet or the Hill, (fn. 36) the last name having persisted to the present day.
Stalls and burgage tenements evidently clustered around the market-place. New rents from plots there are mentioned in 1350–1 (fn. 37) and areas of waste were granted for stalls in Cheapstreet in 1373–4. (fn. 38) The area of settlement formerly extended northwards from the market-place into the grounds of the convent. Five burgages on the 'upper Roughdich' are recorded in 1372–3 (fn. 39) and there was a windmill on Rowditch (Roughdiche in 1365–6, (fn. 40) Rowediche in 1375–6) (fn. 41) by 1344. (fn. 42) A market-house on the north side of the market-place was built soon after 1563 and partially demolished c. 1713–14. (fn. 43) The whole northern area around the market-place was taken into the grounds of St. Gildas Convent (then Hill House) in the early 19th century. (fn. 44)
From the market-place Priest Lane (so called in 1711) (fn. 45) runs north-west to meet North Street, and Whatley Lane (probably 'Werelane' mentioned in 1506–7, (fn. 46) called Whatley Lane in 1620) (fn. 47) drops south-west to the lands by the river known as Whatley (Wartly in 1596). (fn. 48) From Cheapside a lane, now also known as Whatley, runs south to meet Whatley Lane near the site of the former pound. (fn. 49) The area known as Whatley and lying south of Cheapside was formerly open pasture leased with the Swan Inn (now the Langport Arms) by 1596. (fn. 50) There was a Whatley mill in the later 16th century (fn. 51) and three borough properties were evidently built there in 1646. (fn. 52) The fourth borough fair was also held there in that year, (fn. 53) probably on Whatley green. This green was granted out on building leases by the corporation for four cottages erected in 1828. (fn. 54) Beyond the 1839–40 canal, but formerly part of Whatley, lies Barley close. Towards the west end of this field an iron foundry had been established by 1819 (fn. 55) and immediately west of this the Langport Coal Gas Company, founded in 1835, set up its works. (fn. 56)
On the eastern boundary of the parish Bennetts Lane runs south from the main road. It formerly served fields known as the Hams beyond the 1795–7 canal. (fn. 57) Bonds Pool Lane runs north-east from the main road and forms part of the parish boundary. It may be named after Bond dole in Langport field, mentioned in 1659. (fn. 58) Bow and North Streets were adopted by the Langport, Somerton, and Castle Cary turnpike trust in 1753, (fn. 59) and the Hill in 1792. (fn. 60) Two roads in the parish not positively identified were Mill Lane, mentioned in 1382–3, (fn. 61) and Pig Street, mentioned between 1703 (fn. 62) and 1798. (fn. 63) The latter was possibly that part of the Hill immediately west of the Hanging Chapel. (fn. 64)
Langport's trade necessarily depended much on the efficiency of its communications with the surrounding areas and London. About 1793 the London–Taunton coach passed through the town, 'which drops the goods here from London to be carried further by water'. (fn. 65) In 1822 coaches left the town daily for London and Barnstaple and three times a week for Bristol and Exeter. (fn. 66) Twenty years later, however, the borough was served only by the North Devon coach, running to London and Barnstaple three times a week and passing through Taunton, Ilminster, and Chard. (fn. 67) Immediately before the construction of the railway in 1853 (fn. 68) the town was linked to Bridgwater by an omnibus service and to Yeovil and Taunton by the Fairy Mail coach. (fn. 69)
Langport field, first mentioned in 1596 (fn. 70) and lying in the north-east of the parish beyond the hill, may probably be identified with Horsecroft in which lay 41½ a. of arable burgage land by 1344. (fn. 71) The two Langport 'moors', pastures lying northwest of the town and formerly divided by the Catchwater, were described as Langport moor in 1331–2, (fn. 72) as Eastmoor and Westmoor in 1476–7, (fn. 73) and as Higher and Lower moors by 1600. (fn. 74) They are occasionally referred to at the present time as North Street moor and Little moor. (fn. 75) Langport Common moor, now meadow and formerly pasture, which lies at the north-western corner of the parish, was called Levermore in 1274 (fn. 76) and Lyvermore in 1280. (fn. 77) In the 13th century it comprised 30 a. of pasture which Somerton manor claimed had been appropriated by the lady of Langport c. 1250. (fn. 78) It was first described as Common moor in 1371–2 (fn. 79) and was referred to as 'Langport Lower Liver moor now called Common moor' in 1756. (fn. 80) Cocklemoor, lying south of Bow Street, forms an island bounded by the Parrett on the south and Back river on the north. It is first recorded as Redeham in 1384–5 and as 'Burgesmore, late Redeham, and now Cockell moore' in 1470–1 (fn. 81) South and south-west of Langport hill beside the Parrett lie further pasture lands: Barley close and the Hams. All the lowlying lands beside the river, and indeed much of the town, have been subject to regular flooding, particularly in winter, until modern times.
River-borne traffic on the Parrett was a vital factor in the town's economy from an early date, much of the trade being conducted near the Great and Little Bow bridges at either end of Bow Street. A bridge at Langport is recorded in 1220 (fn. 82) and a reference to John of the little bridge in 1268 (fn. 83) suggests that both bridges had been erected by that date. A bequest was made to the great bridge of Langport in 1413, (fn. 84) and in 1472 indulgences were granted to those contributing to the repair of Langport bridge called Brodebow, which had been damaged by the sea and by flood. (fn. 85) In 1499 further indulgences were granted to those helping to rebuild two bridges in the town called the Bredbowe and Lytylbryge. (fn. 86) In 1548 the commonalty tried to divert the revenues of two suppressed chantries to the repair of the Great Bow. (fn. 87) It was then said to be of stone with 30 arches, (fn. 88) a number which presumably included the many arches under Bow Street beneath which passed the drainage ditches serving tenements in that street. The great cost to the borough of bridge repair was ostensibly the motive for securing a grant of markets and fairs in 1563 and a charter in 1616. (fn. 89) Little Bow was rebuilt in 1800 (fn. 90) and widened in 1875. (fn. 91) A rail to carry boats and barges under the Great Bow when the river was low was constructed in 1833. (fn. 92) By an agreement reached in 1839 the Parrett Navigation Company agreed to demolish the old bridge of nine arches, build a new one of three arches, and subsequently maintain it, on payment of £500 by the corporation towards their costs. (fn. 93) The present Great Bow bridge was completed in 1841. (fn. 94) It was at the western end of Bow Street by the Great Bow that the principal landing place was sited and around which warehouses were built. There by 1652 stood the Storehouse (fn. 95) and by 1657 the thatched Salt House or Rock House. (fn. 96) In 1677 the portreeve was ordered to restore the slips there to their former state and the lessee of 'Nomans Plot' was required to allow the boatmen access for their boats. (fn. 97) The corporation were indicted in 1772 for not repairing the slip or stone steps at the Great Bow. (fn. 98) From this site, too, Stuckey and Bagehot developed their trading business in the 19th century. (fn. 99) The coming of the railway in 1853 resulted in an abrupt decline in water-borne traffic and the Navigation Company was taken over by the Somerset Drainage Commissioners in 1878. (fn. 100) There was, however, still some barge traffic on a small scale in 1906. (fn. 101)
The town was served initially by the Yeovil and Durston branch of the Bristol and Exeter Railway, opened in 1853, (fn. 102) which ran west of the parish beyond the Parrett. The line from Curry Rivel junction to Somerton, which passed through the north-east tip of the parish and across the north-west end of Higher moor over a viaduct, was opened in 1906. (fn. 103) Langport East station, closed in 1962, lay partly in Huish parish. (fn. 104)
The water supply has always been plentiful. An upper well, in the area of the market-place, and a lower well, at the western foot of Langport hill, are both mentioned in 1668. (fn. 105) The lower well was converted into a pump, known as the Town Pump, between 1709 and 1722, (fn. 106) and a second pump, installed on top of the hill in 1830, (fn. 107) was still visible on the north side of the former market-place in 1972. Water from the lower well was 'justly boasted of as the best in the county, or even in the kingdom,' in 1842. (fn. 108) Many houses in all parts of the town had their own pumps by the 19th century, although those in Bow Street were sometimes fouled as a result of the primitive drainage system. (fn. 109)
The Langport Coal Gas Company was formed in 1835, (fn. 110) and gas works were erected in Whatley. (fn. 111) The plant was closed in 1955. (fn. 112) The town was supplied with piped water from a borehole at Compton Durville in 1905, (fn. 113) and the town was first lit by electricity in 1932. (fn. 114) A cemetery and mortuary chapel were established for the benefit of Langport in 1880, the site in Huish being provided by James Broadmead. (fn. 115) Following the First World War a Memorial playing field was laid out in 1920 to the north of the Board school in Huish. (fn. 116) This was replaced in 1962 by the present recreation ground lying north of the convent grounds. (fn. 117)
There was a music club in Langport as early as 1793, when the corporation contributed to its funds. (fn. 118) The Reading Room, built in 1833, was being used by the Langport Literary and Scientific Association in 1861 (fn. 119) and housed a library revived by the corporation in 1875. (fn. 120) Special arrangements were made for the public to bathe in the Parrett at Common moor in 1859. (fn. 121) The Langport and District Rifle Club, mentioned in 1906, (fn. 122) won the Daily Mail Cup in 1910 as first in the British Isles and second in the Empire. (fn. 123)
The earliest secular buildings in the town are the Langport Arms, late-16th-century, and Virginia House, probably 17th-century, both of which stand at the foot of Langport hill just above the point at which the causeway started. The two buildings have been much altered but the moulded timber ceilings of the Langport Arms are of notably good quality for this part of the county. With other buildings, now lost, they show that by the later 16th century the town centre had been transferred hither from Langport hill. The existence of a town hall in Cheapside by 1596 contributes to the same conclusion. (fn. 124) Late-17th-century cottages in Bennetts Lane are the only survivals of tenements on the south side of the Hill east of the Hanging Chapel, most of which were demolished in the early 19th century in order to extend the grounds of the Meadows, now the Gateway, formerly the home of the Broadmead family. (fn. 125) The earlier 18th century saw the introduction into the town of national copy-book styles of architecture and the first substantial houses, like Ensor House, to the west of the Little Bow bridge. By the end of the century the lower parts of the Hill and the east end of Bow Street were almost continuously lined by buildings in the Georgian style. Most were newly built but a few, like the Langport Arms, are older structures with new fronts. Brick walling was used occasionally, as in the town hall, but the local lias continued to be used and dressings of Ham stone were common with both materials.
