A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1978.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The Parish of Merriott (fn. 1) lies 2 miles north of Crewkerne and is traditionally known as Little Ireland. The distinctive dialect, dark hair, and dark complexions of its natives gave rise to unsubstantiated traditions of an Irish colonization. (fn. 2) The parish extends over 3 miles from NE. to SW. and 2 miles from east to west at its widest point. The long SE. boundary with Chiselborough, West Chinnock, and Crewkerne is marked by the river Parrett or by one of its tributaries; the northern boundary follows the Lopen brook. It is bounded on the west by Hinton St. George and Furland in Crewkerne. Its roughly triangular shape enclosed an area of 1,750 a. in 1901. The civil parish was increased to 2,760 a. in 1933 by the addition of lands in the north of Crewkerne, and reduced to 2,711 a. by the return of 49 a. to Crewkerne in 1934. (fn. 3)
From over 250 ft. on Eggwood Hill in the west, the NE. slope of which was ancient woodland, and near Shutteroak House (Schitrock in 1268) (fn. 4) in the south, the ground falls away towards the stream and river beds which bound the parish. The NW. corner lies on loam and flints and provided the principal areas of meadow and pasture in the Middle Ages; field names such as Stoneridge and Longmoor witness to its poor arable potential. Most of the remainder is Yeovil Sands with areas of limestone in the south of the village and clay in the north around Hacking Pit (Haukenesputte in 1375), (fn. 5) where marl was evidently dug. (fn. 6) A quarry was supplying gravel between 1810 and 1817. (fn. 7) The richness of the soil encouraged the development of market gardening from the 18th century. Apart from the streams that bound it, the parish is watered by a brook which cuts off the southern part centred on Marks Barn and Shutteroak houses. It was known as Birdines (1556) or Bardones (1557) water from the field-name Beadon, and drove both Billing's and Court mills. (fn. 8)
The village is close to the centre of the SW. boundary apparently at the crossing of two old routes. One runs along a low ridge from West Chinnock across the Parrett at Bow bridge to Hinton St. George; the other from Chiselborough (and perhaps Martock) in the NE. to Crewkerne in the south. Both routes, the first represented by Church (formerly Higher) Street, the second by Lower Street, Shiremoor Hill, and Townsend, have been diverted in the area of the crossing and form a triangle, completed by Broadway, around the former open field called Hitchen or Landshare. The present importance of Broadway (mentioned as Langebradeweye c. 1300) (fn. 9) as the principal route through the parish from Lopen Head can be dated at least from its adoption in 1765 by the Crewkerne Turnpike trust. (fn. 10) The name Newchester Cross at the junction of Church Lane and Broadway is probably derived from 'Newchurchyard Crose', mentioned in 1608. (fn. 11) There were also boundary marks called Eggwoods Cross, recorded in 1571, and Slades Cross, robbed for its stone in 1576. (fn. 12)
All the older (pre-1750) buildings lie east of the parish church in Church Street and along Lower Street. The SW. end of Lower Street was known in the 19th century as the Borough, (fn. 13) which may suggest a focal point and a possible site for the medieval fair. Both streets contain relatively large numbers of small farms, sometimes with 17th-century houses but often with 18th- and 19th-century dwellings of traditional form and characteristically having a small yard and barn behind the house. Many of the houses have mullioned stone windows, some certainly reset, of a variety of patterns and in three instances they occur on dated buildings (1663, 1729, and 1766), illustrating the persistence of this tradition in the parish. Of the later village houses the so-called Manor House is the most prominent. It has a late-18th-century front of three bays with an extension of one bay to the east. In the 19th century large numbers of cottages were built, both singly and in terraces, particularly in Broadway and towards the SW. end of Lower Street, often filling gaps in the older street frontages. Many, presumably the smaller ones, have been demolished but some, including some short terraces of double-fronted houses, remain. Some were probably built to replace the 24 destroyed in a village fire in 1811. (fn. 14) The Hitchen 'triangle' remained largely undeveloped, except for the frontage to the main streets, until the mid 20th century. Much of this area has since been taken for housing development.
The southern part of the parish comprised some freeholds held under Crewkerne Parva and Merriott manors by the names Shutteroaks, Ashlands, and Ashwell (Ashwell's gate occurs c. 1300). (fn. 15) Shutteroak House is an early-18th-century house of two storeys with a symmetrical front of seven bays, which has mullioned and transomed windows. The area of Bow mill had been settled by the 14th century and later, probably 18th-century, development included Eggwood House on the western boundary and Sockety Farm, north of the village. Sockety is a later-18th-century house with stone gables and a red-brick front. Waterloo Farm, north of Sockety, is c. 1820. Moorlands, a large late-19th-century house in the 16th-century Gothic style, was built on the western edge of the village by Sir G. Gilbert Scott. (fn. 16) Marks Barn House is a large gabled building of c. 1900. Green Nap, a hamlet to the NE. of the village, is linked to Townsend by 20th-century infilling.
