Castle Cary - Local Government

Pages 62-66

A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 10. Originally published by Boydell & Brewer for Victoria County History, Woodbridge, 2010.

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IN THE middle ages Castle Cary was the head of a barony as well as a manor, vill or tithing and parish. It was the administrative centre for the surrounding area until the 19th century when it was subsumed in Wincanton poor-law union and later rural district. From the later 20th-century it was administered largely from Yeovil.


Cary vill was recorded in 1214 (fn. 1) but usually formed part of Caryland, apparently a royal administrative unit including Ansford and possibly part of Pitcombe. Caryland appears to have been regarded as a tithing and in 1334 paid almost a third of the subsidy for the hundred (fn. 2) and in 1539 provided more men for the muster than Yeovil. (fn. 3) The area is last recorded, on a public house token, in 1660. (fn. 4) Cary and Ansford were regarded as a single tithing in the 16th century (fn. 5) although in 1616 Foxcombe was said to be in North Cadbury tithing for the muster, (fn. 6) and in 1638 the town and tithing were distinguished. (fn. 7) By the 18th century Castle Cary had been separated from Ansford and for land tax purposes was divided into three tithings: North Cary, South Cary, and Cockhill, Dimmer, and Clanville but the divisions were not topographical. (fn. 8) The 19th-century census enumerators divided the parish into Castle Cary and tithings of Clanville, Cockhill, and Dimmer. (fn. 9)


In 1360 suit was owed to the courts at Cary every three weeks (fn. 10) but by the 18th century combined courts leet, views of frankpledge, and courts baron met annually in October. Special courts baron were held in the later 18th century when required. After 1791 separate courts baron and leet were kept on the same day but by the 1860s the only courts were courts baron held when needed. (fn. 11) Court records survive for a few years between 1671 and 1738, (fn. 12) and most years between 1762 and 1913. (fn. 13) Courts may formerly have been held in the surviving manorial building called Court House (fn. 14) or in the early 18th century in the George inn, which could have accommodated the absentee lords and stewards. (fn. 15)

The court appointed two constables, although only one served, a tithingman for Castle Cary and Ansford, another for Hadspen, a foreman for Pitcombe and Cole, a hayward, and from 1767 a crier. (fn. 16) In 1712 and 1713 constables were appointed at Quarter Sessions as no courts leet had been held. (fn. 17) The area of the manor in Pitcombe known as Hadspen tithing had its own officers. (fn. 18) In 1839 the parish was said to be governed by a deputy constable chosen at the court leet. (fn. 19) By 1902 the posts of hayward and crier were combined. (fn. 20)

In 1687 pounds were provided at Hadspen and in South Cary (fn. 21) opposite the church. The hayward issued notched tallies known as tokens to anyone impounding animals. When the Meade almshouses were built the pound was moved to South Cary lane but was disused by 1902. (fn. 22) Pillory Place cottage was recorded in 1682. (fn. 23)

Courts baron were said to have been held for Cockhill in the early 16th century (fn. 24) and in the early 17th century suit of court was demanded. (fn. 25)


Churchwardens were recorded in 1544 (fn. 26) and accounts survive from 1628. Their income, derived from rates, seat rents, endowments, and gifts, was spent on church maintenance, repair of church ways including Southtown Road, the way through the Horse Pond, and the road from Clanville, care of the parish bier and its house, and alms to travellers. By the 1660s they paid vermin bounties and purchased a rooknet (fn. 27) and in the 18th century they maintained the Horse Pond, which they walled and paved in 1784. (fn. 28)

The highway surveyors were mending roads and clearing drains from 1769, using statute labour although some people were turned away, and paid for the repair of the turnpike road through Clanville. (fn. 29) In 1821 the churchwardens drew up the highway accounts (fn. 30) but by 1831 the surveyors kept their own book and employed wage labour to repair the highways, railings and house steps, presumably on streets with raised pavements. (fn. 31) By 1891 one man combined the offices of road surveyor and sanitary inspector. (fn. 32)

In 1633 the vicar and 13 men signed the churchwardens' accounts (fn. 33) and the vicar or curate usually chaired the vestry meetings. (fn. 34) Special meetings to consider appeals from the poor such as a man wanting tools were held in public houses rather than the vestry room. (fn. 35) From 1854 the annual vestry was held in the National school but in 1856 the vestry agreed to pay £3 a year for use of the town hall reading room, which was gas lit. (fn. 36) The main business was the election of two overseers and the submission to the magistrates of those eligible to be constable. The vestry ruled on highway matters, set up a committee to deal with nuisances in 1866, and in 1897 decided to provide a burial ground. After the establishment of a parish council the vestry or parish meeting met two or three times a year to elect parish councillors, levy rates, and vote money for street lighting, passing the proceeds to the council. The parish council chairman reported to it in the 1920s and until the late 20th century it proposed council business including the provision of car parking, recreation facilities, and street lighting. (fn. 37)