In the late 18th century Sir Richard Colt Hoare, lord of the manor, and the corporation sold much land in the lower part of the town and this resulted in extensive rebuilding of the houses standing upon it, so that it could be said in 1828 that the town wore a 'very different appearance' from that of the preceding century. (fn. 126) The earlier 19th century saw the emergence of the area on top of the hill as the most fashionable residential part of the town with several substantial villas which possessed large gardens. The chief of these, Hill House, was built by the banker, Vincent Stuckey, in the early 19th century. (fn. 127) By this time Bow Street had been rebuilt almost as far as the Great Bow, mostly in a plain brick but with occasional patches of flamboyance, like the stone-fronted house of 'Atyeo mason and bricklayer' on the south side. Between 1844 and 1879 the corporation subsidized the demolition of projecting buildings in order to widen the streets, (fn. 128) and several surviving house fronts of this period result from that policy. Of the earlier warehouses once used for goods brought up river only one, a three-storeyed brick building of the mid 19th century, remains. More recently, with most of the suitable building land in the parish already occupied, the town has been forced to expand north and northeast into Huish parish, where many of the rural district council houses lie. Garden City, part of which occupies the site of the former Langport field, was begun in 1919, (fn. 129) and old peoples' bungalows on the site of the old Memorial playing field were completed in 1963. (fn. 130) Modern private building within the parish has been principally restricted to the southern slopes of Langport hill, now known as St. Gildas Close, and to sites on the western slope of the hill east of the old grammar school. South of Cheapside a car park, laid out in 1937, was extended in 1970 and a terrace of shops built nearby. (fn. 131)
For its size Langport has been served by many inns. The Swan is mentioned as 'the inn' in 1596, its rent being nearly twice as much as that paid for any other individual property held by the commonalty. (fn. 132) Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries corporation dinners were invariably held there, and borough and manor courts frequently adjourned to its rooms. (fn. 133) An Excise office was located there by 1715. (fn. 134) The inn was leased by John Michell from the borough in 1653 (fn. 135) and held by his family for over 150 years. Charles Michell purchased it from the corporation in 1808 and sold it back to the borough for £800 in 1817. (fn. 136) It was known as the White Swan in 1800 (fn. 137) and the Langport Arms from 1818. (fn. 138) The corporation added the portico in 1828 (fn. 139) and sold the freehold in 1901. (fn. 140)
The George inn, first mentioned in 1664, (fn. 141) formerly stood on the south side of Bow Street near the Little Bow bridge, but had been converted to a dwelling-house before 1775 by Samuel Stuckey. (fn. 142) The Red Lion lay on the south side of Cheapside east of Whatley by 1714, when it was acquired by the Bush family, (fn. 143) but had been converted to a dwelling by 1752. (fn. 144) The Nag's Head, mentioned in 1717 and probably built in 1692, (fn. 145) stood on the north side of the Hill near its junction with North Street, (fn. 146) had become the White Horse inn by 1726, (fn. 147) and a private house by 1779. (fn. 148) An Angel inn in North Street is mentioned in 1725 and 1727, (fn. 149) but the present Angel on the south side of Bow Street is first recorded in 1787 when a court leet was held there. (fn. 150) The Excise office had moved there from the Swan by c. 1793. (fn. 151) The Five Bells was mentioned in 1727, as was the Black Swan, now on the west side of North Street. (fn. 152) The Bell occurs between 1754 and 1756, and the Carpenters' Arms between 1768 and 1775. (fn. 153) The Dolphin, now on the south side of Bow Street, is first mentioned in 1778, (fn. 154) and the Lamb is recorded between 1779 and 1821. (fn. 155) The White Lion, still standing on the west side of North Street, dates probably from c. 1786, (fn. 156) and the Admiral Vernon, near the west door of the church, is recorded between 1800 and 1818. (fn. 157) The Castle, formerly on the south side of the Hill west of the old Baptist chapel, is mentioned between 1840 and 1864. (fn. 158) In the 19th century there were also five beer houses in Bow Street, the last of which closed in 1960. (fn. 159)
Early friendly societies in the town included those held at the Admiral Vernon (1791–1817) (fn. 160) and the Black Swan (1815–41). (fn. 161) Five other societies occur in the town during the 19th century, including the Langport Friendly which was revived in 1902 and 1960 and still meets annually. (fn. 162)
The 1327 subsidy was paid by 28 inhabitants of the borough, (fn. 163) and in 1548 Langport and Huish Episcopi together had 420 communicants, (fn. 164) of whom about 240 probably belonged to Langport. The town contained 87 households in 1563, (fn. 165) but thereafter no figure for the population survives until the beginning of the censuses. In 1801 the parish contained 754 people, a figure which subsequently rose steadily to 1,245 in 1831. The population then declined as steadily as it had risen: to 897 in 1881, (fn. 166) 773 in 1911, and 686 in 1931. (fn. 167) This fall was occasioned principally by the decline in river-borne traffic, particularly in coal, once the railways had been built. Areas in the neighbourhood of Langport which had formerly used Welsh coal brought up the Parrett now bought coal mined in the northeast of the county. The extension of gardens attached to the more prominent houses by the demolition of adjacent burgage tenements also reduced the number of houses within the borough. The population subsequently grew only slightly, and stood at 777 in 1961. (fn. 168)
In the campaign of 1643 Hopton advanced from Cornwall and garrisoned Langport in June, placing it under the governorship of Sir Francis Mackworth. (fn. 169) Fortifications were evidently raised around Langport hill and a long rampart was built probably on the north-east side above Langport field. Rivalry between Mackworth and Col. Wyndham, then governor of Bridgwater, led to the borough being deprived of both men and supplies. In 1645 the royalist club-men imprisoned certain officers and soldiers and attacked the garrison, before being driven off by Mackworth. On 10 July 1645 the royalist forces under Goring were routed by the parliamentarians under Fairfax at the battle of Langport. Fighting took place east of the town in High Ham and in consequence of the defeat Mackworth quitted Langport. The corporation petitioned the governor and the marquess of Hertford to save the town from devastation and the constables tried to prevent plundering. (fn. 170) In their flight, however, Goring's men fired twenty houses in Bow Street in an attempt to hamper pursuit. The victory was commemorated by bestowing the name Langport on a 50-gun vessel in the Commonwealth navy. (fn. 171)
The duke of Monmouth evidently drew adherents to his cause from the town in 1685, (fn. 172) and Lord Churchill based his forces at Langport in June when harrassing the rebels on their march northwards. (fn. 173) Three men, not necessarily natives of the borough, were executed at Langport after the Taunton assizes. (fn. 174) George Paviott, a Langport blacksmith, was pardoned in 1686 for his part in the rebellion. (fn. 175)
Three sons of William Quekett, master of Langport grammar school 1790–1842, all born and educated in the town, attained a certain renown after leaving it: William (1802–88), divine, Edward John (1808–88), microscopist, and John Thomas (1815–61), histologist. (fn. 176) The first was commended by Dickens in Household Words. (fn. 177) Another son, Edward (d. 1875), a banker in the town, kept a museum in the Hanging Chapel. (fn. 178) Walter Bagehot (1826–77), economist and journalist, gained his early experience of banking at Stuckey's Bank and was deputy recorder of the corporation from 1872 until his death. (fn. 179)
'The Black (or 'girt') Dog of Langport', one of many Somerset black dogs, (fn. 180) occurs in a wassail first printed in 1895 (fn. 181) and is recorded in a variant version by Cecil Sharp in 1909. (fn. 182)
Manor and Borough.
In the early 10th century when Langport is first recorded as a fortified burh (fn. 183) it probably formed part of the royal demesne. By 1066 it was held of the Crown as parcel of the manor of Somerton. (fn. 184) Somerton tenants were still claiming common pasture by virtue of this tenure in 1274 and 1280. (fn. 185) Before 1156, however, the borough had been granted to Hugh de Gundeville, (fn. 186) who last occurs as holding the town in 1181. (fn. 187) From then until the early 16th century Langport was held with the manor of Curry Rivel, of which it formed a member and with which its accounts were rendered. (fn. 188) The circumstances in which the Gundevilles relinquished it are not clear, but in 1209 another Hugh de Gundeville bought a writ of mort d' ancestor of Langport, (fn. 189) and in 1251 Sibyl de Gundeville quitclaimed the manor to Sabina de Lorty for 10 marks. (fn. 190)
Richard Revel (I) received a Crown grant of the manor in 1190 (fn. 191) and by 1212 had been succeeded by his son Richard (II) (d. c. 1222). (fn. 192) Sabina, daughter of Richard (II), married Henry de Lorty (I), who held the manor in 1230. (fn. 193) At her husband's death Sabina's lands were seized by the Crown and Langport was granted to Henry Mare during her widowhood. (fn. 194) On her death in 1254 Sabina was succeeded by her grandson Henry (II) (d. 1321), son of Richard de Lorty. (fn. 195) In 1331 Henry's son John sold the reversion of the manor expectant upon the death of Sibyl his mother to William de Montacute (cr. earl of Salisbury 1337, d. 1344). (fn. 196) By 1344 the property was known as the manor and borough of LANGPORT EASTOVER. (fn. 197) The first earl's son William, earl of Salisbury (d. 1397), in 1394 conveyed the reversion on his death to John Beaufort (cr. earl of Somerset 1397, d. 1410). (fn. 198) Beaufort was succeeded in turn by his sons Henry (d. 1418) and John (cr. duke of Somerset 1443, d. 1444). (fn. 199) John's widow continued to hold the manor during the minority of her daughter Margaret, subsequently wife of Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond, whose heir on her death in 1509 was her grandson Henry VIII. (fn. 200)
In 1525 the king granted the manor to his natural son Henry FitzRoy, duke of Richmond (d. 1536). (fn. 201) On his death it evidently reverted to the Crown. (fn. 202) In 1569 John Milner secured a lease of the borough for 60 years and of the market, fairs, and courts for 21 years. (fn. 203) This lease had passed to Tamsin Wilshere by 1576. (fn. 204) A fresh grant was made to Hugh Sexey of Bruton in 1584: the borough for 40 years and the courts and fairs for 21 years. (fn. 205) Sexey received a new lease in 1590 for the unexpired period of the terms, since there was some doubt whether the earlier grant was valid. (fn. 206) The manor itself was conveyed to George Utley, Sexey's cousin, in 1589, and Utley sold it to Sexey in 1604. (fn. 207) In 1616 Sexey (d. 1619) conveyed his lands to feoffees in trust to fulfil certain unspecified charitable intentions, and the endowment was used to found a hospital at Bruton. (fn. 208) In 1631 the feoffees granted the manor in fee-farm to the portreeve and commonalty of Langport for £12 a year. (fn. 209) It is not clear whether the grant took effect, for in 1634 the feoffees made another grant to Sir Charles Berkeley for the same fee-farm rent of £12. (fn. 210) This rent continued to be paid by the immediate lords to Sexey's hospital until the sale of the manor in 1808, when the charge was transferred to Bruton manor. (fn. 211)
Sir Charles Berkeley (later Viscount Fitzharding, d. 1668) was succeeded in turn by his sons Maurice (d. 1690) and John (d. 1712), successive viscounts. (fn. 212) Their estates were encumbered with heavy mortgages, and a suit in Chancery resulted in the sale of the manor to the principal creditor Sir William Brownlowe in 1698. (fn. 213) Sir John Brownlowe, his son, sold the manor to William, Lord Berkeley (d. 1741), in 1717. (fn. 214) Under Lord Berkeley's will the manor was to have been divided between his four daughters. The two quarter shares held by Ann and Jane, who died unmarried before their father, passed to their brother John, Lord Berkeley (d. 1773). The quarter held by Frances was left to her son William, Lord Byron, who had sold the reversion to Stamp Brooksbank in 1760, and the fourth share, held by Barbara, passed on her death in 1772 to Dr. John Bettesworth. (fn. 215)
All four shares were purchased in 1777 by Henry Hoare (d. 1785) and on his death passed to his daughter Anne, wife of her cousin Sir Richard Hoare (d. 1787), and subsequently to their son Sir Richard Colt Hoare, Bt. (fn. 216) Sir Richard sold the manor to Uriah and George Messiter for £150 in 1808. (fn. 217) The Messiters conveyed it in the following year to Langport corporation for £250, and the corporation held it until the dissolution of the borough in 1886. (fn. 218) It was thereafter retained by the Langport town trust, whose members have since 1966 been appointed by the Langport parish council. (fn. 219)
There is no express reference to a manor-house in Langport. A pigeon-house and orchard were stated in 1668 to be parcel of the manors of both Langport Eastover and Langport Westover. (fn. 220) Their site has not been traced.