The open arable fields in the Middle Ages seem to have stretched across the parish south of Eggwood to the millstream, including the village itself, with extensions by the 14th century further north to Niddons (Netherdon in 1285) and Stoneridge (Stondonrygge in 1400). There is no evidence for secondary field systems at Bow or on the farms south of the millstream. The increase in arable was at the expense of woodland in the 13th century, though Eggwood survived into the 15th century, with a park at its eastern end. (fn. 17) Common meadow lay beside the streams on the parish boundaries in the north and west: Elyngham (Yelinghame in 1556) and Elepolesham in 1285, Ham by 1375, and Levermore and Fenbryage Lake by 1400. (fn. 18) All these probably occupied the areas later known as Longmoor, Ham, and part of Niddons. Common pasture in 1285 was located at Garstune and Slapusweye or Slopeshulle, probably beside the road leading north from the church called Sandy Hole. (fn. 19)
There were at least three village alehouses by 1594 and all were ordered to close after 8.00 p.m. from 1603. (fn. 20) An inn called the Rose and Crown was mentioned in 1619 (fn. 21) and the present King's Head in Church Lane by 1745. The Bell and George inns both occurred in 1770 and both closed in 1958. (fn. 22) The Half Moon stood at Green Nap in 1842 and the present Swan inn in Lower Street by 1866. (fn. 23) A Working Men's Institute, built in Lower Street in 1884 by Major R. H. Hayward of Shutteroaks, probably for his employees at Tail mill, was continuing in 1977. (fn. 24) Friendly societies called the Victoria club and the Women's club were mentioned in 1887, when the Claxton Friendly society, named after a former vicar, was formed. In 1889 the Merriott Permanent Friendly society was established at the Working Men's Institute and there were also coal and provident clubs, and a clothing club which continued until 1936. (fn. 25) The Working Men's Friendly society was still meeting in 1939. (fn. 26) A parish hall at the northern end of Broadway was given in 1924 by Robert Blake of Marks Barn House, and a recreation ground was established in the same year as a war memorial. The Working Men's Institute has been used by the Merriott Social Club since 1975. (fn. 27)
There were some 785 inhabitants in 1619, of whom 170 were adolescents, and 401 communicants at Easter that year. (fn. 28) The population had risen to 1,017 by 1801 and to 1,212 in 1821, and was stabilized at just under 1,500 in the years 1831–71. There followed a steady decline to 1,116 in 1931. Since the Second World War there has been a gradual rise from 1,327 in 1951 to 1,495 in 1971. (fn. 29) The persistence and paucity of surnames in the parish led by the early 17th century to the adoption of nicknames such as curlhead, noghead, and boneback, a custom which continued into the early 20th century. (fn. 30)
Twenty men from the parish were in Monmouth's army in 1685 and John Templeman of Merriott was pardoned for his involvement in the following year. (fn. 31)
Robert FitzHarding (d. 1170) of Bristol, son and brother of successive lords of the manor and founder of St. Augustine's abbey, Bristol, was probably born in the parish. (fn. 32) Charles Price (1776–1853), physician to William IV and son of the vicar, was born in the parish. (fn. 33)
MANORS AND OTHER ESTATES.
At the time of the Conquest the later manor of MERRIOTT formed two estates. One of seven hides was then held 'in parage' by Lewin and Bristward and by 1086 had been granted to the count of Mortain, under whom it was occupied by Dodeman. The second estate, of five hides, occupied in 1066 by Godwin, had passed by 1086 to Harding son of Eadnoth the staller. (fn. 34) Later these two holdings were combined under the ownership of Harding's descendants, their identities surviving in the division of the overlordship. The Mortain overlordship, described as 1½ fee by 1197, passed from Robert, count of Mortain (d. 1090), to his son William, whose lands were forfeited to the Crown in 1106. The other estate, evidently held under the honor of Gloucester by 1201, was described variously as 1 or 1½ fee. (fn. 35) The overlordship continued to be held jointly under both honors until at least 1285. (fn. 36) Thereafter, although a fee was claimed by the holders of the Gloucester honor as late as 1400, the Crown acted as overlord of the whole estate which was stated to be held in chief. (fn. 37)
The manor evidently passed from Harding son of Eadnoth, or Harding de Meriet, to his son Nicholas FitzHarding (d. by 1171), followed by his grandson Henry de Meriet (d. by 1192). (fn. 38) Nicholas de Meriet (d. by 1229) inherited his father's lands in 1212, and in 1229 was succeeded by his son Hugh (d. c. 1236). (fn. 39) From Hugh's son Nicholas (d. c. 1258) the manor passed in turn to Nicholas's son John (d. 1285), and grandson, also John. The last succeeded as a minor and received his lands in 1297. (fn. 40) On his death in 1308 he was followed successively by his sons John (d. by 1322) and George (d. 1328). (fn. 41) From George's son, Sir John de Meriet (d. 1369), the manor descended to his son Sir John (d. 1391), and subsequently to the latter's daughter Elizabeth, wife of Urry Seymour. (fn. 42) On Elizabeth's death without issue c. 1395 the estate was inherited jointly by her cousins Elizabeth and Margaret d'Aumale, granddaughters of George de Meriet (d. 1328) and wives of Sir Humphrey Stafford and Sir William Bonville (d. 1408) respectively. (fn. 43) Under a partition of 1397 the manor was allotted to Bonville (fn. 44) and passed eventually to his grandson William Bonville (d. 1412). (fn. 45) William was succeeded by his brother John (d. 1427), whose heir was his first cousin, William Bonville, Lord Bonville, executed in 1461. (fn. 46) Lord Bonville's widow, Catherine, received a grant of the manor in 1461, and was succeeded by her daughter Cecily (d. 1530), married first to Thomas Grey, marquess of Dorset (d. 1501), and secondly to Henry Stafford, earl of Wiltshire (d. 1523). (fn. 47) Thereafter the manor was inherited by Cecily's son Thomas Grey, marquess of Dorset (d. 1530), whose son Henry (cr. duke of Suffolk 1551) was attainted in 1554, when his estates were seized by the Crown. (fn. 48)
The manor was granted in 1554 to William Rice and Barbara his wife and a reversionary lease for 2,000 years, failing the heirs of William and Barbara, was made to Sir Jerome Bowes in 1575. (fn. 49) The lease was surrendered in 1577 and a new term of 200 years in reversion was made on similar terms to Ralph Bowes in 1580. (fn. 50) Ralph secured a grant of the fee from the Rices in 1585, subject to an annuity for their lives of £50. (fn. 51) Bowes sold the manor to James Hooper in 1587, and he purchased interests held by John Strangways in the same year. (fn. 52) James Hooper (d. 1598) left the manor to his nephew Henry Hooper, who enfranchised much of the estate and granted parts of the manor by three conveyances to Robert Gough between 1605 and 1608 and the rest to John Wyke in 1609 and 1611. John Gough had succeeded Robert by 1614, and in 1623 bought John Wyke's interest from his daughters: Rebecca wife of Thomas Brookes and Frances wife of Thomas Greenwood. (fn. 53)
The manor had been heavily mortgaged by the Hoopers and by 1611 until at least 1625 courts were held by its three or four 'farmers'. (fn. 54) John Gough (d. 1635) was followed by his son Robert who sold the estate to John Pitt of Norton sub Hamdon in 1669. Pitt conveyed it in 1686 to Thomas Rodbard, a London fishmonger, who left it to his nephew John Rodbard (d. 1744) of Merriott. (fn. 55) John was succeeded by his son Henry Rodbard (d. 1792), who left four illegitimate children, the eldest, John Butcher, assuming the name of Rodbard. The last married a bigamist and his children by her did not inherit, the manor passing to his brother William Butcher (later Rodbard) (d. 1843) of West Coker. (fn. 56) After William's death the estate was held jointly by his sister Mary, widow of Silvester Prior Bean (d. 1797), and his niece Charlotte, wife of Edward Whitley (d. 1878).