The parish council first met in January 1895 with eleven members and elected chairman, clerk, treasurer, waywarden, and vice-chairman. Business was similar to that of the vestry. The annual parish meeting elected councillors but in 1924 a poll was demanded. The council was concerned for the parish records, some of which had been lost, replaced the lighting inspectors with a committee, appointed the town crier from 1908, an office which continues, (fn. 38) provided street lighting and watering, maintained the cemetery, opened in 1898 in South Cary, and the South Cary allotments, bought in 1919 and sold in 1969, and pressed for improvements in the post, roads, and railways. (fn. 39)

In 1894 Castle Cary became part of the Wincanton rural district and in 1974 of the Yeovil (later South Somerset) district. (fn. 40) The parochial committee appointed in 1895 by Wincanton rural district council and chaired by James Mackie, who was also chairman of the parish council, dealt with nuisances, sewerage, and watering the streets, and other matters devolved to it by the district council such as running the new market yard. In 1904 there were five sub-committees for scavenging, street watering, refuse collecting, stabling, and the sewage farm and by 1912 there was also a market committee. Street lighting and the cemetery were the responsibility of the parish council. The parochial committee employed a man to look after the sewage works and a horse and cart to clean the streets and remove rubbish. (fn. 41) The district council appointed a separate committee in 1921 to run the water works. (fn. 42) A small part of the parish came under the River Cale and Cary Moor Drainage Board, which first met in 1923. (fn. 43)

In the 1960s a merger of Ansford and Castle Cary parish councils and a new council for the rural parts of both was proposed. (fn. 44) The merger did not proceed but in 1981 a new administrative area of Cary Moor was formed from North and South Barrow, Lovington, Alford, and part of the west of Castle Cary ancient parish. (fn. 45) In 1984 Castle Cary parish council became a town council. (fn. 46)


In 1617 one of the overseers was bound over for not performing his office. (fn. 47) No accounts survive (fn. 48) until the 19th century when the overseers contributed to highway board and union rates, and paid rents for the vestry room in the town hall and the fire engine house. (fn. 49) In the late 18th and 19th centuries they also provided relief in cash and kind, paid for burials and forced marriages and legal bills for cases involving bastardy, abandoned families, settlement, and failure to maintain highways. There was a tradition of feeding the poor at Christmas through a subscription organised by the parish officers. (fn. 50) In 1801 the overseers were acquitted at Quarter Sessions of paying a Bruton man to marry a Castle Cary pauper so making her chargeable to Bruton. (fn. 51) The parish spent over £2,000 on the poor in 1800–1 and again in 1811–12. (fn. 52) The overseers paid the costs of an emigrant to Australia in 1841 but received reimbursement from the churchwardens the following year. (fn. 53)

In 1835 Castle Cary became part of the Wincanton Poor Law Union. (fn. 54) Between 1859 and 1912 the relieving officer had a room in the town hall and between 1874 and 1908 he also rented the shambles. (fn. 55) In 1881 three weavers and a factory hand from Castle Cary were in the Wincanton workhouse. (fn. 56)

Before 1757 a cottage in Woodcock Street had been occupied by the overseers (fn. 57) and in 1767 the poorhouses adjoining Wineyards, at Bailey Hill were recorded. (fn. 58) The latter were exchanged in 1831 for a plot of land north of the road at Higher Flax mills and £100, which was used to build a new house. (fn. 59) That was sold in 1846, the new union workhouse having been opened at Wincanton in 1838, (fn. 60) and was four cottages in the 1930s, known as Poor House Steps. (fn. 61) In 2001 they formed one house known as Four House Steps, Station Road, with Y-tracery windows and a pedimented door.


In 1762 the parish agreed, on the encouragement of the clergy, to provide a fire engine paid for out of the church rate with Ansford contributing. (fn. 62) In 1764 it attended the fire at Bruton Abbey. (fn. 63) The wardens paid for watering it in 1795, building an engine house in 1810, repairing the buckets in 1816, and oiling the pipes in 1841. The engine house was in the corner of the churchyard but by 1870 a building for the engine was rented from the lord of the manor at the street end of the drive to Manor Farm. (fn. 64) In 1893 the vestry ordered the overseer to sell the old fire engine, a primitive machine last used c. 1868, 13 buckets, and water cart and in 1895 the parish council demanded part of the proceeds. (fn. 65) The parishioners demanded a new fire engine in 1896 and later. (fn. 66) Both Boyd's and Donne's factories had fire engines which assisted at a major fire in 1914. (fn. 67)

The fire appliances appear to have been the responsibility of the water company after 1909 but in 1921 they were taken over by the parish council, which decided to form a fire brigade the following year. (fn. 68) A new fire station was built in 1959 (fn. 69) on the corner of Millbrook Gardens, north of the church, and remained in use in 2001 with twelve retained firemen.

