A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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Holford, named after a crossing point on the stream in the deeply cut valley at the mouth of Holford Combe, lies on the north-eastern slopes of the Quantocks. (fn. 1) The ancient parish, to which the present article relates, (fn. 2) was shaped roughly like a W, its eastern arm detached from the remainder. The western arm, including Holford village, was a narrow band rarely more than 0.5 km. wide but some 3.5 km. from north to south along the course of Holford water. In the centre of the W, linked with the western arm by a narrow strip of woodland, a roughly triangular area included Newhall farm and part of the hamlet of Currill. The narrow eastern part of the parish, known as Batchwell, ran north-east from the Quantock scarp just south of Dowsborough for some 3.5 km., passing the southern edge of Dodington to the outskirts of Nether Stowey. The woodland and commons on the hills were bounded by watercourses and footpaths, with individual holdings in the 18th century divided by fences, heaps of stones, and landmarks named Lord's Bench, Nog Head, Wilmot's Pool, and Poor Oak well. (fn. 3) The whole parish was thought to measure 796 a. in 1881. (fn. 4) In 1884 Holford lost the central area called Newhall to Dodington, and in 1886 Batchwell was also added to Dodington. (fn. 5) Moorhouse and Woodlands, about 450 a. including 45 people in 9 houses, and Alfoxton, some 360 a. but only 1 house, were transferred to Holford from Kilton and Stringston respectively in 1886. (fn. 6) In 1901 the civil parish covered 1,083 a. (fn. 7) In 1933 the civil parish of Dodington was amalgamated with that of Holford to form the civil parish of Holford, measuring 1,316 ha. (3,253 a.) in 1971. (fn. 8)
The two main arms of the parish ran down over the Hangman Grits of the higher slopes of the Quantocks to the gravels and marls of the coastal shelf. (fn. 9) The western arm formed the eastern side of Holford Combe, and fell from c. 213 m. at its highest point to 122 m. at the broadening mouth of the combe. The eastern arm began near the 290 m. contour and ran, at first steeply across common and woodland, and then more gently, reaching 56 m. at Stogursey brook east of Perry Mill.
Holford village lies at the extreme western edge of the parish at the mouth of Holford Combe, at a point where the road west from Nether Stowey divided, one branch running as the Great Road or Old Stowey Lane westwards over the Quantocks to Staple in West Quantoxhead, the other skirting the northern end of the Quantock ridge. St. John's cross, probably marking the junction of the Great Road with the lane from Holford Combe, still stood in 1716. (fn. 10) The subsidiary settlement at Currill or Corewell, partly in Stringston parish, existed by the early 14th century. (fn. 11) Holford village expanded up Holford Combe from the early 19th century. In the 1930s there was residential development in the northern tip of the parish; in the 1950s Holford village expanded north-eastwards into the area that had been added from Kilton.
The eastern side of the triangular road pattern in Holford village was probably created when the lower route from Nether Stowey to Minehead was adopted by the Minehead turnpike trust in 1765, (fn. 12) in preference to the Great Road. Small alterations to the lanes in the east of the parish improved access to woodland at Five Lords' wood in 1788, (fn. 13) and involved the abandonment of part of an old road to Over Stowey. (fn. 14)
Small pieces of land at Currill c. 1300 may indicate the remains of open fields there, (fn. 15) but the shape of closes established in the east by the early 16th century do not suggest common arable. (fn. 16) In the latter area lay a medieval park, part of the Durborough estate and traceable by the field name Trivet's and Tripod's park. (fn. 17) One side of the park lay along the boundary with Dodington; another part of the boundary bank was 'taken down' in the mid 18th century. (fn. 18)
There was an alehouse by 1609 which was closed in 1613. (fn. 19) A cottage later called Burnell's or Holford inn was a public house by 1657, and survived as such until 1755 or later. (fn. 20) Another inn, the Fox and Goose, was established by 1716, and may have survived until after 1754. (fn. 21) In 1980 it was two private houses, of which one was known as Glenside. An inn in the village on the Minehead road was established by 1851. (fn. 22) By 1859 it was known as the Plough, (fn. 23) and remained in 1980.