On Mary Bean's death in 1849 her share descended in turn to her son Reginald Henry Bean (later Rodbard) (d. 1848) and grandson John Rodbard Rodbard (d. 1887). Reginald Henry (d. 1889), son of the last, was succeeded by his sisters Emma (d. 1905) and Frances Sarah, wife of Robert Danger (d. 1895). (fn. 57) In 1906 the manor was partitioned between the joint lords, the lordship passing to the Whitleys, and Frances's estate was split up and sold after her death in 1930. (fn. 58)
The other half of the manor was inherited on the death of Edward Whitley (later Rodbard) by his son Edward William Rodbard Rodbard (d. 1884). Rodbard left it to his uncle, the Revd. H. C. Whitley (d. 1902), whose son H. E. Whitley (d. 1919) received the entire lordship and half the lands when the estate was partitioned in 1906. He was succeeded by his son H. H. Whitley of Canada. The lands were sold in 1920 although the lordship is believed to continue in the family. (fn. 59)
The gardens, curtilages, and dovecot of the manor-house were mentioned in 1285, and the eastern grange of the house, byre, pig-stye by the high chamber, and garden in 1375. (fn. 60) In the 17th and 18th centuries two capital messuages called the Upper and Lower farms were held with the manor and lay near to one another. (fn. 61) Their site has not been traced and it is not certain that they represent the medieval manor-house, traditionally located north of the church where ploughing has revealed building-stone and fire-damaged debris. (fn. 62) The property known as the Manor House at Townsend was the home of the Whitley family before they inherited the lordship. (fn. 63)
The appropriation of the rectory by Muchelney abbey before 1392 and the endowment of a vicarage created a separate rectorial estate which remained in the hands of the monks until Muchelney's dissolution in 1538. (fn. 64) It was then granted to Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, who exchanged it with the king for other lands in 1542. (fn. 65) Henry VIII granted the rectory to the chapter of Bristol in the same year, and the chapter continued to hold it until succeeded in the 19th century by the Ecclesiastical (now Church) Commissioners. (fn. 66) It was described in leases from the later 17th century as a manor. (fn. 67)
The advowson was valued at £20 in 1285 (fn. 68) and the rectory estate was held at farm by 1535 at a rent of £12 1s., a figure which continued unchanged until the 19th century. Early lessees included Sir Amias Poulett (d. 1538) and the families of Pitt (1537–67), Carew, Dawes (1619–72), and Merifield of Woolminstone in Crewkerne (1672–94). (fn. 69) In 1619 the estate comprised a house, 90 a. of land, and a tithe barn valued at £50; and in 1649 65½ a. worth £45 a year. (fn. 70) In 1764 the house, barn, and 85 a. of land were sub-let for £140. (fn. 71) The rectory was leased to Joan Abraham of Purtington, Winsham, in 1694, and she was followed in turn by her son William, of Merriott, in 1708, and grandson Samuel Abraham in 1729. The last was succeeded by his widow Susannah in 1736, and her second husband Henry Fry, lessee from 1743. The estate passed in 1778 to Elizabeth Fry of Chard, and in 1792 by will to Peter Dowding. Dowding died in 1844, leaving his estates in trust for his daughter Elizabeth, wife of the Revd. Adolphus Kent, the lessees being Dowding's executor, Frederick Dowding of Bath (d. 1861), and Frederick's executor, H. H. Burne of Bath. Burne established his title in Chancery in 1869 and under an agreement of 1876 the rectory was partitioned. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners received 5 a. and a tithe rent-charge of £181 1s., with liability to repair the chancel, and Burne purchased the rectory farm of nearly 74 a. and a tithe rentcharge of £18 19s. (fn. 72) In 1764 the rector claimed tithes of all corn and of water-meadows below the water mark. (fn. 73) The tithes were commuted for £180 in 1842. (fn. 74)
The rectory house may have become the vicarage house at the appropriation. The rectory farm stands at the junction of Ashwell Lane and Broadway. Described in 1806 as built of stone and slate in two bays, it included a dairy, back-kitchen, a newlybuilt thatched barn, and a malthouse. The farmhouse and barn were burnt down in 1812 and the present house and barton built. (fn. 75) The rectory tithe barn, standing opposite the church in Church Lane, was mentioned in 1325 and described in 1619 as formerly greater but reduced to one bay. (fn. 76) In 1910 it was granted to the vicar by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and restored, and has been devoted since 1913 to church purposes. (fn. 77)
Bow mill, a house, and a carucate of land were granted by Sir John de Meriet (d. 1391) to John Canon of Lopen and Isabel his wife, for their lives, in 1373. (fn. 78) Canon subsequently acquired the fee; by 1381 he was dead, and in 1383 the property had passed to Isabel's second husband, Richard Slade, who still held it in 1399. (fn. 79) An interest or possibly tenancy may later have passed to Richard's daughter and heir Edith, wife of William Boef, who held lands in the parish in 1433. (fn. 80) In 1400, however, an estate described as Bow mill, Crepe, and 'Northton' was partitioned between the joint lords of Merriott, Sir William Bonville and Sir Humphrey Stafford. (fn. 81) The Bonville share was thereafter held with the capital manor, the Stafford interest descending to the Strangways family with the manor of Kingsdon Cary, (fn. 82) being described in 1559 and 1563 as the manor of MERRIOTT AND BOWMILL. (fn. 83) A lease by the joint owners was made in 1546, but after 1563 the Strangways holding seems to have been terminated in favour of the capital manor and their rights were ceded to the principal lord by John Strangways in 1587. (fn. 84)
John Bevyn of Lufton granted a house, lands, and water-mill to Thomas Lyte of Merriott, which were evidently sold c. 1573 to John Pyne (d. 1607) of Merriott and Curry Mallet. (fn. 85) In 1595 the estate was settled on John's son Thomas Pyne (d. 1609) and Thomas's wife Amy, and was described in 1609 as Court Place and Court mills. (fn. 86) Thomas's widow still held it in 1620–1, but it subsequently reverted to John Pyne's second son Hugh (d. 1628) and passed to Hugh's son Arthur (d. 1639). (fn. 87) As the manor of MERRIOTT it was inherited by Arthur's sister Christabel (d. c. 1662), wife of Sir Edmund Wyndham, Bt., of Kentsford in St. Decumans (d. 1683). Sir Edmund was succeeded by his grandson Edmund Wyndham, who died childless in 1698, and was followed by his widow Mary (d. 1713–14). (fn. 88) Much of the land was sold in 1703 to pay her husband's debts and the remainder left to her brother Sir John Trevelyan, Bt. (d. 1755), of Nettlecombe. From Sir John it passed in turn to his son Sir George (d. 1768) and grandson Sir John Trevelyan (d. 1828). (fn. 89) The manor was mentioned in 1793 (fn. 90) but not thereafter.
