A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1978.
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The parish of Dowlish Wake, also called East Dowlish to distinguish it from its neighbour West Dowlish in Bulstone hundred, lies 2¼ miles southeast of Ilminster at the western end of the hundred. (fn. 1) The name Dowlish is thought to derive from the Dowlish brook which runs through the village, (fn. 2) the additional name from its early owners. The ancient parish, nearly 1¾ mile from north to south and ¾ mile from east to west, measured 794 a. until 1885 when a detached portion 1½ mile west at Bere Mills Farm was absorbed into Knowle St. Giles, leaving a total of 626 a. (fn. 3)
The main part of the parish is roughly rectangular, its boundaries following no natural feature except a stretch of the Wall brook, a feeder of Dowlish brook in the south-east, shared with Cudworth. In the north it impinges closely on Kingstone village, and at Wake Hill, also in the north, and in the east towards Ludney, it keeps to the highest ground, well over 300 ft. The boundary with West Dowlish is followed by Chard Lane (fn. 4) at its southern end. Dowlish brook, running north-west through the centre of the parish, and a smaller stream from Cudworth which joins it just west of the village, divide the parish into three parts. To the north and north-east, on the rising ground, the limestone junction beds and Yeovil Sands provided the largest area of arable and accounted for most of the known arable fields. (fn. 5) In the south-west, where the land rises more gradually towards the Windwhistle ridge, the poorer soils over the greensands and Pennards Sands were earlier inclosed for pasture from open arable; and in the south-east, on similar soils, there was a greater predominance of meadow watered by two streams. (fn. 6)
Dowlish Wake village is one of the largest in the immediate area. With the exception of 19th- and 20th-century buildings in the north at Wake Hill and close to Kingstone village, settlement is nucleated, largely grouped along the curving main or East Dowlish street. (fn. 7) North of the Dowlish brook in some isolation on the scarp above the village are the church and manor-house, joined in the 19th century by Parke House, the road running a tortuous course in a sandy hollow way evidently to avoid a direct route through the manor grounds. Further south a triangular green (fn. 8) was formed at the junction of the main street with a road to Dowlish mills and beyond; and beside it stood the dower house and a second demesne farm. Beyond the stream a further triangular area marks a second junction and the beginnings of more intensive settlement of tenants' houses and farms, the medieval rectory-house, and 19th-century shops, smithy, and inn. The 20th century has contributed a number of bungalows and houses within this framework.
From the main street roads radiate somewhat indirectly, south and west to Cudworth, Chard, (fn. 9) and Oxenford (in West Dowlish), north and west to Ilminster, east to Ludney, and south-east to Chillington. Formerly more important roads cut or skirted the extremities of the parish: a section of Oldway Lane between Ludney and Cudworth marks the line either of the Foss Way or of an early deviation; (fn. 10) and the Crewkerne—Ilminster road through Kingstone, the north-eastern boundary, was turnpiked in 1759, and a stop gate and toll cottage erected on the road into Dowlish village. (fn. 11)
The earlier buildings in the parish are generally of local limestone, with thatched or tiled roofs. Higher Dowlish Farm is a substantial two-storeyed building with attics of the earlier 17th century, but has an unusual 3-roomed plan and contemporary outshuts. Many original fittings survive and there is a cruck roof. The Dower House is dated 1674 and was leased to women of the Speke family in the later 18th century. (fn. 12) Perry's cider mill has a smokeblackened cruck roof, but possesses no features suggesting residential use. Parke House occurs c. 1811 and Wake Hill was built by Hugh Speke before 1831. (fn. 13)
There was a licensed victualler in the parish by 1735 and three by 1751. The Horseshoe, mentioned in 1769, (fn. 14) became the New Inn between 1812 and 1822, (fn. 15) and continues under that name. The Folly, more usually called the Castle, first mentioned in 1792, (fn. 16) lay on the northern boundary in Kingstone village. It was converted to a private dwelling in 1972. (fn. 17)