The population in 1801 was 125. (fn. 24) By 1821 it had almost doubled, but thereafter it gradually decreased, falling to 145 by 1871. An increase to 169 by 1891 was in part due to boundary changes. By 1911 the total had fallen to 88, but within the next twenty years it had almost doubled to 171. Subsequent figures for the parish alone are not available. (fn. 25)
MANOR AND OTHER ESTATES.
Two Domesday estates lay in the ancient parish of Holford. The larger, assessed at 1 hide, was held by Hugh of William de Mohun in succession to Alwold, (fn. 26) and can be traced as a fee held of the honor of Dunster until 1777. (fn. 27) By 1166 the fee was probably one of those held by William de Curci (fn. 28) (d. 1171), and descended as a mesne lordship with the barony of Stogursey, passing in 1224 to Joan, wife of Hugh de Neville of Essex (d. 1234). John de Neville (d. 1246) (fn. 29) was called to warrant the terre tenant against Reynold de Mohun in 1235, (fn. 30) and in 1358–9 another John de Neville claimed the mesne lordship, (fn. 31) which has not been traced later.
It is not known when the estate was subinfeudated, but since the church was surrounded by its lands, Robert son of Alfred, who gave the church to Stogursey Priory in 1175, is likely to have been the terre tenant. (fn. 32) By 1279 the estate was held by Matthew de Furneaux, (fn. 33) and it descended with the manor of Kilve (fn. 34) through the Furneaux family to Elizabeth Blount, whose daughter Alice succeeded in 1399 to the estate called HOLFORD manor. (fn. 35) Like Kilve it was held by the Rogers family from 1419 and passed to the Cunditts in 1664. (fn. 36) John Cunditt (d. 1771) seems to have sold his lands in Holford to John St. Albyn by 1746, and they were absorbed into the Alfoxton estate. (fn. 37)
In 1500 John St. Albyn of Chilton Trivet was holding land called the manors of ALFOXTON AND LYMBER, which included property in Holford. (fn. 38) Later in the 16th century the estate was known as Lymbards, (fn. 39) and by 1718 as the manor of Alfoxton with Lymberds and Holford. (fn. 40) The land in Holford thus seems to have descended in the St. Albyn family with the manor of Alfoxton in Stringston.
An estate called NEWHALL, held in 1066 by Merlesuain and in 1086 by Robert son of Roscelin of Ralph Pagnell, lay in the centre of the ancient parish. (fn. 41) The subsequent ownership is not certain, but it was probably attached to that estate in North Newton in North Petherton which descended from Robert de Odburville with the forestership of North Petherton. The occupant was charged with the service of attending at North Petherton park at fawning time, a service still discharged as a cash rent in the 1730s. (fn. 42) The tenant in 1642 was probably Thomas Clutsome. (fn. 43) By 1720 the estate belonged to the Dodington family and was a holding of 24 a.; (fn. 44) in 1840 Newhall farm was just over 90 a. in extent. (fn. 45) The buildings remaining in 1980 date from the 19th century, but stand on the site of an earlier house.