The two Domesday estates in Merriott paid geld for a total of 12 hides. Half the Mortain holding was held in demesne with 2 ploughs and 6 serfs and half by 10 villeins and 6 bordars with 4 ploughs. There were 25 a. of meadow, and pasture ½ league in length and breadth. Livestock comprised 35 sheep, 15 swine, 10 head of cattle, and a riding-horse. Half Harding's land, gelding for 5 hides, was demesne with 2 ploughs and 2 serfs and the remainder was worked by 9 villeins and 6 bordars with 2 ploughs. There was meadow land of 10 a. and 3 furlongs of pasture with a single riding-horse, but no mention was made of woodland under either estate. The Mortain property had increased in value from £4 to £7 since the Conquest, while Harding's had fallen from £5 to £4. (fn. 91)
The manor, probably comprising the two Domesday estates, was valued in 1285 at £51 14s. 3d. and included larder dues at Martinmas, church scot, Peter's Pence, two aids, including one on flax, and rents of geese and capons. The demesne then totalled 411 a. of arable, 43 a. of meadow, unspecified amounts of pasture in Eggwood park, Garstune, and Slapusweye, with profits on timber and alderwood. The dower assigned in that year included rents from 6 free and 32 customary tenants. (fn. 92) The value of the manor was given as £41 7s. 4d. in 1308 but may not have included a further grant of dower in that year assessed at £22 8s. 3½d. (fn. 93) The lands held by John de Meriet in 1311 were supposed to be worth £100 a year, although those occupied by George de Meriet at his death in 1328 produced only £14. (fn. 94) The manor was diminished by the grant to John Canon of the estate centred on Bow mill, which in 1381 included nearly 100 a. of land and 6s. rent, (fn. 95) and the remainder of the manor was valued at £40 in 1400. (fn. 96)
At least six freeholds had been created by the 13th century, (fn. 97) particularly in the area known as Ashlands on the southern border with Crewkerne, but most were small. One held by the Ashland family was described in 1312 as a house and virgate of land, the oldest part of their inheritance, and was probably the estate from which they took their name. (fn. 98) Part of the family's lands there descended with a share in Eastham manor, Crewkerne, through the families of Guldene and Kidwelly, passing to the Pouletts in the early 16th century, when they were known as 'Darbies'. (fn. 99) Part of the Ashland family estate was held of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in 1334 and the 16th century, suggesting a connexion with the Order's property in Lopen. (fn. 100) Some 100 a. in Ashlands descended from John Heyron (d. 1501) to his son John (d. 1507), and in the 16th century was divided between the families of Sydenham and Rosse. (fn. 101)
The manor continued relatively intact with 63 tenants in 1525 and 1566–7. In the latter year the tenants were holding 918 a. and paying rents of £46 1s. 11¾d. Three tenants had holdings of 60 a. but apart from cottagers most farms were of 20 a. to 40 a. (fn. 102) The major change came during the lordship of Henry Hooper, who between 1604 and 1608 conveyed much of the manor to his tenants. Fee farm rents were to be paid on enfranchised property and suit to both manor court and mill was reserved. (fn. 103) The size of tenements later decreased and at the sale of the manor in 1669 there were 60 reserved tenancies sharing 120 a. between them; the rest were cottagers and all tenants paid a total of £10 17s. 10d. in rent. (fn. 104) The demesne holdings comprised Bow farm and mills with 105 a., Chescombe farm (probably Manor farm in Lower Street) with 43 a., and 109 a. at Furringdons in Crewkerne. (fn. 105) By 1690 there were 68 freeholders and 55 lease- and copy-holders. (fn. 106)
The Wyndham manor had 26 tenants in 1693 paying rents of £11 1s. 7d., and was also fragmented. By 1703 130 a. had been sold and a further 22½ a. by 1706. (fn. 107) By 1729 there were 74 a. divided between 7 tenements, of which 3 were in hand, and rents amounted only to £1 5s. 2d. (fn. 108) The remainder of the estate had probably been sold off by the early 19th century.
