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 Aller, known often in the 14th century as King's Aller, (fn. 1) had an area of 3,605 a. in 1901, (fn. 2) of which 555 a. were allotted to Aller from King's Sedgemoor in 1792. (fn. 3)
The parish lies 2½ miles west from Langport and 9 miles south-east from Bridgwater. It is highly irregular in shape, stretching 4½ miles from north to south, 2½ miles from east to west, but is only ⅓ mile in breadth at the edge of King's Sedgemoor in the north. The boundary to the south and southwest with Curry Rivel and Stoke St. Gregory is formed by the river Parrett, with the exception of Oath, an elliptical addition across the river. The original northern boundary at Beer Wall follows the river Cary, and that to the north-east and east a ridgeway along the summit of Aller hill.
The high ground in the parish known as Aller hill lies on the Keuper Marl along its eastern limit, the highest point being 325 ft. near Beer. Aller 'island' in the centre of the parish and Oath hill across the Parrett to the south are outcrops of Keuper Marl, but most of the parish, comprising the 'moors', lies on the alluvium. (fn. 4)
In addition to the Cary and Parrett the 'moors' are drained by a complex system of rhines, the construction of which dates from the 14th century. (fn. 5) The parish is protected from flood by the Great Wall or Aller Wall along its southern boundary, by Callis Wall on the west, and Beer Wall to the north, all evidently medieval in origin. (fn. 6) Standing on the edge of the 'moors', the parish presents a somewhat bleak and isolated aspect, particularly in winter with periodic flooding. In c. 1583 Francis Hastings found 'no great cause of commendation of the site because it standeth low and unsavoury by reason of the ditches of the moor'. (fn. 7) A rector, Ralph Cudworth, wrote in 1618 that 'the air is very bad, especially in the spring, so that I have been often in danger of death by reason of agues, etc., which makes me desirous to remove'. (fn. 8) To Camden it was 'a little village of few small huts'. (fn. 9)
The original settlement was probably made in the area of Aller Court Farm on Aller 'island', where the parish church also stands, but the village developed along the lower slopes of Aller hill between the 25 ft. and 50 ft. contours. By the later 16th century much of its present area was already built up, (fn. 10) further expansion being restricted by the open arable fields, the 'moors', and the steepness of Aller hill. By the 19th century improved drainage had led to the erection of houses south-west of the village along Church Path, and cottages were also built on the steep slope at Penny Hill, (fn. 11) although a number of these were derelict in 1972. Most of the manorial tenement farms lay on either side of the main street in the village. (fn. 12) On the south side at the Cross Tree stands the White Lion public house. This was first built on a plot of waste in 1571, (fn. 13) had become one of two tippling houses in the parish by 1653, (fn. 14) and was known by its present name in 1756. (fn. 15)
At Oath settlement had developed around the north-western and south-eastern limits of the hill by the 16th century, (fn. 16) although none of the present dwellings exhibits any early features. Two farms at Beer are recorded from the early 14th century, (fn. 17) and references in 1322 to Nicholas and William of Bagenham and Robert le Coumbe (fn. 18) suggest that the sites of Bagenham Farm, on the western boundary with Othery, and Combe Farm, on the eastern boundary with Huish, had already been settled. From a tenement called the Boathouse near Bagenham there was a ferry by 1561 across the rhine dividing Aller from Othery. (fn. 19) In 1653 it was stated that a temporary bridge was annually laid over this rhine at Pathe for the removal of hay from Aller moor, but that at all other times the ferryman might charge for passages. (fn. 20) Improved drainage during the 19th century also enabled the building of Withybed (now Willow) Farm on the banks of the Parrett opposite Stathe to the south, and also Longstone Farm in Aller Great drove. (fn. 21) Modern dwellings have been erected on individual plots in the village, principally in Beer Road.
The main road through the parish, known initially as the Street in c. 1577, and in the 19th century as South Street or Langport Street, (fn. 22) enters Aller in the east from Langport, runs below Aller hill through the site of South field and the village to the Cross Tree. Thence as Beer Road it turns northeast through the former North field towards Beer. Finally it bears west from Beer Cross beside Beer Wall, leaving the parish for Othery. This road was turnpiked throughout its length in 1828, a tollgate and house being erected at Plotstream, near the eastern end of the parish, and another soon after at Beer Cross. (fn. 23) Only the former survives. Church Path runs south-west from the Cross Tree, crossing Weir bridge (mentioned in 1761) (fn. 24) to the church and Aller Court Farm. A ridgeway along the summit of Aller hill was described as a procession way in 1572 and 1653, (fn. 25) and was known as Wood Lane by 1885. (fn. 26) Penny Hill Lane runs north-east from the northern end of the village up Aller hill. An elaborate network of droves, all established by c. 1577, (fn. 27) serves the entire area of the 'moors' and also links the village with Pathe and Oath. Oath is reached by a footbridge, mentioned in 1808 and 1811 when it was swept away by floods. (fn. 28)
Arable land within the parish was largely restricted to the Keuper Marl. Of the two open fields attached to Aller manor North field lay immediately north of the village, forming an elongated rectangle on either side of Beer Road. South field lay immediately south-east of the village, stretching from the summit of Aller hill to the north to below the Langport road southwards. (fn. 29) There was a single open field, Beer Court field, in the area of Beer Farm in the north of the parish, (fn. 30) and Oath hill was divided into two open fields, East and West, which served Oath manor by c. 1577. (fn. 31) Early meadowland was more scattered. Open meadows known as Landmeads, mentioned in 1322, (fn. 32) lay along the western edge of the North field and in the South field. (fn. 33) Other meadows mentioned in 1322 but not located were known as 'Nywelondmede' and 'Mormede'. (fn. 34) The remainder of the parish, comprising the low-lying 'moors', was devoted to pasture. The area south of Aller Great drove formed Aller moor; North moor lay south of Beer Wall and west of North field; Leaseway (Lesfee in c. 1577) extended west of North moor and north of Aller Great drove. (fn. 35) Aller wood lies between the former North field and Wood Lane on the upper slopes of Aller hill.
