A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1978.
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SEAVINGTON ST. MICHAEL
The ancient parish of Seavington St. Michael occupies 286 a. of the fertile Yeovil and Pennard sands in the undulating country south-west of South Petherton. (fn. 1) Most of the parish lies around the 200 ft. contour, rising to 215 ft. at Gummer's Castle (fn. 2) near the eastern boundary, and falling away gently northwards and more abruptly to the south and west. The parish is roughly square in shape, its limits following either roads or field boundaries. Part of its western boundary, shared with Seavington St. Mary, is Water Street; its eastern limit is Flower Tanner's Lane and Frogmary Lane (Froggelmere in 1383). (fn. 3) A detached area of the parish locally in Seavington St. Mary was called Devenyshemeade in the 16th century and St. Michael's mead in the nineteenth. (fn. 4)
The parish is crossed by two east-west routes radiating from Lopen Head, the more northerly dividing the former North and Middle fields and running to Shepton Beauchamp and Barrington. The other, part of the London—Exeter coach route in the 18th century, ran between Middle and Nether fields and formed the village street. One northsouth route, David's Lane, joins the village street from South Petherton and is continued south as a cul-de-sac ending at the church and the possible site of the medieval manor-house. (fn. 5) The village street turned south at Buckrell's Farm to become Water Street, leading to Seavington St. Mary, though since 1829, with the creation of New Road, the main route through the two parishes has been more directly westward. (fn. 6) Beside the village street lay a pond known in the 17th century as the horse pond. (fn. 7) It was used in the 19th century for retting flax, but was subsequently filled in and is used as a car park.
Two 17th-century farm-houses survive in the parish one of which, Buckrell's Farm, was recently reduced in size by road works. An inventory of goods there in 1640 mentioned a hall with chamber over, a chamber within the hall, and a buttery. (fn. 8) Orchard Close, near the church, is a similar house with passage entry and three rooms in line. A plaster panel in the principal first-floor room is inscribed 'John Skelton May 12 1689', which probably is the date of the original building. Skelton or Skellen was then the largest ratepayer in the parish. (fn. 9) A larger house, occupied in 1667 by Richard Drewer and including a stair chamber and entry, does not appear to have survived. (fn. 10) On a smaller scale is the 17th-century Swan Thatch, formerly the village bakery and later the post office.
The Seavington club was founded by or in 1842, when it had 141 members, presumably drawn from Seavington St. Mary and also perhaps from South Petherton. It seems to have survived at least until 1923. (fn. 13)
About 1563 there were 11 households in the parish, (fn. 14) a figure to be compared with the nine men mustered from Seavington Dennis tithing in 1539. (fn. 15) There were 12 households in 1601. (fn. 16) The population in 1801 was 103. It more than doubled in the next twenty years and reached 275 in 1841. Thereafter there was a steady decline, reaching 113 in 1961 and 104 in 1971. (fn. 17)
The manor of SEAVINGTON DENNIS originated as an estate called Sevenemetone held of the king's thegns by Siward the falconer in 1086. (fn. 18) By 1284–5 it was held of the honor of Gloucester, (fn. 19) and in 1311 the earl of Gloucester presented to the living. (fn. 20) In 1383 it was said to be held of Ellis de la Linde as of his manor of Dinnington, (fn. 21) the Lindes having been mesne lords of Seavington in 1284–5. (fn. 22) Its acquisition by the Crown by 1383 extinguished the overlordship.
