A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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Monksilver lies on the eastern slopes of the Brendon Hills 2.5 km. west of Stogumber, and part of the parish, including the village, is within Exmoor National Park. (fn. 1) The parish may once have been part of the minster estate of Stogumber, and crops on two pieces of land were owed to the rector of Stogumber in 1249. (fn. 2) Until the 14th century the parish was called Silver, but thereafter it was called Silver Monachorum or Monksilver because of its ownership by Goldcliff Priory (Mon.). (fn. 3) The ancient parish included detached areas at Doniford, 3 km. southwest in Old Cleeve, and two parcels in Stogumber, at Horse or High Parks, 2.5 km. south, and at Silverdown, 1.5 km. south-east. (fn. 4) Stogumber absorbed Silverdown in 1883 and High Parks in 1884, and Doniford was added to Old Cleeve in 1884. The civil parish of Monksilver measured 317 ha. (783 a.) in 1971. (fn. 5)
A deep and narrow alluvial valley divides the parish. On each side of the stream the land rises over Leighland and Brendon Hill slates, (fn. 6) steeply at first to the north-east towards Merry Farm, more gradually to the west, reaching 122 m. at Birchanger and the Nettlecombe Park road. To the south the land is higher, reaching 281 m. at Colton Cross. Doniford, on the side of a steep combe, lies on the 335 m. contour, and High Parks even higher at 358 m. (fn. 7)
Monksilver village lies on the south-west side of the valley close to the southern boundary of the parish. It consists of a main street along the valley with a back lane, and two roads running south-west, one on each side of the church. The more southerly of the two roads was known as New Street in the 16th century. The village appears to have expanded at this period and a rental of 1561 records six dwellings in New Street. (fn. 8) Until the early 19th century there were also cottages along a lane running southwest to Bird's Hill. Twentieth-century development has taken place along the street north of the church. (fn. 9) Most of the houses date from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. (fn. 10) Woodford Farm lies 1 km. northwest of Monksilver on the border with Nettlecombe.
Some open-field arable survived, probably east of the village, in the 16th century, (fn. 11) but the glebe was entirely enclosed by 1606. (fn. 12) Wood and underwood were recorded in 1086; (fn. 13) there were c. 34 a. of woodland in 1841, (fn. 14) and c. 80 a. in 1976, forming part of the Combe Sydenham estate. (fn. 15) Field names indicate quarrying in the parish before 1841 when there was a large quarry open. (fn. 16) Copper may have been mined on the eastern outskirts of the parish at Beech Tree Cross. (fn. 17)
The main road through the parish along the valley was turnpiked in 1765 as part of the route from Taunton to Minehead over Ashbeer Hill in Stogumber. The diversion of traffic away from Stogumber to a more easterly route under the Quantocks was followed in 1806 by the adoption of the road through Monksilver village as part of the Wiveliscombe turnpike route to Watchet. (fn. 18) Minor roads from the village now lead to Birchanger, Sampford Brett, and Stogumber.
There were unlicensed victuallers in the parish in the 15th and 16th centuries and ale was sold in 1551. (fn. 19) There was an alehouse in the early 17th century. (fn. 20) A tippling house was recorded in 1665 (fn. 21) and there were two licensed victuallers in the parish in 1736. (fn. 22) The Ram inn, established by 1675, (fn. 23) was called the Half Moon by 1785 (fn. 24) and acquired its present name, the Notley Arms, between 1861 and 1866. (fn. 25) The Red Lion was mentioned in 1743. (fn. 26)
In 1554 there were apparently 63 householders. (fn. 27) There were at least 60 adult males in the parish in 1641 but only 82 subsidy payers were listed in 1667. (fn. 28) In 1801 the population was 260; it reached a peak of 322 in 1831 and then declined rapidly to 164 in 1881, 143 in 1901, and 87 in 1971. (fn. 29)
MANOR AND OTHER ESTATES.