Part of the same section of the parish, known as CURRILL, was held by the Verneys in the 14th and earlier 15th centuries, (fn. 46) and George Dodington bought a house and land there in 1606. (fn. 47) From another George Dodington, owner in 1720, the estate descended with the manor of Dodington, passing to the Aclands in 1835. (fn. 48)
Holford and Newhall between them included 4 ploughlands in 1086; Holford had 3 a. of meadow, 60 a. of pasture, and 4 a. of woodland, and Newhall included ½ league of woodland. Holford demesne was three times the size of the tenant holdings, but all but one of the 8 tenants on the two estates were bordars. The Holford estate had doubled in value since 1066. (fn. 49)
By 1327 Thomas Trivet held the largest estate in the parish, probably the land in the eastern area which was part of Durborough manor. (fn. 50) Simon Furneaux held lands worth only 40s. in 1359. (fn. 51) The Sydenham family had some land in the parish by 1500, (fn. 52) and the Lytes and the Verneys had small holdings at Currill and elsewhere. (fn. 53) By the late 16th century the Dodingtons had begun to acquire land in the parish, (fn. 54) and by the early 18th century owned Durborough manor and Newhall. (fn. 55)
Corn and peas were listed as tithable crops in the early 17th century. In the 1630s Durborough Hill was divided between sheep and tillage, (fn. 56) and in the 1640s land formerly under grass in the west part of the parish was ploughed and sown in rotation with oats, peas, barley, peas, and fallow, with a single application of lime. (fn. 57) Common rights on the higher ground seem to have been only gradually extinguished. By 1639 the Dodingtons held a fifth share in the former common, presumably the origin of the name Five Lords' wood. (fn. 58) Currill or Holford common remained for stocking cattle until after 1792, (fn. 59) but by 1840 it was occupied by Sir Peregrine Acland. (fn. 60) The marquess of Buckingham acquired some common turbary rights in intermixed holdings, but areas remaining uninclosed by 1819 had been reclaimed by Holford people. (fn. 61) There were still 64 a. of common in 1840, (fn. 62) and some survived in 1980 in the hands of the National Trust. (fn. 63)
Much of the former common was converted to woodland: Holford Edge, in Holford Combe, was coppiced by c. 1727, and in 1734 other parts of the same land were let for felling. (fn. 64) By 1764 Danesborough wood was planted, together with Custom or Newspring wood. (fn. 65) By 1840 the Aclands owned 146 a. of woodland out of a total of 178 a. (fn. 66)
By 1840 the three largest farms were known as Zesters, Newhall, and Winsors, (fn. 67) the first two created out of smaller units by the early 18th century and held from the 1760s onwards on short leases under the Dodingtons and the Grenvilles. (fn. 68) From 1835 the Aclands owned most of the parish, the farms equally divided between arable and grass. (fn. 69) By 1851 a farm of 210 a. had been created by uniting Newhall and Zesters. (fn. 70) By 1980 the land was largely under grass, and had been absorbed into holdings based outside the ancient parish. (fn. 71)
Cloth was made at Holford as elsewhere in the district. Weavers are found in 1584, (fn. 72) and 1684, (fn. 73) a tucker in 1606, (fn. 74) dyers c. 1590 and 1681, (fn. 75) and clothiers in 1680, 1688, 1698, and 1709. (fn. 76) Lewis Pollard (d. 1688), a clothier, left goods valued at over £328, including not only cloth and racking and finishing equipment but also raw materials and dye stuffs suggesting organized production. (fn. 77) There was a linen house in Holford by 1721, (fn. 78) a dye house by 1756, (fn. 79) and two fulling mills in 1664. (fn. 80)
The Dodington copper workings included an ore floor at Newhall and an adit there which was opened after 1787. (fn. 81) The manor court at Dodington in 1817 heard complaints about ore dressing at Newhall and about the unrailed state of shafts. (fn. 82) An extensive tannery was established in Holford Combe by 1840. (fn. 83) By 1856 it possessed a wide range of buildings including a bark mill, tan pits, saw pit, glue house, counting house, and carpenter's shop. (fn. 84) The tannery continued to operate until the beginning of the 20th century, and by 1906 the owner was also a road contractor. (fn. 85) By 1910 the dwelling house, across the stream in Kilve, had been converted into a private hotel, known in 1980 as the Combe House Hotel. (fn. 86) The site includes converted industrial buildings and a large iron water-wheel.