In 1676 a decoy pool was made in Aller moor by five tenants. The lord gave materials for its construction and allowed those tenants royalty for fowling over the 'moor'. In return they were to stock the decoy and render a quarter of all birds taken. (fn. 36) The pool was still there in 1838. (fn. 37)
The houses in the village are principally of 18th and 19th century date, of lias or brick, with thatched or tiled roofs. The Manor House and Chantry Farm have mansard roofs and are both of the 18th century.
Aller Friendly Society, known also as the Aller Schoolhouse Benefit Society, was founded in 1849 and reformed in 1870. It held its annual dinner and club walk on Whit Monday, (fn. 38) but was disbanded in 1940. (fn. 39) The society's banner was held in the church in 1972.
There were 124 communicants in the parish in 1548. (fn. 40) The population was 389 in 1801 and rose gradually to 559 in 1841. It remained relatively stable until 1871 and thereafter, in common with other rural parishes, fell steadily from 533 in that year to 347 in 1911. (fn. 41) The number of inhabitants has changed little during the present century, amounting to 339 in 1961. (fn. 42)
During the Interregnum John Northover, tenant of Aller Court and an ardent royalist, was accused of having supplied two men for the King's army and, on a Sunday evening after church, of inciting the parishioners to join Goring's forces at the siege of Taunton. (fn. 43) After the battle of Langport on 9 July 1645 the royalist army fled to Bridgwater across Aller moor, making a brief stand at Aller Great drove. There they were routed. Many horses 'were lost in the ditches . . . and the riders got into the meadows hoping to escape, but could not'. (fn. 44) Northover was accused of laying a bridge over a rhine to aid their flight. (fn. 45) Sir Thomas Fairfax spent the night after the battle at Aller before proceeding towards Bridgwater. (fn. 46)
Ralph Cudworth (1617–88), son of an Aller rector, was born in the parish and educated by his stepfather, John Stoughton, who had succeeded Cudworth's father as rector. He subsequently became the leader of the Cambridge Platonists and served as Regius Professor of Hebrew from 1645 until his death. His principal work, The True Intellectual System, was published in 1678. (fn. 47)
The manor of ALLER was held by Ulward in 1066 but by the time of Domesday had passed to Ralph de Limesy. (fn. 48) The overlordship evidently descended with the barony of Cavendish (Suff.) to Ralph de Limesy (II) (d. c. 1129) and Ralph's son Alan (d. by 1162). (fn. 49) Alan was succeeded by Gerard (d. by 1185), whose son John de Limesy died without issue in 1193. (fn. 50) The overlordship of the manor passed to his sister Basile, wife of Hugh de Odingselles (d. 1239), for in 1284–6 and 1303 it was held by her grandson Hugh (II) (d. 1305), son of Gerard de Odingselles (d. 1267). (fn. 51) Hugh's son John (I) (d. 1336) held it in 1312, (fn. 52) but subsequently it passed from the Odingselles family to John de Stouford, to whose daughter Joan and her husband William FitzWarren of Brightleigh (Devon) the immediate lord of Aller manor did homage in 1363. (fn. 53) In 1408 homage for the manor was done to Sir Thomas Brook, then stated to have purchased the Odingselles fees in Somerset formerly held by John Brightleigh (d. 1407) son of William FitzWarren. (fn. 54) Brook (d. 1418) still held the overlordship in 1412, (fn. 55) but by 1462 it had passed to John Launcy, evidently in right of his wife Joan, who also held it in 1478. (fn. 56) By 1489 the manor was stated to be held in chief (fn. 57) and by 1496 of the honor of Somerton. (fn. 58) The overlordship has not been traced thereafter.
It is not known when the manor was subinfeudated, but Raher of Aller, whose family subsequently owned the manor, is mentioned between 1166 and 1187, (fn. 59) as is his son Ralph of Aller between 1201 and 1232. (fn. 60) Ralph's son Sir John of Aller (d. c. 1272) presumably held the manor which after his death was divided between his daughters Margaret and Elizabeth. (fn. 61) Margaret married John de Acton (I) and was succeeded by John (II) (d. 1312). (fn. 62) In 1335 John (III) (d. after 1360), son of John (II), granted the remainder, failing male heirs, of his moiety, then known as the manor of ALLER ACTON, to his cousin John of Clevedon, (fn. 63) owner of the second moiety. (fn. 64) Elizabeth, second daughter of Sir John of Aller, married Raymond of Clevedon (d. by 1280) and held the other moiety of the manor in her own right in 1284–6. (fn. 65) By 1303 she had been succeeded by her son Matthew (II) of Clevedon (d. by 1332), during whose tenure the moiety was known as the manor of ALLER CLEVEDON. (fn. 66) Sir Matthew's son Sir John (III) (d. c. 1373), who reunited the two moieties, was succeeded by his granddaughter Margaret (d. 1412), daughter of John of Clevedon (d. before 1348), (fn. 67) and wife successively of Sir John St. Lo (d. 1375) and Sir Peter Courtenay (d. 1405). (fn. 68) She was succeeded by her grandson William, Lord Botreaux (d. 1462), son of her daughter Elizabeth (d. 1389). (fn. 69) Botreaux's widow Margaret (d. 1488) and her second husband Sir Thomas Burgh (d. 1496) retained a life interest in the manor, which passed on their deaths to her great-granddaughter Mary, daughter of Sir Thomas Hungerford and wife of Edward, Lord Hastings (d. 1506). (fn. 70) Lady Hastings subsequently married Richard Sacheverell, who received a life interest in the manor and was still holding it in 1545. (fn. 71)
