A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.
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The ancient parish of Montacute, four miles west of Yeovil, was 1,485 a. in extent before the addition of a detached portion of Norton sub Hamdon was made about 1898. (fn. 1) Thereafter the area was 1,518 a. until 1957, when the whole of the detached portion of the parish around Bagnell farm was transferred to Norton sub Hamdon, (fn. 2) leaving 1,304 a. (fn. 3)
The parish is irregular in shape, and before 1957 was some 3 miles in length, from the Tintinhull boundary to the top of Chiselborough hill. It is only a little more than 1 mile wide at most. The boundary with Stoke sub Hamdon on the west divides Hedgecock hill in two, and was marked by a ditch until Sir Edward Phelips (d. 1614) built a wall along it. (fn. 4) It then follows the line of the Iron Age earthworks on the northern edge of Ham or Hamdon Hill. These defences also form part of its boundary with Norton sub Hamdon on the southwest, the rest formerly marked by a ditch, and then by another wall, also built by Phelips. (fn. 5) The land around Bagnell farm at the southern end of the parish formed an island including Beacon hill itself (fn. 6) and the land stretching up the scarp slope of Chiselborough hill, where the boundary is marked by a deep ditch. This area is divided from the rest of the parish by a road linking Norton sub Hamdon with its East field. (fn. 7)
Geologically and topographically the parish falls into two distinct parts, separated by Wellham's brook and the village. To the north and east, on the Pennard sands, (fn. 8) the land rises from the narrow strip of alluvium in the valley to over 250 ft. in open country. It seems likely that the lands of the four knights holding half the manor at Domesday were concentrated in this area; the priory certainly had very little land north of the brook, (fn. 9) and the two manors of Hide and Brook Montacute were located there. (fn. 10) A settlement on the south side of Wellham's brook east of Brook farm survived until the 19th century. South of the village, on the Yeovil sands, the landscape and land-use are in striking contrast. To the west is the 400 ft. mass of Ham Hill, and to the south the irregular and steep scarps around Pit wood and Bagnell farm. The site of the deserted hamlet of Witcombe lies in a valley in the centre of the area. (fn. 11) A park, known as Old Park by 1617, (fn. 12) lay on the rising ground between the southern end of the village and Park Lane. It was created, apparently, by one of the counts of Mortain before the end of the 11th century, and was granted to the monks of Montacute by King John, when count of Mortain, in 1192. (fn. 13) The warren, immediately east of Stroud's hill and including part of the defences of the Iron Age camp, was confirmed to the monks in 1252. (fn. 14) Woodland along the earthworks was known as Warren covert, and had at its southern end a small piece of land called the Dog Trap. (fn. 15) When the manor was granted to the new monastery in the parish, c. 1102, the property included orchards and vineyards. (fn. 16) The southern slopes of St. Michael's hill seem to be the only suitable place for vines. Orchards still dominated the immediate environs of the village in the 19th century. (fn. 17) Woodland is found in the south of the parish. Pit wood, with its 18th-century artificial lake, (fn. 18) and High wood, on a spur north of Bagnell farm, are the largest. At the beginning of the 20th century there were 94 a. of woodland in the parish. (fn. 19)
Apart from the large area inside the Iron Age Camp, divided in the 17th century between Hamdon within and without the walls, (fn. 20) the southern part of the parish was anciently inclosed. Montacute's open fields lay in the north, and in the 16th century were known as West, Middle, and East fields. (fn. 21) These were later renamed, and evidently divided. Issakell (fn. 22) and Higher fields lay respectively west and east of the road to Tintinhull, with Short Kemsicall Close field immediately south of Higher field. Issakell field seems to represent the position of the demesne lands of Brook Montacute. (fn. 23) Similarly Great Hide, east of Gaundle farm, is indicative of the Hide manor demesnes. Gaundle field, near Gaundle farm, survived until 1802, and nearer the north-eastern boundary of the parish lay Yonder field. (fn. 24)
The road system in the north of the parish was formed to serve these fields by three roughly parallel tracks and lateral lanes. Kissmedown (fn. 25) Lane ran through Tintinhull and Sock Dennis to Ilchester. The remainder of the parish was crossed by three east-west roads, the most important being that through the village via Townsend, the Borough, and Middle Street, and thence south of St. Michael's hill to Ham Hill, part of the London–Exeter coach road. At Batemoor a track, known as Green Lane or Witcombe Lane, runs south towards the site of Witcombe. (fn. 26)
The Iron Age camp on Ham Hill, usually associated with either Stoke or Norton, lies largely in Montacute parish, although most of the archaeological material has come from the quarry workings in Stoke. (fn. 27) Neolithic pottery and other material has been found 'in sufficient quantity to indicate permanent settlement'. (fn. 28) The site was fortified probably in the 1st century B.C. as a stronghold of the Durotriges, but shortly after a.d. 43 appears to have been sacked by the Roman army. It may possibly have been used by the Romans as a fort, (fn. 29) but during the 3rd and 4th centuries part of it was probably under agriculture, (fn. 30) and much of the rest used for quarrying. (fn. 31) A hollow track running between Hedgecock hill and St. Michael's hill to Batemoor Barn and then southwards through the valley bottom has been described as a Roman road. (fn. 32) It is certainly more ancient than the present field pattern of the south of the parish.
The origin of the settlement at Montacute is in the estate known as Logworesbeorh in the 7th century. (fn. 33) The name is probably of personal origin, (fn. 34) and William of Malmesbury linked it with one Logor, one of the original twelve monks of Glastonbury when Patrick arrived, who was commemorated on one of the two 'pyramids' outside the abbey. (fn. 35) Some time in the 9th century, apparently, the name was changed to Bishopston, possibly in connexion with Tunbeorht, who may have been both abbot of Glastonbury and bishop of Winchester. (fn. 36) The construction of the castle on St. Michael's hill to dominate the surrounding area brought about the introduction of the third name of the settlement, after the conical hill, the mons acutus, upon which it was built. (fn. 37) The name Bishopston, however, was retained as the name of a tithing, and is still given to part of the main street of the village, running northwards from the church. The strong connexion of the settlement with English influences was intensified in the legend of the Invention of the Holy Cross on St. Michael's hill; and the foundation of the Norman castle on the spot was seen as a final insult to the defeated race whose battle cry at Hastings, the object of Harold's particular veneration, had been that precious relic. (fn. 38) The siege of the castle in 1068 was an attempt at English independence. (fn. 39)
Place-name evidence thus suggests that the village originated north of the church at Bishopston. The borough, planted ante 1102, (fn. 40) and extended in the 13th century, continued the built-up area of the village eastwards from the church, around the precinct wall of the priory through Middle Street, the Borough, and part of South Street. Until after 1838 the road through Bishopston continued northwards past Smith's Row to the gates of Montacute House, and then turned sharply westwards; (fn. 41) but by 1853 this corner had been cut and the road took its present course. (fn. 42) Wash Lane, so called by 1766, (fn. 43) runs eastwards from Bishopston and emerges on the north side of Middle Street. Bowtell Street occurs in 1551; it contained a burgage and may therefore be an earlier name for either Middle Street or South Street. (fn. 44) Fleet Street occurs by 1760 until 1818, (fn. 45) New Lane, off Townsend, by 1780, and Pig Street 'next the Town Gate' between 1755 and 1797. (fn. 46)
