A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 7, Bruton, Horethorne and Norton Ferris Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1999.
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The ancient parish of Stowell lay 4 km. north of Milborne Port and probably derived its name from the stony stream which ran through the parish. (fn. 1) In 1423 the parish was also known as Stowell 'Misgros' after the Musgrove family, formerly owners of the manor. (fn. 2) It was irregular in shape, measuring 2.5 km. from north to south at its widest point and 2 km. from east to west. Roads followed part of the boundary, which included a tongue running south into the valley above Milborne Wick. The parish measured 903 a. (fn. 3) before gaining in 1885 a small part of Charlton Horethorne which had intruded into its west boundary. (fn. 4) In 1933 the civil parish (932 a.) was merged with Charlton Horethorne. (fn. 5)
Most of the parish lies on the south-western slope of Windmill Hill over Fullers Earth, on land falling from 170 m. (550 ft.) in the north to 100 m. (325 ft.) in the south-west. It is crossed by a strip of alluvium cutting through a narrow band of Fullers Earth rock in the west of the parish. A strip of Forest Marble clay along the north-eastern boundary with Abbas and Temple Combe is occupied by the church, the former manor house, and the rectory house. (fn. 6)
Lanes radiated from the village to Charlton Horethorne, Milborne Port, Henstridge Bowden, and Horsington. The principal road from Horsington to Milborne Port now follows a tortuous route through the village, possibly cutting through the former curtilage of the manor. (fn. 7) In 1860 the Salisbury and Yeovil railway was built across the parish from Temple Combe. (fn. 8)
The village, in the east of the parish, lay on two sides of a square of lanes. (fn. 9) Most houses are of stone with tiled roofs, including Clare Farm of the mid 18th century.
In 1641 there were 70 poll tax and subsidy payers. (fn. 12) In 1801 the population numbered 88; it rose to 123 in 1831 and to 133 in 1861. It fell to 94 in 1891, by which date the number of houses had declined to 18. (fn. 13) The population fell to 73 in 1931. (fn. 14)
A black woman called Galatia was buried in the parish in 1605. (fn. 15)
In 1066 STOWELL was held by Turmund and in 1086 by Geoffrey (d. 1093), bishop of Coutances. Geoffrey's nephew and heir Robert Mowbray, earl of Northumberland, forfeited his estates in 1095. (fn. 16) Stowell may have been held by Robert of Watelegh in succession to Alice in the late 12th century. It was granted by Henry of Sandwich to William Malet (d. c. 1216) who is said to have settled it on his daughter Helewise for her marriage to Hugh Pointz (d. 1220). (fn. 17) In 1252 the manor was held of their son Nicholas, probably of his manor of Curry Mallet, for a pair of white gloves. (fn. 18) In 1275 it was said to be held of Anselm Gournay, possibly as mesne lord, (fn. 19) and in the 1280s of the king in chief. (fn. 20) Nicholas Pointz (d. 1273) was succeeded in the direct male line by Hugh (d. 1307), Nicholas (d. 1311), and Hugh Pointz (d. 1337). (fn. 21) Sir Nicholas Pointz, son of the last, sold the overlordship to Sir Matthew Gournay in 1358. After Matthew's death in 1406 it passed to his widow Philip and to her third husband Sir John Tiptoft (d. 1442). (fn. 22) In 1497 the manor was said to be held of the honor of Gloucester. That overlordship was last recorded in 1618. (fn. 23) In 1521, however, Stowell was said, probably in error, to be held of Charlton Musgrove manor. (fn. 24)