The manor was known by 1532 as ALLER AND ALLERMOOR, (fn. 72) and from 1589 as ALLER AND ALLER CHANTRY. (fn. 73) The reversion descended to George Hastings (cr. earl of Huntingdon 1529, d. 1545), son of Edward, Lord Hastings, and then to his son Francis (d. 1560). (fn. 74) Thence the manor passed in turn to Francis's sons Henry (d. 1595) and George (d. 1604), the latter being succeeded by his grandson Henry, earl of Huntingdon (d. 1643). (fn. 75) The last sold it to Sir John Davis in 1612, excluding the manor-house, demesne lands, Combe farm, and Aller moor, (fn. 76) and Davis conveyed it to John (later Sir John) Stawell of Cothelstone in 1623. (fn. 77) During the Interregnum Stawell's estates were sequestered, ALLER manor being purchased by Maj.-Gen. Thomas Harrison in 1653. (fn. 78) From Harrison the manor evidently passed to John Aubrey of Low Ham, who conveyed it in 1658 to Walter Long, possibly his father-in-law, and Mary Long, widow. (fn. 79) Sir John Stawell's lands were restored to him at the Restoration, (fn. 80) and after his death in 1662 the manor descended in turn to his sons George (d. 1669) and Ralph (cr. baron Stawell of Somerton 1683, d. 1689). (fn. 81) Ralph's son John, Lord Stawell (d. 1692), encumbered his estates with heavy mortgages and the manor was vested in trustees. (fn. 82) Under a Chancery decree of 1697 it was sold in 1706 to Anne Mowrie of Low Ham and William Harrison of North Petherton. (fn. 83) Many of the manorial lands were sold off soon after this conveyance, the lordship and residue of the estate descending to William Mowrie (d. 1745), son of Anne. (fn. 84) William devised his estate to his nephew John Pyne of Charlton Adam (d. 1791), whose sons William and John sold it to James Hyde in 1793. (fn. 85) Hyde was evidently uncertain whether or not he possessed the manor and in 1830 procured a conveyance of the lordship from John, Lord Sherborne, heir of the Stawell family. (fn. 86) This grant included no lands but led to the Hyde family naming their residence the Manor House. (fn. 87) On James Hyde's death in 1832 his lands in the parish passed to his five sons and eventually to his son Charles. (fn. 88) After the death of Charles's widow in 1879 the 'Aller manor estate' was split up and auctioned in 1880. (fn. 89) The lordship was sold in the following year to T. H. Gent (d. 1898) for £5, and his sons, T. C. and W. F. Gent, conveyed it in 1910 to Aller parish council, the present lords of the manor. (fn. 90) The only property allied to the title from 1880 was the village pound. (fn. 91)
The manor-house is first mentioned in 1312, (fn. 92) and was held with the moiety of Aller Acton in 1322. (fn. 93) The house and demesne lands, known as Aller Court by 1533, were then leased for 70 years to Nicholas Thorne (d. 1546), a Bristol merchant. (fn. 94) Thorne bequeathed the lease to his widow Bridget, (fn. 95) and by 1559 it had passed to Mary, widow of his son Robert Thorne. (fn. 96) Before 1565 it had been assigned to John Wake who transferred it in that year to William Northover. (fn. 97) The Northover family continued to occupy the property during the 17th century. (fn. 98) The freehold was evidently acquired by the Stawell family and sold by their trustees to Sir Thomas Wroth (d. 1721) of North Petherton, being then known as the manors or reputed manors of ALLER AND OATH. (fn. 99) On Wroth's death his estates were divided between his two daughters, the Aller property passing to Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Palmer of Fairfield, Stogursey. (fn. 100) She was succeeded in 1737–8 by her sister Cecily, married first to Sir Hugh Acland (d. 1728) and second to Thomas Troyte. (fn. 101) Thence the manor passed to Cecily's second son, Arthur Acland (d. 1771), and subsequently to his son Sir John Palmer Acland (d. 1823) and to his grandson Sir Peregrine P. F. P. Acland (d. 1871). (fn. 102) Sir Peregrine had evidently settled the property on his son-in-law Sir Alexander Acland-Hood by c. 1860. (fn. 103) Acland-Hood with the Acland trustees sold the farm to the occupier, Henry Munckton (d. 1890) in 1872. (fn. 104) The manorial status of the estate was not mentioned in the conveyance. By Order in Chancery of 1893 the premises were awarded to the surviving holders of Munckton's undischarged mortgage, B. B. Greene and Sir William J. W. Baynes, Bt., who sold the farm to C. R. Morris of North Curry in 1894. (fn. 105) In 1918 Morris's executors conveyed it to their tenant T. H. Jeanes, who sold it to L. S. Garner in 1947. (fn. 106) A year later it was purchased by Mrs. E. M. Haywood who conveyed the farm to the present owner, Mr. P. C. Maltby, in 1969. (fn. 107)
The house was described in 1633 as 'an ancient castlelike house, highly seated in a low place', (fn. 108) but the old building was largely demolished in 1812 and 'a modern farm' built for the tenant. (fn. 109) Both wings of the present farm-house are at least of 17thcentury origin, but the principal range which connects them dates from the Acland rebuilding. The earliest element of the group is the great barn, originally a large medieval domestic building, part at least of two storeys. An outbuilding west of the farm is of c. 1500 and was probably a self-contained house.