The Dowlish Friendly Society was established in 1837 and dissolved in 1955. Meetings were held in the schoolroom and the feast day celebrated on Trinity Tuesday. (fn. 18) A men's club meeting at the Reading Room was founded in 1921, moved to the rectory-house in 1935, and closed in 1948. A drama group, the Dowlish Players, occurs in 1928. (fn. 19) The former school, on the west side of the church, has been converted to a village hall, renamed the Speke Hall, since 1955. (fn. 20)
The parish had 16 households in 1612. (fn. 21) From a total of 241 in 1801 its population fluctuated, rising to 380 in 1831 but falling to 319 in the next twenty years. The removal of Bere in 1885 resulted in a fall to 290 by 1891, and subsequently numbers fell to 212 in 1901, (fn. 22) and 176 in 1921. They rose slightly to 187 in 1931, and the union with West Dowlish in 1933 caused an abrupt increase to 270 in 1951. A fall to 228 in 1961 has been followed by a small rise, to 253 in 1971. (fn. 23)
John Hanning Speke (1827–64), African explorer and discoverer of the source of the Nile, is buried in the church. (fn. 24) Ludwig Petterson (1868–1934), born in Bergen, Norway, was a Klondyke pioneer in 1898. He farmed in the parish by 1927, and is buried in the churchyard. (fn. 25)
Eight parishioners were reported to have joined the Monmouth rebellion in 1685. (fn. 26)
The manor of DOWLISH was held T.R.E. by Alward, but by 1086 had passed to the bishop of Coutances, under whom it was tenanted by William de Moncels. (fn. 27) The overlord in 1284–5 and 1303 was Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln (d. 1311), (fn. 28) and in 1348 the earl of Gloucester. (fn. 29) By 1359 the overlordship had passed to the countess of Surrey, who held it of her honor of Trowbridge, (fn. 30) and by 1361 to William Montacute, earl of Salisbury. (fn. 31) In 1420 it was stated to be held of the honor of Trowbridge, parcel of the duchy of Lancaster, and it was still so held in 1584. (fn. 32)
The manor was probably held in the later 12th century by Ralph Wake (I). (fn. 33) His widow Christine, later wife of Richard Wild (salvagius), received dower when her son Ralph Wake (II) succeeded in 1214. (fn. 34) A grant of land in Dowlish formerly of Ralph Wake was made by the Crown in 1216, (fn. 35) but in 1225 Ralph (II) seems still to have held land in Dowlish. (fn. 36) In 1230 his widow Hawise (d. c. 1244) recovered her dower in Dowlish and Bere, (fn. 37) and the manor passed to her son Andrew Wake. (fn. 38) Andrew (d. before 1286) was succeeded by his son Ralph (III), (fn. 39) by which time, if not before, the estate had split into the two manors of EAST DOWLISH or DOWLISH WAKE and West Dowlish, both held by the Wakes. (fn. 40) Ralph (III) was still in possession in 1290 (fn. 41) but by 1303 had been followed by his son John (d. 1348). (fn. 42) Under a settlement of 1325 the manor then passed to John's eldest daughter Isabel (d. 1359), wife of John Kaynes (I), (fn. 43) and subsequently to her son Thomas (d. 1361). (fn. 44) The latter was succeeded in turn by his son John (II) (d. 1419), grandson John (III) (d. 1420), (fn. 45) and great-granddaughter Joan Kaynes (d. 1462), married successively to John Speke (I) (d. 1441) and Hugh Champernowne (d. 1482). (fn. 46)
Under a settlement made in 1448 the estate passed on Champernowne's death to William Speke (d. 1508), son of John (I), for life, and subsequently to his nephew John Speke (III) (d. 1518), son of John (II). (fn. 47) John (IV) (d. 1524), son of John (III), was succeeded by his son Sir George Speke (I) (d. 1528), (fn. 48) who left the manor to his nephew Thomas (later Sir Thomas) (d. 1551), son of John Speke (V). (fn. 49) Thereafter it descended through the Speke family with Cudworth manor until the death of George Speke in 1753, when it passed to his daughter Mary Speke of Sowton (Devon). (fn. 50) On her death the manor was inherited by her cousin William Speke of Jordans in Ashill (d. 1839), and subsequently descended to his son William (d. 1887) and grandson William (d. 1908). (fn. 51) On the death of the last without issue the estate was left to his nephew W. H. Speke (d. 1944). The estate was subdivided and sold in 1920 but the lordship was not included in the sale, (fn. 52) and passed to Mr. P. G. H. Speke of Ashill, great-nephew and heir of W. H. Speke.