The largest single holding within the parish, other than the manor itself, was the lands held by the portreeve and commonalty from the Middle Ages, (fn. 221) called 'Prockters burgages' in 1600. (fn. 222) They were termed the 'manor intrinsecal' by Collinson in 1791. (fn. 223) Courts for the leasing of borough lands were held by 1657, (fn. 224) and most of the corporation's property was sold in the early 19th century. (fn. 225)
The choice of Langport as the site of one of the largest of the 10th-century burhs in the county suggests a strategic importance which was never equalled in the later history of the town. (fn. 226) Its security and possibly its economic importance are also suggested by the presence during Athelstan's reign of a mint which was still in production at the time of the Confessor. (fn. 227) Langport's status as a borough in 1086 is unquestioned. The third penny rendered by the town was worth 10s. and the 39 burgesses (29 according to the Exeter Domesday) paid an additional 18s. 2d. (fn. 228) The town also had links with country estates: five of the burgages belonged to North Curry manor, and Staple Fitzpaine manor held a piece of land (ortus) in return for a rent of 50 eels. (fn. 229)
Langport's position as a member of Curry Rivel manor by 1155 (fn. 230) prevents any separate assessment of the borough's income until the 13th century, though the total income from Curry and Langport together suggests little increase in rent in the century after 1156. (fn. 231) The borough was valued at £8 7s. 7½d. in 1254 and at £6 13s. 4d. in 1324, (fn. 232) but it is likely that these figures include the manor and borough of Langport Westover in Curry Rivel. The two estates together were valued at £7 19s. 0¾d. in 1344. (fn. 233)
In the later 14th century and earlier 15th the lord's gross income from Langport Eastover varied between about £15 and £30; in the long term the fluctuation was governed by the level of assized rents, which yielded £7 3s. 1¼d. in 1350–1, £18 1s. 11¾d. in 1382–3, and £9 9s. 9¼d. in 1410–11, but in any given year a high total might result from a large yield from the perquisites of court, amounting in 1410–11 to £12 7s. 11d. The totals showed in general a fall from the 1380s and a gradual recovery from c. 1410. (fn. 234)
Langport occurs as a taxation borough on nine occasions during the period 1306–36. (fn. 235) Its general economic position in the early 14th century may be defined in the context of its taxable value, where it stood eighth in the list of the county's towns. By 1340 it had risen to sixth, and seems to have retained that position at least until the 1370s. (fn. 236) The basis of its economy in the Middle Ages is difficult to determine, though a number of religious houses and prominent landowners held property within the borough. Glastonbury abbey had a house there by c. 1191; (fn. 237) Athelney abbey acquired a tenement and a cottage in 1392 (fn. 238) and held seven burgages by 1538; (fn. 239) Taunton priory had a burgage by 1535. (fn. 240) Among the lay owners were Sir William Bonville (d. 1461), (fn. 241) Sir Richard Choke (d. 1483) of Long Ashton, justice of Common Pleas, (fn. 242) and John Heyron (d. 1501). (fn. 243) Dependence on the cloth trade is revealed by Langport's rise, between 1460–1 and 1464–5, from being the eighth to the fourth largest importer of woad through Southampton. (fn. 244) Tradesmen in the town included a goldsmith in 1327, (fn. 245) dyers in 1416 and 1454–5, (fn. 246) a draper or tailor in 1457, (fn. 247) and a cloth merchant in 1504. (fn. 248) Langport's trade relied to a large extent on the free flow of traffic along the Parrett, and complaints were made in 1280 that the lord of Aller had prevented the towing of boats between the town and Bridgwater. (fn. 249) Similarly in the early years of the 14th century it was claimed that a fishery, owned by the lord of Langport, had blocked the river, causing reeds to hinder navigation. (fn. 250)
Although primarily a trading community, Langport possessed some agricultural land within its borders. Horsecroft, later known as Langport field, provided the arable, though it was evidently too small for crop rotation; and the meadow and pasture grounds to the north and south of the town subject, as already said, (fn. 251) to persistent winter flooding. During the summer, however, they were pastured in common with cattle and pigs. (fn. 252) The rivers in return provided fish. One of the two fisheries in 1086 may probably be identified with Poundweir which lay at the north-west end of Common moor. (fn. 253) Two other fisheries, 'Lachemere' and 'New Mill', occur from 1350–1, (fn. 254) and both were leased in 1362 on condition that the weir was rebuilt. (fn. 255) The principal value of the fisheries lay in the abundance of eels to be found in the Parrett. (fn. 256)
During the late 15th century the town seems to have somewhat declined. By 1507–8 the income from the manor was £9 14s. 8¾d., and the real value of the assized rents was £5 4s. 2¼d., not much more than half the total a hundred years earlier. (fn. 257) Thereafter, until 1569, the net income from the manor generally varied between £6 and £8, except when perquisites of court were unusually high. (fn. 258) In 1569 John Milner contracted for a lease of the borough on the following terms: to hold the burgages, shambles, and booths for 60 years at a rent of £5 0s. 2d. and the market, fairs, and courts for 21 years at a rent of £1 16s. 8d. (fn. 259) It was then stated that the assized rents, formerly worth £4 18s. 5d., had fallen in value to £2 14s. 3¼d. as the burgages and shambles needed repair. Milner was to pay the full farm of £6 16s. 10d. by reviving the decayed rents. (fn. 260) That this policy succeeded may be deduced from the fact that by 1585 the clear yearly value of the manor had risen to £15 5s. 9½d., and that Hugh Sexey subsequently purchased the manor, which he had leased in 1584. (fn. 261) A Bill to rebuild the town, read twice in 1597 but never enacted, suggests that improvements may have been carried out at this time. (fn. 262)
The tenure of property held of the manor in the Middle Ages had evidently been for one, two, or three lives, (fn. 263) and in 1563 the borough was stated to have practised the custom of borough-English 'beyond the memory of man'. (fn. 264) Profits from the manor amounted to £6 17s. 6¼d. in 1625–6 based on a rental of £7 7s. 6¼d. (fn. 265) These figures varied little until the end of the 18th century although the value of the manor was eroded by inflation. In 1620 the manor had 54 freehold tenants, 34 copyhold tenants holding for lives, one tenant at will (for a rope and bull collar), and the fishery held for a term of years. (fn. 266) By 1727, although the number of copyholders had remained about the same, the number of freeholders had nearly tripled, to 145, (fn. 267) indicating considerable subdivision of holdings. The number of copyholds decreased during the 18th and 19th centuries, (fn. 268) but there appears to have been no corresponding conversion to leasehold tenure. During the years 1799–1804 the rental fell from £6 11s. 5d. to £3 10s. 4d., (fn. 269) evidently the result of extensive enfranchisements by Sir Richard Colt Hoare. The number of tenants had also fallen by 1804, to 75 freeholders and 18 copyholders. (fn. 270) After the manor was purchased by the corporation in 1809 the copyholds were evidently sold to the tenants, and by 1827 the manor comprised 102 freehold tenants paying £1 6s. 9½d. Many of the freehold rents had lapsed owing to the difficulty of identifying the properties to which they related, and during the 19th century the remaining rents were collected only once every six years. (fn. 271)
Unlike the manorial tenements the corporation lands were by 1659 entirely leasehold: 30 tenants holding for 99 years or one, two, or three lives, 2 for terms of years (both granted in 1598), and 13 where the tenure was not stated. (fn. 272) After 1698, however, grants for 99 years or lives were made only in reversion. (fn. 273) Tenure for lives continued until the sale of the corporation lands in the early 19th century. (fn. 274)
Apart from the manor itself and the corporation lands, comprising 42½ a. in 1344, (fn. 275) and 52 burgages and 51 a. in 1596, (fn. 276) there were never any other substantial holdings within the parish. During the 17th and 18th centuries, however, two important families in the neighbourhood continued to hold property within the town and served as officers of the corporation. Thomas Trevillian of Midelney in Drayton (town clerk 1617–57) (fn. 277) held three burgages on the Hill, (fn. 278) and John Trevillian served as recorder of the borough between 1699 and 1749. (fn. 279) The Phelips family of Montacute held lands in the borough in 1638, (fn. 280) and Sir Edward Phelips served as both recorder (1667–99) and portreeve (1679–81, 1689–91). (fn. 281)
Pressure on the limited agricultural land around the town was evidently strong in the 17th century. Langport field was still cultivated in strips in 1596 (fn. 282) but was evidently inclosed in the early and mid 18th century. (fn. 283) Barley Close, the Hams, and Whatley hill were probably inclosed and devoted to pasture at an earlier date. (fn. 284) Common moor, 60 a. in extent in 1637 and under water for most of the year, was then valued at 40s. It was owned by the Crown and used jointly by Langport, Aller, and Huish. (fn. 285) Attempts to procure grants of the 'moor' in the late 17th and 18th centuries suggest that its value had increased. (fn. 286) It was inclosed by private agreement between the three parishes in 1797. (fn. 287) Langport's allotment of 21 a. was subdivided by order of the vestry in 1832 and the grass has been sold by the parish since that time. (fn. 288) Cocklemoor, containing nearly 4 a. in 1839, (fn. 289) was formerly larger, for between 1596 and 1802 it was said to be 7½ a.8 a. (fn. 290) It had been divided into two closes by 1687. (fn. 291) Until the 16th century it was regarded as common pasture enjoyed by the burgesses, but in 1528–30 the burgesses' rights were questioned. (fn. 292) It was subsequently annexed by the Crown and granted to John Herbert and Andrew Palmer in 1575. (fn. 293) By 1596 it had been re-acquired by the corporation and was thereafter leased to private individuals until its sale in 1802. (fn. 294)
Higher and Lower moors were administered by the portreeve until the manor was farmed in 1569. (fn. 295) Typical breaches of custom by 16th-century tenants included failure to scour ditches, driving pigs over the 'moors' to Common moor, and laying bridges over the North Ditch from tenements directly into the 'moors'. (fn. 296) In 1600–1 a suit between the farmer of the manor and the portreeve and commonalty established that occupiers of corporation lands possessed as such no rights of common, but only tenants of the manor. (fn. 297) Thus in 1620 ten of 36 copyhold tenants of the manor had common of pasture for two beasts in the 'moors', (fn. 298) and no common rights were claimed in respect of borough lands in 1596 or 1659. (fn. 299) By 1657, however, control of the 'moors' had passed to the borough court at which the moorherds made their presentments. (fn. 300) In the 17th century these included, among other matters, badger poaching, stocking with horses and geese against custom, and winnowing corn to the damage of the grass. (fn. 301) A bull, acquired by the commoners in 1668 for their common use, was sold two years later and the money put towards building a bridge from Higher moor into Common moor. (fn. 302) By the 18th century control of the 'moors' had passed to the manor court. According to customs presented in 1808 only married or widowed tenants of the manor were allowed to stock and could exercise only one right of stocking even if more were held. The 'moors' were stocked on the Monday after Old Holy Rood day (3 May) and hayned or unstocked three weeks and three days before Old Christmas day. Each year the commoners swore to stock only with their own beasts. (fn. 303) From 1811, after the purchase of the manor by the corporation, the common rights were separated from the tenements to which they belonged and were sold in fee. (fn. 304) Those still held for lives by copy were allowed to fall into hand from 1823 to prevent overstocking. (fn. 305) By 1850, and probably from an earlier date, the commoners had formed themselves into a body to administer the two 'moors', meeting once a year in April or May. (fn. 306) From 1902 the requirement that the 'moors' be stocked with the commoners' own beasts only was discontinued, (fn. 307) and subsequently the commoners often leased their grazing rights to local farmers. In 1959, owing to the difficulty of finding moor reeves willing to serve, the stocking of the 'moors' was suspended, the grass sold by auction, and the profits divided between the commoners. (fn. 308) In 1960 £214 15s. was divided between 41 commoners, and each received £28 in 1969. (fn. 309)
In consequence of the shortage of land it was stated in 1772 that the town, 'being unable to supply itself, is obliged to purchase provisions at an exorbitant rate'. (fn. 310) In 1839 of a total acreage of 102 a. not occupied by buildings, gardens, or orchards, nearly 70 a. were pasture, 20½ a. meadow, and less than 12 a. arable. (fn. 311) By 1905 there was no arable land and 81¾ a. of permanent grass. (fn. 312)
The 'fry of fish' was leased by the lord of the manor in 1563–4 (fn. 313) and again in 1620. (fn. 314) The corporation were claiming and leasing the fishery of the river throughout the borough by 1691, (fn. 315) the rent for which by 1761 included a dish of fish for the portreeve's feast. (fn. 316) The lord of the manor was again leasing the fishing and fowling during the 18th century, and in 1791 had to be dissuaded by Lady Chatham of Burton Pynsent from letting the river to a firm of fishmongers who, she claimed, would clear it of fish. (fn. 317) The conflicting jurisdictions over the river of both manor and borough were evidently reconciled with the purchase of the manor by the corporation in 1809. (fn. 318) The borough authorities continued to let the fishery during the 19th century, (fn. 319) and it was leased to the Langport Angling Society from 1968. (fn. 320) The 'game of swans and swanmoat alias swanmark' in the river at Langport was settled by Barnabas Lewis on his son Barnabas in 1618. (fn. 321) No subsequent reference has been found to it.