The two-storeyed houses in the Borough, all constructed of local stone, with tiled or stone roofs, are mostly of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Near the entrance to Montacute House, however, is an earlier building comprising two dwellings. The northern end, known as Montacute Cottage, is a two-storeyed house of c. 1500, having two- and three-light mullioned windows with traceried heads and a doorway with a four-centred arch. The house may once have contained an open hall. The southern end of the range, known as the Chantry, was formerly called the Old Chantry, and has housed successively a school and a post office. The house appears to have been a later addition to the range, but the bay window at the gable-end carries a carved panel, bearing the initials of Robert Shirborne, the last prior of Montacute (1532–9), probably re-set. (fn. 47) Now largely residential some of these properties in the Borough were originally used for commerce and manufacture in the 18th and 19th centuries. They, and the similar dwellings in Middle and South streets, were let to weavers and other craftsmen. (fn. 48) The Gables has smoke-blackened timbers in its former open hall and probably dates from the 16th century. Nos. 7–9 South Street represent a substantial L-shaped building of the 16th or 17th centuries, with a massive external chimney on the rear wing, a traceried three-light window in one gable-end, and an internal stud and panel partition with wide moulded studs. There is a tradition that this was the former manor-house of Montacute. (fn. 49)
North of the Borough, in its own extensive grounds, stands Montacute House, built probably by a Somerset mason, William Arnold, for Sir Edward Phelips. (fn. 50) The house, 'the most magnificent house of its time in Somerset', (fn. 51) was built probably in the 1590s, and had evidently been completed by 1601. It is of three storeys, in local Ham Hill stone. On plan it is H-shaped. The ground floor comprises a screened hall and a dining room, formerly a buttery and pantry, flanked on the north by a drawing room and a parlour. The southern wing housed the kitchen and servants' quarters. On the floor above is the great chamber in the north wing, now the library, and various bed- and dressing-rooms including the Garden Chamber, adapted by Lord Curzon when tenant of the house as his bedroom, and incorporating a bath camouflaged in a cupboard. On the second floor is the long gallery, running the whole length of the house. It is more than 180 ft. long, the longest surviving gallery in the country. (fn. 52)
The main entrance to the house was on the east side. In 1786, however, Edward Phelips built a two-storeyed addition between the two wings on the west side, thus providing corridors for easier access to all the rooms. The materials came from Clifton Maybank House (Dors.), and included the present porch and the ornamental stone front. (fn. 53)
The present layout of the extensive grounds dates from the 19th century, the gardens at the north end of the house replacing a pond and a mount. The former east entrance is now an enclosed court with balustraded walls and finials and pavilions at the outer corners. Other out-buildings include an arcaded garden house at the end of a yew walk on the south side of the house, and stables dating from the late 18th century. (fn. 54)
The relative prosperity of the village as a centre of small home industries, and its position on the Exeter–London coach road allowed several inns to flourish. The Guildhall and its shops had been converted to that purpose by 1612, (fn. 55) and Richard Hodder is described as an innholder in 1649. (fn. 56) The Red Lion, held by William Hodder in 1697, occurs until 1750; the George had a continuous history from 1698 (fn. 57) and from at least 1726 until closure in 1822 was kept by members of the Isaac family. (fn. 58) The King's Arms in Bishopston had been established under that name by 1780; Francis Hann, its owner, had been an innkeeper since 1763. (fn. 59) The 18th-century house was altered in the 19th century and given a 'Tudor' frontage in ashlar. The Phelips Arms, perhaps successor to the George, was so named by 1835. (fn. 60)
The Durston-Yeovil branch of the Bristol and Exeter Railway was constructed through the centre of the parish in 1853, and was taken over by the Great Western Railway Company in 1876. (fn. 61) The line and station were closed in 1964. (fn. 62)
The Montacute Benevolent Friendly Society was founded in 1802, and had 48 members by the following year. Female friendly societies were founded at the King's Arms in 1811 and 1836, and at the Phelips Arms in 1835; a further female society was approved in 1843. A Guardian Friendly Society met at the Phelips Arms from 1836 and still flourished in 1844. (fn. 63) The Provident and Mutual Benefit Society was active by 1881, and a club festival was still held in 1933 with side shows and roundabouts in the Borough. (fn. 64) In 1876 a Working Men's Reading Room and Library was opened, and in 1892 the Constitutional Hall. Cricket and football clubs had been founded by 1903. (fn. 65)
Montacute, probably at the height of its prosperity in the 14th century, (fn. 66) had a taxable population of 87 in 1377. (fn. 67) The figure rose from 827 in 1801 to a peak of 1,047 in 1841. There was a gradual fall to 713 in 1911, and then a recovery to 867 in 1951. With the alteration of the parish boundary in 1957 the figure fell to 806 in 1961. (fn. 68)
Thomas Shoel, said to have been a labourer in the parish, was the author of a number of poems published between 1786 and 1821, largely by subscription, and composer of three volumes of church music. (fn. 69)
Between 676 and 685 Baldred gave to Glastonbury abbey an estate of 16 hides at Logworesbeorh, identified as Montacute. (fn. 70) In 854 Athelwulf allowed half a hide of the abbey's estate there to be exempt from secular dues. (fn. 71) A holding, of unknown size, was the subject of a grant to Glastonbury by Bishop Tunbeorht of Winchester between 871 and 879; (fn. 72) this may not have been a further accretion of property, but rather a confirmation by the bishop who may previously have been abbot of Glastonbury. (fn. 73) Presumably with the virtual collapse of Glastonbury during the Danish invasions (fn. 74) the abbey lost these lands. Athelney abbey had certainly acquired them before 1066, (fn. 75) though in the legend of the Invention of the Holy Cross it is implied that the owner in Cnut's time was Tofig, the sheriff. (fn. 76) By 1086, however, Athelney had exchanged its estate, known as the manor of BISHOPSTON, with the count of Mortain, for his manor of Purse Caundle (Dors.). (fn. 77)
On his manor of Bishopston Robert, count of Mortain, built his castle and established a borough. (fn. 78) The castle became the head of an honor and two of its porters held land in serjeanty at Steart in Babcary. (fn. 79) Thenceforward the settlements and the manor were known as MONTACUTE. (fn. 80) About 1102 William, count of Mortain, gave the manor, castle, and borough, with other properties, to his newly-founded house of Cluniac monks established there. (fn. 81) The manor remained in monastic hands, save when seized as alien property during time of war, until the monastery was dissolved in 1539. (fn. 82)
Shortly after the surrender of the monastic estates, the Crown granted a lease of the property to Dr. William (later Sir William) Petre. The grant included the site of the monastery, the borough of Montacute, and the manors of MONTACUTE, MONTACUTE BOROUGH, and MONTACUTE 'FORREN', later known as MONTACUTE FORUM. These divisions of the original estates were probably no more than simple administrative units, and do not seem to have been manors in the strict sense of the term. In 1542 Sir Thomas Wyatt (d. 1542) of Allington (Kent) acquired the reversion of Petre's lease, and granted copyholds there. He bequeathed his interest to Elizabeth Darrell of Littlecote (Wilts.), with remainder, failing heirs, to his own son Thomas. (fn. 83) After the attainder of the younger Thomas in 1554 the reversion fell to the Crown and was given to Sir William Petre. (fn. 84) Petre continued in possession until his death in 1572. It is possible that his son John succeeded to the lease, which still had over twenty years to run, for he was certainly granting sub-leases of parts of the estate by 1580, and so continued until 1590. (fn. 85) Meanwhile in 1574 Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, acquired the reversion of the manor in fee, (fn. 86) and at once sold it to Robert Freke of Iwerne Courtnay (Dors.). (fn. 87) Freke succeeded to the manor in fee before his death in 1592, (fn. 88) and his son Thomas was still lord of the manor in 1607. (fn. 89) By the end of the following year he had been succeeded by Sir Edward Phelips. (fn. 90)
The Phelips family, first settled in the parish by 1479, (fn. 91) thus began their reign as lords of the manor of Montacute which lasted until the 20th century. Sir Edward Phelips (d. 1614) (fn. 92) was followed successively by his son, Robert (d. 1638), by his grandson, Col. Edward (d. 1679), and by his greatgrandson, Sir Edward (d. 1699). Through Sir Edward's daughter Elizabeth (d. 1750), who married Edward Phelips of Preston Plucknett, the estate descended to her son Edward (d. 1797). Edward was succeeded by his second son William (d. 1806), a clergyman. John Phelips, William's son (d. 1834), died without children, and the estate passed to a nephew William (d. 1889). On the death of his son William Robert in 1919, the property passed successively to his grandsons Edward Frederick (d. 1928) and Gerald Almarus. The latter made over the estate to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, who transferred it to the National Trust in 1931. (fn. 93) Several farms had earlier been sold, and the estate in 1931 amounted to less than 300 a. (fn. 94)