In 1086 Stowell was held by Azelin. (fn. 25) In 1252 the manor was granted by Nicholas Pointz to his stepfather Robert Musgrove (d. 1254) (fn. 26) and the terre tenancy descended like that of Charlton Musgrove until 1329. (fn. 27) In that year Hawise Musgrove and her third husband John de Bures settled it on Hawise's granddaughter Parnel Ferrers. (fn. 28) In 1346 it was held by Edmund Molyns (fn. 29) but by 1348 he had been succeeded by Reynold Molyns (d. 1384) whose son Edmund (d. 1385) left a son Reynold under age. (fn. 30) In 1427 the younger Reynold and his wife Alice sold it to Sir John Hody in return for a rent for their lives. (fn. 31) Hody died in 1441 or 1442 (fn. 32) and his widow Elizabeth (d. 1473) married Robert Cap pes. (fn. 33) Elizabeth was followed by her son John Hody (d. 1497) and his widow Edith, later wife of John Plumpton. On Edith's death in 1521 Stowell passed to John Hody's grandson William, son of Andrew Hody (d. 1517). (fn. 34) William (d. 1561) (fn. 35) was succeeded in the direct male line by Richard (d. 1599), John (d. by 1611), (fn. 36) Christopher (d. 1617), Christopher's sons John (d. 1632, s.p.), (fn. 37) Gilbert (d. c. 1652, s.p.), (fn. 38) and Hugh (fl. 1657) in turn, and by Hugh's son Hugh (d. 1671). (fn. 39) Hugh Hody (d. 1677-8), son of the last, was followed by his son John (d. 1698), (fn. 40) by John's widow Lucy, and John's sons John (d. 1710), Arthur (d. 1717), and William (d. 1741). Arthur and William sold off much of the land (fn. 41) and in 1720 William sold the manor and remaining land to Robert Knight, cashier of the South Sea Company. In 1728 Knight's lands were sold by the parliamentary trustees for the company to Thomas Oborne but in 1730 the manor was bought from Oborne by Knight's son, also Robert (cr. Baron Luxborough 1745), (fn. 42) who in 1753 sold it to George Dodington. Thereafter it descended with the Dodingtons' Horsington estate until 1920 when Stowell was divided and sold. (fn. 43)
A court house was recorded in 1280 (fn. 44) and was rebuilt possibly by John Hody (d. 1497). It was let by the 17th century. (fn. 45) Before 1718 it was in the possession of Roger James alias Gilbert who sold it to John Wickham in 1723. (fn. 46) It was held by the Wickham family until 1849 when it was bought by John Bailward (fn. 47) and it descended with Horsington manor until it was sold in 1957. (fn. 48) By the 1830s only part of the house was occupied, but the hall still had carved and gilded panelling. (fn. 49) The house, of five bays and two storeys with a massive west gable chimney, (fn. 50) was largely demolished and rebuilt in the later 19th century. (fn. 51) Known as Stowell Farm, it is a three-bayed house of two storeys and attics, of local stone with ashlar dressings and a tiled roof. The massive chimney of the old house survives.
In 1086 there were 4 ploughlands and 4 teams; 2 teams in demesne were worked by 2 servi; five villani, 7 bordars, and 2 cottars had the remainder. There were 16 a. of meadow and 5 a. of pasture. The demesne livestock comprised 2 riding horses, 6 beasts, 20 pigs, and 140 sheep indicating unrecorded grassland. Since 1066 the estate had increased in value from £2 to £3. (fn. 52)
In 1280 the demesne comprised 240 a. of arable, 40 a. of meadow, and unspecified amounts of pasture. There were also two small vineyards. Villeins paid three quarters of the rental and their works were worth more than their rents. (fn. 56)
In 1535 tithes were paid on wool and lambs. (fn. 57) In 1606 tithes were due on orchards, corn, hay, wool, lambs, dairy produce, calves, pigs, and geese. Most arable was inclosed but some meadow and an arable field called Stowell field still remained open in the early 18th century. (fn. 58) Common pasture on Blackmoor waste was used for cattle in summer and sheep in winter in 1738 but there is no further record of common rights. (fn. 59) One tenant was required in 1758 to sow clover with wheat and beans and another was to mow his ground in alternate years, dressing the land with soap ashes and soil from the barton. (fn. 60) In 1758 the manor comprised mainly small holdings. (fn. 61)