The suffix derives from the tenants of the manor. Adam the Dane was in occupation by 1252, when he received grant of free warren there. (fn. 23) He was also tenant of Wraxall (Dors.), which had been held by William followed by Adam the Dane in the early 13th century. (fn. 24) Adam the Dane was in occupation of Seavington in 1284–5, and held it immediately of Hamon de Bordone. (fn. 25) Adam was still alive in 1305 but Robert, Lord FitzPayn (d. 1315), his overlord at Wraxall, had by that time acquired an interest in at least some of the property (fn. 26) and probably had the remainder on the death of Adam before 1311. (fn. 27) John atte Stone was tenant in 1316, (fn. 28) and by 1327 was succeeded by Parnel de la Stone. (fn. 29) She was still there two years later, holding the manor first of Robert, Lord FitzPayn (d. 1354), and Ela his wife, (fn. 30) and then of their feoffee Jordan de Byntre. (fn. 31) The manor was sold in 1354 to William de Wyngham; (fn. 32) three years later Robert de Samborne, probably acting as feoffee, settled it on Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel and Surrey (d. 1376). (fn. 33) His son, also Richard (d. 1397), exchanged it with the Crown for other property in 1383. (fn. 34)
For the next hundred years the Crown let the manor to farm for short periods to royal servants or retainers. Sir Matthew Gournay held it between 1384 and 1390, (fn. 35) Sir Humphrey Stafford from 1399 until his death in 1413, (fn. 36) and Stafford's son, also Sir Humphrey, from 1413 until his death in 1442. (fn. 37) Thereafter a succession of keepers accounted either to the Exchequer, to Crown grantees, or to the treasurer of the Household until 1462. (fn. 38) William Milford received a grant of the manor for life in 1462, (fn. 39) and retained it until after 1468. (fn. 40) In 1481, in return for land in Dorset taken by the Crown, the manor was given to Tewkesbury abbey. (fn. 41) This grant was nullified in 1483 since the acquired land belonged to Glastonbury abbey. (fn. 42) Glastonbury therefore received the manor in the same year, and the grant was confirmed in 1489. (fn. 43) The manor was surrendered at the Dissolution in 1539, and remained in Crown hands until 1551, when it was given to Winchester college. (fn. 44) The college sold its holding, no longer described as a manor, in 1932. (fn. 45)
In 1383 the earl of Arundel's capital messuage comprised a hall, two chambers, a grange, garner, stables, byre, and piggery. (fn. 46) A field called Court Close, possibly the site of the manor-house, lies south-west of the church. (fn. 47)
The predominance of arable in the parish has been a feature at least since Domesday, when only 8 a. of meadow are recorded compared with 3 hides of arable, most of which was in demesne, supporting 120 sheep and 10 pigs. (fn. 48) The demesne still accounted for about half the parish at the end of the 14th century. There were then only 6½ a. of meadow and apart from grazing in the open fields there was only one piece of inclosed pasture within the parish, but 24 a. outside attached to the manor, mostly at Devenysshedoune, later Moorham Down, in Lopen. (fn. 49) The whole property in 1383 was valued without stock at £13 6s. 8d. (fn. 50)
During the next century the demesne is likely to have been let by the Crown farmers. This was certainly the case before the end of the 15th century, when a rental totalling £10 11s. 2d. was divided between 8s. 7d. from the free tenants, 43s. 8d. from six customary tenants, and £7 18s. 11d. from the demesne. (fn. 51) At least from 1511 the demesnes were let by copy on one or two lives, (fn. 52) and rents from them and from the ancient copyholds were combined as assessed rents. (fn. 53) The free tenants, seven in number at the end of the 15th century and led by Sir William Poulett (d. 1488), had increased their payments to 11s. 3d. by 1535–6; (fn. 54) in 1689 the total rent was 10s. 9d. from the same number of tenants, still headed by a Poulett, in the person of John, Lord Poulett (cr. Earl Poulett 1706, d. 1743), and followed by Christopher Poole and Henry Henley. (fn. 55) All free tenants were still at this time paying relief. (fn. 56) Earl Poulett, Thomas Poole, and Henry Henley were the leading freeholders in 1732. (fn. 57) By 1815 the freeholdings amounted in area to 110 a. as compared with 178 a. copyhold. (fn. 58)
Assessed rents in 1535–6 amounted to £10 5s. 10d. (fn. 59) and by 1551 were let in seven units, representing a considerable consolidation since the late 15th century. (fn. 60) There were eight copyhold tenants in 1680 paying virtually the same amount of rent, headed by Richard Drewer. (fn. 61) By 1732 thirteen copyholders, the total rental unchanged, were headed by John Hutchings and Elizabeth Drewer. (fn. 62) During the next seventy years most of the copyhold land was combined in the hands of one lessee, but was still sub-let in smaller units. The remaining 35 a., nearly half in Lopen, were divided between four tenant farmers and some cottagers. (fn. 63) By 1932, when Winchester college sold its land in the parish, most of the estate was in one farm. (fn. 64)