The grant of the former priory lands to William Petre in 1539 included the site of the monastery and its immediate grounds, including the monks' graveyard. (fn. 95) There is no mention of the monastic church, which was evidently demolished immediately. Surviving conventual buildings, including the gateway of the priory, were leased by Petre and his son as a farm-house to John Burt, who farmed some of the adjoining land for some fifty years until c. 1600. (fn. 96) Sir Edward Phelips had completed Montacute House before purchasing the manor, so the Abbey House, as it was called, became virtually redundant. By 1633 it was said to be 'almost desolate' because Sir Robert Phelips 'seldom makes use of it'. (fn. 97) In 1638 the site of the old house of Montacute formed part of Sir Robert's estate, (fn. 98) and later in the century it became the residence of Col. Edward Phelips (d. 1679) after he had made over Montacute House and the estate to his son in 1668. (fn. 99) On Col. Phelips' death his widow retained the Abbey House and orchards. (fn. 100) About 1700 it was let to a Mr. Bone. (fn. 101) By 1782 the house had become a farm-house again, serving as the residence of John Wilton, who worked Abbey farm, the largest in the parish. (fn. 102) The farm remained part of the Phelips estate until it was sold to the occupier, Mr. Charles Dare, in 1918. (fn. 103) It then amounted to about 434 a. (fn. 104)
The former priory gatehouse, which stands southwest of the parish church, has thus been a residence since the 16th century. It comprises a tall embattled gatehouse with lower two-storeyed ranges to east and west of it. The arched gateway has a fan vault and the room above has oriel windows, enriched with quatrefoil bands, on two faces. At the centre of the parapet on the north or entrance front is a carved portcullis and the initials of Thomas Chard (prior 1514–32). On its inner side the gatehouse has two polygonal stair turrets, one higher and one lower than the main structure. Both east and west ranges, the former of three bays, the latter incomplete, have buttresses and embattled parapets. The least altered façade is on the south side of the east range; here the merlons of the parapet are carved with quatrefoils and there is a doorway with a four-centred head and carved spandrels. The square-headed windows have mullions and transomes. There was formerly an eastward continuation of the range, lower in height and possibly earlier in date, which had medieval features; it had been demolished by 1864. (fn. 105) Alterations were made to the building after it became a dwelling-house, including the addition of a 17th-century porch wing on the north side of the east range; this also disappeared in the mid 19th century. Earlier in the century the gateway arch had been blocked by a two-storeyed structure which was later removed. There are no other remains of the priory buildings except a square dovecot standing east of the gatehouse. The field behind the house, however, contains evidence of former buildings in the uneven surface of the pasture. (fn. 106)
Half the manor of Bishopston in 1086 was in the hands of four knights, Alfred the butler, Drew, Bretel de St. Clair, and Donecan. (fn. 107) The first three were substantial tenants of the count of Mortain elsewhere, but Donecan does not seem to have held other land in Somerset. Alfred held 1½ hide and the other three 1 hide each. The descent of these properties is obscure. According to Henry I's confirmation of the foundation charter of Montacute priory, the count's men as well as the count himself gave their property in the manor of Bishopston to the priory. (fn. 108) It is possible, therefore, that some of these small holdings became absorbed in the priory estate, but they are unlikely to have become part of the demesne lands, and were transferred, with the sitting tenants, from one landlord to another.
Two independent estates which emerged in the later Middle Ages may be the lineal descendants of these four Domesday holdings. The reputed manor of HIDE was distinct from other holdings in the parish in that all its tithes, not simply the tithes of hay and hemp, were payable to the vicar. (fn. 109) Often referred to as la Hyde (fn. 110) or Hyde, (fn. 111) it was first described as a manor at the end of the 16th century. By 1576 it was in the hands of Thomas Phelips (d. 1590), who settled it on his wife. (fn. 112) John, his son, held it from 1588 (fn. 113) and was still in occupation in 1596. (fn. 114) The property formed part of the lands settled by Sir Robert Phelips in 1632 on his son's wife, (fn. 115) but at Sir Robert's death in 1638 it was still a separate unit. (fn. 116) In 1656 it was known as Hyde farm when mortgaged by Edward Phelips. (fn. 117) The farm appears to have remained in hand during much of the 17th and 18th centuries (fn. 118) though it was leased from 1797. (fn. 119) It did not survive as a farming unit, and by 1838 had been absorbed into other farms. (fn. 120)
The other independent medieval holding was the reputed manor of BROOK MONTACUTE. John Dudding and his wife made over a small estate to Sir Thomas Brook and Joan his wife in 1400. (fn. 121) Joan did fealty for the estate on the death of her husband in 1418. (fn. 122) Her son, Edward Brook, Lord Cobham (d. 1464), succeeded on her death. (fn. 123) John, Lord Cobham (d. 1512), was in possession in 1469. (fn. 124) His daughter Mary took it to her husband, Robert Blagg (d. 1522), and it descended to their son George. (fn. 125) John Bevyn had at his death in 1554 a lease of the property, which he left to his daughter Dorothy. (fn. 126) She was holding 'Brokes Lande' of William, Lord Cobham (d. 1597), in 1566. (fn. 127) Sir Edward Phelips acquired the estate, then amounting to 87 a., before 1607. (fn. 128) With Hyde farm it was mortgaged in 1656, and in 1685 it was described as the manor or reputed manor of Brooke alias Brooke Montacute alias Montacute. (fn. 129) In 1838 Brook farm, still owned by the Phelips family and held by Jeremiah Hallett, measured just over 92 a. (fn. 130)
Montacute castle was built on an isolated conical hill, known as St. Michael's hill, dominating the village and visible from a wide area. The hill was scarped to form an oval motte, with an upper bailey on the south-east and a lower bailey on a plateau encircling the hill. (fn. 131) It was constructed by Robert, count of Mortain, by 1068 when it was besieged during a revolt against the Conqueror. (fn. 132) It presumably ceased to have any military importance after William, count of Mortain, gave it to his newly-founded Cluniac priory in the village c. 1102. (fn. 133) Leland declared that the castle 'partly fell to ruin, and partly was taken down to make the priory'. (fn. 134) In 1518–19 the churchwardens of Tintinhull paid for two loads of stone from it, suggesting that the remains were still being used as a quarry. (fn. 135)
There was a chapel in the castle, dedicated to St. Michael, by c. 1102. (fn. 136) It was still in use in 1315. (fn. 137) It stood on the castle mound, and was reached by a flight of stone steps. (fn. 138) In the 1630s it was described as 'a fine piece of work built with arched work, and an embowned roof, overlaid all of stone, very artificially'. (fn. 139) The site of the chapel is occupied by a tower built in 1760. (fn. 140) The castle mound has been wooded since the late 18th century. (fn. 141)
The borough of Montacute seems to have been formed as an addition to the Domesday village of Bishopston at some date between 1086 and c. 1102. (fn. 142) Its founder was presumably Robert, count of Mortain (d. 1090), or his son William. About 1102 the latter gave the borough as part of the foundation estate of Montacute priory. (fn. 143) Durand (I), prior of Montacute in the reign of Henry I, (fn. 144) gave to the burgage tenants liberties and free customs of other Somerset burgesses. (fn. 145) About a century later Prior Mark (fn. 146) extended the area of the borough to provide additional rents for the support of the convent kitchen. His grant to the new extension (novo burgo) implies an already established settlement, including a merchant's house. (fn. 147)
The nature of the liberties enjoyed by the burgesses of Montacute is not known, though it is unlikely that they had any great measure of autonomy. The borough answered independently of the manor at 13th-century eyres, and writs were sent summoning two members to Parliament from the borough in 1306. (fn. 148) The summons was not repeated.