The manor-house, known as Dowlish Farm by 1688, (fn. 53) consists of only part of a larger building whose origin is suggested by a length of walling to the north of the churchyard. Between this and the existing building is a wide gateway, now blocked, which may have been the entry to a courtyard, and the range on the east side is probably of the late 15th or early 16th century. It has buttresses, mullioned windows, and in its northern part a roof, formerly open to at least the first floor, with arch-braces which terminate in pendants. Beyond this the present kitchen range is probably of slightly later date. To the north extensive farm buildings, ostensibly of the 19th century, may incorporate earlier footings.
The detached area of the parish at Bere, held with Dowlish Wake manor by 1230, (fn. 54) was described as a separate manor in the 17th and 18th centuries (fn. 55) although it continued in common ownership with the principal manor.
The Domesday account of Dowlish as two manors probably comprehends both Dowlish Wake and West Dowlish, although the relative sizes of the two estates do not correspond with the later areas of the two parishes. Before the Conquest the larger estate of 7 hides had been held in two units of 4 and 3 hides. When combined T.R.W., the demesne was worked with 2 ploughs by 11 bordars and 2 serfs, and 11 villeins had 5 ploughs. There were then 44 a. of meadow, pasture measuring 4 by 4 furlongs and 20 a., and wood 8 by 3 furlongs and 20 a. Stock on the demesne comprised a riding-horse, 6 head of cattle, 19 swine, and 21 sheep. The smaller holding of 2¼ hides had 3 bordars and a serf with one plough on the demesne, and 3 villein tenants. Stock was 4 beasts, 7 swine, and 32 sheep. The larger estate was valued at £6 10s. and the smaller at 23s. or 24s. (fn. 56) Later valuations usually combined the manors of Dowlish Wake and West Dowlish, though in 1361 Dowlish Wake alone was worth £8, (fn. 57) and in 1482 £23 13s. 4d., a sum which included land in 'Wythele' and Bere. (fn. 58)
By the 16th century the medieval open fields had been divided into several smaller units, but some survived: Langcombe (later Kingstone or East Dowlish field), Fournecombe (later Middle field), and Leadowne occur in 1557; and Cod or Quod, Hill field, and Langforland occur c. 1600. (fn. 59) By 1674 lands had been inclosed out of Heathfield, (fn. 60) but parts were still open in 1704 though not by 1723. (fn. 61) Cod and probably Hill field were inclosed by 1772, Leadowne by 1794, and Kingstone field by 1838. (fn. 62) West mead was inclosed by 1829, Yewcrafte (Yolcraft, Yellcroft, Eel Croft) later Common mead by 1838. (fn. 63) By 1838 there were c. 400 a. of arable in the parish and 309 a. of grassland, (fn. 64) and by 1905 approximately equal quantities of arable and grass. (fn. 65)
The common change from copyhold in the 16th century to leasehold for 99 years or lives in the 17th occurs in Dowlish Wake, the units varying between cottage holdings and farms up to 35 a. (fn. 66) The largest farm was the demesne attached to the manor-house, leased to John Hanning in 1772 with 113 a. in the parish, 183 a. in West Dowlish, and 36 a. on the border between them. (fn. 67) Subsequently the amalgamation of Higher and Lower Dowlish farms created a larger unit, measuring 304 a. in 1838. The manor-house estate, known as Dowlish farm, was then 295 a., Bere Mills farm was 125 a., and Levi Wallbridge held 75 a. based on the present Wallbridge farm. (fn. 68) By 1850 the manor-house was held with 316 a., Higher and Lower Dowlish farms remained at 304 a., Bere Mills farm was 169 a., and Wallbridge farm 88 a. (fn. 69) These farms continued to be the principal ones in the parish. By the time of the sale of the Speke estate in 1920 these same units remained essentially intact, while others were small: Bryants and Dowlish mills both with 20 a. each and Churchills with 11 a. (fn. 70) The only major changes since then have been the conversions of the manor-house site to purely domestic use and of Dowlish mills to agricultural purposes as Mill farm. Dairy farming continues to predominate in the parish.