There was a manorial chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in which a chantry was founded in 1263 by Sir John of Aller where masses were to be said daily for the souls of his late wife and other members of his family. (fn. 110) The patronage descended with the lordship of Aller manor, passing during the early 14th century with the moiety of Aller Clevedon. (fn. 111) The bishop collated by lapse in 1463, (fn. 112) and the last presentation was made in 1533 by the lessee of Aller Court. (fn. 113) In 1546 the incumbent had a silver chalice, parcel gilt, a pair of vestments, and a corporal with case. (fn. 114) In 1548 the chantry was dissolved, its possessions then being a chalice weighing 19 oz., ornaments, and 40 lb. of bell metal. (fn. 115) The chapel was then roofed with stone. (fn. 116) The lands belonging to the chantry, valued at £6 a year, comprised 42 a. of pasture, 18 a. of arable, and a dwelling-house, all leased. A parlour and chamber in the same house, evidently at one time occupied by the chaplain, were also leased. (fn. 117) The chapel was described as lying 'in the manor of Aller' in 1473, (fn. 118) 'in the base court of the manor place' in 1548, (fn. 119) and was still standing in 1561. (fn. 120) The chantry and its lands were granted in 1550 to Francis, earl of Huntingdon, and Thomas Hazlewood and subsequently formed a leasehold estate within Aller manor now known as Chantry farm. (fn. 121)
Lands in 'Oht' held with Aller property by the Acton family were mentioned in 1288, and Oath hermitage lay in Aller parish in 1328. (fn. 122) A moiety of OATH manor was held by Sir John de Acton (III) in 1346, (fn. 123) indicating that it was then held with Aller. William Mowrie of Low Ham, described as lord of Oath in 1725, (fn. 124) sold the manor to trustees of John and Mary Webb of Wilton in 1732. (fn. 125) Two years later it was held by the widowed Mary Webb for life with remainder to James Syndercombe of Stratton (Dors.). (fn. 126) Syndercombe held the manor in 1741, but by 1743 it had passed to John Broadway of Oath and Langport. (fn. 127) There is evidence of enfranchisement by Broadway in 1743, (fn. 128) although most of Oath remained in possession of his family. No subsequent reference to the manor has been found, but John Broadway held property there in 1791 and was succeeded by Susannah Michell of Langport, probably his daughter, who died c. 1822. (fn. 129) She left her lands at Oath to her nephew Joel Broadway Horsey, with remainder to his sons Joel Broadway and John Horsey. (fn. 130) These sons were holding Oath farm jointly in 1838, when it comprised 99 a. (fn. 131) No manor-house has been traced. Oath Farm, the only likely property, was a copyhold tenement c. 1577. (fn. 132)
Lands in the north-east of the parish probably formed part of the estate or manor of Beer in High Ham in the 13th century. In 1314 Gilbert of Beer, whose family had held lands in High Ham for at least three generations, conveyed to John de Knolton a messuage and two carucates of land in Aller and Beer. (fn. 133) This grant appears to relate to the manor of BEER held by John de Knolton in 1316 and 1322. (fn. 134) John de la Slo conveyed another messuage and two carucates to John de Knolton in 1324, also stated to lie in Aller and Beer. (fn. 135) In 1338 Knolton's son John (II) was stated to hold tenements in Aller of Sir John of Clevedon by knight service, and Beer continued to be held as a freehold of Aller manor at least until c. 1665. (fn. 136)
By 1369 the manor of BEER NEXT ALLER was held by Sir William Bonville. (fn. 137) On Bonville's death in 1408 it passed to his grandson William (cr. Lord Bonville 1449, d. 1461), who settled the manor on his daughter Margaret, wife of Sir William Courtenay (I). (fn. 138) Their eldest son Sir William (II) (d. 1512) defended his title to the manor or manors, then known as BEER AND BURGH or BEER WITH BURGH against his younger brother Peter Courtenay, temp. Henry VII. (fn. 139) The double place-name possibly has its origin in the two separate acquisitions made by John de Knolton (I). (fn. 140) The property passed to James Courtenay (d. 1546), a younger son of Sir William (II), and in 1548 was held by his son James (II) (d. 1592). (fn. 141) On the latter's death his heir was given variously as his son James (III), or brother Edward Courtenay. (fn. 142) By 1599 it was held jointly by James and Sir William Courtenay, (fn. 143) and in 1617 by Sir William Courtenay of Powderham (Devon) and his son Francis. (fn. 144) In 1617 the estate was mortgaged to Simon (later Sir Simon) Leach (I) of Cadleigh (Devon) and others. (fn. 145) By 1630 the freehold had evidently passed to Leach who, at his death in 1637, devised it to his grandson Simon (II) (d. 1660), son of Sir Walter Leach. (fn. 146) The manor was held in 1691 by Sir Simon Leach (III) (d. 1708), son of Simon (II). (fn. 147) It is not mentioned thereafter, although lands formerly of the manor are referred to as late as 1772. (fn. 148)
The two messuages mentioned in the early 14th century formed part of the manor in 1384 and 1391. (fn. 149) One of these probably became the manorhouse known as Beer Court Farm in 1747, (fn. 150) more recently as Beer Farm, and now as Nightingale Farm. By 1747 the farm had been acquired by James Smith (d. 1748) of St. Audries, who left it to his daughter Lavinia, wife of William Fellows. (fn. 151) It was subsequently purchased by William James of Forton, Chard, probably before 1770, (fn. 152) and in 1832 the farm was held by Mrs. James, probably his widow. (fn. 153) By 1838 it had passed to Richard Bridge, (fn. 154) and c. 1860 was owned by George Jeremy of Lea Combe House, Axminster (Devon). (fn. 155) On his death in 1874 Jeremy left the farm to his first cousin, Charlotte Ann, wife of the Revd. A. H. F. Luttrell of Minehead. (fn. 156) It was purchased by W. J. Lockyer from the Luttrells in 1925 and was held by his son Mr. W. E. G. Lockyer in 1972. (fn. 157) The farm-house is a long stone building with a thatched roof. It is at least of 17th-century origin but appears to have been considerably altered internally in the 19th century.
At the time of Domesday Aller manor comprised two hides, of which three virgates were held in demesne and five were cultivated by the tenants. The figures given for the land use of the demesne, 15 a. of meadow, 200 a. of pasture, and 10 a. of wood, indicate that Aller moor was not included in the assessment. There were then 5 villeins, 12 bordars, and 2 serfs on the manor, with 12 beasts, 6 swine, and 16 sheep. (fn. 158)
By 1322, when the manor was held in divided moieties, the number of tenants had increased to 7 freeholders (one holding Beer manor), 22 villeins or customary tenants, and 24 cottars. (fn. 159) Apart from Beer the freeholds were small, producing total rents of 39s. 8d. (fn. 160) By 1573 the number of freeholders had fallen to two, (fn. 161) and by c. 1665 only Beer manor remained. (fn. 162) Of the villeins of 1322 19 held one ferdel each and 3 held half a ferdel. Their customary payments and works accounted for nearly one sixth of the total value of the manor. These works comprised principally labour on the demesne lands for between two and four days a week, although one tenant was obliged to cart the lord's corn in autumn and another carted for the lord up to 20 miles from the manor. Villeins also paid Peter's Pence at Lammas, a rent called beaupleader, and church scot at Martinmas rendered in chickens. The cottars paid rent for their holdings but owed no services. (fn. 163)
The demesne was considerably extended in the years following Domesday. In 1312 the Acton moiety of the demesne comprised the capital messuage, 60 a. of arable, 20 a. of meadow, pasture in severalty, and a granary, valued together at £5 19s. 4d. (fn. 164) By 1322 this moiety had increased in value to £6 11s. 2d., its total extent being estimated at 316 a. (fn. 165) The Clevedon demesne in 1322 totalled 624 a., of which 390 a. represented pasture in the 'moors', the whole being valued at £13 13s. (fn. 166) The income derived from both moieties of the manor at this date totalled £38 1s. 2d. (fn. 167) In 1489 the value is given as 200 marks. (fn. 168)