By 1302–3 the priory was receiving an income of 16d. from each of 51 burgages in Montacute. (fn. 149) By 1540 some of these had been consolidated and others divided, giving a total of 55¾ burgages, in addition to two shambles and two shops. These properties were held at rents varying from the original 16d. to 6s. 8d., and were held by tenures ranging from socage to copyhold and life leasehold. (fn. 150) By 1566 there were 81 separate holdings in the borough, ranging from a sixteenth of a burgage to 1½ burgage, besides a guildhall, 9 shambles, and 2 shops. Fifty separate holdings amounting to 36 burgages, were freehold, 29 copyhold for lives, 1 copyhold at will, and 1 'free leasehold'. (fn. 151) By 1608 the total number of burgage tenures had been halved, and many were held for high rents. (fn. 152) The area of the borough remained a unit of local administration throughout the 18th century. (fn. 153)
By 1540 a guildhall stood in the borough. (fn. 154) It was still there in 1608. (fn. 155) It may be the 'town house and shire hall' described in 1703. (fn. 156) There was a lock-up in the Borough until 1845. (fn. 157)
The estate at Bishopston in 1086 represents only a section of the 16 hides given by Baldred to Glastonbury abbey in the 7th century. (fn. 158) Measuring 9 hides, half the estate was held directly by the count of Mortain, the rest held of him by four knights. This division remained a reality until the 17th century, since the grant of the demesne lands of the count to Montacute priory preserved the estate intact until after the Dissolution. The Phelips estate, formed gradually from the end of the 16th century onwards, absorbed this unit, which was not finally dispersed until the 20th century. This physical division, indicated by the tithe-free area of the former priory demesne, comprised all lands south and west of the YeovilStoke road, together with some scattered fields in the north-west of the parish. (fn. 159)
The estate of the count of Mortain at the time of the Domesday survey comprised 2½ hides in demesne, cultivated by 4 serfs with 2 ploughs, and 4 villeins and 3 bordars with 2 ploughs had a hide between them. Since the tenants of the other part of the estate shared 4½ hides, a hide is thus not accounted for. There are said to have been, therefore, only 4 ploughs, on land for 7; this suggests a recent contraction of arable. Only 15 a. of meadow are recorded, although the estate supported a riding horse and 100 sheep.
Together the knights held 4½ hides, cultivated with a total of 5 ploughs. The largest farm was that of Alfred the butler, with 1½ hide, worked by 6 bordars and a serf, and supporting 80 sheep. Drew, Bretel de St. Clair, and Donecan each held a hide, worked by 5, 2, and 6 bordars respectively. No other stock is recorded. Together these holdings were worth £3 3s., as compared with the valuation of £6 put upon the count's estate. (fn. 160)
The creation of the borough in the late 11th century, and the consequent alteration in the balance of the economy, was accompanied by a similar change in the tenurial pattern of the priory estate. By 1303 the demesne lands amounted to just over 100 a. of arable, a small amount of pasture, and gardens worth together 79s. 5½d. (fn. 161) The orchards and vineyards forming part of the original grant from the count of Mortain had disappeared, (fn. 162) though the monks had acquired the park in 1192, a property apparently not reckoned in the 1302–3 survey. (fn. 163) By far the largest part of the estate had been let: apart from the borough, (fn. 164) with its 51 burgesses, there were 50 free tenements, 2 of a virgate, 9 of a half-virgate, 9 of a ferling, and 30 of a messuage and curtilage. There were also 25 villein holdings, 7 of a half-virgate, 11 of a ferling, and the rest cottar holdings. These properties, all let for rents alone, were worth a total of £16 10s. 10¾d., nearly half the income from the whole estate. (fn. 165) The monks continued their policy of leasing their demesne under licence from the Crown in 1319. (fn. 166)
Further leasing of the demesnes in the early 16th century (fn. 167) foreshadowed the end of the hamlet of Witcombe, on the demesne originally attached to the manor of Bishopston. (fn. 168) The hamlet may perhaps be identified as the settlement of the four villeins and three bordars of 1086. (fn. 169) This hamlet was still in existence in 1566, when twelve 'poor tenants' there each held 10 a. of land on lease. (fn. 170) Its end was even then in view, since the reversion of these leases had already been granted to the tenant of much of the surrounding land, which was under grass, supporting sheep. (fn. 171) By 1614 most of these holdings has been absorbed. (fn. 172)
The creation of the borough added a further dimension to the economy of Montacute. Little is known of trade there in the medieval period, though there are occasional references to shops and shambles. (fn. 173) Montacute was of sufficient importance to have been visited by Henry III in 1250. (fn. 174) It was taxed as a borough in 1316, 1319, 1332, 1334, and 1336, (fn. 175) and in 1340, for the tax on towns levied in that year, was ranked ninth in the county. (fn. 176) There are slight traces of trades later to be of importance in the parish in the occurrence of two drapers and dyers in the 14th century, a mercer in 1489, and a tanner in 1547; (fn. 177) but the general decline of the town in the 16th century is suggested by the disappearance of the fair and the poverty of the market. (fn. 178)
Apart from some slight evidence for the continuation of open-field cultivation on Hide manor (fn. 179) and for opposition to inclosure on Brook manor (fn. 180) the overwhelming weight of evidence for the economic history of Montacute for the 16th century comes from the former monastic estate, concentrated largely in the southern half of the parish. In 1535 the priory enjoyed rents of free and customary tenants, presumably in the borough and in the 'manor' of Montacute Forum, amounting to £53 19s. 4d. (fn. 181) The demesne lands were also let in small parcels, for which the Crown tenant in 1539 paid £14. (fn. 182) In terms of holdings there were at least sixteen on the former demesne; the borough comprised 79 separate holdings, and Montacute Forum was divided between 38 tenants, some leaseholders, some copyholders, and some tenants at will. Borough and Forum together were worth just over £48. (fn. 183) Seventy years later, when the estates had come into the hands of Sir Edward Phelips, the total income, including Brook manor, was only slightly increased. (fn. 184) More than half the rent came from life tenancies, known as tenancies 'by agreement'.