The range of goods for which Langport acted as a clearing-house was considerable. The principal commodities brought up river from Bridgwater in 1616 were herrings, salt, coal, and grain. (fn. 322) The plague outbreak at Bridgwater in 1625 caused great loss to the boatmen there because the 'accustomed traffic and commerce' in coal and culm with Langport had been forbidden. (fn. 323) Tolls on iron were mentioned in 1637. (fn. 324) Some merchants made considerable fortunes. Edith, daughter of a Langport ironmonger, John Blake, married Sir Edward Phelips of Montacute and was left £2,000 by her father in his will proved in 1699. (fn. 325) The medieval textile trade continued into the late 17th century when cloth-workers and worsted-combers are mentioned, (fn. 326) and feltmaking is referred to frequently in the 18th century. (fn. 327) A glover is recorded in 1788 (fn. 328) and gloving, mentioned again in 1868, (fn. 329) was carried on at Ensor House in Bow Street until 1971. (fn. 330)
Occupations represented in the town during the 18th century include those of tobacconist in 1693, (fn. 331) apothecary and tobacco-tong maker in 1714, (fn. 332) nail-maker in 1735, (fn. 333) peruke-maker in 1791, soapboiler (fn. 334) and hairdresser c. 1793. (fn. 335) There were two auctioneers, six attorneys, two printers and bookbinders, an umbrella manufacturer, and a watchmaker in 1822. (fn. 336) A land- and timber-surveyor was mentioned in 1830, (fn. 337) and a boat-builder, engineer, and soap and candle manufacturer in 1840. (fn. 338) By 1859 a brightsmith and bell-hanger, a cheese factor, three jewellers, and two undertakers had established themselves, (fn. 339) and by 1866 three builders and a photographer. (fn. 340) The Langport and Mid-Somerset Building Society appears to have been founded in 1859. (fn. 341) A seed warehouse was recorded by 1875 (fn. 342) and two garages and a jam factory by 1927. (fn. 343) Industrial enterprises in the town in 1972 included two luggage manufacturers, a woodcraft firm, and Silkolene Lubricants. Until 1966 there was a seed processing and retailing firm, and the cheese factors near the foot of the Hill had in 1972 only recently closed down. (fn. 344)
The town's prosperity in the late 18th and 19th centuries depended principally on the trading firm of Stuckey and Bagehot. George Stuckey (I) (d. 1726) came from Kingsdon in the late 17th century as a worsted comber and later a sergemaker. (fn. 345) His son George (II) (d. 1774), merchant, went into partnership with Thomas Bagehot, a maltster, who had arrived in the town by 1747. (fn. 346) Together they traded in a wide range of goods, particularly corn, timber, and salt, (fn. 347) passing the business on to their sons, George Stuckey (III) (d. 1807) and Robert Codrington Bagehot (d. 1836). (fn. 348) Samuel Stuckey (d. 1812), younger son of George (II), diversified his trading activities and founded Stuckey's Bank in the town c. 1770. (fn. 349) By c. 1793 Stuckey and Bagehot carried on a regular trade with Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and London, both by road and by water. (fn. 350) The business increased during the 19th century, and by 1866 they owned 14 East Indiamen and 19 barges. (fn. 351) The Somerset Trading Company, established by 1883, subsequently developed out of the old firm. (fn. 352)
Stuckey's Bank, with branches at Bridgwater and Bristol, became a joint stock company in 1826 under the chairmanship of Vincent Stuckey (d. 1845). During the 19th century the bank took over thirteen others, principally in Somerset. The family connexion was maintained by Vincent Stuckey's grandson, Vincent Wood, who changed his name to Stuckey and acted as chairman until 1900. The company was itself taken over by Parr's Bank in 1909 and was subsequently absorbed by the Westminster (later the National Westminster) Bank. At the time of its amalgamation Stuckey's Bank had a banknote circulation second only to that of the Bank of England. (fn. 353)
A windmill, first mentioned in 1344, stood on the higher part of Rowditch on the north side of Langport hill, and was held with 2 a. of arable land and ½ a. of meadow in 'Mulleclif'. (fn. 354) It was farmed out by the lord from 1349–50 for 26s. 8d. (fn. 355) It was blown down by a 'great wind' in January 1362 and was evidently never rebuilt, but the mound on which it stood, known as Windmill Toyt, (fn. 356) may be that on which a Calvary has been erected in the grounds of St. Gildas Convent.
A water-mill recorded as new in 1344 (fn. 357) had ceased to grind by 1352 (fn. 358) and lay vacant in 1356–7 because the water had been diverted from it. (fn. 359) A plot of land between the new mill and 'Wakesham' was leased in 1360, (fn. 360) and the fishery of 'la newemulle' occurs regularly from 1350. (fn. 361) This mill probably lay on a leat near the Parrett superseded by the present Catchwater.
A tenement and horse-mill, acquired by the lord from John Middleney, rector of Charlton Mackrell, were leased to John Ellis, chaplain, in 1382. (fn. 364)
In 1596 a burgage, 'being a millhouse', was held by Thomas Weech. It apparently stood on the Hill, although by 1659 it was no longer worked. (fn. 365) A house containing a grist mill called Wartley is mentioned in 1600 as having been built by the commonalty of Langport, (fn. 366) and presumably lay in the area later known as Whatley. A mill held by Abraham Edwards was included among properties whose rents could not be recovered by the corporation between 1756 and 1763. (fn. 367) In 1761 Lucy Bush's malt-mill, with a cog wheel, is mentioned. (fn. 368)
Markets and Fairs. A market, held on Saturdays, was first mentioned in 1344 when it was let to farm by the lord. (fn. 369) By 1370 it was being farmed annually to the portreeve then in office. (fn. 370) Three new stalls were set up in 1374–5, one in Cheapstreet for the sale of shoes. (fn. 371) By 1563 the market was being held on the north side of the Hill, immediately west of the present convent. (fn. 372) Here, soon after 1563, a thatched market-house was erected and shortly afterwards a little house adjoining it was built to accommodate a cage, a pillory, and a poor man who cleaned the market-place. (fn. 373) In 1568–9 the market-place was pitched, (fn. 374) and by 1596 the borough lands included twelve thatched shambles in the market-place, a number which had decreased to five by 1659. (fn. 375)
A tiled market cross stood at the foot of the Hill by 1506. (fn. 376) It evidently housed market stalls and was last mentioned in 1778–9. (fn. 377) From 1563 there was a court of pie powder (fn. 378) and, under the 1616 charter, the portreeve became ex officio clerk of the market. (fn. 379)
In the 16th century the market was principally for the sale of corn, (fn. 380) although the presence of shambles may indicate that meat also was sold. In 1633 it was also 'well furnished with fowl and full of pecked (speared) eels'. (fn. 381) An inventory of borough property in 1659 included the weights and measures. (fn. 382) Renewed and repaired as necessary, they remained the responsibility of the portreeve. (fn. 383) From 1677 the market bell (mentioned in 1653) was to be rung at noon, when selling might begin. (fn. 384) In 1702 a man was employed to set out the standings and tubs from the market-house, (fn. 385) a duty performed by the sergeant-at-mace in 1737. (fn. 386)
The market-house was partially demolished in 1713–14 and the standings were then stored in the little house adjoining (fn. 387) until the present town hall was erected in 1732. (fn. 388) Thereafter the ground floor of the new hall was used for storing the market equipment, (fn. 389) although markets probably continued to be held on the Hill for a time. In 1823 six new butchers' stalls were erected under the town hall and leased for 10s. a year each. (fn. 390) The market was still being held on Saturdays in 1828, (fn. 391) but subsequently lapsed.