There was a mill at Holford in 1086. (fn. 89) Its site is not known, but the mill was part of the main holding and was thus presumably driven by Holford water. The continuous existence of the mill cannot be traced, but by 1718 a grist mill, known as Over Mill to distinguish it from Higher Mill in Kilve, (fn. 90) lay at the northern tip of the parish. It was still there in 1840 but had been demolished by 1886. (fn. 91)
By 1664 there were three fulling mills on the Rogers estate of Kilve and Holford, of which two were in Holford and one in Stringston. (fn. 92) One of the Holford mills had been built by c. 1590. (fn. 93) The other, described as lately built in 1664, was called Broadwood Mill, and a dye house stood near it. (fn. 94) It remained in use until 1832 or later. (fn. 95)
No record has been found of a separate manor court for any of the estates in the ancient parish. Tenants of Holford manor in the 17th century owed suit to Kilve manor court, sometimes called the court baron of Kilve and Holford. (fn. 98) The Dodingtons' tenants were required to do suit at Dodington manor court, (fn. 99) or in 1625 at Stogursey. (fn. 100)
One churchwarden administered parish affairs by the 1760s, (fn. 101) and there was a single overseer by the early 19th century. There is one reference to a meeting of inhabitants in 1824, and one to a vestry in 1828. (fn. 102) A parish house is recorded in 1699. (fn. 103) A poorhouse still existed in 1840 although the parish had been part of the Williton poor-law union since 1836. (fn. 104) The house was in 1980 part of the house known as Brackenside in Holford Combe. The parish became part of the Williton rural district in 1894, and of West Somerset district in 1974. (fn. 105)
In 1175 the church of Holford was given by Robert son of Alfred to Stogursey Priory. (fn. 106) Successive priors, or the Crown when the priory was in royal hands, held the patronage of the rectory (fn. 107) until the priory's estates passed to Eton College in 1440. (fn. 108) The living remained in the hands of the warden and fellows of Eton until 1913 when Dodington was united with Holford and the college shared the presentation with Lord St. Audries. (fn. 109) The college ceded its patronage on the creation of the benefice of Quantoxhead in 1978. (fn. 110)
The net income of the living was £5 1s. 4d. in 1535. (fn. 111) Its reputed value was £50 c. 1668, (fn. 112) and no more than £70 in 1715. (fn. 113) The benefice was augmented in 1723 by a grant of £200 from Dr. Henry Godolphin, dean of St. Paul's and formerly provost of Eton, met by an equal grant from Queen Anne's Bounty. (fn. 114) It was said to be worth £200 in 1815 (fn. 115) and £225 in 1851. (fn. 116) The living was subject to a small pension paid to Stogursey Priory by 1392 and later to Eton College. (fn. 117)
The tithes were worth £3 6s. 5d. in 1535. (fn. 118) By 1633 they were payable on crops and some stock, and included corn and wool tithes from Durborough Hill and 'hand tithes' (perhaps personal tithes) from 'servants and others' coming from parishes where such were due. Tithes of other stock, of mills, and of meadows had been commuted for moduses. The rector also claimed Easter offerings of 2d. from every communicant (1d. from natives at first communion) and 4d. for weddings, churchings, and certificates. (fn. 119) All remaining tithes were commuted in 1840 for a rent charge of £148. (fn. 120)
Glebe was worth 22s. in 1535. (fn. 121) By the early 17th century it amounted to c. 28 a. (fn. 122) In 1742 nearly 40 a. were bought in Stogursey with augmentation money. Just over 26 a. in Holford and nearly 33 a. in Stogursey were sold in 1893, (fn. 123) and in 1948 there were only 3 a. in Holford. (fn. 124) The rectory house in 1633 had a fourroomed plan with four chambers above. (fn. 125) It was almost entirely rebuilt c. 1815, (fn. 126) and was sold in 1978.