The farms of the 16th century were all below 50 a., the largest that of Peter Locke, part of the former demesne and including the possible site of the manor-house at Court Close. (fn. 65) He was succeeded after 1551 by Thomas Baker, who was Glastonbury abbey's bailiff in the manor in 1535–6. (fn. 66) By 1659 the leading occupiers were Giles Dunster, Tamsin Skellen, Richard Drewer, and John Buckerell, the last of a family who had been freeholders in the parish before the end of the 15th century, and who gave their name to a farm. (fn. 67) Giles Dunster died in 1675 aged 89, and by 1712 his family were no longer holding land in the parish. (fn. 68) They had been overtaken by the Stuckeys, who appeared in 1680 and who by 1709–10 were the most substantial ratepayers. (fn. 69) The Hutchings family rose to prominence during the 1740s, and by 1776 John Hutchings held nine copyhold tenements of Winchester college which he let for about £100 a year. (fn. 70) Much of the college land was let to the Poole family by 1839. (fn. 71)
The predominantly arable parish produced for one of its substantial farmers, Henry Dunster (d. 1668), beans, peas, barley, wheat, and hay, and supported an unspecified number of sheep. (fn. 72) The frequent complaints against overstocking on stubble and fallow and against encroachments on the landshares or baulks in the open fields emphasizes the pressure on both grazing and arable. (fn. 73) The customary stent in the common fields was two sheep to the acre and in the meadow two bullocks or a horse to the acre. (fn. 74) In the 18th and early 19th century the cultivated fields were divided between wheat and Lent grain. (fn. 75) By the end of the 18th century there was 'a deal' of flax and the parish had 'the character of good land for corn'. (fn. 76) Peas, beans, clover, 'great quantities' of potatoes, and hemp were grown besides wheat and barley. (fn. 77) In the 16th century the only timber worth recording was 80 elms 'usually lopped and "shrede" by the tenants', which was enough to maintain and repair their houses. (fn. 78) Oak, ash, and elm was valued in 1815 at over £263. (fn. 79) Incidental references to stocking and complaints in 1649 and 1650 against those who washed wool in the horse pond (fn. 80) suggest that sheep were raised.
The Winchester college surveyor in 1797 recommended that inclosure of the arable fields would add between a quarter and a third to the value of the property. Lord Poulett and Mr. Stuckey were the only other landowners mentioned and the surveyor assumed their ready consent. By this time the arable was in five fields: North, Middle, and Nether fields, Marvel Land, and Gibgaston. It was 'in a high state of cultivation', producing crops each year and having no fallow. (fn. 81) The economics of inclosure had been demonstrated forty years earlier when the value of the small amount of inclosed arable had been put at £1 an acre compared with open arable which ranged from that figure down to 8s. (fn. 82) The quality of the arable varied widely between the fields. Good husbandry, however, produced good crops where tenancies were governed by leases providing for manuring with specified quantities of lime or 'good rotten dung' and for the maintenance of the banks. (fn. 83)
There was, however, little incentive to inclose; the farmers, though holding of several different landlords, in effect worked relatively consolidated lands, and the absence of any grazing on fallow simplified cultivation. Thus in 1839 James Poole of Seavington House, the most substantial farmer, occupied 180 a. belonging to six landlords besides himself, and owned a further 6 a. which another occupied. Robert Ware of Buckrell's Farm held 45 a. of five landlords. (fn. 84) Pooles and Wares continued to farm most of the parish between them until the 1860s. (fn. 85) Inclosure had evidently not proceeded far by 1876, (fn. 86) but may have been given an impetus by the agricultural depression. Labourers were said to be 'leaving the place very fast' in 1895, (fn. 87) and farmers found the situation 'very bad'. Certainly Winchester college took the initiative in arranging exchanges in order to consolidate their own holding in 1914–15, (fn. 88) though in the former Nether field, south of Gummer's Castle, the process was still far from complete in 1932. (fn. 89) That field was still unhedged in 1973 and baulks remained forming large strips.