The manor had a rental of £26 in 1800, although this did not include the manor farm and Bow mills with lands of 268 a. held with a further 110 a. in Crewkerne. (fn. 109) Most of the small holdings had been conveyed away by the early 19th century with the exception of cottages in the village. There were 67 of these held on monthly tenancies in 1844 and 26 were advertised for sale in 1845. (fn. 110) By 1881 there were 30 cottagers but in 1906 only 15 remained. At the partition of the manor in 1906 Higher farm had 50 a. and Bow mills 64 a. (fn. 111)
The former open-field pattern cannot be recovered in detail. The field names Wodfurlonge and Beredon (later Beadon) which occur in 1285 suggest woodland clearance, and there are references in 1375 to cleared land in the area of Eggwood. By 1285 the area to the north of Eggwood at Netherdon (later Niddons) was arable, as was Clayhill to the east of the park by 1308. (fn. 112) The names West field, to the west of the village as far as the parish boundary, and Middle field, in the north of the parish, (fn. 113) suggest a later and more simplified field system. Stoneridge in the north-east of the parish lay within an area called East field in 1571. (fn. 114) All former open fields were probably inclosed during the 15th or early 16th centuries with the exception of Hitchen or Landshare. All tenants were ordered to maintain the hedges around the cornfield called Hychyns in 1559 and 1561. (fn. 115) This was gradually eroded by piecemeal inclosure but was in part farmed in strips until the 19th century. (fn. 116) The meadow allotments within Ham, one of the common meadows, were described in the 16th century as mark doles or noble doles, and the flooding of water meadows was mentioned in 1764. (fn. 117)
The farming pattern in 1842 was dominated by the 278 a. held by William Rodbard, including Manor farm of 193 a. and Bow mills of 48 a. John Templeman owned 156 a., and Sockety farm of 84 a. was wholly occupied by minor tenants; William Fitchett Cuff held Moorlands with 88 a., and Susannah Whitley the 'Manor House' with 86 a., both sub-let in small units. (fn. 118) In 1851 Manor farm totalled 227 a., Moorlands 200 a., and in 1867 there were only these two large farms in the parish. (fn. 119) Manor or Merriott farm had decreased to 140 a. by 1870, and there were five other farms with between 50 a. and 100 a. (fn. 120) The continuing number of small holdings, 23 farms in 1889 and 20 in 1939, (fn. 121) is a reflection of the richness of the Merriott soil, and the area devoted to arable remained relatively stable between 1842 and 1905. (fn. 122) The parish continues to be devoted to both arable and dairy farming.
In 1375 the garden and nursery ('noresire') of the manor-house were large enough to be subdivided for a grant of dower. (fn. 123) Tithes paid in 1634 and 1679 on cabbages, carrots, roots, hops, apples, pears, and gardens suggest that the gardening tradition was well established in the parish. (fn. 124) The Whitley family, later lords of the manor, occurred as gardeners from 1718, (fn. 125) and Reginald Whitley, the vicar's son, moved his nursery business from Merriott to Brompton (Mdx.) between 1785 and 1791. (fn. 126) Gardeners and nurserymen were mentioned regularly from the later 18th century, and in 1833 market gardens and grounds planted with potatoes amounted to 196 a. (fn. 127) In 1867 the vicar commented that many of his parishioners bought an acre or two of the 'very rich land' with borrowed money, and throughout the summer the women and children tended the gardens and picked peas, while the husbands hawked the vegetables around the country. (fn. 128) The number of market gardeners fell from 27 in 1861 to 22 in 1866, and 18 in 1889. By 1939 there were only five. (fn. 129)
The largest nursery was owned in 1831 by John Webber, succeeded by his son W. W. Webber in 1846. (fn. 130) The Webbers were bought out in 1852 by John Scott (d. 1886), who published several editions of his 'Orchardist', an extensive catalogue and handbook, and opened a nursery and retail shop in Yeovil. (fn. 131) Before Scott's death the business fell into financial difficulties and was taken over by his mortgagees. Its fortunes had been restored by 1923 when it was sold to R. J. Wallis, and it was continuing as John Scott and Company in 1977. (fn. 132)
Fullers and dyers were referred to in 1575 and 1581, (fn. 133) a woollen draper in 1674 and 1693, (fn. 134) and clothiers in 1665 and 1697. (fn. 135) There were some fustian-weavers, coverlet-weavers, sack-weavers, and rope-makers in the 17th century, and fustian was being sent to London in 1608. (fn. 136) The raw material, hemp, was being grown in quantity at that time. (fn. 137) Other minor activities included tobaccopipe making in 1676 and 1707. (fn. 138)
The employment pattern over the last 150 years has been affected by Tail mill, adjacent to the village but lying in Crewkerne. Formerly manufacturing sailcloth, it has been occupied since 1938 by a plastics company. In 1851 nearly 80 persons were engaged in the flax and sailcloth industry, although some of those may have worked at other factories in Crewkerne. Gloving as a cottage industry then occupied 95 women and girls in the parish. (fn. 139)
A fair was held at Merriott in 1243–4 when Nicholas de Meriet was summoned for unjustly taking tolls from Exeter men. (fn. 140) The fair was taken into the king's hands in 1279–80 and was valued at 6s. 8d. in 1285. (fn. 141) In 1328 George de Meriet tried to reclaim it from the Crown, stating that it had been held by his ancestors from Friday before the Ascension until the morrow of the same feast. It was then worth 12d. a year, (fn. 142) but is not mentioned again.
There were four mills in 1086, three on Dodeman's holding paying 30s. and one on Harding's paying 5s. (fn. 143) The dower assigned to Margaret de Meriet in 1308 included a mill valued at 13s. 4d., and the dower of Maud de Meriet in 1375 part of the rent from 'Lockesmille', possibly Bow mill. (fn. 144) In the same year a freehold water-mill was held under the Meriets for ¼ fee, (fn. 145) possibly the one later known as Court mill.