In 1801 dairying predominated and eight small farms were recorded. The largest arable crop was wheat, followed by barley, oats, rape or turnips, peas, potatoes, and beans. (fn. 62) In 1838 only 62 of the 864 titheable acres were arable and there was 47 a. of orchard. (fn. 63) In 1905 there were 23 a. of arable and 799 a. of grass. (fn. 64) Of the 12 holdings over 25 a. in 1838, three were over 50 a. and a further three over 100 a. (fn. 65) Five farms were recorded between 1851 and 1881 and the number of labourers fell from 19 in 1871 to 10 in 1881. Dairymen and women were at work during the same period. (fn. 66) Most farms were described as dairy farms in the early 20th century, each with between 20 and 40 cows, including a herd of pedigree Friesians. (fn. 67)
Woollen and linen weaving, flax spinning, and stocking making were practised on a small scale in the 17th and the earlier 18th century. (fn. 68) A cooper was recorded between 1841 and 1866 and brick and tile makers were recorded in 1861 and 1866. (fn. 69) In 1863 there were three quarries for roadstone (fn. 70) and in 1889 two limekilns. (fn. 71) The arrival of the railway provided employment. There was a shop in 1871, and a few women worked as glovers between 1861 and 1881 but only one was recorded in 1891. (fn. 72)
Tenants owed suit of court in the 17th and 18th centuries and in 1670 courts were to be kept in the hall of the manor house. (fn. 73) Court rolls survive for 1397- 1468 (fn. 74) and a court book for 1848 when a hayward was appointed. (fn. 75) There was a pound in 1838. (fn. 76)
In the 1790s the parish rented a poorhouse, known as Hollomans house and built on roadside waste before 1754. (fn. 77) The overseers had a cottage which was sold c. 1841. (fn. 78) During the early 1800s wood, barley, potatoes, and other provisions were bought for sale to the poor. Four people emigrated in 1841 and the parish agreed to raise money for more pauper emigration. (fn. 79)
The parish became part of Wincanton poorlaw union in 1835, formed part of Wincanton rural district in 1891, and was absorbed into Charlton Horethorne civil parish in 1933. (fn. 80)
A rector was mentioned in 1272 but the advowson was recorded in the early 13th century. (fn. 81) The living remained a sole benefice until 1930 when it was united with Charlton Horethorne. (fn. 82) In 1979 it became part of the united benefice of Henstridge with Charlton Horethorne and Stowell. (fn. 83) The advowson was usually held with the manor, but during the 16th and 17th centuries presentations were sold. (fn. 84) The patronage was retained by the Dodington family until 1978 when it was conveyed to Kenelm Digby who c. 1980 transferred it to the bishop. (fn. 85)
In 1291 the living was valued at £4 13s. 4d. (fn. 86) and in the 15th century it was exempt from taxation because of its poverty. (fn. 87) It was assessed at £6 14s. 10d. net in 1535 (fn. 88) and at £49 16s. 11d. net in 1707. (fn. 89) In 1829-31 the average income of the rectory was £197 gross. (fn. 90) The tithes were valued at £3 6s. gross in 1535 and at £31 in 1707 when most were farmed with Easter dues and the rest taken in kind. (fn. 91) In 1838 tithes were commuted for a rent charge of £325. (fn. 92)
The rector had nearly two virgates of land in 1272. (fn. 93) Glebe worth £4 was recorded in 1535 (fn. 94) and in 1571 there was 29 a. (fn. 95) The glebe was valued at £20 in 1707. (fn. 96) In 1838 there was nearly 28 a., (fn. 97) exchanged in 1868-9 for other land. (fn. 98) More land was bought in 1944. (fn. 99)
The rectory house was recorded in 1571 and in 1639 comprised entry, hall, buttery, milkhouse, and four chambers above. (fn. 100) In 1815 it was described as 'old and bad but in good repair' but was not used by the rector. (fn. 101) By 1840 it was said to be not fit for residence (fn. 102) but was used as a farmhouse. It stood opposite Manor Farm (fn. 103) and was demolished before 1885. (fn. 104) In 1868-9 a new rectory house was built near the church. It was sold after 1930 and in 1993 was known as Stowell House. (fn. 105)