At least three medieval rectors were involved in abortive exchanges. (fn. 127) John Dickinson, rector 1530– 44, acted for Thomas Cromwell during a visitation of Athelney Abbey in 1538. (fn. 128) Thomas Withers, the first known graduate rector of Holford when appointed in 1544, probably came from a Stogursey family. (fn. 129) Richard Bodley, rector by 1558 until his death in 1586, was reported in 1576 for not preaching the regular quarterly sermons and for not reading the services distinctly. (fn. 130) Henry Cox, rector from 1586, lived a little distance from the parish, but in 1593 was reported to have preached monthly. (fn. 131) His successor John Gibson (d. 1609) was suspected of being a drunkard. (fn. 132) John Slater, rector 1610–11, had been at Eton and a fellow of King's College, Cambridge. (fn. 133) Michael Pollard, rector 1663–7, combined the living with Dodington. (fn. 134)
The rectors in the later 18th century were absentees who left the parish to curates. (fn. 135) William Chilcott, rector 1776–88, combined the living with Stogursey. (fn. 136) At the beginning of Chilcott's tenure of Holford there were 28 communicants. (fn. 137) George Buxton, rector 1788–1832, lived at Dorney (Bucks.). In 1815 the curate was John Audain of Nether Stowey, who also served Dodington. (fn. 138) From 1816 John Hole was resident curate until Buxton's death, and during his time one service was held every Sunday morning. (fn. 139) John Barnwell, rector 1832–66, was already vicar of Stogursey and by 1848 was rector also of Sutton Valence (Kent). (fn. 140) By 1840 Sunday services were held alternately morning and afternoon; (fn. 141) in 1851 the average attendance was 100 in the morning and 150 in the afternoon including at each service 30 Sundayschool pupils. (fn. 142) Henry Prentice, rector 1867–87 and a former curate of an Eton living, introduced two services with sermons each Sunday and monthly celebrations. (fn. 143)
The church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN, dedicated to St. John by 1175 (fn. 144) and to St. Mary by 1791, (fn. 145) is a small building comprising chancel with south vestry, nave, and west tower with north porch. The lower parts of the tower suggest a 12th-century origin, and there was refenestration in the early 16th century. (fn. 146) Before probable rebuilding at least of the chancel and north side of the nave between 1842 and 1844 the porch gave entrance to the western end of the nave, and the window on the north side of the chancel was further west. A west gallery was added during rebuilding, but was later demolished. (fn. 147) The vestry was added in 1888. (fn. 148) The nave contains some 17th-century pew ends. In the churchyard is a late medieval cross shaft with mutilated figures.
The registers date from 1558, but marriages were not entered between 1653 and 1660. (fn. 149) Of the six bells, two were cast in the early 16th century, one by Roger Semson of Ash Priors, the other by Thomas Jefferies of Bristol. (fn. 150) The plate was bought in 1844, partly from the proceeds of sale of the old silver. (fn. 151)
An unlicensed schoolmaster was reported in 1603. (fn. 152) A schoolroom stood west of the church by 1840 (fn. 153) and the school, supported by the rector and by voluntary contributions, continued until 1875 when it was replaced by one at Dyche in Stringston. (fn. 154) In 1847 it appears to have been a Sunday school only, with 38 children. (fn. 155)
CHARITIES FOR THE POOR.
Three small charities were established in the 17th century: John Hembrow (d. 1631) gave £5, half the interest for the poor at Easter; Agnes Winsor (d. 1637) gave £5 for poor householders at Christmas; and Alexander Standfast of Kilve gave to the second poor of Holford a rent charge of 6s. 8d. to be given at Easter. (fn. 156) By the 1760s Winsor's and the whole capital of Hembrow's were held by the churchwarden and the whole income was paid to the poor in cash. No rent was received from Standfast's from 1802. (fn. 157) Bread costing £2 was given to the poor of Holford at Christmas 1813. (fn. 158) The Hembrow and Winsor charities produced 6s. between them by 1869, but details of Standfast's were not then known. (fn. 159) By 1955 the total income of the two former was c. 4s., and there were problems over the payment of Standfast's rent charge. The Standfast charity was probably lost soon afterwards. (fn. 160)
In 1891 Mrs. Jane St. Albyn gave £300, the interest to be given to the poor at Christmas at the discretion of the rector and churchwardens. (fn. 161) Unspecified benefactions were said to produce between £8 and £9, distributed in coal, in the early 1970s, (fn. 162) perhaps an accumulation of all the parish charities. No distributions were made after 1978. (fn. 163)