The fragmentation of the former monastic demesne, presumably brought about by letting to already established tenants, and the large number of separate holdings in other parts of the estate, was countered by a certain amount of consolidation by individual tenants. The most substantial tenant to emerge by 1540 was William Browne, former bailiff of the manor. (fn. 185) He held 'Estlonde' and 'Chaunts close' as his share of the demesne, and several holdings, mostly copyhold, in Montacute Forum. (fn. 186) Thomas Cogan or Cogayne, a local mercer (fn. 187) and from 1549 farmer of the rectory, was another substantial tenant, holding pasture grounds in the demesne, closes in Montacute Forum, and several burgages. (fn. 188) Thomas Phelips the elder was then among several much less wealthy inhabitants, and in 1540 was holding only three burgages and a watercourse. (fn. 189) At the same time Thomas Phelips the younger, his nephew, held 10¾ burgages, his own house being sited upon two of them, and another house, but apparently no land. (fn. 190) By 1566 Thomas the younger had outstripped the other tenants in wealth: he held 20½ burgages, two shambles, and a house in the borough, and was the largest tenant of the former monastic demesne, with 226 a. leased from Wyatt from 1542 and 16 a. from Petre from 1560. (fn. 191) He died in 1590 leaving to his youngest son Edward his house in Montacute, a property which he had in fact conveyed to Edward two years earlier. (fn. 192) Possibly this was the manor-house of Hide: the identifiable lands of that manor lay in the area where Montacute House stands, and tradition places the site of the old house near the present stable block. (fn. 193)
During the 16th century changes had occurred in the husbandry of the parish, partly related to the tenurial changes of the period. Until shortly before the Dissolution, much of the priory's demesne lands had been devoted to sheep-farming, (fn. 194) but when they were divided between individual tenants some of the pasture grounds were ploughed to grow corn. Several lawsuits ensued when the lay impropriator claimed tithe, as anciently due from corn crops. (fn. 195) Some of the former demesne was evidently still under arable about 1632 and the then owner, Sir Robert Phelips, was being encouraged to plough more in order to increase his income. (fn. 196)
Including Hide manor and rents in Yeovil it was worth over £341 a year. 'Pyte' and 'Shortegrove' were worth £65 a year and could support 400 sheep. St. Michael's hill, Batemoor, Hamdon, and other lands were worth £100 a year, and 120 a. were cultivated, half producing rye and wheat, and half barley, beans, and oats. The surveyor considered that a further £300 could be made by putting more down to corn. The old monastic pastures including 'Witcombes', and others near the abbey site, were worth £83 and more, and could be put to better use to support oxen, cows, horses, and young stock. Costs of manuring and husbandry were put at 100 marks. (fn. 197)
Little material has survived for the next two centuries to show how the Phelipses farmed their estates, but there are rentals from 1705. (fn. 198) These strongly suggest that most of the property was farmed directly or by under-tenants: rents in 1705 came from a large number of small tenants, the most substantial paying only £2 8s. By 1756 the rental totalled £44 13s. 3d., from 77 tenants, and in 1801 both rental and the number of tenants had decreased slightly, to £39 7s. from 74 tenants. But by this time it is clear from other sources that most of the Phelips estate was being farmed in large units, some of it by leasehold tenants. By 1782 the estate was over 1,748 a. in extent. The largest unit, later Abbey farm, was technically in hand, but was let to John Wilton, as under-tenant, and comprised 612 a. John Hooper and John Trask held the later Windmill (133 a.) and Gaundle (123 a.) farms by similar tenure. Bagnell farm, measuring 98 a., was leased to William Rodbard for lives. The lord of the manor had 218 a. in hand which he farmed direct. There were several other holdings of 20–30 a. which were held on leases for lives or for annual rents. (fn. 199) From 1797 onwards this tenurial pattern was somewhat changed, holdings formerly in hand, such as Gaundle and Hide farms, being leased to the tenants for terms of years. (fn. 200) This process continued so that by 1836 William Phelips had only Abbey and Bagnell farms and some scattered lands in hand. (fn. 201) Less than thirty years later these, too, were let. (fn. 202) The Phelips family gradually sold their estates in the parish in the first decades of the 20th century. Abbey farm, the largest unit, was sold in 1918 (fn. 203) and by 1929 the estate amounted to only 303 a., including two small farms and scattered lands. (fn. 204)
The dominance of one landowner in the parish in the 18th century and later allowed inclosure to be made privately. Grazing in the common fields was mentioned in 1734, (fn. 205) but the rapid emergence of consolidated farms towards the end of the century indicates the disappearance of such rights. The names of the large open fields still survived at the end of the century, their number indicating a system of agriculture still practised at the time in Tintinhull. (fn. 206) The balance of cultivation in the parish, at least by 1825, was in favour of grassland, the southern half being almost exclusively such. (fn. 207) By 1905 964 a. were devoted to grass, 477 a. to arable, and 94 a. to woodland. (fn. 208) This pattern has continued into the 1970s.
Agriculture, however, was not the predominant interest in Montacute, either in the early 19th century or probably for the previous two centuries. Of 237 families in the parish in 1821, only 92 were engaged in it. (fn. 209) Others were quarrymen and clothworkers.
Sandstone from Hamdon or Ham Hill has been quarried for building and other purposes at least since Roman times, though most of the workings were in the parishes of Stoke and Norton. (fn. 210) Local stone was used almost exclusively for building until the 20th century. (fn. 211) No express reference to medieval quarries in Montacute has been found, though a freemason from the parish occurs in 1499, (fn. 212) and Thomas Wilkins of Montacute in 1540 left to John Morley, mason, his workshop in the quarries at Hamdon. (fn. 213) More specific information occurs in the 17th century. In 1625 Sir Robert Phelips leased land measuring 20 ft. by 40 ft., 'newly bounded out' on Ham Hill, within the parish, adjoining the 'east part of the quarrs', to make two quarries. (fn. 214) The lessee, Richard Frye of Stoke, who paid 12d. a year, was given 'liberty to lay his rubbish in the waste ground of Norton Hill.' By 1697 nine quarries were being worked in the manor. John Clarke had three and three were in hand. These all seem to have been 18ft. square, and the annual rent was usually £6. (fn. 215)
There was a succession of masons in the village in the 18th century, notably three generations of the Hann family, and two each of the Newtons and the Geards. (fn. 216) In 1838 there seems to have been only one quarry, occupied by John Trask, tenant of of Abbey farm, (fn. 217) but there was evidently a considerable expansion of stone-working in the later 19th century. In 1861 there were four stonemasons resident in the village, and two years later six quarries were being worked, five belonging to the lord of the manor. (fn. 218) Three years later two more had been opened, (fn. 219) and a total of twelve was in production by 1875. (fn. 220) Eli Williams, tenant of one of Phelips's quarries in 1863, had in twelve years become a quarry-owner himself. (fn. 221) A decline set in fairly rapidly at the end of the century. There were four stone-masons in the parish in 1897, but only one by 1902. (fn. 222) By 1910 the surviving quarries were being worked by the Ham Hill and Doulting Stone Co., who themselves were taken over by the United Stone Firms Ltd. before 1914. One quarry owner and stone-merchant was still in business in 1919, supplying several kinds of stone in addition to that found locally. (fn. 223) Clearly the quarries themselves had largely been worked out and by 1968 were virtually closed.
From about 1592 until 1641 Montacute was the home of two generations of bell-founders, Robert Wiseman and his son William. Robert evidently began his work at Thorn Coffin, but died as 'of Montacute' in 1619. (fn. 224) Thirty-four of his bells survive in Somerset, mostly in the south of the county, and examples are also found in Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, and Monmouthshire. His son, William, was active as a bell-founder between 1622 and 1641. Twelve of his bells survive in Somerset and others in Dorset and Wiltshire. (fn. 225)