In 1854 a weekly corn market on Tuesdays was established under the town hall and in 1855 a pig market was set up on the south side of Cheapside, and a cattle market in North Street. (fn. 392) A sheep market was built in Whatley Lane in 1871, and after 1873 the cattle market was held on alternate Tuesdays instead of monthly. (fn. 393) In 1876 the market had 'of late years considerably increased in importance', (fn. 394) and in 1884 it was common for 700 to 800 pigs to be brought to Langport for sale. (fn. 395) The cattle market in North Street was held in the roadway until 1890, when land at the north end of the street was given to the town trust by James Broadmead. (fn. 396) The pig market became a car park in 1937 (fn. 397) and the cattle market was discontinued after the Second World War. An attempt to revive the weekly market under the town hall failed in 1970. (fn. 398)
In 1563 the borough was granted three fairs: on the eve, day, and morrow of the feasts of St. Peter and St. Paul (28–30 June) and of St. Martin (10– 12 November), and on the Monday in the second week of Lent for three days, subject to the payment of a fee-farm rent to the Crown of 30s. (fn. 399) To these in 1616 was added a fourth fair on the third day after the feast of St. Matthew for three days (24–26 September) for an additional fee-farm rent of 10s. (fn. 400) The rent of 10s. was redeemed in 1788 (fn. 401) and that of 30s., long held in private hands, discharged in 1954. (fn. 402) The fourth fair was held in Whatley (fn. 403) and was described as a horse fair in 1810. (fn. 404) In 1767 the Lenten fair was principally devoted to fat cattle, that in June to black cattle and lambs, St. Matthew's fair (then altered to 5 October) to fat cattle and sucking colts, and the Martinstide fair to cattle, hogs, and sheep. (fn. 405) In 1824 the fair days were altered to the Monday before Lent, the second Wednesday in August, the penultimate Monday in September, and the last Monday in November, all to last for three days. (fn. 406) By 1861 these had been reduced to two cattle fairs on the second Tuesdays in March and December, (fn. 407) the 'Christmas great market' being altered to the first Tuesday in December in 1874. (fn. 408) Both these fairs had been discontinued by 1906. (fn. 409) A horse and colt fair on 4 September was established in 1875 (altered to 3 September by 1899) and held in Whatley Lane and North Street. (fn. 410) This was still being held in 1939, (fn. 411) but was not revived after the Second World War.
In 1066 Langport was held in fee farm under Somerton manor, (fn. 412) and appears to have been considered as part of Somerton hundred in 1212. (fn. 413) The five burgages held under North Curry manor in 1086 (fn. 414) presumably account for the suit paid to North Curry hundred court by Langport in 1385 and until at least 1528. (fn. 415) At various dates between 1303 and 1428, by virtue of its common tenure with Curry Rivel, it formed part of Bulstone hundred, (fn. 416) but did not pay suit to its court during the 15th century. (fn. 417)
Langport was required to send two members to Parliament in 1305, one or two in 1306, and two in 1307. Those representing the borough were John de Petherton (1305, 1307), Robert Grey (1305), and Richard the Franklin (1306, 1307). (fn. 418) All three occur in an inquisition held at Langport in 1310, (fn. 419) and were probably local men. No writ was subsequently addressed to the borough.
No charter appears to have been granted to the borough until the 16th century and there are no medieval records of borough administration. The commonalty was headed by bailiffs in 1280, (fn. 420) superseded by a reeve or portreeve (prepositus) by 1369. (fn. 421) There is a reference to a mayor in 1375–6, (fn. 422) but the office does not recur. The commonalty held borough lands from the lord for an annual farm by 1344 (fn. 423) and the tolls of the market were annually leased to the portreeve by 1371. (fn. 424) Before the grant of their charter the portreeve and bailiffs acted only as officers of the lord, presiding over the courts and collecting all fines, amercements, and other perquisites. (fn. 425) The portreeve then accounted with the lord's receiver for his receipts and expenditure and by 1507 was allowed an annual fee for the execution of his office. (fn. 426) The commonalty was also responsible for the repair of the bridges, and in 1548 tried to divert the stipends of two chantry priests to that purpose. (fn. 427)
In 1350–1 nine courts were held for the borough and manor, one being Hockday law court, and all were summoned on a Monday. (fn. 428) A Michaelmas law court had been added by 1359, (fn. 429) and a Hilary law court by 1371. (fn. 430) The total number of courts held each year varied. There were 13 in 1360–1, (fn. 431) 7 in 1383–4, (fn. 432) and 20 in 1405–6, (fn. 433) all held on Mondays. By 1506–7 and until at least 1545–6 three law courts and four other courts were being held each year. (fn. 434) By 1600 two leets or lawdays were being held annually by the farmer of the borough, summoned by precept directed from the steward to the portreeve. At the Michaelmas leet the portreeve was elected and sworn, and the leet jury chose the constables, bailiffs, sealers of leather, verderers, moorherds, and other officers. (fn. 435) The summoning of these leets and the choice of officers were transferred to the corporation under their charter of 1616. (fn. 436) Courts were held in the church house until the late 16th century, when the commonalty prevented the use of the building for that purpose. (fn. 437) According to depositions taken in 1600, the Crown or the farmer of the borough then kept a court baron 'in the nature of a hundred court from three weeks to three weeks or monthly' for the trial of all actions under 40s. (fn. 438) The court was presided over by the portreeve or his deputy who accounted for fines and amercements to the Crown. (fn. 439) No rolls for this court have survived, but references to the hundred of Langport are found in 1338 and 1340 (fn. 440) and to the hundred of Langport Eastover, held with the manor and borough, in 1678 and 1777. (fn. 441) By 1624 (and possibly from 1588), however, the borough formed part of Pitney hundred. (fn. 442)
In 1563 the portreeve and commonalty obtained a charter acknowledging their status and confirming to them the tolls of the Saturday market and three fairs for the express purpose of repairing the bridges within the borough. (fn. 443) In the years which followed this grant the commonalty came into conflict with the farmer of the manor. The portreeves exceeded the limited powers granted to them by their charter by establishing two town courts in the Hanging Chapel, then converted to a town hall, seizing felons' goods, and by claiming the soil of the 'moors', the waste of the manor, the royalties of hunting, hawking, and fishing, and the election of manorial officers. (fn. 444) These claims were contested in the Exchequer by Hugh Sexey, farmer of the manor, in 1600, and the commonalty were eventually threatened with the removal of their charter if they exceeded their jurisdiction. (fn. 445)
In 1616 the town obtained a charter of incorporation as 'the portreeve and commonalty of the borough of Langport Eastover', which effectively settled the differences between the borough and the lord of the manor. The corporation was to consist of twelve chief or capital burgesses headed by a portreeve, acting also as coroner and clerk of the market, and two bailiffs, all three to be elected annually from the burgesses. There was also to be a recorder, town clerk, and sergeant-at-mace (also described as the portreeve's bailiff in 1663), (fn. 446) holding office during the pleasure of the chief burgesses. The inferior burgesses of the town had no powers and, indeed, the chief burgesses were to be elected by the corporation from all the inhabitants of the borough. Borough courts were to be held twice a year for the appointment of officers, the election to take place on All Saints day, and a court of record to be held every Tuesday to determine cases under £40. The charter also added a fourth fair (fn. 447) and authorized the corporation to collect tolls on all goods crossing the two Bow bridges or unloaded within 600 ft. of them. (fn. 448)
The 1616 charter created a division between manorial and borough jurisdiction. Thereafter the manor courts were summoned and presided over by the lord's officers. Manor court papers survive in a very full series from 1702 to 1829, (fn. 449) and court minutes for the period 1766–71. (fn. 450) Presentments for isolated years are extant during the 19th century and those from 1908 are entered in the commoners' minute book. (fn. 451) During the 18th century the court was generally held twice a year, in spring and autumn, and known as the court leet and court baron, sometimes with the words 'view of frankpledge' added. Business dealt with concerned principally the repair of buildings, particularly chimneys, the causeways or pavements, the arches under Bow Street, the bridges, and other public structures. (fn. 452) Preoccupation with the administration, stocking, and hayning (unstocking) of the two 'moors' eventually became the principal purpose of the court, and in the 19th and 20th centuries leets were generally summoned only when new orders or changes in custom relating to the 'moors' became necessary. (fn. 453) The court leet was last summoned in 1959. (fn. 454)
Officers regularly elected at the manor courts in the 18th century were two constables, a constables' bailiff, a King's or Queen's bailiff, two verderers (1706–28), two moorherds or moor reeves, four wellwardens (1706), two searchers and sealers of leather, two shambles wardens, a hayward and keeper of the pound (from 1727), and two aletasters (from 1759). (fn. 455) In 1877 three moor reeves, a hayward, two aletasters, and two shambles wardens were elected, (fn. 456) but in 1906 and 1908 one man served as bailiff and hayward and only two moor reeves were appointed. (fn. 457) A steward and deputy steward of the manor were appointed annually by the town trust until 1966. (fn. 458)
Records of the borough courts survive intermittently from 1657 to 1808. Sessions were described as 'the court of the portreeve and commonalty of the borough and town', from 1668 as the curia baronis, and from 1776 to 1808 usually as the customary court. (fn. 459) They were held initially twice a year, as provided for by the charter, in April and October. A single court in October appears to have been held after 1680, and in 1723 the portreeve was ordered to hold court for the borough lands on the Tuesday after Michaelmas. From 1747 courts were held once a year in October, and from 1756 on 1 November. The form of the court was at first that of a court baron with view of frankpledge devoted to the administration of the borough lands and commons. The court was presided over by a steward and presentments made by the homage jury and moorherds. These presentments were concerned with the disrepair of buildings, bridges, and arches, encroachments, abuses of custom, particularly with regard to grazing on the 'moors', and failure to scour ditches. Thus the court had the same functions as the manor court but with jurisdiction only over borough lands and tenants. Subsequently the moorherds ceased to present and during the 18th century the court concerned itself only with leasing the borough lands and recording the homage jury's presentments. The homage invariably presented the new portreeve and bailiffs, but the actual appointments of these and other borough officers were usually made at a corporation meeting on All Saints day. (fn. 460) The borough courts ceased to be held after the manor had been purchased by the corporation in 1809. (fn. 461)
Officers elected at the borough courts included two chief magistrates or justices (usually the then portreeve and his predecessor) and two moorherds from 1657, (fn. 462) and a water bailiff to collect tolls in 1665 and 1739–40. (fn. 463) A deputy recorder was appointed from 1699, an office usually held by the town clerk. (fn. 464) Until 1798 the portreeve rendered the annual accounts, but thereafter a treasurer was appointed. (fn. 465) Lists of recorders and town clerks have been printed. (fn. 466)
Court rolls of the court of record, established by the 1616 charter and called the curia placitorum, survive from 1666 to 1685. (fn. 467) It was presided over by the portreeve, recorder, and bailiffs, but the date at which it ceased is not known. The inhabitants petitioned the corporation for its revival in 1833, (fn. 468) evidently without success. No records survive relating to the piepowder court.