There are few traces of occupations other than farming. A tanner occurs in 1620, (fn. 90) one or two weavers between 1827 and 1848, (fn. 91) and a sailcloth manufacturer in 1854–5. (fn. 92) In 1851 ten people were evidently employed in canvas making at Lopen, and in the same year at least 30 women and girls worked as glovers. (fn. 93) There was a shop by 1820, (fn. 94) and two by 1859, as well as a baker and a blacksmith. (fn. 95) The presence of an emigration agent by 1875 suggests that the agricultural slump already affected the area. (fn. 96) At the turn of the century the schoolmaster was concerned at the number of girls from the village who left to work at a collar factory at Ilminster. (fn. 97)
Court rolls survive for the period before the accession of Winchester college in the form of extracts or copies for 1522, 1532, and 1537. (fn. 98) From 1551 to 1560 there are both rolls and extracts, (fn. 99) and thereafter proceedings were engrossed until 1925. (fn. 100) During the ownership by Glastonbury abbey there seem to have been two courts each year, described as a halmote for the Hockday session, which might be as late as July, and as curia manerii at other times. Under Winchester college the sessions were sometimes called simply curia or curia manerii, and sometimes courts baron, with no apparent distinction of business. Courts were held at most twice a year, during the Vernal and Autumnal Progresses of the college steward, but were usually held once a year and sometimes less often. By the 1730s sessions were more irregular, and by the end of the century were infrequent. The last presentments were made in 1806, (fn. 101) and the last formal session was held in 1868. (fn. 102) Thereafter business for admissions was completed as necessary, not in the 'usual place' (fn. 103) but at a solicitor's office in South Petherton (fn. 104) or at Winchester. (fn. 105)
A hayward was usually chosen annually at the autumn court, but the office appears to have lapsed in the 17th century. A tithingman was elected in 1552, (fn. 106) but this office too seems to have remained unfilled until the 19th century. An appointment was made in 1815, (fn. 107) and annual elections were made until 1842. (fn. 108)
From the mid 17th century the parish officers were a churchwarden and two overseers, though only one overseer accounted. (fn. 109) Wardens held office in rotation in the 17th and early 18th centuries, but by the late 18th century they and the overseers were nominated in the 'vestry or parish meeting'. (fn. 110) The warden was usually also one of the overseers in the early 18th century, and the offices were shared almost exclusively from the 1780s by the Harding and Poole families. (fn. 111) James Poole, warden 1817–53, was in 1840 described as 'churchwarden perpetual'. (fn. 112) There were usually two wardens from 1858. (fn. 113) The vestry, first referred to in 1740–1, (fn. 114) was evidently dominated by the few substantial farmers in the parish, though agreement to build a poorhouse was said to have been made by the 'inhabitants'. (fn. 115)
Badged paupers were provided with a great variety of support, apart from regular weekly payments, ranging from furniture and domestic equipment to food, clothing, nursing, house rent, and apparently work at spinning and carding. Pauper apprentices were taken by rotation. The poor were housed in the church house in 1671; (fn. 116) a 'parish house' was used for the same purpose in the 1790s, and was repaired by the overseers in 1814. (fn. 117) A new poorhouse was erected on the same site in 1817–18, though paupers' rents continued to be paid for those living elsewhere. The poorhouse, comprising three dwellings, stood in the village street opposite the present Seavington House on the west side of its junction with David's Lane. (fn. 118)
The church of Seavington St. Michael first occurs in 1226. (fn. 121) Its patronage was then disputed between Simon of Dinnington and Agnes of Wraxall, evidence of the early link between Seavington and Dinnington. Dinnington, where a church had been established by c. 1207, (fn. 122) was subsequently a chapelry of Seavington, indicating the prior foundation of the principal church. The benefice was a rectory, and from the early 14th century was in the gift of the lords of Dinnington. The earl of Gloucester, the overlord, presented in 1311, (fn. 123) but by 1314–15 the advowson had passed to the Lindes, tenants of Dinnington manor. (fn. 124) The family held it until after 1465, but in 1470 the presentation was made by