Although dependent primarily upon agriculture the parish's proximity to Ilminster evidently resulted in involvement in the cloth trade. A sergemaker occurs in 1686, (fn. 71) tailors in 1705, 1706, and 1751, and a weaver in 1706. (fn. 72) There was a canvas manufacturer between 1826 and 1829 and a succession of weavers, mostly of canvas, occur between 1821 and 1857. (fn. 73) Gloving, the most common cottage industry in the area, in 1851 occupied 40 women and girls. (fn. 74) Other varied employments pursued at various times included an attorney in 1704, a mantua maker in 1821, (fn. 75) a 'herbal doctress' in 1851, (fn. 76) a hurdlemaker in 1857, and 'factory men' in 1857 and 1873. (fn. 77)
A water-mill granted to Monkton Farleigh priory c. 1200 by Ralph Wake was retained by the priory until the Dissolution. (fn. 78) There was also a corn-mill on the demesne by 1419. (fn. 79) Two millers occur at the same time in the early 18th century one of whom, Edward Symonds, worked Dowlish flour mills, later Mill Farm. His family still held the mills until after 1803. (fn. 80) In that year the miller, asked to supply additional meal in the event of invasion, pleaded scarcity of water, but promised an additional 10 qr. above his normal output if water was available. (fn. 81) Between 1826 and 1832 the mills became part of the Speke estate and were occupied by tenants who combined milling with shopkeeping until c. 1912, when grinding ceased. (fn. 82) The mills, on the Dowlish brook east of the village, bear the date stone 1710 and the initials of Edward Symonds and his wife. In 1920 the premises included a mill-house, a bake house with double oven to take 200 loaves, and a proving oven. The overshot wheel was removed soon afterwards, but the millstones and leat were there in 1973. (fn. 83)
Bere mills farm included fulling-mills with a drying plot in 1791. (fn. 84) On its sale in 1920 the farm had a mill-house with a grinding mill and French stones, driven by an overshot wheel (fn. 85) made by Hickey and Co. of Chard in 1889. The mill was working in 1973.
A close called Mill Mead in 1838 on the extreme south-east boundary may mark a former mill site, either there or in Cudworth. (fn. 86)
No court rolls have been traced for the manor, but 'Dowlish court' was being held once a year in May or June between 1815 and 1838. (fn. 87) Suit of court on two years' warning was required of a lessee as late as 1863. (fn. 88)
There was a poorhouse at the extreme south of the village in 1838. (fn. 91) This was subsequently sold to William Speke and in 1850 was occupied by seven of his tenants. (fn. 92) The parish became part of Chard poor-law union in 1836. (fn. 93)
Probably from the origin of the church the advowson was held with the manor. The grant of the church to Wells cathedral by Ralph Wake (I) before 1189 (fn. 94) was evidently of no effect, and ownership of manor and advowson continued to descend together in 1973. The Crown presented during wardship in 1321, 1363, and twice in 1371, and the bishop, presumably by lapse, in 1362. (fn. 95) The rectory of West Dowlish, held in plurality since the 1770s, was annexed to Dowlish Wake in 1857; (fn. 96) from 1916 it was held with Kingstone and from 1969 also with Chillington. (fn. 97)
The living was valued at £5 6s. 8d. in 1291 (fn. 98) and 1334 (fn. 99) and was exempted from taxation between 1440 and 1517 for poverty. (fn. 100) By 1535 the income had risen to £9 (fn. 101) and by c. 1668 to £60. (fn. 102) In 1705 the rector complained that the patron's estate of about £80 a year 'by means of an ancient custom or pretended modus' paid only 10s. a year to the minister. (fn. 103) The value was set at £43 13s. 3¼d. c. 1790, (fn. 104) exceeded £150 in 1815, (fn. 105) and was £356 net in 1831. (fn. 106) It had risen to £422 by 1851. (fn. 107)
In 1334 the great tithes produced £3 6s. 8d., tithe hay 6s. 6d., and oblations and small tithes £1 5s. 6d. (fn. 108) By 1535 predial tithes were valued at £5, tithe of sheep and lambs at 10s., and oblations and personal tithes at £2 16s. 8d. (fn. 109) The tithes were commuted for a rent-charge of £392 for Dowlish Wake and West Dowlish together. (fn. 110)
Glebe was valued at 8s. a year in 1334 and at 13s. 4d. in 1535. (fn. 111) During the incumbency of Henry Kinder (1588–1619) the glebe included 5½ a. near the parsonage house and 12 a. of arable in the open fields, and in 1636 7 a. near the parsonage and 11½ a. in the fields. A small close called Poolehaye was then held by the parson from Candlemas to Lammas, and for the rest of the year by the parish. (fn. 112) In 1838 the glebe totalled 34 a. (fn. 113)
The parsonage house was held with a barn, outhouse, two gardens, and an orchard in 1636. (fn. 114) It was described in 1815 as 'a poor, mean house in which no incumbent has resided for many years', and it was not occupied by the rector nor his curate in 1827 and 1840. (fn. 115) It was subsequently bought by the Spekes and sold as a private dwelling in 1920. (fn. 116) Lying at the end of a lane west of the village, the present building contained the hall and service range of a small house of c. 1500 which formerly had a western wing which may have contained the parlour. (fn. 117) The roof has been largely renewed, but a pair of curved rafters, possibly crucks, are visible in the central wall. There are re-used 17th-century beams in the main room, and the whole was probably remodelled in the late 18th century when a cupboard staircase, some windows, and several doors were inserted.