The recovery and exploitation of the 'moors' is the principal feature of the economy of the parish in the Middle Ages. Until 1234 Aller moor evidently extended westwards into the present parish of Othery, but in that year the abbot of Glastonbury secured a moiety of the 'moor' from Ralph of Aller. Ralph attempted to forestall the inclosure by bribing the abbey steward with 'a most noble cockerel'. (fn. 169) The erection of the Great Wall around Aller moor along the Parrett was probably taking place in 1280, when John de Acton obstructed the towing of boats up river. (fn. 170) Drainage of pasture land evidently began at about that time with the construction of Pathelake, a rhine between Aller and Othery, the maintenance of which was the joint responsibility of Glastonbury abbey and the lord of Aller. (fn. 171) Beer Wall is thought to date from the same period. (fn. 172) Aller moor and North moor were described in c. 1310 as recently inclosed and divided by rhines. (fn. 173) By the 16th century an elaborate system had evolved whereby wall works and fixed sums of wall money for the repair of the Great Wall had been allotted to each individual close of pasture. (fn. 174) A series of 71 leases of closes in Aller moor for 21 years were granted in 1552, all of which placed upon the tenants the responsibility for maintaining rhines around and through their inclosures and for paying a workman to repair the wall for one day each year. (fn. 175) Surveys of the 'moor' at this time show that a significant proportion of the pasture was held by out-dwellers, in many cases from adjacent parishes, but also from as far afield as Ilchester and Chard. (fn. 176)
From 1533 the manor-house and demesnes were let on long leases, (fn. 177) and by 1577 the manor and 'moors' were being administered as separate entities. At that date the manor comprised 612 a., principally arable in the open fields, let for £61 7s. 2½d., and the 'moors' totalled a further 2,028 a. let for £211 16s. (fn. 178) The tenants of the 'moors' were then paying £11 15s. 8d. in wall money and owed 53 days wall work. (fn. 179) In c. 1583 Sir Francis Hastings, representing the interests of his brother the 3rd earl of Huntingdon, stated that the demesne was 'good and large'. The 'moor' he considered 'a very commodious thing', although dependent on the strength of the river wall, which was being repaired after being seriously damaged in the preceding winter. (fn. 180) When the earl's debts mounted in 1592 Hastings so valued the manor that he hoped the earl would 'never so much as once imagine of the sale of Aller'. (fn. 181) But the desperate state of the Huntingdon finances led to the sale of Chantry farm in 1608 (fn. 182) and the manor in 1612, (fn. 183) excluding the 'moor' and other properties which were sold piecemeal in the years up to 1620. (fn. 184)
The manor as purchased by Sir John Davis in 1612 had suffered from neglect owing to delay in completing the transaction. (fn. 185) The 'moor' held with the manor had been reduced to 377 a. although the manorial income, despite enfranchisement, still stood at £274 7s. 0½d. (fn. 186) One of the largest purchasers from the earl of Huntingdon was Sir Edward Hext (d. 1624) of Low Ham, who acquired about 400 a. of meadow and pasture in 1620. (fn. 187) On Hext's death this passed to his son-in-law Sir John Stawell (fn. 188) and was thus reunited with the manor. Most of the 'moor' was subsequently held in fee by the former occupiers, although 626½ a. were still held with the Stawell manor in c. 1665. (fn. 189) This period also saw the rise of the fortunes of the Northover family, occupiers of Aller Court farm by 1565 (fn. 190) and of Chantry farm by c. 1577. (fn. 191) In the absence of resident lords the Northovers became recognized as leaders of the community, purchasing Chantry farm with lands of 252 a. in 1608 and receiving a grant of arms in 1614. (fn. 192)
In c. 1665 the extent of the manor and those parts of the 'moor' held with it totalled 1,441 a., producing an income of £1,430. (fn. 193) The holdings of individual tenants were relatively small, the only tenements over 45 a. in area being Combe farm (107 a.) and Bagenham farm (60 a.). Conversion to leasehold had been slight, a mere 11 holdings compared with 48 copyholds, including the whole of Oath. (fn. 194) The sale of the manor to pay Stawell's debts in 1706 was followed by extensive enfranchisements. In 1707 at least fifteen tenements with over 400 a. of land were sold. (fn. 195) Oath manor was sold in 1732 (fn. 196) and subsequently split into two farms of about 100 a. each with a number of smallholdings. (fn. 197) Beer manor also became a smaller farm in the earlier 18th century, losing much of its lands by enfranchisement. (fn. 198)
The principal farming unit in the parish by the early 18th century was Aller Court. The land attached to this property c. 1583 had comprised about 207 a. (fn. 199) and between 1706 and 1709 Sir Thomas Wroth added a further 185 a. from Aller manor to form an estate of nearly 400 a. (fn. 200) The Aclands further augmented the farm and by 1799 owned 720 a. in the parish, of which 596 a. were held with Aller Court. (fn. 201) The gross annual value of the estate increased from £330 in c. 1766 (fn. 202) to £675 in 1806. (fn. 203) The rent from the farm alone rose from £214 in c. 1766, (fn. 204) to £660 in 1806, (fn. 205) and to £1,150 in 1817. (fn. 206) By 1838 the extent of Aller Court had fallen to 362 a. and that of the estate to 465 a. (fn. 207) This diminution was probably due to the sale of isolated plots which in 1755 had been leased on lives to 21 tenants. (fn. 208)
By 1838 (fn. 209) Beer farm was the second largest holding, comprising 275 a., followed by Chantry farm with 180 a. There were two farms in the village with lands of 174 a. and 167 a., but the other six farms in the parish all had between 40 a. and 100 a. of land. There was little regular pattern to the ownership of the 'moor', much of it held in small scattered closes as in the 16th century, the largest group comprising 112 a. owned by the Trevillians of Midelney. (fn. 210) The herbage of the droveways, in 1653 enjoyed by the occupiers of the 'moors', (fn. 211) was let out by the vestry during the 19th century. (fn. 212) The predominance of grassland in the parish has continued, and in 1905 of 2,895 a. only 483½ a. were cultivated as arable. (fn. 213) The creation of new farming units has reduced the average acreage attached to individual holdings and in 1939 there were only four farms of more than 150 a. (fn. 214) Thus Nightingale (formerly Beer) farm comprised only 130 a. in 1972, 94 a. having been taken to form Dairy House farm. (fn. 215) In contrast the lands attached to Aller Court were extended and totalled 437 a. in 1972. (fn. 216)
The only major change in the agrarian pattern of the parish was the inclosure of the former open fields and those 'moors' formerly beyond the parish limits. In 1322 there were 106 a. of arable land on the demesne of one moiety of the manor and 80 a. on the demesne of the other. (fn. 217) A two-field system was practised by 1552. (fn. 218) Customs recorded in 1653 imply that each field lay fallow every other year. (fn. 219) Under an Act of 1797 the two fields, then including 280 a., were inclosed and allotted the following year. (fn. 220) In c. 1577 Oath manor included 127 a. in the two fields on Oath hill. (fn. 221) By 1642 the breach of these fields traditionally belonged to the tenants of Curry Rivel manor whose cattle were subsequently driven off once the crop of grass had been eaten. (fn. 222) Oath fields were probably inclosed privately shortly before 1820. (fn. 223) In the mid 17th century the one arable field belonging to Beer manor was breached by a land reeve appointed in Aller manor court, who then took a prey or drive through both it and Aller North field. (fn. 224) No reference to its inclosure has been noted.