trustees headed by William Stourton, Lord Stourton (d. 1478), and William Poulett, (fn. 125) subsequently described as the feoffees of the late Alexander Linde. (fn. 126) Poulett succeeded under settlement in 1480, (fn. 127) and the advowson then passed to successive generations of the Poulett family until c. 1923 when, on the union of the benefice with Seavington St. Mary, the patronage was exercised alternately by Earl Poulett and the chapter of Bristol, patrons of Seavington St. Mary. (fn. 128) Earl Poulett seems to have ceded his rights to the Diocesan Board of Patronage c. 1943. (fn. 129) The inclusion of Lopen in the living in 1960 gave the Board joint rights with the chapters of Bristol and Wells. (fn. 130)
The rectory was valued in 1291 at £6 13s. 4d., (fn. 131) and at £6 14s. 11d. clear in 1535, an earlier composition allowing £4 13s. 4d. to the chaplain at Dinnington. (fn. 132) About 1668 it was worth £30, (fn. 133) in 1815 c. £120, (fn. 134) and in 1851 £208. (fn. 135) The tithes in 1334 were worth £5 6s. 8d. and tithes and offerings together in 1535 were valued at £11. (fn. 136) A rentcharge of £145 was established in 1839, (fn. 137) though the income in 1851 was only £132. (fn. 138)
In 1535 the rector had glebe in Seavington worth 20s. (fn. 139) By 1633 this amounted to 38 a. and a barn. (fn. 140) By 1839 the glebe measured just over 26 a., (fn. 141) and in 1851 was worth £75. (fn. 142) Until c. 1861 the rectory house for the parish was in Dinnington, the rector living either there or, after 1784, at Hinton St. George. (fn. 143) Thereafter resident rectors, from 1871 combining their living with Seavington St. Mary, lived either there (fn. 144) or later in Seavington St. Michael, at a house called the Beeches in Water Lane. (fn. 145) The present Rectory is in Seavington St. Mary.
In 1315 the rector, Thomas de Cranden, was licensed to be absent from his parish for a year in order to serve the dowager countess of Gloucester. (fn. 146) He had to provide for the onera of the parish, including the relief of the poor, and was evidently still in the countess's service in 1319. (fn. 147) John Attemede, appointed rector in 1321, was sent to Oxford to study for 3½ years because of insufficient education. Another priest exercised the cure, providing Attemede with 10 marks a year. (fn. 148) Thomas de Chelrye, rector from 1330, was licensed to be absent for study in 1331 and 1333. (fn. 149) Master John Poulett, rector from 1558, was also rector of Hinton St. George and c. 1559 was resident in Jersey, where his brother Sir Hugh was governor. (fn. 150) Edward Barret, rector 1580–1632, was also reported in 1606 to be living in Jersey. (fn. 151) Robert Clement, rector 1632–52, brother of Gregory Clement the regicide, was ejected by Parliament in 1652. He was replaced by Peter Glasbroke, presented under the Great Seal because the patron was a delinquent. (fn. 152)
During the 18th century the benefice was held by three sons of James Upton (d. 1749), headmaster successively of Ilminster and Taunton grammar schools, and himself a protégé of Lord Poulett. (fn. 153) John Upton (rector 1732–7) was followed by George (rector 1737–65) and Francis (rector 1765– 78). (fn. 154) From 1779 the rectors, resident at Hinton St. George, normally employed assistant curates, who served both Seavington and Dinnington. (fn. 155) The curate in 1815 lived at South Petherton, where he occupied a similar office. (fn. 156) J. P. Billing, rector 1861–1911, served the living in person, but combined it with the curacy of Ilminster (1865–70) and with the vicarage of Seavington St. Mary from 1871. (fn. 157)
In 1412 the interdict was removed from the church after Lollard preaching had been stamped out. (fn. 158) In 1577 the rector was accused of not preaching the quarterly sermons. (fn. 159) Several complaints were made against Edward Barret, for failure to catechize and for not preaching. (fn. 160) In 1635 fringed altar and pulpit cloths had recently been provided; (fn. 161) the communion table was railed in 1677–8. (fn. 162) Holy Communion was usually celebrated four times a year during the 18th century. (fn. 163) In 1747 the 'parish meeting' determined to purchase no more special forms of prayer coming from the bishop or archdeacon, and promised to stand by the churchwarden should any trouble result. (fn. 164) By 1815 Holy Communion was celebrated three times a year and prayers and a sermon were held once a Sunday. (fn. 165) By 1840 two services were held each Sunday, and by 1843 Holy Communion was celebrated four times a year. (fn. 166) The morning congregation on Census Sunday 1851 was 200, equally divided between adults and Sunday-school pupils. At the afternoon service there were 150 adults and 100 children. (fn. 167) By 1870 only one service with sermon was held each Sunday, but there were celebrations every six weeks. (fn. 168)