An estate called Silver was held by Alwi Banneson T.R.E. and in 1086 by Richard of Alfred d'Epaignes. (fn. 30) Robert de Chandos, who married Alfred's heir Isabel, gave what was described as the manor of SILVER, later MONKSILVER, as part of the foundation of his priory at Goldcliff (Mon.) in 1113. (fn. 31) The monks held the property, subject to the confiscations which alien priories suffered during the 14th century, (fn. 32) until 1441 when the priory and its lands were given to Tewkesbury Abbey. (fn. 33) In 1474 Tewkesbury exchanged the manor with the canons of Windsor (fn. 34) and the canons retained Monksilver until 1800; it was normally let on long leases, from 1567 until 1716 to the Sydenhams of Combe Sydenham. (fn. 35) The manor was sold to the Revd. George Notley in 1800, (fn. 36) and on his death in 1831 it passed to his son James Thomas Benedictus (d. 1851). James was followed by his son Marwood (d. 1903), then jointly by two of his grandsons, Montague and Marwood Notley (d. c. 1958). The descendants of Montague and Marwood Notley in 1979 were Miss V. A. Notley and Messrs. R. and P. M. Notley, all of Monksilver. (fn. 37)
There was a house called Court Hall, with associated buildings, and fields called Court field, Court moor, and Court berie in the 1460s. Court Hall was let to the manorial reeve in 1469. (fn. 38) The Trevelyans held the house by 1515 and until 1567 or later. (fn. 39)
Two small estates, each called Silver, were held in 1066 by Brismar and Eldred and in 1086 by Alric and Eldred of Roger de Courcelles. (fn. 40) In the early 14th century John Brett held ¼ fee in Monksilver of the manor of Bicknoller, and another freeholder of Bicknoller held a tenement in Monksilver which he leased from Brett. (fn. 41) These estates may have originated in the Courcelles holdings in the parish and probably merged later into the Combe Sydenham estate, which was itself held of Bicknoller. (fn. 42)
The detached estate of High Parks formed part of the Combe Sydenham estate in the 17th and 18th centuries. (fn. 43) Doniford farm was mentioned in the 12th century when it was said to form, with Monksilver manor, part of the estates granted to Goldcliff Priory. (fn. 44) Afterwards Doniford was absorbed into Monksilver manor and was not recorded again until 1796. (fn. 45)
In 1086 the three estates in Monksilver together had land for 12 ploughteams, of which three quarters were in Alfred d'Epaignes's manor. The demesne of that manor had 4 serfs and 2 teams, while the small demesnes of the other two estates appear to have had no teams though one included a serf. The agricultural tenants, 16 villeins and 9 bordars, had 9 teams. Only on the large demesne was there no excess of land over teams. In all, 11 a. of meadow and 238 a. of pasture were recorded. Each of the small estates had the same value, £1, in 1086 as in 1066, while the value of the large estate had increased from £3 to £4, notwithstanding an annual render of 18 sheep to the royal manor of Williton, newly exacted since 1066. (fn. 46)
In 1291 the prior of Goldcliff's estate in Monksilver was valued at £3 0s. 8d. a year. (fn. 47) In 1461, while Monksilver was in the hands of Tewkesbury Abbey, the income from the manor was £13 13s. 4d., and ten years later receipts totalled £17 2s. 7d. (fn. 48) During the 16th century the canons of Windsor had a gross income of about £11 a year. (fn. 49) In the early 17th century rents from Monksilver manor were £18 15s. 10½d. a year, (fn. 50) but in 1715 the annual value was said to be £654. (fn. 51) Sheep were of major importance during the 17th century, and arable crops included wheat, barley, oats, and peas. (fn. 52) There were several malthouses in the village. (fn. 53)
In 1841 there were 13 farms under 50 a., 4 between 50 a. and 100 a., and only 3 over 100 a. including the hill farm of Doniford. Two farms had absorbed neighbouring holdings, and arable land accounted for about two thirds of the parish. (fn. 54) Ten years later the number of farms had been reduced, with the two largest employing a total of 17 men, although the farmer of Doniford employed only 1 man; one farmer employed men both on the land and in his shoemaking business. (fn. 55) By 1904 several holdings had been amalgamated by the Notley family and the parish specialized in barley, wheat, oats, and root vegetables. (fn. 56) In 1939 Birchanger and Burford's farms each contained over 150 a., the latter having increased from 41 a. in 1841. (fn. 57) In 1976 three dairy farms, all over 100 a., accounted for most of the land in the parish and less than one third of the land was under arable cultivation. (fn. 58)