Meadow lands totalled 190 a. in 1322, all on the demesne. (fn. 225) Only the Landmeads remained uninclosed by c. 1577, when they comprised 24 a. in the North field and 23 a. in the East field, leased to a number of individual tenants. (fn. 226) By the mid 17th century these meadows were mown annually at Lammas and thereafter were thrown open with the arable fields for common grazing. (fn. 227) Efforts to inclose them and so double their value were made between 1614 and 1616, but were forcibly resisted by the tenants. (fn. 228) In 1615 James Northover and others, claiming ancient custom, broke down the gates and hedges and put their cattle into the meadows. (fn. 229) The steward suggested that the lord should convert the copyholds to leaseholds, thus extinguishing their common rights, 'and then their custom will never be worth a button'. (fn. 230) The Landmeads evidently remained open with the arable fields until 1797. (fn. 231)
The inhabitants of Aller had common of pasture in King's Sedgemoor by the early 17th century. (fn. 232) Tenants of Beer manor paid 8d. and a pair of gloves to the tithingman of Aller for their pasture there. (fn. 233) When King's Sedgemoor was inclosed under an Act of 1791 the parish was allotted 555 a. in respect of 82 rights of common. (fn. 234) The tenants of Aller manor had common pasture in Common moor with Langport and Huish, (fn. 235) which was inclosed by private agreement between the three parishes in 1797. (fn. 236) Aller was allotted nearly 24 a., subsequently leased by the vestry with the droves. (fn. 237) The tenants of Oath had common of pasture in West Sedgemoor and Week moor in 1653, (fn. 238) although their enjoyment of the latter was regulated by Curry Rivel manor court during the 17th century. (fn. 239) At the inclosure of Week moor in 1820 freeholders at Oath received an allotment of 7 a. in return for 180 ft. of wall maintenance along the southern bank of the Parrett and the repair of Oath clyse. (fn. 240) When West Sedgemoor was inclosed in 1822 the parish was allotted 14 a. in respect of common rights exercised by the inhabitants of Oath. (fn. 241)
The fishery of the Parrett and fowling within the manor were leased by the lord of Aller manor in 1552, and were thereafter generally held with copyhold grants of withybeds lying between the Great Wall and the Parrett. (fn. 242) Leases of the 16th and 17th centuries invariably reserved ground birds and swans for the lord. (fn. 243)
A shipmaster or mariner, mentioned in 1555 and 1559, (fn. 244) witnesses to trade along the Parrett with Bridgwater and Langport, but the parish has always been principally concerned with agrarian pursuits. In 1821 72 families out of 85 were employed in agriculture (fn. 245) and few earlier references to occupations unconnected with the land have been noted. A road contractor and a machinist occurred in 1906, and an insurance agent in 1910. (fn. 246) A milk factory had been set up by 1926, as had tea-rooms by 1939. (fn. 247) A small pottery had been established in the village by 1972.
In 1322 the lords of Aller manor shared a horsemill worth 26s. 8d. (fn. 248) A mill which had ceased to grind was mentioned in 1437. (fn. 249) A mill occurs in c. 1583, (fn. 250) and in 1614 and 1623 two water-mills. (fn. 251) The manor of Beer with Burgh also included two mills between 1678 and 1691. (fn. 252) No mill sites in the parish can be identified, but a close called Windmill Ground in Aller moor was mentioned in 1796. (fn. 253) Closes on the east bank of the Parrett south of Callis Wall were known as Stathe Mill in 1838, (fn. 254) and Thomas Baker owned and occupied Stathe Mill in Aller from 1868 to 1884. (fn. 255)
Courts for the manors of Aller and Oath were held jointly by the 16th century, although Oath's presentments were made by its own homage jury. Rolls survive for the years 1563, 1566, 1571–3, (fn. 256) 1576–7, (fn. 257) 1589–91, (fn. 258) 1632. (fn. 259) The court was generally held twice, sometimes three times, a year and was described principally as curia manerii but very occasionally as curia baronis. The chief business was the scouring of rhines, the observance of grazing customs in the 'moors', and the repair of clyses and buildings. Other concerns included the maintenance of the river walls, grants of timber for the repair of tenements, and the ringing of pigs. A hayward, mentioned in 1338, (fn. 260) was elected annually by the 16th century, with two housewardens to report on dilapidations. A land reeve, mentioned in 1653, breached Beer Court field. (fn. 261)
Suit to the manor court of Beer with Burgh was mentioned in 1548, (fn. 262) as was suit to Oath court baron in 1743, after the separation of Oath manor from Aller. (fn. 263) The owners of Aller Court were evidently holding courts in respect of their property in the early 18th century. (fn. 264)
Churchwardens and 'posts' are mentioned in 1554 (fn. 265) and lists of churchwardens and overseers survive for the period 1719–50. These served for their estates in rotation. (fn. 266) In 1750 it was agreed that four permanent overseers should serve annually for £1 10s. a year each. (fn. 267) By the mid 19th century the vestry was appointing two overseers, with a salaried assistant, two waywardens, two wall-wardens, an expenditor for Sedgemoor (appointed from 1797), and a molecatcher. (fn. 268) The two rate-collectors were assisted by a salaried collector from 1858. (fn. 269)
In 1730 a cottage was leased by the parish, probably as a poorhouse. (fn. 270) In 1807 the poorhouse 'having lately fallen down', a newly-built cottage on the west of the lane leading to the church was purchased. (fn. 271) This was still in use in 1815. (fn. 272) The parish joined the Langport poor-law union in 1836. (fn. 273)