An acre of ground and a house called the church house had been given to the churchwardens to find a light in the church. (fn. 169) House and land were leased to a Crown grantee in 1571, and by 1671 the house was used to shelter the poor. (fn. 170) The land became known as 'the parish acre' or 'the clerk's acre'. In the early 18th century it was let by the churchwardens and was later allowed for the clerk's wages. (fn. 171) It continued to provide the wages of the sexton during the 19th century, but was sold c. 1924. (fn. 172)
The church of ST. MICHAEL comprises a chancel with south vestry, a nave with north porch, and a western bellcot. (fn. 173) The nave is of the late 12th century and the chancel perhaps slightly later. A papal indulgence issued in 1291 to all visitors to the church (fn. 174) may be connected with the building of the porch and the heightening and refenestration of the nave. The angle buttresses were also then added, and the piscina in the chancel probably also survives from this period. Further alterations, in the 15th century, included new tracery in the older nave windows, new windows in the chancel, buttresses on the south side of the nave, a new chancel arch, and a rood screen. In the late 18th or early 19th century a gallery was put into the west end of the nave and the west window was remade. The nave roof was replaced in 1825, the vestry built in 1858, and the whole church reseated, with the exception of the gallery, in 1899. (fn. 175) References to a tower of stone occur frequently until the 1770s, though by 1791 there was only a wooden turret for the bells. (fn. 176) No trace of such a tower survives.
The church contains a barrel font on an octagonal shaft. In the chancel is the defaced effigy of a civilian of the late 13th century. Fragments of 15th-century glass remain in the tracery of the southwest window of the nave. Two 14th-century brackets in the form of heads were supports for the rood loft. Below the southern bracket is a trefoilheaded piscina with shelf.
There are three bells: (i) undated; (ii) 1938, Taylor and Co.; (iii) uninscribed. Two were rehung and a third added in memory of A. H. Poole (d. 1937). (fn. 177) A fourth bell, by W.S., dated 1611, lies on the floor by the font. The plate includes a cup and cover, the former inscribed with three dates between 1667 and 1671, the latter with the date-mark for 1574. (fn. 178) The baptismal registers begin in 1559, the marriages in 1562, and the burials in 1578. There are no entries between 1651 and 1654, when a civil register was appointed. Entries from 1660 until c. 1740 are incomplete. (fn. 179)
The third, in 1753, was for Methodists. (fn. 180) A small group of Bible Christians appears to have broken away from the congregation in Seavington St. Mary and met at 'Higher Seavington' between 1843 and 1846. There were 22 members in 1843. (fn. 181)
In 1818 there were two day-schools with 8 or 10 children in each. (fn. 182) By 1825–6 a Sunday school taught 20 boys and 27 girls. (fn. 183) This school continued at least until 1835, supported by subscriptions, and was probably that still kept in the chancel of the parish church in 1840. (fn. 184) A dayschool was opened in 1833 and 17 children were taught at their parents' expense in 1835. (fn. 185) Another day-school, under Church auspices, was established in 1843, and a building adjacent to the churchyard was opened in 1844. (fn. 186) It was affiliated to the National Society. (fn. 187) The one salaried mistress was supported by subscriptions and school pence. There was accommodation in the single partitioned schoolroom for 100 children, and in 1893 the average attendance was 73. (fn. 188) By 1903 there were 79 pupils, with an average attendance of 58. (fn. 189) There were then two teachers. The school was also used for parish functions. By 1938 there were 80 pupils on the books, but the average attendance was only 28. (fn. 190) Numbers were increased by evacuees, mostly from London, between 1940 and 1944, and the Rectory was used as a hostel for boys not billeted. (fn. 191) Senior pupils were transferred to Ilminster in 1948, and the school closed in 1968. In 1973 the building was used as a private dwelling.