At least two traders issued tokens in the parish during the 17th century, (fn. 226) one, John Clothier, probably being related to the Anthony Clothier, pewterer, who occurs in 1664. (fn. 227) John Fathers, brazier and potfounder, occurs in 1659 and a namesake, either son or grandson, with the same occupation in 1742. (fn. 228) Throughout the 18th century various branches of the cloth industry were to be found in the parish, notably makers of saddle-girths, known as 'girt web weavers'. The trade was apparently dominated by the Geard family. John Geard or Gard occurs in 1705. (fn. 229) A descendant Jesse Geard sailcloth-maker, was one of the leading Baptists in the parish. (fn. 230) Linen-weavers, clothiers, flaxdressers, leather-traders, and glovers were also at work in Montacute throughout the 18th century. (fn. 231) Thomas Shoel wrote in 1803 of 'nimble spinners', the 'neat gloveress', the leather-dresser, cooper, and cobbler in the parish where 'trade in various shapes her fingers plies'. (fn. 232) It is clear, however, that in the 19th century the manufactures of Montacute declined. There was still a canvas-maker in 1875 and a rope manufacturer in 1883; a chamois-leatherdresser worked there at least until 1927, and a gloveknife-maker until 1919. (fn. 233) Messrs. Taunton and Thorne, glove manufacturers, were established in the village by 1923 and were still in production in 1968, and some gloving is still practised in private homes. The village, however, by the end of the 19th century was predominantly agricultural. It lay in a fairly prosperous district (fn. 234) but was the scene of the first and several subsequent annual demonstrations of agricultural workers organized from 1872 by a local worker, George Mitchell, in support of the activities of Joseph Arch. (fn. 235)
Poverty, according to Shoel, 'here seldom holds her melancholy reign'. (fn. 236) This was a romantic rather than a realistic statement. Evidence of regular payments to paupers has survived from 1636. (fn. 237) In 1662 the overseers disbursed £18 6s. 6d. to eleven paupers. By 1707 £28 18s. was paid out in sums usually of a shilling a week. In 1732 £69 19s. 2d. was raised and nearly £48 spent; eight years later over £56 had to be found. By 1750 the rate had fallen, but within the next quarter-century the figure for expenditure had doubled, in 1776 standing at over £110. The figure rose to nearly £367 by 1803, (fn. 238) though there were violent fluctuations during the period. In 1797–8, for example, over £354 was spent, but in the following year only £179. (fn. 239) In 1803 41 people were being permanently relieved, all in their own homes, and 47 were relieved occasionally. (fn. 240) The highest figure was achieved in 1819 when £783 was spent on the poor. Thereafter the figure fluctuated between £340 and £450. (fn. 241)
A fair on Hamdon Hill and a market in the borough formed part of the count of Mortain's foundation grant to the priory. (fn. 242) The fair still existed in the early 12th century, but its subsequent history belongs more properly to Stoke. (fn. 243)
In 1246 the Crown granted the priory an annual three-day fair at St. Michael's chapel, on the site of the castle, to be held on the eve, feast, and morrow of St. Edward's Day (13th October). (fn. 244) This fair was worth 5s. in 1302–3, (fn. 245) but apparently lapsed in the 16th century. (fn. 246) During the 18th century a fair was held annually on 6 May; it was widely known as a market for leather, but sheep and cattle were also sold there. (fn. 247) Known as the 'May Fair', it was still held as late as 1936, but at least from the later 19th century had been organized largely to raise funds for local charities. (fn. 248)
The count of Mortain granted his market to Montacute priory c. 1102. (fn. 249) In 1302–3 it was worth only 13s. 4d. (fn. 250) Leland described it as a 'poor market'. (fn. 251) There were two shops and two separate shambles in the market-place in 1540, (fn. 252) two shops and three shambles in 1566. (fn. 253) By 1608 there was only one set of shambles and the shops were soon afterwards converted to an inn. (fn. 254) A market was apparently held as late as 1732. (fn. 255)
There was a mill in Montacute in 1086 paying 50d. (fn. 256) It was presumably the same as that granted to the priory c. 1102. (fn. 257) This may be identified with Park mill, on the priory demesne, which stood on a small stream at the north-western end of High wood, near the junction of streams from Pit wood and Bagnell farm. (fn. 258) In 1539 the property passed out of the hands of the monks and in the following year was held by Joan Frensshe as a copyhold tenement of the 'manor' of Montacute Forum. (fn. 259) The mill was subsequently tenanted from 1559 by John Alford, by 1608 by William Baron, (fn. 260) and by 1655 at least until 1662 by Edward Bayly. (fn. 261) In 1663 Richard Cox was tenant, from 1690 Anne Cox, and a Mr. Cox in 1706. (fn. 262) William Dibble occupied the mill in 1764. (fn. 263) It was then one of the three water-grist-mills which were part of the manorial estate. (fn. 264) The mill had apparently gone out of use by 1825, though the name was retained in Park Mill House, (fn. 265) later known as Park Mill Cottages. (fn. 266)
There was evidently at least one other water-mill in Montacute in the Middle Ages. In 1350 it was leased out by the owners, James Husee and his wife. (fn. 267) A grist mill, known as Clare's mill, and pasture called Mill Ham were held as of Montacute Forum from 1534 at least until 1566 by Thomas Norman. (fn. 268) It was still part of the same estate in 1608. (fn. 269) About 1631 a mill was attached to the manor of Hide; it was evidently near the farm buildings, since about 1700 Mill close was associated with the farm-house. (fn. 270) In 1638 Brook mill was also part of that manor. (fn. 271) Both were presumably still in existence in 1732, and with Park mill made up the three water-grist-mills on the estate. (fn. 272)
In 1560 Thomas Phelips held a windmill of Montacute manor. (fn. 273) About 1700 three fields forming part of Hide farm were called respectively Little, Lower, and Higher Windmill. (fn. 274) The name Windmill farm is still retained, and may point to a windmill on the higher ground to the north of the village.
The convent of Montacute was quit of both shire and hundred courts at least from Henry II's time, and by 1275–6 their jurisdiction was described as a free manor. (fn. 275) No court rolls have survived for the Middle Ages but by 1566 two courts baron and two lawdays were held separately for the borough and the manor in the guildhall. (fn. 276) By the mid 18th century, when court papers survive for 1734–40, 1755, and 1778, (fn. 277) one court was held annually, described as court leet and baron. The court had jurisdiction over the borough and over the tithings of Bishopston, Witcombe, and Hide, and appointed a constable, bailiff, and water bailiff for the manor. The tithingmen held office in rotation. The borough appointed its own constable, bailiff, and water bailiff. Two waywardens and a hayward were answerable to the manor court. Courts survived at least until c. 1790. (fn. 278)
Early in the 19th century a select vestry of 7 or 8 members took over the functions of the manor court. In 1829 one man was assistant overseer, surveyor of the highways, and vestry clerk. (fn. 279) His functions were later divided, two surveyors being appointed in 1851. There were two surveyors until 1863 and one elected annually at least until 1882.
Accounts of the overseers of the poor have survived from 1636. By 1741 the parish was supporting a poorhouse for which, two years later, the overseers provided bedsteads. (fn. 280) By 1780 the house was in New Lane; (fn. 281) it was still there in 1838, divided into several tenements. (fn. 282) Since only out-relief was given by 1803 it is likely that these tenements had for long been leased to paupers at low rents. (fn. 283) The parish became part of the Yeovil poor-law union in 1836. (fn. 284)
Exemption from payment of secular dues for ½ hide of land in Montacute in 854 may be an indication that the abbey of Glastonbury, the owners, had established a church there. (fn. 285) No church is mentioned in Domesday, though the later story of the Invention of the Holy Cross refers to a priest and a sexton. (fn. 286) A church, dedicated to St. Peter, had certainly been established by c. 1102, when it became the church of the newly-founded Cluniac priory there. (fn. 287) The monastic church, c. 1155 dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, (fn. 288) is the only one mentioned in a charter no later than 1166. (fn. 289) Between 1174 and 1180 a chapel dedicated to St. Catherine in the monks' burial place, was confirmed to the priory. (fn. 290) It subsequently became the parish church and the chaplains who served the cure paid the monks a pension of a mark. (fn. 291) Subsequently, rectors were apparently appointed until the church was appropriated and a vicarage ordained in 1238. (fn. 292) Either the monastic church or the parish church was burned c. 1207. (fn. 293)