The baptism of Guthrum, king of the Danes, at Aller in 878 (fn. 274) is strong presumptive evidence for the existence of a church in the parish at that date. Possession of a baptistry and the later payments of church scot by the tenants of the manor (fn. 275) suggest that in origin the church was a minster, probably of royal foundation. A rector was mentioned in c. 1200. (fn. 276) By 1325 the advowson was held with the Clevedon moiety of Aller manor and descended with that estate. (fn. 277) Margaret, countess of Richmond and Derby, and Sir Reynold Bray presented in 1497 after a grant of that presentation. (fn. 278) In 1586 the patronage was conveyed by the lord of Aller manor to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, although the title to the advowson was in dispute with the earls of Huntingdon in the early 17th century. (fn. 279) The college continued to present until 1947. (fn. 280) The Crown presented in 1809 and 1954 and the bishop in 1958 and 1961, in all cases by lapse. (fn. 281) The benefice was sequestered in 1969 and was united with Langport in the following year. The archdeacon of Wells became patron of the new benefice. (fn. 282)
The church was valued at £13 6s. 8d. in 1291 (fn. 283) and the first fruits were sold for £15 13s. 4d. a year in 1329–30. (fn. 284) By 1535 the income had risen to £36 14s. 10d., (fn. 285) and by c. 1668 to £120. (fn. 286) It was estimated at about £300 in the late 18th century, (fn. 287) and the net income in 1835 was £623. (fn. 288) The predial tithes were worth £11 6s. in 1535 and the personal tithes and oblations £21. (fn. 289) The great and small tithes were commuted for £608 in 1838. (fn. 290)
The glebe was worth £5 in 1535. (fn. 291) In 1623 it comprised 3 a. attached to the parsonage house, 25¾ a. of arable and 40 a. of meadow. (fn. 292) It amounted to nearly 67 a. in 1838 (fn. 293) and was valued at £120 a year in 1840. (fn. 294) All but 4 a. was sold in 1920. (fn. 295) There was no glebe in 1972. (fn. 296)
The parsonage house was in decay in 1554, (fn. 297) and the rector was presented in 1606 for not sufficiently repairing it. (fn. 298) A dovecot was mentioned in 1783–5. (fn. 299) The house is set back from the west side of Beer Road and is a predominantly stone building of c. 1500. The main range was originally of two storeys with the parlour and the principal chamber at the north end. Projecting from the north-west corner is a turret containing a stair and garderobes, and at the north end of the east wall a short wing containing a room on the ground floor which was formerly connected to the parlour by an open stone arch, and above it a chamber with timber-framed walls. The central and southern parts of the house were extensively altered in the 19th century but presumably once contained the hall and service rooms. The south-east block, which has been largely rebuilt, may have been the original kitchen. The house passed into private hands in 1957. (fn. 300)
Raher of Aller (rector c. 1200) and Matthew of Clevedon (rector from 1330) were evidently both related to lords of Aller manor. (fn. 301) During the later 15th and earlier 16th centuries the benefice was served by a succession of distinguished clergy. Thomas Mannyng (rector 1453–62), a noted pluralist, was chaplain and secretary to Henry VI and dean of St. George's Chapel, Windsor. (fn. 302) He was attainted in 1461 and charged with holding the rectory in plurality without sufficient dispensation. (fn. 303) John Amersham (rector from 1475) was a monk and former archdeacon and sacrist of Westminster abbey. (fn. 304) Richard FitzJames (rector 1485–97), who was warden of Merton College, Oxford, chaplain to Edward IV and Henry VII, and held many other preferments while at Aller, resigned to become bishop successively of Rochester, Chichester, and London. (fn. 305) His successor was Christopher Bainbridge (rector 1497–1506), who held a number of appointments during his incumbency, including that of Master of the Rolls, and later became bishop of Durham and archbishop of York. (fn. 306) He was followed by William Hone (rector 1506–22), former fellow of All Souls, Oxford, who held many other livings in plurality, (fn. 307) and John Chamber (rector 1522–?49), warden of Merton College, Oxford, and personal physician to Henry VII and Henry VIII. (fn. 308) From 1609 until 1905 every incumbent presented by Emmanuel College was a former fellow of that house. (fn. 309) Walter Foster (rector 1633–c.1646, 1660–7), a mathematician, remained in the parish after his deprivation and replacement by John Moore (rector c. 1646–60). (fn. 310) Foster served as parish clerk from 1646 (fn. 311) and as parish register from 1654, but was replaced the following year 'having absented himself'. (fn. 312) He successfully petitioned for restoration in 1660 (fn. 313) and died in 1667 'in opposition to all popish corruptions and fanatical enormities so rife now amongst us'. (fn. 314)
The tenure of the benefice by nationally-known figures in the 15th and 16th centuries suggests that the living was probably served by assistant clergy. Curates are mentioned regularly from 1528 until 1633 (fn. 315) although some rectors, such as William Radberd (rector from 1556 at least until 1575) (fn. 316) and Ralph Cudworth (rector 1609–24) (fn. 317) were occasionally resident. 'I am seated', said Cudworth in 1618, 'in a barren place where my neighbour ministers either want skill and cannot, or have some skill and will not, confer together about matters of learning. If they chance to be questioned they think they are posed'. (fn. 318) Curates recur during the years 1716–18 (fn. 319) and 1782–1809, (fn. 320) but rectors appear to have been generally resident during the 19th century. (fn. 321)
A light founded within the parish church and mentioned in 1548 was endowed with 10lb. of wax or 5s. from the manor of Beer, then unpaid for three years. (fn. 322)
In 1554 there was no altar stone, and the fortieth part of the income had not been distributed to the poor for four years. (fn. 323) The parish lacked the Paraphrases of Erasmus in 1568; (fn. 324) in 1612 Bishop Jewell's Works were missing, prayers were not said on Wednesdays or Fridays, and there had been no perambulation. (fn. 325) Until after 1840 there was only one service each Sunday, (fn. 326) but by 1851 there were two, attended on Census Sunday by 30 in the morning and 60 in the afternoon, with 39 Sunday-school pupils. (fn. 327) By 1870 Holy Communion was celebrated monthly. (fn. 328)