Field names such as Rack close at Woodford suggest cloth making in the parish. (fn. 59) A dyehouse was mentioned c. 1524 (fn. 60) and clothiers were recorded throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 61) One man in the early 17th century had a 'spooling chamber' with weaving implements and wool, and another had 20 lb. of yarn. (fn. 62) In 1675 a clothworker possessed yarn, wool, racks, and pinions worth £53 15s., over half the total value of his goods. Early in the following century a clothier had raw and dressed cloth worth £22 together with yarn, pinions, and a clothier's rack. (fn. 63)
There were clockmakers in Monksilver in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. (fn. 64) In 1851 there were four drapers and grocers in the village, and other occupations included harness makers and strawbonnet makers. (fn. 65)
In 1086 there was a mill at Monksilver. (fn. 66) In 1461 the mill paid £6 3s. 10¼d. rent. (fn. 67) It continued in use until after 1841, (fn. 68) but milling seems to have ceased by 1906. (fn. 69) The 19th-century mill and the house survive, but the wheel and machinery have been removed.
Monksilver formed part of the tithing of Preston Bowyer and Monksilver in Freemanors hundred in 1334 and in the 1560s, (fn. 70) but by 1649 it was a separate tithing. (fn. 71) The manor court leet had jurisdiction both in the parish and over Rodhuish in Carhampton. There are court rolls for 1465–9, 1544, 1550–5, 1567–9, and 1707–14. (fn. 72) The court appears to have been held annually by the mid 15th century, and its officers were a bailiff, a constable, a tithingman, and a pound-keeper. (fn. 73) From the 16th century tithingmen served in rotation. (fn. 74)
The two churchwardens and two sidesmen also served in rotation. (fn. 75) Wardens' accounts were by 1610 approved by the minister and parishioners. (fn. 76) A vestry of four or five and the rector was meeting by 1755. (fn. 77) There were waywardens by the end of the 18th century, (fn. 78) and a poorhouse had been built by 1796. (fn. 79) Monksilver joined the Williton poor-law union in 1836. The parish was part of Williton rural district from 1894 and of the West Somerset district from 1974. (fn. 80)
The 12th-century window on the north side of the chancel predates the first reference to the church at Monksilver in 1291. (fn. 81) The patronage of the living, a rectory, descended with the manor until 1800, when the canons of Windsor, patrons since 1474, retained the advowson at the sale of the manor. The Sydenham family, lessees under the canons, presented between 1572 and 1711. (fn. 82) The benefice was united with Elworthy in 1921, (fn. 83) and in 1969 became part of the united benefice of Monksilver with Elworthy, Nettlecombe, and Brompton Ralph. (fn. 84)
In 1535 the rectory was worth £9 15s. 4d., (fn. 85) and c. 1668 £80. (fn. 86) In 1831 the average net income was £230, (fn. 87) and in 1841 the tithes were commuted for a rent charge of £217 10s. (fn. 88)
In 1606 there were 34 a. of glebe in the parish and a share in meadow in St. Decumans. (fn. 89) In 1846 some glebe was sold as a site for the school, (fn. 90) and the rest was disposed of between 1906 and 1931. (fn. 91) The rectory house was said in 1594 to be in decay. (fn. 92) A new house was built, probably in 1838, in classical style. (fn. 93) It was sold and a new house was erected in the grounds c. 1968. (fn. 94)