Records of meetings of the commonalty survive from 1658. (fn. 469) The precise distinction between types of business dealt with at these meetings and in the borough courts is not apparent. The leasing of borough tenements and the appointment of borough officers were not restricted to the two (later one) town courts each year, but took place when required. The appointment of Sir Edward Phelips as recorder was made in 1667 at a meeting of the portreeve and 'masters' (as the commonalty sometimes styled themselves), and a case of contempt of the borough court in the following year was also heard at a meeting. (fn. 470)
The religious sympathies of the corporation in Charles II's reign are indicated by the decision of 1670 to go to church in procession each week in order 'to give a good example to all persons dissenting the public service on the Lord's day'. John Bush, the Presbyterian minister, was repeatedly fined for refusing to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy when elected a burgess in 1676, (fn. 471) although he was subsequently elected portreeve in 1686. (fn. 472) Richard Seward was expelled from the corporation in 1678 because he remained excommunicate and 'doth obstinately refuse and neglect to reconcile himself to the church'. (fn. 473) Dismissal from the corporation for other reasons was not unusual. In 1701 a chief burgess was dismissed for irregular behaviour while portreeve, (fn. 474) two burgesses were removed in 1745 for leaving the town, and in 1750 one burgess was dismissed for poor attendance and another for leaving the borough for more than 40 days. (fn. 475) Thomas Beedall, portreeve in 1761–2, was replaced when he went bankrupt, and William Trevillian was removed from the office of recorder in 1795 for refusing to attend meetings. (fn. 476) The last dismissal noted was that of a burgess in 1802 for leaving the neighbourhood and not paying a fine. (fn. 477)
The corporation assumed some responsibility for the welfare of the poor. The burgesses apprenticed a pauper in 1659, bought clothes for the poor in 1665, (fn. 478) and baked into bread six pecks or two bushels of wheat a week for distribution to the poor in 1674. (fn. 479) The following year they supplied blue or green garments to impoverished inhabitants, (fn. 480) and in 1677 gave £7 in clothes and bread. (fn. 481) Aid in the form of food or money was also distributed during the winters between 1810 and 1817. (fn. 482)
The tolls collected by the corporation under the 1616 charter, known as wheelage and pontage, proved unpopular among the inhabitants of the borough. In 1637 four boatmen prosecuted for nonpayment of pontage claimed that those dwelling within the town were exempt from such dues, and that the corporation collected sufficient money from foreigners to repair the town's bridges. (fn. 483) Thereafter the levying of pontage seems to have been suspended, for c. 1687 it was stated that the toll had not been imposed for about 50 years, although wheelage had continued to be collected. (fn. 484) A water bailiff was appointed in 1665, efforts were made to reintroduce pontage in 1668, (fn. 485) and in the following year a new scale of tolls was introduced, giving preferential treatment to Langport traders over strangers. (fn. 486) Prosecutions for failure to pay these tolls between 1671 and 1687 produced claims that the corporation had 'near ruined and undone' the town by demanding pontage and that, as the 4d. carriage charged by boatmen for a barrel of herrings equalled the toll imposed, the carriers would have nothing for their labour. (fn. 487) A further attempt to revive pontage with the appointment of a water bailiff in 1740 was evidently unsuccessful. (fn. 488) The collection of wheelage was leased out with the market and fair tolls by 1741, (fn. 489) and in 1764 George Stuckey (III) was ordered to be prosecuted for assaulting the wheelage collector. (fn. 490) Wheelage was not mentioned after 1804–5, (fn. 491) although the collection of market and fair tolls was held by Stuckey and Bagehot in 1809. (fn. 492)
The corporation lands produced rents of £20 12s. 8d. in 1596. (fn. 493) This sum had fallen to £5 10s. 2d. by 1643 but rose again to £20 7s. 6d. by 1660, (fn. 494) and to £30 11s. 2d. (including Cocklemoor) by 1684. (fn. 495) These sums were considerably augmented by renewal fines and income from corporation money lent on bond, so that in 1709–10 total receipts were £84 14s. 2d. (fn. 496)
Among extraordinary items of expenditure the corporation helped to secure the endowment of the grammar school in 1707–8, (fn. 497) rebuilt the town hall in 1732 and Little Bow House in 1774, and discharged in 1740 their enforced contributions towards the repair of Stanmore bridge in Stoke St. Gregory. (fn. 498) Towards the end of the 18th century the portreeves' accounts frequently showed a deficit. (fn. 499) A hint of attempted economy is found in 1795 when the expense of the portreeve's two feasts on assuming and relinquishing office was temporarily reduced from twenty to ten guineas, (fn. 500) and in 1801 the corporation took legal advice on selling the borough lands in fee. Thus in the period 1802–4 nineteen properties were sold for £1,004. The manor of Langport Eastover was purchased in 1809 and the common grazing rights belonging to it were also sold. (fn. 501) Having disposed of most of their property, the corporation appear to have reconsidered their position and repurchased the Langport Arms. (fn. 502) The surplus profits arising from these and other transactions were invested. Subsequently half of it was devoted to rebuilding the Great Bow bridge and the remainder to purchasing securities in the Langport, Somerton, and Castle Cary turnpike trust. (fn. 503) Although the corporation was investigated in 1834, it was not subjected to the 1835 Act.
During the 19th century the corporation tried to improve the town, principally by widening Bow and North Streets. (fn. 504) The Reading Room had been built in 1833 and a sewer to serve properties on the Hill, draining into the Catchwater at Little Bow, was begun in 1850. (fn. 505) The decline in river traffic, however, the fall in value of the turnpike investments, and the heavy expense of establishing a pig market in 1885 (fn. 506) all led to financial difficulties for the corporation. In 1868–9 the turnpike bonds were sold for only 75 per cent of the original outlay and 18½ a. of land at Westonzoyland were purchased for £1,800, (fn. 507) producing £79 a year in 1875. (fn. 508) At this date the corporation tried unsuccessfully to sell the Langport Arms, the repair of which had been a constant drain on the borough finances. The total annual income of the corporation stood at £172 in 1876, giving a surplus over fixed items of expenditure of £41 a year; but this made no allowance for extraordinary sums required, and in 1882 £750 was borrowed to finance flood prevention. By 1884 the treasurer's accounts showed a deficit of £662 and two years later, under the Municipal Corporations Act of 1883, the town lost its charter. (fn. 509)
Thereafter, under a Scheme of 1888, the corporate property was taken over by the Langport Town Trust, the objects of which were to maintain tollfree markets, the fire brigade, Reading Room, and other borough properties, and to liquidate the debts incurred by the dissolved corporation. (fn. 510) The trust appointed a steward and deputy steward of the manor each year and also a man to serve as hallkeeper and market bailiff. (fn. 511) The Westonzoyland lands were mortgaged in 1890 to discharge debts (and subsequently sold in 1919), the Langport Arms was sold in 1901, and four cottages in Whatley in 1933. (fn. 512) Having thus disposed of their assets and with no means of securing additional income to meet rising costs and liabilities, the trustees were unable to fulfil the obligations placed on them. Under these circumstances the parish council assumed control of the trust in 1966. (fn. 513)
A house 'commonly called the town hall', standing on the site of the present building in Cheapside, is mentioned in 1596. This hall was probably erected soon after the commonalty received the charter of 1563. The same source of 1596 refers to 'the town hall commonly called the chapel', (fn. 514) now the Hanging Chapel, and in 1600 it was stated that 'the whole town of Langport do now use the said chapel as a place meet for consultation about such common causes as they have in hand'. (fn. 515) The 1616 charter gave the corporation power to 'have, retain, and erect a council house' (fn. 516) and it may have been then that the borough authorities again changed the place of their meetings to the hall in Cheapside. The town hall contained a jury chamber in 1658 and a kitchen in 1660. (fn. 517) The present hall, with market area beneath, was erected in 1732 with a loan from the then portreeve. (fn. 518) A strong-room was added and the kitchen improved in 1836. (fn. 519) After the dissolution of the corporation in 1886 the hall was used for parish functions and entertainments. (fn. 520) Since 1967 it has been leased to the British Legion. (fn. 521) Under a Scheme of 1970 the income from the charity of W. J. Carne-Hill (d. 1906) is to be applied to the repair and maintenance of the town hall. (fn. 522) The building has an open ground floor, formerly providing accommodation for the market, and has a Ham stone arcade of three bays in the street front. The first floor is of brick with Ham stone rustications and moulded eaves cornice. The pyramidal roof is surmounted by a bellcot and a weather vane dated 1733.
A prison called the Little Ease with a dwelling over it was erected in the later 16th century 'in the east side of the bridge called the Little Bow and in the north side of the street', sometimes described as being on the bridge itself. (fn. 523) Under the 1616 charter this was to be maintained by the bailiffs. (fn. 524) A lease of the property in 1630 probably relates to the dwelling over the gaol. (fn. 525) The repair of the prison figures regularly in the portreeves' accounts (fn. 526) until, in 1732, the site on which the gaol formerly stood was leased for building. (fn. 527) The site of the new prison, traditionally in Whatley, has not been traced. (fn. 528) A general watch was established in 1756, kept by four householders each night between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. (fn. 529) In 1778–9 two men were paid to guard prisoners in the town gaol and locks for the windows and grates were purchased. (fn. 530) The prison was improved in 1852 when the sergeant-at-mace was entitled to 6d. nightly for each prisoner. (fn. 531) The county authorities were eventually persuaded to accept responsibility for the gaol in 1878. In that year a cottage in Whatley was purchased and cells erected, and a resident police constable was installed in 1879. (fn. 532) A new police house, office, and two cells were built in 1904 on the east side of North Street, south of the schools, in Huish parish. (fn. 533) These were superseded in 1969 on the completion of the present police station on the site of the old cattle market in North Street. (fn. 534)
A fire engine was maintained by the parish in 1768 (fn. 535) and kept in the church in 1811. (fn. 536) In 1824 neighbouring parishes were to have the use of it on paying £1 a year and fetching and returning it, and a building was erected in 1826 on the north side of the church tower to house it. (fn. 537) The corporation acquired a fire engine in 1845, stored in a building erected on the north side of the Hanging Chapel, (fn. 538) and also took over the parish engine in the following year. (fn. 539) The engine was moved to a shed on the old pig market, south of Cheapside, c. 1877 (fn. 540) and was transferred to the town hall in 1925. The fire-fighting equipment was taken over by Langport R.D.C. in 1939, and the town has since been served from Somerton. (fn. 541)
Vestry minutes survive from 1820 and record the appointment of two churchwardens, two overseers of the poor until 1894, a salaried assistant overseer or rate collector from 1827, two waywardens from 1837 (one only 1864–94), a waterer of the streets in 1859, and two lamp inspectors from 1890. (fn. 542)
A poorhouse is mentioned in 1743, (fn. 543) occupied by a tenant between 1754 and 1756. (fn. 544) In 1761 the overseers rebuilt a house belonging to the corporation for use as a poorhouse. (fn. 545) This probably lay on the Hill near the church, and was conveyed to the parish by the corporation in 1807. (fn. 546) A site for new poorhouses on the west side of North Street was acquired by the overseers in 1817 (fn. 547) and £200 was borrowed from the corporation to finance their erection. (fn. 548) The building was completed c. 1820, and in 1827 there was stated to be much disease among the poor there owing to bad drainage and low floors. (fn. 549) The parish became part of the Langport poor-law union in 1836 and the guardians rented Langport poorhouse until the Union workhouse in High Ham had been completed. (fn. 550) The poorhouse was sold in 1837. (fn. 551)
Arms, Seals, and Insignia.