The advowson of the rectory and subsequently of the vicarage belonged to Montacute priory until the Dissolution. The French wars and the consequent seizure of their estates brought the advowson temporarily into the hands of William Montacute, earl of Salisbury, who presented in 1349 and 1350. (fn. 294) The Crown presented in similar circumstances in 1371, 1374, and 1399. (fn. 295) After the Dissolution the advowson presumably passed to the Crown. In 1549 William Perye of Membury (Devon) and John Kyte of Stockland (Devon), probably acting as Crown agents, granted the advowson to Thomas Cogan, a Montacute merchant. (fn. 296) Thomas Cogan of Manchester in 1598 settled the property on his cousin Robert Cogan the younger, a London clothworker, though Robert's father apparently took it over, and settled the advowson with the rectory income on his younger son, John. (fn. 297) It seems likely that Robert's father won the Chancery suit which ensued: (fn. 298) Robert Cogan presented in 1618, Richard Prigg, clerk, by grant from Cogan in 1639. (fn. 299) Meanwhile, in the previous year, Cogan, then of Gillingham (Dors.), sold both rectory and advowson to Roger Norton, a London stationer. (fn. 300) Norton's widow presented in 1665. (fn. 301) Their son, also Roger, made over the property to his brother Ambrose in 1676. Ambrose sold it in the same year to Thomas (later Sir Thomas) Fowle, a London goldsmith. (fn. 302) Fowle's son, Edward, of Manningford Abbots (Wilts.), sold his interest to Thomas Fowle of Charlton by Upavon (Wilts.) in 1698. (fn. 303) It remained in the Fowle family for the next eighty years, though the bishop presented in 1750. (fn. 304) In 1781 Edward Phelips, lord of the manor, purchased the rectory and advowson, (fn. 305) and it thereafter descended with the manor. From 1928 it was vested in trustees, and since 1967–8 has been in the gift of the bishop. (fn. 306)
The value of the rectory in 1291 was £10, (fn. 307) and in 1302–3 and 1428 it was assessed at the same sum. (fn. 308) By 1535, however, this had fallen to £6, of which tithes and casuals produced £5. (fn. 309) About 1625 the parsonage was valued at about £57, a rise partly due to the conversion of pasture to arable in the parish, (fn. 310) since the income was derived entirely from tithes of corn on all lands except the former priory demesne and the manor of Hide. (fn. 311) The parsonage was divided about 1644, and remained in the hands of several individuals until acquired by Sir Edward Phelips in 1682. (fn. 312) The Phelips estate was still charged with over £51 in rectorial tithe in 1929. (fn. 313)
The income of the vicarage under the ordination of 1238 comprised the small tithes of the priory demesne, oblations and obventions in the dependent chapels in the castle and on Hamdon Hill, (fn. 314) a corrody in the priory, obventions from the whole parish, and the tithes of corn and all other produce on the estate called 'la Hyde'. (fn. 315) The income so produced was assessed at £5 in 1291 (fn. 316) and 1428. (fn. 317) By 1535 this had risen to £8 9s. 11d. clear, and included a pension of £4 from the prior, probably in lieu of the corrody. (fn. 318) This pension was still payable from the parsonage estate in 1638. (fn. 319) During the Interregnum there was a plan to augment the benefice by £60, (fn. 320) and to unite it with Lufton and part of Sock Dennis. (fn. 321) By 1668 the value was said to be £30. (fn. 322) The living was augmented in 1784, (fn. 323) and by 1809 its value was £127 2s. 7d. (fn. 324) In 1831 it was returned as £186 (fn. 325) and by 1851 £202. (fn. 326)
Tithes and oblations of the vicarage were valued together in 1535 at £5 1s. 11d. (fn. 327) The tithes in 1626 were described as all those from Hide manor, and hay, hemp, and small tithes from the rest of the parish, except the former demesne lands of the priory. (fn. 328) In 1838 these were converted to a rentcharge of £191 10s. (fn. 329) The income from this source averaged £126 about 1910. (fn. 330)
In 1238 the vicar was assigned a barn formerly belonging to the rector, together with half the site between the wall of an old barn and the end wall of a house next the gateway into the rector's yard. The grant of a corrody in the priory indicates that no other residence was provided. (fn. 331) The land held by the vicar in 1626, the only glebe then held apart from the vicarage house and buildings, was probably acquired later. (fn. 332) There were just over 4 a. of glebe in 1838, (fn. 333) valued a little later at £10. (fn. 334) By 1948 3 a. of glebe were still held. (fn. 335)
In 1626 the vicar had a house, barn, and stable. (fn. 336) About 1705 the house was 'tumbling quite down', and for some time previously had been used to house the poor during a long sequestration. (fn. 337) It was replaced in 1715 by the then vicar, John Mowrie. (fn. 338) In 1827 it was said to be 'very dilapidated', and the vicar could not live there. (fn. 339) A faculty for its removal was granted in the following year, though it was not demolished, and still stands, opposite the church, on the corner of Bishopston and Middle Street. (fn. 340) It is a symmetrical two-storeyed Ham stone building of five bays, reached through a gateway with ball finials. The present vicarage house was evidently built in 1828, complete with stables and gig house, at the northern end of the village. (fn. 341)
Only one of the medieval incumbents of Montacute, Thomas Chard (vicar 1504–7), has any claim to distinction, as prior of Montacute and bishop of Selymbria. (fn. 342) Thomas Freke, instituted in 1520, survived successive crises during the Reformation period, and was still vicar in 1554. (fn. 343) Thomas Budd (vicar from 1639) (fn. 344) was evidently removed from the living after 1651. (fn. 345) In 1657, while resident at Ash, he was accused of organizing treasonable meetings. (fn. 346) Charles Darby and John Oliver (fn. 347) are said to have been ejected from the benefice. Darby was described as an 'after conformist', and later taught at Martock. (fn. 348) For several years before 1699 Henry Gifford (vicar 1677–1708) absented himself from the parish because of the small income of the benefice, and the vicar of Mudford was paid by Lady Phelips to take the Sunday service. (fn. 349) In 1815 the vicar, William Langdon, was only occasionally resident, because of illness. His curate, who had two other charges, held one service each Sunday at Montacute. (fn. 350) By 1827 there were services at 11 o'clock and 2 o'clock each Sunday. (fn. 351) Holy Communion was celebrated six times a year by 1840, and two sermons were preached every Sunday. The vicar catechized the children in Sunday school. (fn. 352) On Census Sunday, 1851, the congregation numbered 270 in the morning and 375 in the afternoon, each service being attended by 200 Sunday-school pupils. (fn. 353) Two sermons each Sunday were still the rule, but Holy Communion was celebrated eight times a year. (fn. 354)
The revenues of a ½ burgage and a dovecot supported a light in the parish church by 1548. (fn. 355) The church rented 2¾ burgages in the borough in 1566, some of which perhaps served as the church house. (fn. 356) The church house still existed in 1614. (fn. 357) The parishioners held a burgage in 1649, together with the parish barn. (fn. 358)
The parish church of ST. CATHERINE consists of a chancel with south vestry, nave, with north and south transepts, a two-storeyed north porch, a 'curious extra porch or lobby' (fn. 359) between porch and north transept, and a west tower. The only recognizable features which survive from the first church, built perhaps c. 1170, are the Norman chancel arch, one of the brackets supporting the present organ loft, and the re-set voussoirs of an enriched arch in the north wall of the nave. The chancel arch is of three unmoulded orders resting on shafts with scalloped capitals. The church was evidently enlarged at the end of the 13th century, the chancel, transepts, and north porch being of this date; the porch has a later vault. The side walls and east end of the chancel contain three-light windows with much-restored plate tracery. There is a similar but less altered window in the south wall of the south transept, and both transepts contain singlelight lancets. South of the chancel arch is a squint between chancel and transept, and there are blocked rood-loft openings at a higher level. The nave, of four bays with Perpendicular windows, was evidently remodelled in the 15th or early 16th century. The west tower is of three stages with carved quatrefoil bands between them, as well as to the plinth and parapet. These bands, the buttresses, and the west doorway have much in common with similar features at the priory gatehouse, suggesting that the tower may date from the first quarter of the 16th century. (fn. 360) The windows have Perpendicular tracery with pierced stonework of the Somerset type at the belfry stage. The tower arch is lined with carved panelling. The lobby between the porch and the north transept, which has similar panelling, may have been built to give separate access to the transept after it became a Phelips chapel; in 1969 the lobby was used as a baptistry and contained the 15thcentury font. A square-headed window in the east wall of the south transept carries a carved bracket on its central mullion, perhaps connected with the light which was endowed in the church by 1548.
The north transept contains monuments to the Phelips family, including four recumbent effigies. The earliest is claimed to represent David Phelips (d. 1484). Two are unidentified and the fourth, which is surmounted by a canopy, has effigies of Thomas Phelips (d. 1590) and his wife. A classical wall monument commemorates Sir Edward Phelips (d. 1699) and his wife (d. 1728).