Bow mill, granted to John Canon in 1373, had in 1400 a great gate, hall and adjoining chambers, solar, kitchen, bakery, furnace, dovecot, stable, byre, and waggon house. (fn. 146) It was leased in halves in 1546 to James Bagge (d. c. 1557), servant of the marquess of Dorset, and to Elizabeth Hooper (d. c. 1560) and her son James. (fn. 147) The mill leat was illicitly diverted in 1572 and the mill seems to have been worked by the Sweetland family by 1561 until at least 1583. (fn. 148) It was still held in halves and described as two mills in 1587 and all tenants owed suit of multure. The lessees had to grind all grain which the lord required for his household at Merriott. (fn. 149) The Hooper lords of the manor occupied the mill-house until its sale to John Gough in 1616, leasing the mill separately by 1602 to Joseph Starr, from whom it was known for a time as Starr's mill. (fn. 150) The mill descended with the manor and was included in John Pitt's purchase in 1669. (fn. 151) By 1726 there were three water-corn-mills which passed from Robert Parker to Francis Buckland in 1751. (fn. 152) The premises were leased to Isaac Hayward in 1791, succeeded by Jesse Hopkins, a Martock miller, who held them until 1848. Members of the Patch family then held the property until 1896, during whose tenure much of the mill was burnt c. 1862 and rebuilt. (fn. 153) The premises were evidently not used as a commercial mill after 1896, (fn. 154) although the mill-wheel and leat both survived in 1977. The house and mill form one building which is probably of later-17th-century origin, although the mill, which is at the north end, may have been rebuilt after the 19th-century fire. The former house may have been the site of a private chapel licensed for use by William Boef and his family in 1457. (fn. 155)
Court mill, so called by 1573, formed part of the estate held by Thomas Lyte from 1543–4. (fn. 156) In 1556 the tenant, William Burd, was convicted of felony and his goods, including an old brass furnace and an iron bar for the mill, were bought by Thomas Lyte. (fn. 157) The mill was held by members of the Lock family by 1866 and in 1906, but ceased to grind shortly before the Second World War. (fn. 158) The millhouse lies south of Lower Street and is probably late 17th or early 18th century in date.
William Ashe built a mill behind his tenement in 1555, known as Berdons mill in 1558. In 1560 Ashe was forbidden to pond back the water in his leat, also used by Court mill, and Thomas Lyte was allowed to pull up Ashe's flood hatches and remove any obstructions. (fn. 159) It was later known as Billing's mill after William Billing, mentioned as miller in 1717. The French family occupied the mill during the years 1794–1840 and 1889–1931, and it was worked until c. 1962. (fn. 160) The mill-house stands on the north side of Ashwell Lane at the west end of the village, flanked by the stone-lined mill-leat.
In 1280 John de Meriet claimed infangthief, frankpledge, gallows, and assizes of bread and of ale, though the jurors of Crewkerne and South Petherton hundreds said that only infangthief and the assizes had been exercised, that thieves ought to be hanged at the gallows of the lord of the hundred, and that de Meriet had only pecuniary rights in the assizes and had no pillory. (fn. 161) There is no further medieval evidence of these claims, but the manor court in the 16th century heard business which included pleas of debt and trespass, confiscation of felons' and fugitives' goods (1556, 1625–6), and millers charging excessive tolls. (fn. 162) In 1599 the Merriott tithingman and posts or jurymen had only to attend the hundred courts at Easter and Michaelmas and were not required to make presentments, apparently justification enough for Merriott to be called a liberty between 1571 and 1576, a claim obviously with medieval origins. (fn. 163)
Court books survive for the years 1555–61, 1568– 84, 1593–5, 1602–3, 1610–26, (fn. 164) 1728–57, (fn. 165) and fairly complete series of court papers for 1674, (fn. 166) 1725–56, 1783–1918. (fn. 167) Courts, described usually in the 16th century as courts leet and view of frankpledge and from the 18th century as courts leet alone, were held twice, and sometimes thrice, a year until the 18th century, when a single court was held, from 1745 at the King's Head inn. Refusal by some jurymen to serve on the homage in 1802 led to distress for their fines and the hope that 'the firmness displayed by Mr. Rodbard will reduce the delinquents to reason'. The homage, in turn, frustrated an attempt by the steward to establish a biennial court in 1849. A hayward, mentioned in 1370 (fn. 168) and sometimes described as keeper of hedges, and a tithingman were appointed from the 16th century. From 1831 a constable's staff, handcuffs, and later the key to the stocks were mentioned. In 1834 and 1839 there were 2 tithingmen. There were 2 haywards by 1834, 4 in 1854, 3 in 1856, and 2 from 1859, called bailiffs and haywards from 1877.