Nicholas Foster appears to have held the rectory from 1546 to 1572 despite the ecclesiastical changes which affected most parishes in the period. (fn. 95) Timothy May, rector 1592–1619, and William Wilmott, rector 1621–42, were both accused of failing to preach every Sunday and for neglecting morning and evening prayers during the week. (fn. 96) In 1630 the churchwardens took a collection for an itinerant puritan preacher who visited the parish. (fn. 97) James Upton, rector 1712–49, a former fellow of King's College, Cambridge, and master at Eton, was master of Ilminster grammar school and then of Taunton. (fn. 98) William Walker, rector 1803–25, was also reader to Lincoln's Inn, and the parish was in the charge of a curate who also served Huish Champflower. (fn. 99) Walker's successor, Edward Coleridge, taught at Eton, and the parish shared a curate with Elworthy. Only one service was held each Sunday in 1827. (fn. 100) By 1840 there were two Sunday services and five celebrations of communion each year, (fn. 101) but there were monthly celebrations three years later. (fn. 102) Coleridge was succeeded by William Chilcott (1843–63), who had been resident curate since 1827. Under Chilcott the church was restored and the school built, and he was rural dean from 1844 until his death. (fn. 103) On Census Sunday 1851 morning service was attended by 52 people and the afternoon service by 105. Both services were also attended by 40 Sunday-school children. (fn. 104)
By 1561 the churchwardens were renting the church house from the lord of the manor; (fn. 105) it retained the name until 1786 but by 1707 it was used as a dwelling. (fn. 106) There was a brotherhood at Monksilver by 1530. (fn. 107)
The church of ALL SAINTS, so dedicated by 1449, (fn. 108) comprises chancel with south chapel, nave with south aisle and integral south porch, and west tower. The north wall of the chancel and possibly that of the nave are of the 12th century. The tower, and probably the porch, are of the 14th century but the porch was reconstructed in the 15th when the chancel was widened on the south side, the nave was rebuilt, and the elaborate south aisle and chapel were added. The south chapel, with a heavy statue bracket surviving, was probably that dedicated to St. Giles by 1530. (fn. 109) The roofs are probably of the 16th century with some later embellishment. The fittings include a medieval wooden pulpit approached by a stair in the north wall, a rood screen said to have been brought from elsewhere, (fn. 110) a medieval wooden lectern eagle, and many pews with carved bench ends, including a hunting scene. The font dates from the 15th century and there is an uninscribed latemedieval tomb chest reset under a recess in the north wall. In the south chapel there is a medieval stone altar table. By the south door, which has medieval ironwork, there is a poor box dated 1634. A great yew in the churchyard is possibly that planted by the blacksmith in 1770. (fn. 111)
Houses were licensed for nonconformist meetings in 1672 (fn. 114) and 1689, (fn. 115) and a Quaker lived in the parish in the 1690s. (fn. 116) In 1743 the Red Lion inn was licensed as a Quaker meeting house. (fn. 117)
Wesleyan Methodists were active in the parish in the 1890s and in 1897 the present chapel was built. (fn. 118) It was still in use in 1979. It is constructed of corrugated iron and stands on the edge of the village, just over the border in Stogumber parish.
There was no school in 1818, and children attended a school in Nettlecombe. (fn. 119) Day and Sunday schools were started in 1825 with 45 children, financed by parental contributions. In 1832 a second day school was opened with 31 children. (fn. 120) By 1847, when a new school, united with the National Society, was built on the glebe, (fn. 121) the two day and Sunday schools between them took 58 boys and 31 girls. (fn. 122) The National school was enlarged in 1870 and was supported by a parish rate. (fn. 123) By 1949 there were only 20 children, and the school was closed two years later, the children having transferred to Williton. (fn. 124) The school buildings became a private house.
CHARITIES FOR THE POOR.
In 1641 George Churcheys left £5 for the poor of the parish. By 1786 this sum was said to be part of £50 lent to the Minehead turnpike trust. James Withycombe, by will dated 1752, gave £10 to provide an annual distribution of bread to the poor. (fn. 125) The bread charity was distributed at Christmas until the 1960s by the rector and churchwardens together with coal provided under a bequest of Miss Joanna Gatchell in 1871. (fn. 126) Distributions of the charities were no longer made in 1979. (fn. 127)