A vestry was built on the south side of the chancel in 1864. In 1870–1 the church was much restored by Henry Hall of London. (fn. 361) The chancel received particular attention and it was probably at this time that the 16th-century texts which adorn the reredos and flanking niches were re-set and partly re-cut. In the churchyard are the remains of a 15th-century cross, with tapered shaft and square base, and also what appears to be the base of a stone pulpit of similar date, perhaps removed in 1870–1 when the present stone and brass pulpit was erected. (fn. 362)
The oldest piece of plate is a cup and cover of silver gilt, dated 1573 and made by 'I.P.' A pair of silver gilt candlesticks, dated 1691, was presented to the church in 1796; and there are two patens of 1713 and an oblong salver and ewer of 1724. (fn. 363) There are six bells: (i) 1901, Mears and Stainbank; (ii) 1619, Robert Wiseman of Montacute; (fn. 364) (iii) 1610, Wiseman; (iv) 1614, Wiseman; (v) 1810, Mears; (vi) 1733, William Knight. (fn. 365) The registers begin in 1558 but are incomplete. (fn. 366)
The tradition of nonconformity in Montacute is closely linked both with the artisan community in the village, and also with several ejected ministers who settled in the area. A group of Baptists was meeting in the village as early as 1656. (fn. 367) Josiah Banger, ejected from Broadhembury (Devon), settled at Montacute, and another ejected minister, Thomas Willis, formerly rector of Heathfield, was minister of a Congregational group licensed to meet at Montacute in 1672. (fn. 368) A group of Presbyterians, meeting at the house of William Hooper, was licensed in the same year. (fn. 369) A few years earlier, in c. 1668, a Roman Catholic priest is said to have been active in the parish. (fn. 370)
Six licences for nonconformist meetings issued between 1698 and 1720 do not specify a denomination, but they indicate continuity until a flourishing Presbyterian cause emerged from 1752. Six licences for Presbyterian meetings were issued in the next ten years. In addition, in 1733, William Isaac was allowed to use his house for Quaker meetings. (fn. 371)
From 1758 onwards meetings of Baptists were revived. The first, described as Anabaptist, was in the house of Samuel Geard, weaver, and the second, in 1760, in that of John Harris, mason. (fn. 372) Baptists in Montacute now formed their own church, having previously been members of South Street church, Yeovil. (fn. 373) About 1770 a barn was fitted up as a place for worship, and services were conducted by the deacons of the Yeovil Baptist church. (fn. 374) No further licences have survived until the 19th century, but continuity was probably maintained through the Geard family. In 1815 a barn, tenanted by Samuel Geard, was 'newly fitted up' for Particular Baptists. (fn. 375)
In 1822 fourteen Montacute people were baptized at Yeovil with a view to the foundation of a new church at Montacute. (fn. 376) Jesse Geard, a sailcloth manufacturer, obtained a lease on a cottage in Townsend in 1824 for Particular Baptists. (fn. 377) In 1830 the cottage was demolished and the first chapel was built on its site. (fn. 378) An adjoining property, later the Shoemakers Arms, was acquired as a manse. (fn. 379) In 1851 this chapel accommodated 350, of which 280 seats were free. The average congregation was 180 for morning and afternoon services and 300 for evening meetings. Sunday-school children numbered 90, 90, and 40 at these respective services. Attendances were said to depend a good deal on the weather, since some of the congregation came from a distance. (fn. 380)
The foundation stone of the Baptist chapel used in 1968, on the east side of South Street, was laid in 1879, and the building, designed by Morgan H. Davies, was opened in the following year. (fn. 381) The chapel accommodates 250, and there are 13 members. (fn. 382)
Wesleyan Methodism came to Montacute in 1814 when the house of Joseph Fowler, glover, was licensed through the minister of South Petherton. (fn. 383) A chapel was thought later to have been erected about 1817; (fn. 384) a licence issued for a chapel in 1843 may have been for a new chapel, or for an altered building. (fn. 385) The site of the chapel is not exactly known, though it may possibly be identified with the meeting-house on the west side of South Street held by Thomas Isaac in 1838. (fn. 386) In 1851 the chapel seated 86 people, with standing room for a further 40. On Census Sunday there were services in the morning attended by 40 and in the evening by 60. Normally only one service was held, in the evening, with Sunday school in the afternoon. (fn. 387) The chapel was still in use in 1875, but by 1883 the Methodist cause in the village had apparently been abandoned. (fn. 388)
In 1603 William Pester was licensed to teach Latin grammar and English in the parish. (fn. 389) By 1818 about 200 poor children were taught at a Sunday school established and supported by Mrs. Phelips of Montacute House, who also provided money to help clothe the pupils. (fn. 390) This school was still in existence in 1835, when 160 children attended, (fn. 391) and was still wholly supported by Mrs. Phelips. (fn. 392) A second Sunday school, supported by the Baptist chapel, was established in 1825, and was open ten years later. (fn. 393) By 1835 there were also two small day-schools, both supported by pupils' parents; one was for 28 boys, the other for 25 boys and girls. (fn. 394) One of these presumably occupied the building at the north end of the Borough, now known as the Chantry and in 1835 as the School House. (fn. 395) Another school was held in Smith's Row. (fn. 396)
By 1846 two schools, one held on Sundays the other in the evenings, were being supported by the National Society. The Sunday school had 79 boys and 111 girls on its books, the evening school 29 boys and 32 girls. Both schools were under the same paid master, and 9 male and 11 female teachers gave their services. (fn. 397) The Sunday school continued, having 200 pupils in 1851. (fn. 398)
In 1847 the main part of the present school was opened under the auspices of the National Society. (fn. 399) The original building comprised only two classrooms. A playground and offices were added in 1893 and a new classroom in 1895–6. (fn. 400) Further property was purchased in 1928, and gardens were held on lease from 1935. (fn. 401) In 1883 there were 147 children on the books, with an average attendance of 112. (fn. 402) After the extension of the buildings there was accommodation for 190 children. (fn. 403) In 1903, however, it was stated that 100 boys and girls and 48 infants could be taken, though there were only 68 and 48 respectively on the roll, with an average attendance of 109. (fn. 404) By 1938 average attendance was 85, and two years later senior pupils were transferred to Stoke sub Hamdon. (fn. 405) In 1969 there were 58 children on the books. (fn. 406)
Evening continuation classes under the headmaster were being held by 1903 on two nights each week during the winter months, at a cost to the pupils of 1d. per night. In the class, which was still held in 1921 and catered for young workers employed at the Tintinhull glove factory, arithmetic, reading, writing, drawing, and singing were at first taught. In 1907 singing was replaced by Geography. (fn. 407)
In 1868 it was reported that education was 'generally very well taken care of in the parish'. The vicar declared he had 'an excellent school in the parish, so good as to attract artizans' children from other parishes'. Very few children had never been to school at all. (fn. 408) The first inspector's report (1903) described the school as 'well up to date', and the infants in particular were 'skilfully handled and taught'. In that year the school was absorbed into the local education authority system, and from 1907 has been known as Montacute C. of E. School. (fn. 409)
Charities for the Poor.
In 1565 there was an alms-house near the church then called 'Julian Kymer's house', adjoining the 'almarye barn'. (fn. 410) In the following year there were two properties, one described as 'a house formerly (in the time of the prior) used as the alms-house' and the other as the 'former alms-house once held by Thomas Kymer'. (fn. 411)
Sir Edward Phelips, who had acted as paymaster for money given to the parish by Richard Sherwin (d. ante 1679) to bind two girls in domestic service, by will dated 1699 bequeathed £50 for binding out two poor children. The accrued interest was paid in 1714 and three children were bound apprentice. The interest was paid until 1719 (fn. 412) but there is no trace thereafter.
By deed of trust dated 1882 a capital sum of £50 bequeathed to the Female Friendly Society of Montacute, by then defunct, by Robert Donne of Odcombe, was invested by the vicar and churchwardens to support any Friendly Society in the parish or to provide clothing, fuel, medicine, or food. (fn. 413) By 1891 the endowment was just under £100 and the interest in 1966 was £2 9s. 8d. (fn. 414) Until 1919 the distributions were usually in coal and for some few years afterwards in tea. (fn. 415) In 1971 it was distributed in cash. (fn. 416)
Miss Edith Ellen Phelips of Cheltenham, sister of W. R. Phelips, by will proved 1920, left £100 in trust for the Anglican poor. (fn. 417) A capital sum of nearly £146 was invested, yielding £5 16s. 10d. each year. The first distribution was made in vouchers for goods to the value of 10s. and 5s. (fn. 418) In 1971 it was distributed in cash.