Court business in the later 16th and early 17th century included the presentment of petty larceny, punishment in the pillory and stocks (1571), continuous prosecution of immoral under-tenants, the playing of unlawful games, and even absence from church (1560, 1582). Particular emphasis on scouring ditches and maintaining roads and houses continued into the 20th century, the vestry deferring to the court leet in matters of public nuisance in 1854. (fn. 169)
No evidence has been found of courts being held for the manor of Merriott rectory, but 17th- and 18th-century leases reserved the right of the chapter of Bristol to hold 'a court and survey' at will. (fn. 170) No court rolls survive for the Trevelyan manor of Merriott although suit of court was demanded of tenants as late as 1773. (fn. 171)
There were two churchwardens from 1554 and posts or sidesmen were mentioned in that year and in 1599. (fn. 172) Two sidesmen occurred in 1634 and two overseers of the poor from 1642. (fn. 173) The vestry appointed salaried parish surgeons regularly between 1781 and 1836, mole catchers in 1782 and 1820 on seven-year contracts, and 2 salaried overseers in 1794–5. From 1842 it nominated 2 waywardens, 2 overseers, and an assistant waywarden and rate-collector. The surgeons were not to deal with confinements, fractures, or venereal disease. (fn. 174) No paupers were to be relieved unless they attended church to receive their pay in 1783, or unless they wore a badge in 1792. Vegetables were bought for resale to the poor in 1801 and from 1820 no relief was paid to paupers keeping a pig. Between 1842 and 1847 the churchwardens raised money for pauper emigration. (fn. 175)
A poorhouse, probably in Broadway, was mentioned in 1786 and rebuilt after a fire in 1790. Two additional houses were built for the poor in Hitchen in 1793 and others adjoining the existing poorhouse in 1795 and 1807. All these houses were ordered to be sold in 1836, (fn. 176) although the overseers still owned six cottages in two groups at Broadway in 1842. (fn. 177) The parish joined the Chard poor-law union in 1836. (fn. 178) A lock-up or round house, built of Ham hill stone with stone tiles, survives near Manor Farm. It was mentioned in 1911 when it had not been used for many years. (fn. 179)
A parson and chaplain of Merriott occur between 1171 and 1192. (fn. 180) The patronage of the rectory descended with the lordship of the main manor until 1377, though the Crown presented in 1314 and 1318 during minorities (fn. 181) and also in 1390. In 1377 Sir John de Meriet sold the advowson and 1 a. of land to John Harewell, bishop of Bath and Wells. (fn. 182) In 1378 the bishop gave it for the maintenance of the vicars, boys, choristers, and other ministers of Wells cathedral. (fn. 183) In 1383 Harewell planned to charge the rectory with 25 marks to endow a chantry for the Black Prince, presumably in Wells cathedral, and for a yearly distribution to the choristers. It proved, however, impracticable to impose the charge. The bishop, therefore, gave the advowson and land to Muchelney abbey in 1385, (fn. 184) with licence to appropriate the rectory on the death or resignation of the rector in return for a pension of 6s. 8d. (fn. 185) The appropriation had taken place by 1392. (fn. 186) Thereafter the advowson of the vicarage remained in the hands of Muchelney until the surrender of the abbey to the Crown in 1538, and since 1542 it has belonged to the chapter of Bristol. (fn. 187) A grant of one turn was made to Sir Nicholas Wadham in 1517 for unexplained reasons and the Crown presented in 1660. (fn. 188)
The rectory was valued at £13 6s. 8d. in 1291 (fn. 189) and in 1325 there were crops on 32 a., and tithes, rents, and offerings worth 23s. 4d., the whole valued with stock at £21 6s. 4d. (fn. 190) The rector in 1384 was said to share the profits with Muchelney abbey (fn. 191) but the benefice could not support the charge of 25 marks planned in 1383. (fn. 192)
The vicarage was valued at £6 13s. 4d. in 1445 and £12 4s. 8d. in 1535. (fn. 193) The living was temporarily augmented with £20 a year in 1658 and had a reputed value of £70 c. 1668. (fn. 194) The net income was £312 in 1831 and £324 8s. 11¼d. in 1851. (fn. 195)
Part of the tithes of the demesne, formerly held by Roger, archdeacon of Winchester, were given by Nicholas de Meriet to Bruton priory together with Lopen chapel c. 1209. (fn. 196) A dispute over payment in 1339 was settled by 120s. damages, but by 1400 a pension of 21s. was paid in lieu. (fn. 197) The remainder of the tithes were let to the parochial chaplain in the absence of the rector in 1325 for 10s. a year. (fn. 198) They were valued in 1535 at £10 19s. 2d. and in 1608–9 included those on fustian sent to London and thread delivered to yarn washers. (fn. 199) The vicar refused composition money for wool from the lord of the manor in 1617, claiming that he was shearing his sheep out of the parish. (fn. 200) In 1634, apart from more usual tithes, 1d. was paid for every garden and a tenth of all rents paid by strangers for land in the parish. Amongst other titheable produce was hemp, flax, hops, and honey, and the tithe hay on certain specified meadows. (fn. 201) In 1679 the vicar leased to the lord of the manor for three years all tithes from the latter's lands except those on hemp, flax, carrots, and turnips for £6 a year. The excepted produce was tithed at between 5s. and 2s. an acre. (fn. 202) An agreement by the inhabitants to compound for all tithes from 1816 was rescinded after only two years. (fn. 203) The tithes were commuted in 1842 for a rent-charge of £393. (fn. 204)
Between 1171 and 1192 grazing and the right to gather underwood were granted by the lord to the parson, and between 1236 and 1258 leave to inclose some glebe and the right to place in Eggwood park as many animals as the lord. (fn. 205) The glebe totalled 15 a. in 1613, the same lands were extended at 14 a. in 1842, and had fallen to 5 a. by 1939. (fn. 206) There were 5 a. in 1975. (fn. 207)
The parsonage house may have been used by the vicars after appropriation. A barn was mentioned in 1325, and in 1613 the property then held by the vicar included a house, barn, stable, stall, malthouse, and orchard. (fn. 208) The house was rebuilt in 1776 and enlarged in 1852. (fn. 209)
Philip Bernardini, son of a Florentine banker and rector 1313–31, received successive licences for absence between 1325 and 1331. (fn. 210) His successor, Thomas de London, rector 1331–3, owed 100 marks to two Florentine merchants in 1332, one of whom was Peter Bernardini. (fn. 211) Robert de Samborne, rector until 1362, was a monk from Glastonbury abbey and John Stacy, vicar from 1521 until at least 1554, held the living with that of South Bradon. (fn. 212) In 1618 Alexander Atkins, vicar 1576–1626, was described by his parishioners as 'most contentious and quarrelsome'. He had demanded more than his just tithes, refused communion to those in arrears, and insulted them from the pulpit. (fn. 213) Robert Marks, vicar 1626–57, held the benefice with South Petherton, and his successor, John Greenway, vicar 1657–78, survived the Restoration. (fn. 214) Theophilus Powel, vicar 1719–31, held the living with Backwell, and Thomas Price, vicar 1775–1832, with Fivehead and Swell. (fn. 215)