The earliest badges used by the town were said at the end of the 18th century to have been an embattled and crenellated tower, superseded by a portcullis. (fn. 552) No seals bearing these devices have been noted but an embattled tower appeared on the cover of an old borough minute book, no longer extant. (fn. 553) The portcullis probably originates from that badge found on the east and west faces of the church tower. A trade token issued by the portreeve in 1667 bears the portcullis, (fn. 554) as does the inn sign of the Langport Arms. The borough had a seal in 1600 (fn. 555) and the charter of 1616 provided for one. (fn. 556) The first known impression, attached to a lease of 1682, (fn. 557) is oval, showing a blackamoor's head turned to the left, filleted, the neck encircled by a lace collar, with the inscription in Roman sigillum prepositi et comvni burgi de lang. esto. The silver matrix survives among the borough records and is 13/8 in. in diameter. (fn. 558) It may date from 1646 when a new seal was purchased. (fn. 559)
At least three impressions of a seal used by the portreeve survive, attached to leases dated between 1750 and 1773. (fn. 560) They bear the inscription in Roman langport eastover above a portcullis. The seal is circular, 3/8 in.
The 1616 charter provided that the sergeant-atmace should bear a gold or silver mace engraved with the royal arms. (fn. 561) A mace preserved at the town hall comprises a head 4 in. long and a staff of 14 in., both of silver gilt. The head, crowned by a ring of alternate fleurs de lis and crosses, is divided into four compartments each bearing a crown and the royal monogram 'C.R.', surmounting the rose, thistle, harp, and fleur de lis. The staff bears the repeated device of the portcullis and on the foot the bust of a crowned figure. The head presumably dates from 1625–49. In 1658–9 £7 10s. was expended on the mace when it was sent to London. (fn. 562) The expenditure may indicate the renewal of the staff.
The chapel (later church) of Langport is first mentioned in 1318. (fn. 563) The carved lintel above the south doorway probably dates from the 12th century, (fn. 564) and may have formed part of an earlier church on this site. The existence of a deputy archdeacon of Langport in 1208 may suggest the foundation of a church before that date. (fn. 565) From 1381, and probably from its foundation, Langport formed a chapelry annexed to Huish Episcopi, (fn. 566) and continued as such until it became a separate ecclesiastical parish from 1882. (fn. 567) The first vicar was instituted in 1883, (fn. 568) and the living was united with the rectory of Aller in 1970. (fn. 569) The archdeacon of Wells has held the patronage since 1876. (fn. 570)
As a dependent chapelry Langport had no endowments and was served by parochial chaplains or assistant curates at least from the 15th century. (fn. 571) By 1648 and until 1660 the corporation regularly paid for lectures in the parish church, entertained the ministers who attended, and from 1710 paid for an annual sermon on All Saints Day, when the portreeve was chosen. (fn. 572) It was not until 1842 that an endowment fund was established to pay a lecturer for a sermon on a week-day. (fn. 573) A capital sum was evidently then employed in the purchase of lands which produced a gross rent of £122 a year in 1907. The lands were administered by trustees of the vicarage endowment charity until their sale for £4,140 in 1919. The investment of this sum then produced £235 a year. (fn. 574) The management of this charity was transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1925. (fn. 575) The benefice itself was endowed out of the common fund with £230 a year in 1883. (fn. 576)
The lands which produced the income for the Langport endowment fund, acquired in 1842, comprised 11 a. in Stoke St. Gregory, 10 a. in Aller, and (in 1868) 23 a. in Chilton Trinity. (fn. 577) These were all sold in 1919. (fn. 578)
In 1883 £1,500 was given from the common fund to purchase a parsonage house on the east side of North Street near the present Post Office, known as Victoria House in 1972. (fn. 579) This property was sold in 1920 and the present vicarage house, known as the Rectory since the benefice was united with Aller, was acquired. (fn. 580) It lies on the north side of the Hill, west of the Hanging Chapel, and is a large 19th-century brick house.
The vicars of Huish Episcopi were frequently referred to as vicars of Langport. (fn. 581) Assistant curates in the earlier 19th century appear to have been graduates, (fn. 582) but there was no curate in 1870. (fn. 583) Of those who have served the church since 1883, David Melville Ross (vicar 1896–1919) published an extensive history of Langport. (fn. 584)
In 1412 an interdict placed on the churches of Langport, Huish, and Aller, with others, for permitting unlicensed Lollards to preach, was lifted. (fn. 585) The churchyard was polluted by bloodshed in 1415 and had to be reconsecrated. (fn. 586) Lollardy continued to flourish in the parish during the 15th century. Bishop Bekynton complained in 1447 to Edmund, duke of Somerset, then lord of the manor, that the duke's tenants had forsaken the church, buried their own dead, and prevented their curate and other clergy from saying divine service and administering the sacraments. (fn. 587) In 1547 the church lacked a bible. (fn. 588) The church organs were mended at a cost of 3s. in 1581, (fn. 589) and it was stated in 1600 that there had formerly been 'salary or wages limited and appointed for organ players and singing men in the parish church' paid by the portreeve, but the origin of the grant was not known. (fn. 590) The corporation publicly attended church on Sundays from 1670. (fn. 591) In 1851 there was only a morning service on Census Sunday, attended by a congregation of 350. There were then 800 sittings, of which 200 were free. (fn. 592) A Sunday evening lecture had been established by 1855 (fn. 593) and was still being given in 1870. (fn. 594) In the latter year services were held alternately, morning and afternoon, and Holy Communion was celebrated about five times annually. (fn. 595)
A church house existed in 1577 when the churchwardens received £4 from a church ale held there. (fn. 596) It had a buttery attached by 1592. (fn. 597) The court leet and hundred courts were stated c. 1600 to have been anciently kept 'in a great house called the church house', although the portreeve and commonalty had then forbidden the farmer of the borough to use it for that purpose. (fn. 598) It was leased from the corporation in 1646, (fn. 599) but in 1661 its kitchen was out of repair. (fn. 600) The thatching was replaced in 1701–2 and the house is last mentioned in the portreeve's accounts for 1727. (fn. 601) The property may be represented by the Great House, occupied by George Sawtle in 1655 (fn. 602) and described in 1802 as 'some time since demolished'. (fn. 603) The house stood probably on the south side of the Hill between the old grammar school and the turning into Whatley Lane. (fn. 604)
All Saints church room, on the west side of North Street, was erected by subscription in 1892 for the Sunday school and other parish purposes. (fn. 605) It is a plain lias structure with a bellcot at its eastern gable end.
A chantry of the Holy Cross in the parish church is mentioned in 1349, when it was endowed with 2s. from lands in Long Sutton. (fn. 606)
A chaplain mentioned in 1450 served St. Catherine's chantry in 1463. (fn. 607) This chantry was probably in the parish church and its chaplain may be identified with one of two 'fraternity' priests paid by the corporation until 1548. (fn. 608)
In 1499 John Heyron (d. 1501) secured a licence to found a chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the parish church. (fn. 609) By his will he ordered his son John to fulfil his intentions. The priest was to pray for Heyron's parents, wife, and other named persons, to say a placebo and dirge with a requiem mass every Wednesday and Friday, and to turn his back to the altar at the ablutions. (fn. 610) The testator's son died in 1507 before the chantry had been founded, (fn. 611) but it was subsequently established in the south chapel of the parish church. (fn. 612) The endowment comprised lands in a number of parishes valued at £7 2s. 1d. in 1548, including a plot of land in Langport 'on which the dwelling house of the cantarist of the said chantry was built'. (fn. 613) At its suppression in 1548 the chantry had a silver chalice of 12 oz. and ornaments worth 5s. The priest at that date, John Benet, was a former monk of Glastonbury. (fn. 614) The chantry and its lands were granted to Laurence Hyde of London in 1549. (fn. 615)
John Witcombe of Martock (d. 1527) by his will devised lands in Langport Eastover and Langport Westover to establish an obit in the parish church for the souls of himself and others, from which 6s. 8d. was to be paid for food and drink for celebrants, and a similar amount to be distributed in bread to the poor. (fn. 616)
The church of ALL SAINTS (fn. 617) lies on the summit of Langport hill on the south side of the road. A move to divert the road in 1318 so that the church could be lengthened or enlarged does not seem to have been carried through. (fn. 618) The church is built of lias with Ham stone dressings and has a chancel with north and south chapels and east vestry, aisled and clerestoried nave with south chapel and porch, and west tower, nearly all in the late Perpendicular style. A north porch was mentioned in 1579. (fn. 619) Reset above the south doorway is a 12th-century lintel carved with the Lamb of God flanked by angels and figures, (fn. 620) which is presumed to have been preserved from an earlier church on the site. The west wall of the north aisle is the oldest surviving part of the building apparently in situ. It contains the base of the reveals of a 13th-century window. The openings of the windows in the north wall of the aisle are probably 14th century and are evidence for the existence by that time of a church with a nave as long as that which exists today (67 ft.). All other traces of this early church were destroyed in the course of the major rebuilding which took place in the late 15th and early 16th century. This began at the north aisle, where new tracery was inserted into the windows and there was a new arcade, progressed to the nave, tower, and south aisle and porch, then the south chapel, the chancel arch, the chancel and vestry, and the north and south chancel chapels. The structural evidence suggests that the building was not conceived as a whole but grew in scale as the work proceeded, and that the total time for construction was quite long, probably more than fifty years. It is known that John Heyron (d. 1501) erected the south chapel and it appears likely that he also built the chancel. In 1633 his arms were to be seen on 'almost . . . all the pillars' in the church. (fn. 621) A Heyron tomb, stripped of its brass, stood in the south chapel in 1785, (fn. 622) but was removed shortly before 1823. (fn. 623) The marble slab from this tomb served as a table top in the vestry in 1972.
