A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1978.
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SOUTH PETHERTON HUNDRED
The hundred lies in the southern area of the county, stretching in a southwesterly band along the line of the Foss Way from the upper reaches of the river Parrett to the Windwhistle ridge, and including Whitestaunton on the boundary with Devon. The soils in the north are mostly fertile Yeovil Sands with extensive arable, still in parts undivided by hedges. The wooded southern areas lie on poorer soils with less evidence of open-field cultivation and where pasture has always been predominant. The parishes themselves are mostly small and irregular, with a mixture of nucleated and scattered settlements, the latter in the south often originating in woodland clearings. The predominantly agrarian economy was varied from the 17th century onwards especially at Lopen by the manufacture of coarse cloth and of rope from locally-grown hemp and flax.
The hundred was created by 1084 around the pre-Conquest royal estate of South Petherton and its members. (fn. 1) By 1212 it included Shepton Beauchamp and Lopen, (fn. 2) by 1225 Whitestaunton, (fn. 3) and by 1242–3 Cudworth, Dowlish Wake, Westcombland in Buckland St. Mary, and probably Hurcott in Seavington St. Mary. (fn. 4) By 1286 the hundred had almost achieved its fullest extent: South Petherton, with its separate tithings or hamlets of Compton Durville, Great and Little Stratton, and Wigborough, and the tithings or hamlets of Barrington, Chaffcombe, Chillington, Cudworth with Worth, Dinnington, Dowlish Wake, Knowle St. Giles, Lopen, Seavington Dennis, Seavington Vaux, Shepton Beauchamp, Upton (in Seavington St. Mary), Whitestaunton, and Street and Leigh in Winsham. (fn. 5) Cricket St. Thomas, Dommett (in Buckland St. Mary but adjoining the 'island' of Barrington in Neroche forest), and South Illeigh in Knowle were included by 1303, (fn. 6) but the last two were not separately enumerated in 1327 (fn. 7) or 1334 (fn. 8) though South Harp tithing in South Petherton seems to have replaced Wigborough and Little Stratton. Westcombland formed part of Martock hundred by 1327, but the Forde abbey estates in Winsham, possibly comprised in the earlier properties of Street and Leigh, included Fordebrigge, now Bridge, by 1334 (fn. 9) and Whatley by 1343. (fn. 10) The hundred remained so constituted until the 19th century. (fn. 11) Wambrook, in the hundred of Beaminster and Redborne, Dorset, was transferred to Somerset in 1896 and is here treated with the Somerset hundred which it adjoins.
The hundred belonged to the Crown but was claimed by Philip Daubeney (d. 1236) in virtue of his possession of South Petherton manor. (fn. 12) The Crown seized it from Ralph Daubeney in 1280 but restored it to him ten years later. (fn. 13) Ownership thereafter belonged to the owners of the main manor of South Petherton until the jurisdiction lapsed in the 19th century. Suit from Seavington Abbots, Seavington Dennis, Dinnington, and Chaffcombe tithings was withdrawn by the earls of Gloucester c. 1262, (fn. 14) and the Crown still retained those tithings in right of the honor of Gloucester in 1435. (fn. 15)
By 1305 a distinction was made between the hundred intrinsecum, probably the tithing of South Petherton alone, and the hundred forinsecum. (fn. 16) Three lawdays, at Hilary, Hockday, and Michaelmas, were held in the mid 15th century, (fn. 17) four in the 16th century, (fn. 18) and three in 1618–19. (fn. 19) In the mid 17th century hundred business was heard in the manor court. (fn. 20) Court records survive as an extract for 1445 and for 1618–19. (fn. 21)
Philip Daubeney (d. 1236) released all tenants of Bruton priory from suit to the hundred, (fn. 22) and Gloucester honor properties and Forde abbey tenants were similarly relieved, the first by illegal withdrawal c. 1262, the latter by grant in 1347. (fn. 23) By the 1570s there was 'no money paid, nor yet waifed or strayed goods' at the court, but tithingmen except from Shepton Beauchamp were sworn. (fn. 24) In 1668, under title of the manor court leet and view of frankpledge, two millers were fined for refusal to appear with their measures, and the tithingmen of Whitestaunton and Cricket St. Thomas were absent. (fn. 25) The manor court in 1618 presented that the hundred should provide a cucking stool. (fn. 26) Barrington parish continued to pay for release of suit until 1697. (fn. 27) No further direct evidence of the court's activity has been traced.
A bedel was appointed by the hundred forinsecum by 1386. (fn. 28) A hundred bailiff occurs by 1665, (fn. 29) and he preceded the manor bailiff in the manor court from 1684 until the offices were combined in 1781. (fn. 30) There was an attempt to revive the hundred court in the early 19th century in combination with the manor (hitherto described as vill and manor court), (fn. 31) and the offices of constable and steward of the hundred occur until 1868–9 and 1872 respectively. (fn. 32)
The hundred was represented at the sheriff's tourn on Ham Hill, held once a year at Hocktide in the late 15th century and by 1575 at Hocktide and Michaelmas. (fn. 33) By 1652 tourns were held at Easter and Michaelmas for the hundreds of South Petherton, Crewkerne, Houndsborough, Coker, and Martock, but were then 'much discontinued and few fines or amercements levied for divers years past'. (fn. 34) The tourns were evidently revived, and Barrington parish continued payments to the courts until 1697. (fn. 35)