Hugh Speke, rector 1827–56, had built Wake Hill house by 1831 (fn. 118) where he and his successors, Benjamin Speke, rector 1857–81, and F. H. Mules, rector 1881–1908, lived. (fn. 119) The ownership of the house was evidently retained by the Speke family. Parke House, from 1972 the Old Rectory, was subsequently occupied by incumbents until 1969. A new rectory house was completed in 1972. (fn. 120)
William de Crauden, declared illiterate after institution in 1322, was ordered to find a curate to serve in his place, and was subsequently licensed to absent himself for study. (fn. 121) Thomas Austell, rector until 1486, was also canon of Salisbury and Exeter. (fn. 122) By will of 1509 he left 40s. to celebrate his obit at Dowlish for 20 years and gave a pair of vestments to the church. (fn. 123) On resignation John Williams, rector 1486–98, being 'aged and infirm' and 'suffering from poverty', was granted a pension of 4 marks a year from the rectory, half its total income. (fn. 124) John Hunt, intruded during the Interregnum, had been ejected by 1661 when the former incumbent Nicholas English was buried. (fn. 125) William Speke, rector 1759–71, and Philip Speke, rector 1771–78, were both members of the patron's family. (fn. 126) Septimus Collinson, rector 1778–1827, although resident during the early years of his incumbency, later held the benefice with the rectory of Holwell (Dors.) and was also Lady Margaret professor of divinity at Oxford, prebendary of Worcester, and Provost of the Queen's College, Oxford. (fn. 127) Hugh Speke, rector 1827–56, held the vicarage of Curry Rivel in plurality, and Benjamin Speke, rector 1857–81, combined it with the rectory of Washfield (Devon). (fn. 128) The latter caused a national sensation when he disappeared in London in 1868, and was believed to have been murdered. He was discovered at Padstow (Cornw.) seven weeks later, disguised as a bullock drover. (fn. 129)
Assistant curates were employed constantly between 1760 and 1857. (fn. 130) Many, like their rectors, were non-resident. In 1815 John Hawkes Mules was also headmaster of Ilminster grammar school, where he lived, and also served as curate of Cricket Malherbie and Cudworth. (fn. 131)
In 1554 the altar, replacing the Protestant table, was not consecrated, (fn. 132) and in 1557 the inhabitants had no quarterly sermons. (fn. 133) There were 15 communicants in 1776, (fn. 134) and in 1815 and 1827 there was a single Sunday service and sermon alternately morning and evening. (fn. 135) By 1840 there were two Sunday services, and Holy Communion was celebrated 'more than three times a year'. By 1843 there were monthly celebrations. (fn. 136) On Census Sunday 1851 there were congregations of 52 in the morning and 147 in the afternoon, while the Sunday school was attended by 57 and 48 respectively. (fn. 137) In 1870 the two Sunday services and monthly celebrations were continuing. (fn. 138)
The chapel of the chantry of John Kaynes in the parish church was mentioned in 1438, (fn. 139) although no details of its foundation have survived. By his will of 1528 Sir George Speke ordered a new aisle to be built for his burial and an unbeneficed priest employed to say mass daily for the souls of the testator and members of his family. The priest was to receive £6 a year and bread, wine, and wax in addition. (fn. 140) Two stipendiary priests were serving the church in 1532. (fn. 141)