In 1822 the vestry, which was ruinous in 1785, (fn. 624) was repaired. The whole church was reseated and upper and lower galleries were put into the west end in 1825. Eight years later the top stage of the tower and the stair turret were rebuilt, (fn. 625) but the portcullis motif on the battlements, later adopted as the badge of the town, appears on an illustration before that date. (fn. 626) It has been suggested that this refers to Margaret Beaufort, lady of the manor, who may have rebuilt the tower, (fn. 627) but the badge was also used by her son Henry VII and grandson Henry VIII, and was possibly a loyal allusion to the monarch. The nave roof was destroyed by fire in 1845 and during the repairs part of the chancel arch was rebuilt. (fn. 628) The fire may also have destroyed the galleries and the new seating in the nave. The restoration of the chancel, under the direction of W. B. Paul, took place in 1867. (fn. 629) Ten years later the rest of the church was restored and in the course of the work the 15th-century rood-stair was uncovered in the north aisle, and the north doorway, still visible from outside, was blocked. (fn. 630) The reredos and sedilia were put into the chancel in 1887. (fn. 631)
The octagonal font is late-15th-century. All the 15th-and early-16th-century glass remaining in the church was restored and collected into the east window in 1867. (fn. 632) The pulpit is late-17th-or early-18th-century. Five of the six bells were cast by Thomas Bailey of Bridgwater in 1772; the sixth was added in 1897. (fn. 633) The plate includes a large cup and cover by R. Orange of Sherborne, dated 1574, and a large pewter flagon. A modern set of plate was given to the church by Vincent Stuckey in 1839. (fn. 634) The registers are complete from 1728. (fn. 635)
A chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary is first mentioned in 1344, when 9s. 8d. a year was paid to it from the farm of the windmill. (fn. 636) This sum was evidently lost after the mill blew down in 1362. (fn. 637) In 1374–5 7s. 8d. was paid to the chantry from the rent of a tenement in Langport Westover, (fn. 638) and in 1376 a tenement with a curtilage called 'Seyntmariehey', left to the chantry without licence and worth 12s. 6d. a year, was seized by the lord of the manor. (fn. 639) Two market stalls late held by the proctor of this chantry are mentioned between 1405 and 1410. (fn. 640) The chaplain may be identified with one of two chantry priests mentioned in 1450 (fn. 641) and 1532, (fn. 642) described as 'fraternity' priests receiving £5 6s. 8d. each from the commonalty until 1548. (fn. 643) The chantry was located in the Hanging Chapel. A man deposed in 1600 that he had known Latin service said in the chapel in Henry VIII's time and mass said there in Rogation week until Edward VI's time by the vicar of Huish. (fn. 644) The building, described as the 'Hawninge' Chapel, was granted in 1575 to John Herbert and Andrew Palmer, (fn. 645) and was subsequently used as the town hall between 1596 and 1600. (fn. 646) It was later occupied by Langport grammar school, probably from 1706 until c. 1790, (fn. 647) after which it was leased to private individuals. (fn. 648) Arms were stored there by the local militia between 1809 and 1816, it was devoted to a Sunday school from 1818 to 1827, and was again leased privately thereafter. (fn. 649) In 1834 it was let to Edward Quekett as a museum for stuffed birds and miscellaneous antiquities until 1875. (fn. 650) It was first leased to the Portcullis Lodge of Freemasons, the present occupiers, in 1891. (fn. 651)
The Hanging Chapel stands at the eastern end of the borough above a gateway with a pointed barrel roof, both of lias stone, and the present building probably dates from the 15th century. There is a small niche in the north wall of the tunnel and a blocked pointed window in the south wall. An external western stair gives access to the chapel by a west door. The chapel itself is a plain rectangular structure with tiled roof, lit by a three-light east window and two north and one south windows of two lights each, all moulded with traceried heads. The east window appears to have been given a debased round arch at a later date. A central southern doorway gives access to a room on the south side of the chapel at a lower level, added later, probably when the grammar school was housed there. A third doorway at the south-western corner of the chapel has been blocked. There is a simple niche at floor level towards the east end of the south wall.
In 1903 a group of sisters, members of the Order of Christian Instruction, came to Langport to escape political pressures in France. They settled at Hill House, acquired from the daughter of Vincent Stuckey (d. 1902) and renamed St. Gildas Convent, converting the billiard room, later the library, into a chapel. St. Gildas Convent school for girls was founded there in 1914. (fn. 652) The church of ST. JOSEPH, adjoining the convent on the east, was built in 1929. It is a plain rectangular structure with a low pitched roof. A semi-circular sanctuary, rising above the body of the church to form a tower, was added in 1965. A chaplain serving both the sisters and the church has been resident at the convent since its inception. (fn. 653)
John Bush (d. 1712), minister in the parish during the Interregnum, subsequently became a Presbyterian preacher in the town. (fn. 654) He was licensed to preach in 1672 (fn. 655) and his house was registered for dissenting worship in 1691. (fn. 656) He received a grant from the Common Fund between 1699 and 1706 and was described as 'the most faithful friend, and most desirable enemy that a man could well have'. (fn. 657) The house of his son Thomas was licensed for protestant meetings in 1731. (fn. 658)
In 1672 the houses of Richard Bennet and Richard Seward were licensed by dissenters. (fn. 659) Further licences for worship in private houses in the town were issued in 1689, 1696, 1716, and 1731, the last being in respect of the house of George Stuckey (II), father of the founder of Stuckey's Bank. (fn. 660) The house of Edith Bedell was licensed for Quaker meetings in 1731. (fn. 661)
Thomas Bagehot was trained in the nonconformist ministry and is supposed to have established a Socinian chapel in North Street at some date after 1747, attended by many of the borough's leading inhabitants. (fn. 662) The site was stated c. 1860 to have been occupied by cottages for many years, (fn. 663) and the chapel may possibly be identified with the house in that street occupied by Mary Bobbett and licensed for worship in 1818. (fn. 664)
The Independents rented premises known as Parks's Buildings in 1807, (fn. 665) but their efforts within the town initially met with little success. The Revd. Mr. Prankerd of Somerton preached in the town hall at some date before 1821 and subsequently leased a slaughter-house for his meetings. (fn. 666) James Moreton, Independent minister of Kingsdon, registered a house in the parish in 1824, and in 1828 instigated the building of the present chapel on the north side of Bow Street, opened the following year. (fn. 667) The site was bought from Vincent Stuckey, who wished to prevent the Independents from building in Priest Lane near his home. (fn. 668) The Independent (later Congregational) chapel was originally a plain rectangular building, the facade comprising a pediment with date stone, and three round-headed upper, and two lower, windows. (fn. 669) On Census Sunday in 1851 the services were attended by 63 persons in the morning and 166 in the evening. (fn. 670) The building was restored and largely rebuilt in 1874–5 and an internal gallery removed. (fn. 671) The present building is of lias and has a brick and stone front in gothic revival style. The manse abutting on the east wall of the chapel, was built in 1850, a vestry was erected in 1858, and a schoolroom, added at the rear of the chapel in 1874, was enlarged in 1885. (fn. 672) The Independents used another building in the town for worship in 1837 (fn. 673) but its site has not been identified.
The Christian Brethren occupied a room over a warehouse in Bow Street in 1845, holding about 200 people. (fn. 674) Their congregation in 1851 totalled 40 in the morning and 45 in the evening. (fn. 675) After meeting in a number of houses in the town, they moved c. 1943 to the former Wesleyan chapel in Huish, now known as the Gospel Hall. (fn. 676)
The Particular Baptists registered a house in the parish in 1847 (fn. 677) and erected a chapel on the south side of the Hill in 1851, (fn. 678) which still survived in 1972. In 1851 there was an attendance of 29 in the morning, 34 in the afternoon, and 60 in the evening. (fn. 679) It was known as Zion Chapel in 1880, and in 1912, when there had been no service for ten years or more, it was sold. It was used by Langport grammar school from 1928 to 1933, when it was known as the Stone Building, (fn. 680) and it had been converted to a private garage by 1972. It is a plain rectangular building of lias with Classical facade.
Nicholas Hurtnell was licensed to teach Latin in the town in 1604. (fn. 683) After John Bush had been ejected from his situation as curate of Langport c. 1662 he kept a grammar school in the borough. (fn. 684) There is, however, no positive evidence that this was Langport grammar school. (fn. 685) Sarah Hurtnell, who died in 1840 aged 90, had formerly kept a dame school at which Vincent Stuckey (b. 1771) was first educated. (fn. 686) In about 1793 there was a girls' boarding school in the town run by Elizabeth and Ann Lake. (fn. 687) A Sunday school, mentioned from 1792, (fn. 688) was attended in 1818 by about 80 children (fn. 689) and was held in the Hanging Chapel from that year until 1827. (fn. 690) In 1818 there were two day-schools, (fn. 691) probably private. The National school, founded in 1827, like its successor, the Board school of 1876 in North Street, lay in Huish parish. (fn. 692)
An infant school was founded in 1830 in a house on the south side of Bow Street towards its west end. (fn. 693) In 1833 it had 70 pupils paying 2d. a week each and was aided by private subscription. (fn. 694) The school is mentioned in 1875 (fn. 695) but was probably closed in the following year when the Board school, which included an infant department, was built. (fn. 696) The building, a rectangular lias structure of two storeys with Ham stone mullioned windows, was occupied as three private dwellings in 1972.
A Sunday school was established in 1832 at the Congregational chapel in Bow Street, attended by 90 pupils in 1833. (fn. 697) A day-school in the vestry there had been established by c. 1860. (fn. 698)
In 1833 there were three private boarding schools in the parish educating 34 children. (fn. 699) By 1859 this number had increased to four, comprising a preparatory school and three girls' schools, and the master of the grammar school was also taking private pupils. (fn. 700) Demand for private education in the town declined thereafter; there was one day-school, in Bow Street, in 1886, and a girls' school there in 1899. (fn. 701)
St. Gildas Convent school for girls was established in 1914 by nuns of the Order of Christian Instruction. (fn. 702) Part of the stable block at the Convent was converted c. 1920 to form two additional classrooms, and in 1931 the school was attended by 66 pupils, of which only six were drawn from Langport itself. (fn. 703) Two further classrooms were erected at the rear of the house in 1958 and a laboratory and art room added there in the following year. Three classrooms were built on the north side of the stables in 1965, a swimming pool in 1968, and a home economics building in 1969. The school had about 200 pupils in 1972 and was divided into senior, junior, and infant departments. (fn. 704)
Charities for the Poor.
Matthew Jefford of Langport Westover by will dated 1578 gave £20 to the borough of Langport Eastover for interest free loans to poor persons, repayable yearly. (fn. 705) Traces of this charity may survive in the loan of £5 in 1674 to a man to set up his looms for coverlet weaving, £10 to the sergeant-at-mace in 1677, (fn. 706) £1 to a man to build a boat in 1700, (fn. 707) and £12 to a blacksmith in 1721. (fn. 708) No subsequent reference to this charity has been noted.
Martha Bond of Langport by will dated 1797 left the residue of her estate to be divided equally between the parishes of Langport Eastover, Aller, and Huish Episcopi, the income to be distributed to the poor. (fn. 709) The proceeds were initially employed in defraying the cost of the inclosure of Common moor. (fn. 710) The share of each parish, £141 19s. 1d., produced an income of £7 15s., (fn. 711) which in 1821 was distributed amongst the second poor. (fn. 712) In 1954 the income of £6 9s.4d. was divided between 26 persons in varying amounts. (fn. 713)
John Prankerd, a Langport surgeon (d. 1896), (fn. 714) devised a capital sum the interest from which was distributed to the poor in coal. The income was £4 9s. in 1954, and was employed according to the donor's wishes. (fn. 715)
In 1915 William Gough, formerly manager of Stuckey's Bank, left £300, the income to be distributed annually at Christmas to the deserving poor. By will proved in 1926 William Rowe bequeathed £200 to the vicar and churchwardens, who were to devote the interest to buy coal and other material benefits to be given to the aged and other deserving poor of the parish on 26 March annually. (fn. 716) The Gough and Rowe charities were subsequently united, and in 1954 the income stood at £16 1s. 2d., distributed to 32 persons. (fn. 717)
The Annie Tite charity was founded by Charles Tite of Taunton (d. 1933), (fn. 718) who left £2,000 to the Langport town trust in memory of his first wife, Hannah Sophia (d. 1879), a native of the borough. The interest was to be divided between members of his family during their lives and thereafter applied in assisting the higher education of Langport children, in granting marriage portions to young girls, and in augmenting the income of poor or retired tradesmen of the town. (fn. 719) The charity, administered by the parish council, became payable in 1967 under a Scheme of that year. (fn. 720) The income has been used principally to provide marriage portions of about £10 each, (fn. 721) the charity's investments producing about £93 in 1968. (fn. 722) In recent years it has been difficult to find qualified recipients for the charity.