A church or parish house, dilapidated in 1566, (fn. 329) was held of the manor by copy for the use of the lord's tenants in c. 1577. (fn. 330) It lay immediately east of Chantry Farm on the north side of the street, and its lands comprised the 2½ a. plot on which it stood with 5¼ a. of arable in the open fields. (fn. 331) It was called the town house in 1576, when the inhabitants of the village were deemed liable for its repair, (fn. 332) and it was last mentioned in 1591. (fn. 333)
The church of ST. ANDREW stands on the 'island' of Aller immediately east of the former manor-house, Aller Court Farm. It is of lias ashlar with some Ham stone dressings and has a chancel with north vestry, nave with north aisle and north and south porches, and west tower. The nave probably retains its 12th-century dimensions, although the only feature of this date is the south doorway. (fn. 334) The earliest feature in the chancel is a 13th-century window in the north wall. Considerable alterations would appear to have taken place in the late 14th century when the south porch and the tower were built (fn. 335) and new windows were put into the east and south walls of the chancel. The lowest stage of the tower is within the church and is carried on open arches to the north, east, and south. The diagonal buttresses are carried on to the nave walls by short butting arches below the nave roof. The west window and that on the south side of the nave were both renewed in the 15th century. The vestry, north porch, and aisle were erected in 1861–2 when the rest of the church was restored. (fn. 336) The north aisle is in a 13th-century style and is connected to the nave by an arcade of three bays. The chancel arch is in a similar style and was probably enlarged or much restored at this time. The roofs of both the nave and chancel also date from 1861–2. (fn. 337)
There is a font with a 12th-century bowl at the west end of the nave and an octagonal font dated 1663. The defaced effigy of a cross-legged knight, dated 1270–80, may represent Sir John of Aller (d. c. 1272). (fn. 338) In the north wall of the chancel there is a cusped recess enclosing the effigy of a knight, dated 1370–5, probably representing Sir John of Clevedon (d. c. 1373). (fn. 339) The pulpit is dated 1610 and is notably elaborate for that date. The reredos was designed by J. D. Sedding. (fn. 340)
The plate includes a cup and cover of 1630, a plain paten on foot of 1710 by Richard Bayley, and a pewter flagon. (fn. 341) There are three bells: (i) 1638, Robert Austen (I); (ii) 1640, Robert Austen (II) (recast 1883); (iii) 1663, Robert Austen (II) of Compton Dundon. (fn. 342)
The registers date from 1561 and are complete. (fn. 343)
A hermitage housing two hermits at Oath was mentioned in 1328. The vicar of Muchelney was to serve as confessor to the occupants and to have a key to the door for his visits. (fn. 344) John de Lorty left one mark to the brothers of Oath in 1340, (fn. 345) and the cell may be identified with a chapel there in need of repair in 1373. (fn. 346) It stood in Oath East field (fn. 347) and by 1559 was evidently no longer used for worship. (fn. 348) The enclosure within which it formerly stood, known as Chapel Hay c. 1665 (fn. 349) and Chapel Orchard in 1838, lay towards the south-eastern end of Oath hill. (fn. 350) Members of the Broadway family of Oath were buried there between 1747 and c. 1822. (fn. 351) No trace of the building now remains.
James Courtenay, lord of the manor of Beer with Burgh, was recorded as a recusant in the period 1591–1606, when he was evidently resident in the parish. (fn. 352) Quakers were resident in the parish between 1699 and 1705, the parents of a child baptized in the latter year being described as 'Quakers or heathens'. (fn. 353) A house was registered for Dissenting meetings in 1816 (fn. 354) and Independents worshipped at James Kiddle's house from 1840. (fn. 355) Kiddle, a blacksmith, was evidently persecuted for his beliefs and the publicity given to his sufferings secured the aid of the Revd. A. Morris of Holloway Chapel, London. Premises were purchased on the west side of Beer Road and converted into the Holloway Chapel (named after its London counterpart) in 1844. (fn. 356) The Congregational chapel in use in 1972 was erected on a near-by site in 1886. (fn. 357) On Census Sunday 1851 the evening congregation numbered 80. (fn. 358) There were 140 sittings and a Sunday school was attended by 30 in the morning and 30 in the evening. (fn. 359) A string band was a feature of the services in 1896. (fn. 360)
An Independent chapel at Oath, evidently part of a private house, was opened in 1848, had 40 sittings, and was served from Holloway Chapel. (fn. 361) Services were held only on week-day evenings, the average congregation in 1851 being 30, with a bible class of 13. (fn. 362)
There was no school in the parish in 1818, (fn. 363) but by 1825–6 there was a Sunday school attended by 70 children. (fn. 364) In 1834 a day-school was erected by subscription on the south-east side of the church path. (fn. 365) In 1972 this building was a dwellinghouse called Laurel Farm.
A National school containing two rooms was built in 1871 on the east side of Beer Road, north of the Cross Tree. (fn. 366) This was attended by about 60 pupils in 1894 and supported chiefly by subscriptions. (fn. 367) There were 66 children on the books in 1903, (fn. 368) and the school was then described as 'distinctly well managed and efficient'. (fn. 369) An evening continuation school was occasionally held there and the rooms were used for all parish meetings and entertainments. (fn. 370) Numbers fell to 27 in 1914–15 and after 1925 only juniors were admitted. (fn. 371) In 1934–5 there were 26 pupils and in 1944–5 nineteen. (fn. 372) The school was closed in 1946 and the pupils transferred to Huish Episcopi. (fn. 373)
Charities for the Poor.
Martha Bond by will dated 1797 bequeathed the residue of her estate equally between the parishes of Aller, Langport, and Huish Episcopi, the income to be distributed to the poor. (fn. 374) Land in Aller was purchased and the parish's share of the profits amounted to £7 15s. in 1848. (fn. 375) This was paid to poor persons selected by the churchwardens and overseers, who in 1871 used the charity to provide blankets. (fn. 376) In 1964 £6 9s. 4d. was paid out. (fn. 377)