In 1557 the church was without a silver-gilt cross and spoon, a pyx, and incense boat, sold without the parish's consent. (fn. 216) In 1620, after a church ale with bear- and bull-baiting, a churchwarden was accused of using the communion cup to serve 'alehouse beer' at the bear stake. (fn. 217) The curate in 1632 was alleged to have been so drunk that 'he would have cut off some of his hand to give unto his dog'. (fn. 218) In 1815 services were held once every Sunday, and twice by 1827. (fn. 219) On Census Sunday 1851 the average congregation was 115 in the morning and 140 in the afternoon, including 40 Sunday-school pupils at each service. (fn. 220) By 1870 Holy Communion was celebrated monthly. (fn. 221) Cottage services were held at Boozer Pit by 1887, and by 1890 in Broadway until at least 1891. (fn. 222)
The figure of the Virgin and the lights of the High Cross, Our Lady, and St. Catherine were mentioned in 1538. (fn. 223) Parcels of land called the church house, referred to in 1566–7, suggest the former existence of such a building. (fn. 224) The old rectory tithe barn has been used for parish meetings since 1913. (fn. 225)
The parish church of ALL SAINTS, so dedicated by the mid 13th century, (fn. 226) is built of rubble and ashlar and has a chancel with north and south chapels, aisled nave with south porch, and west tower. The earliest surviving feature is the tower which has thick walls tapering externally. Its date is not certain but its arch may be of the later 13th century and the parapet, semi-octagonal south vice, buttresses, and west doorway and window are all additions of the 15th or earlier 16th century. Also of that date are the porch and the three western bays of the nave and aisles. The old chancel, which was perhaps 14th century and had no side chapels, (fn. 227) was demolished by faculty of 1860, and the nave was extended one bay eastwards and the new chancel and chapels were added to designs by Benjamin Ferrey. The nave roof was renewed, probably at this time, and the entire church was refurnished. Three galleries, put up in 1830, were then removed, (fn. 228) and a leaden heart-case was then found in the north wall of the chancel. (fn. 229) A carved stone in the vestry wall, bearing figures identified as fighting cocks, has been attributed to the 12th century. A similar date has been claimed for a cross-head with a representation of the crucifixion. (fn. 230)
There are six bells: (i) 1733, Thomas Bilbie; (ii) 1827, John Kingston; (iii) 1732, Bilbie; (iv) 1733, Bilbie; (v) 1784, George Davis; (vi) 1955, Taylor of Loughborough. (fn. 231) The plate is of the 19th century. The registers date from 1646 and are complete. (fn. 232)
The ejected ministers of Cricket St. Thomas and Heathfield with three others had dissenting congregations of 160 in 1669, (fn. 233) and a Presbyterian minister, John Turner, was using a house in 1672. (fn. 234) Nonconformist meetings were registered in 1703 and 1705. From 1750 a single house was used by Presbyterians, Anabaptists, and Methodists, but from 1753 by Methodists alone. (fn. 235) A Wesleyan meeting was started in 1811 with 13 members, and in 1851 had bought a site for the chapel built in Lower Street in 1857. Attendances were 29 at evening service on Census Sunday, and the chapel was still in use in 1977. (fn. 236) Further dissenting licences were issued for houses in 1810, 1826, and 1846. (fn. 237)
A congregation of Baptists was formed in 1839 by William Hebditch and the Union or Unity chapel was opened in 1841. On Census Sunday 1851 there were attendances of 32 at the afternoon service and 57 at the Sunday school. A Baptist and Independent chapel in Lower Street was opened in 1878. (fn. 238) It was in ruins in 1903, and the Baptist Union surrendered its interest in 1911. The building continued in use as a Congregational chapel, but was subsequently closed and sold in 1964. (fn. 239) It has since been extended and in 1977 was used by a squash rackets club.
The Brethren met in the parish from 1846 and opened Broadway chapel in 1847. On Census Sunday 1851 there were congregations of 45 in the morning and 120 in the evening. (fn. 240) The cause still continued in 1977.
A Four-Square Gospel Mission hall, built in 1937, (fn. 241) was continuing in 1977 as the Elim Pentecostal church.
For some years the vicar, Alexander Atkins (1576–1626), had a school, and in 1618 taught at least nine boys. (fn. 242) A schoolmaster is mentioned in 1739. (fn. 243) There was a day-school for 20–30 children in 1819, and 55 by 1825–6, and the Sunday school had 100 in 1825–6. (fn. 244) A building for the Sunday school was erected in 1834, and in 1835 had 160 pupils supported by voluntary contributions. Also in 1835 there were two infant schools with 32 children and two day-schools for about 70 boys, all charging fees. The 'farm barton school', evidently held at Manor Farm, was mentioned in 1836. (fn. 245)
The Sunday-school room was used as a National day school by 1861. A School Board was formed in 1875 and an infants Board school for 145 children was built in 1876. The former National school then became a mixed Board school, accommodating 120 children. (fn. 246) The schools had an average attendance of 242 in 1894 and 265 in 1903. (fn. 247) Total attendances fell from 266 to 171 in 1915, 125 in 1935, and 104 in 1946. In 1972 the two buildings were designated a First School, for pupils between five and nine years old, under the comprehensive system centred on Crewkerne. There were 93 children there in 1975. (fn. 248)
CHARITIES FOR THE POOR.
James Hooper (d. 1598), lord of the manor, left £100 as 'a stock' for the poor of the parish. (fn. 249) To this sum Robert Gough added £20, paid over with £3 interest by his representatives in 1713, (fn. 250) and Robert England gave £100, probably before 1800. In 1807 the money was lent on security to local men, and the interest of £12 3s. distributed to the second poor on St. Thomas's day (21 December). The funds were ordered to be invested in 1845 and interest of £10 10s. was being distributed as before in 1872. (fn. 251) In 1933 tickets for clothing worth £8 15s. were given on St. Thomas's day, but in 1974 the income of £11 was used to purchase hymn books. (fn. 252)
Sarah Woodcock (d. 1892), of West Chinnock, left £500 to the vicar and churchwardens, the interest to provide coal, particularly at Christmas, for poor people under the age of 60. In 1933 the income of £12 16s. 4d. was given in coal and in 1967 from £24 9s. 3d. interest, £10 8s. was distributed in cash. A similar bequest of £500 was made by Elizabeth Adams Brown (d. 1904), the interest to be devoted to the deserving poor aged over 60. The income was £15 18s. 8d. in 1933 and £24 9s. 9d. in 1967, distributed in cash. In 1974 the Woodcock and Brown charities, with a total income of £49, were given to 62 people over 60 at 75p each. (fn. 253)