The church of ST. ANDREW, so dedicated by 1349, (fn. 142) is built of Ham stone rubble and ashlar and has a chancel with north chapel, central tower, and nave with north aisle and south porch. It was much restored in 1861–2, (fn. 143) when the nave and aisle were largely rebuilt. The chancel is early-13th-century in origin, one unrestored lancet remaining in the north wall. The three-stage central tower was built into, and partly encased, its western end in the early 14th century and at about the same time one bay was added to the east. The south porch was built in the 14th century and the nave was probably earlier but was refenestrated in the 15th century. Its north aisle was a late-15th-century addition. An extension eastwards as a chantry chapel for the Kaynes family probably occurred in the earlier 15th century. Monuments in the chapel, subsequently adopted by the Spekes, include a recumbent female effigy of Ham stone c. 1360, identified as Isabel Wake (d. 1359), and two recumbent effigies of Doulting stone on a Ham-stone chest of a knight and his lady, (fn. 144) probably installed under the will of John Stourton (proved 1439) to commemorate John Kaynes and his wife. (fn. 145) In the same chapel stands the monument to John Hanning Speke (d. 1864) and the Norman font from the former church of West Dowlish (demolished by 1575). (fn. 146) In the mid 19th century the tracery of many of the windows was removed and the mullions were extended into the heads. At the restoration of 1861–2 the plan of the medieval church was retained but the nave windows were rebuilt with tracery in a 14th-century style and the north aisle was reconstructed with a pitched roof, replacing the earlier leaded flats.
There are five bells: (i) Thomas Jeffries of Bristol (d. 1545–6); (ii) 1634, T. Wroth; (iii) 1906, Taylor of Loughborough; (iv) medieval, Exeter, c. 1500; (v) 1906, Taylor. (fn. 147) The plate is modern: two cups and a salver given by the then rector in 1809. (fn. 148) The parish registers survive from 1645 and are complete. (fn. 149)
Edmund Baker, a former Methodist minister at Teddington (Mdx.), came to Dowlish Wake c. 1811 as minister of the sect of Joanna Southcott (d. 1814). (fn. 150) He had evidently converted Jane Parke and her sister Anne Gibson, both of Parke House, and they provided him with a house and chapel and a weekly salary. By 1813 he had converted over 100 people in the area. Between 1814 and 1824 Baker lived in Ilminster and drew his congregation from as far afield as Crewkerne and Taunton. (fn. 151) In 1849, evidently near death, he appointed seven male elders to superintend the congregation and left two silver-gilt cups, a bass viol, and the register of names to Mr. Churchill of Curry Rivel. (fn. 152) No subsequent reference to the sect in Dowlish has been found.
Bible Christians met once in the parish in 1824. (fn. 153)
An unlicensed school was discontinued in 1623. (fn. 154) In 1819 there was a Sunday school for 40 children supported by contributions. (fn. 155) Another Sunday school, started in 1822, was attended by 14 children in 1825, and 72 in 1835, and was wholly supported by the incumbent. (fn. 156)
By 1835 a National day-school for 40 children and 2 infants had been established, supported by parents, the rector, and Mrs. Jane Parke. (fn. 157) It was evidently held in a schoolroom west of the present Dower House. (fn. 158) A new school to the west of the church was built in 1840, (fn. 159) which subsequently housed both day-school and Sunday school. In 1846–7 the day-school, under one master, was attended by 16 girls and 11 infants (all boys), and the Sunday school, under one mistress, by 23 boys and 38 girls. (fn. 160) The schoolrooms were extended in 1870, and in 1894 the day-school, by then a voluntary mixed church school, had an average attendance of 57. (fn. 161) By 1903 there were 81 on the books and it was reported to be 'a good school on the whole', (fn. 162) In 1908 there were more children from Kingstone than Dowlish Wake, and the number on the books had risen to 97. (fn. 163) In 1916 a new subscription list was drawn up to finance the school, the managers having exhausted their existing capital. It took juniors only from 1928, when the senior pupils were transferred to Ilminster. (fn. 164) This change in status reduced the number to 54 in 1938. (fn. 165) The school was closed in 1949; the children were transferred to Chillington and the building was converted to a village hall. (fn. 166)