William of Toomer was instituted rector in 1348 when only an acolyte and was given a year to study at Oxford. (fn. 106) There was a curate c. 1533. (fn. 107) In 1548 there was an endowed light (fn. 108) and in 1557 the church claimed a meadow called Church Acre. (fn. 109) From the 1790s until 1888 or later the church received 5s. a year from church land. (fn. 110) Rectors appear to have been resident in the late 16th and the early 17th century. (fn. 111) There were usually four communicants in the 1780s. (fn. 112) In 1808 the parish paid for a choir of two women and six men to be taught twice a week. (fn. 113) In 1815 there was one Sunday service held alternately in the morning and the afternoon when the parish was served by the rector of Charlton Horethorne. (fn. 114) In 1827 it was served from Horsington. (fn. 115)
Attendance on Census Sunday in 1851 was 56 in the morning and 66 in the afternoon both including Sunday school children. (fn. 116) Monthly communion was celebrated in 1870 and there were two Sunday services. (fn. 117) In 1893 there were three Sunday services, a choir of 22, and three bellringers. (fn. 118) Henry Poole, rector 1876-97, composed church music and promoted unison singing for choir and congregation. In 1896 he published The Antiphonal Chant Book which included many of his own works. (fn. 119)
The church of ST. MARY MAGDALENE, so dedicated by 1545, (fn. 120) is built of squared rubble with ashlar dressings and comprises chancel with north vestries, nave with south porch, and west tower. The oldest part of the church is the 14th-century base of the tower. The upper stages were rebuilt in 1748. (fn. 121) Before 1834 the church had 'ancient narrow windows', perhaps of the 13th century, and coved ceilings. It comprised chancel, nave with south porch, and west tower. (fn. 122) A gallery was erected in 1814 and enclosed in 1824. (fn. 123) In 1834 the church, said to be of one piece, (fn. 124) was rebuilt, apart from the tower, to the designs of Mr. Read. (fn. 125) Extensive restoration was carried out in 1890 including removal of a gallery and the provision of new seating, floor, west window, and iron chancel screen. Glass by Clayton and Bell was installed in 1892. (fn. 126) The church, apart from the tower, was demolished in 1913, because of insecure foundations, and was replaced by the present structure, designed in the Perpendicular style by F. Bligh Bond. (fn. 127) The font may date from the 13th century and a bench end is dated 1670.
The three bells were cast in 1815 by Edward Cockey of Frome from two old ones. (fn. 128) The plate includes a cup and cover of 1574. (fn. 129) The registers date from 1574 but there is a gap between 1678 and 1745. (fn. 130)
Two meeting-house licences were issued in 1691, one for Baptists. (fn. 131) In 1761 a house was licensed for a Presbyterian meeting and there were five Presbyterians in the parish c. 1788. (fn. 132) Wesleyan Methodists preached at Stowell in 1844. (fn. 133)
A Sunday school was started between 1818 and 1825. (fn. 134) In 1833 the Sunday school, supported by subscription, taught 12 children and a day school taught 15 children at their parents' expense. (fn. 135) In 1846 only the Sunday school with 20 pupils was recorded. (fn. 136) A cottage at the west end of the village was given to the parish in 1864 to house a school and a teacher. Average attendance in 1889 was 32 and in 1892 the schoolroom was enlarged. (fn. 137) By 1894 the school was in financial difficulties and later closed but in 1905 it reopened with 14 children. (fn. 138) Average attendance fell from 27 in 1907 to 10 in 1911 and although numbers rose again to 14 in 1914 the school closed in 1915. (fn. 139) The old schoolroom was used as a parish hall in the 1940s (fn. 140) and was subsequently converted into a dwelling.