A branch of the Red Cross was established with 10 members in 1938 and expanded during the war when a women's section was started. In 1945 they acquired a former military ambulance. In 1946 the Castle Cary and District Ambulance Committee sought grants to maintain it and in 1954 established an ambulance station, taken over by the county council in 1963. (fn. 70)

Castle Cary was paved but not lit in 1840 although the churchwardens maintained a lamp at the Horse Pond in 1841 presumably because it was on a church path. (fn. 71) The Castle Cary Gas Light and Coke Company was formed in 1854, gas rates were collected for street lighting (fn. 72) and by 1866 the town was gaslit. (fn. 73) The works, operated by a resident manager and two stokers, lay at the end of Woodcock Street and gave rise to Gas, later Gas House, Lane, and Gas Terrace or Gas House Row. (fn. 74) By 1904 the company had offices in a former reading room, occupied part of the brickyard in 1905, and by 1906 had built a tank or gasometer. (fn. 75) The premises closed after the Second World War (fn. 76) and the site was developed for housing, although a storage gasometer remained until the later 20th century. By 1884 lighting inspectors, presumably responsible for street lamps, kept their own records. The vestry collected money for lighting in the early 20th century but paid it to the parish council, which replaced the inspectors with a committee. (fn. 77) In 1937 the council adopted electric street lighting supplied by the Wessex Electrical Company. (fn. 78)

The provision of a sewer was considered by the vestry in 1865–6 and a sewage works was built in 1869 on a site leased to the parish for 999 years in 1870 when a complete drainage system for the town was built. In 1884 a sewers rate was levied on 233 property owners. (fn. 79) A new sewage plant was built between South Cary and Dimmer in 1892 and from 1898 the old works was used a refuse tip. (fn. 80) The Castle Cary parochial committee of Wincanton rural district council managed the new sewage works and grew mangolds and cow cabbage around the tanks and kept down the rats. (fn. 81)

29. The roundhouse or lockup on Bailey Hill, was built in 1779 and restored in 1980. Its image is used as the logo of Castle Cary Town Council. To the right is one of the town's finer houses dating from 1767, used as the post office in 2010.

In the later 19th century Gore's well in Woodcock Street was regarded as parish property but was inadequate. (fn. 82) In 1897 a Diamond Jubilee Fountain was erected at the horse pond but it was demolished in the 1920s to make room for the war memorial. (fn. 83) Castle Cary Water Company, formed in 1909, planned a network of water mains to serve the main streets of Castle Cary and Ansford from a reservoir at Lodge Hill with a pumping engine house near the Park Pond. (fn. 84) In 1921 the company was taken over by Wincanton district council but a committee, which paid a manager and an inspector, managed the waterworks. In 1926 it needed new engines and a pump, which were fuelled by oil instead of gas. The costs were apportioned between the surrounding parishes supplied from the works. (fn. 85)

In 1897 the parish adopted the burial acts, the churchyard was closed, and a burial ground was laid out with a mortuary chapel, west of the road, south of South Cary in 1898. The cemetery was extended in 1926. (fn. 86) In 1936 two cottages in Woodcock Street were bought for conversion into public conveniences. (fn. 87) A telephone exchange was built after the Second World War on the former cattle sale yard in Woodcock Street. (fn. 88)



In 1779 the parish authorities felt the need to build a lock up and the vestry approved the use of £12 of charity money towards the £23 cost of building a roundhouse on the site of the tree on Bailey Hill. The cost was to be shared by Castle Cary and Ansford parishes. The stone building was 7 ft in diameter and 10 ft high, its roof capped with a small beehive dome and with ventilators under the eaves. In the 1780s it was said that children over seven found on the streets, presumably during Sunday school hours, were to be put in the roundhouse. (fn. 89)

There was clearly some resentment against the building as it was blown up in 1794 and a reward of £50 offered for information. (fn. 90) It was rebuilt but needed repairs in the 1840s and in 1842 a floor and seat were installed. (fn. 91) In 1867 the vestry considered its disposal for building materials but appear to have overlooked the record of its construction and were uncertain as to whether or not it was manorial. (fn. 92) An attempt by Sir Henry Hoare's steward to sell it to a local builder was quashed after protest (fn. 93) but in 1875 cells were built at the town hall and were rented by the county until 1912 (fn. 94) rendering the roundhouse redundant. In 1922 Sir Henry Hoare offered the council any rights he might have in the roundhouse (fn. 95) which was substantially restored in 1980–1. (fn. 96) It now forms the logo of Castle Cary Town Council. (fn. 97)

30. Town Hall, Market Place, Castle Cary, built as a market house in 1855 to designs by F. C. Penrose. The triangular windows originally lit a floor of corn bins. The open ground floor was enclosed by 1887 with wrought iron railings and gates. The building now houses a museum.


The first police constable for Castle Cary was appointed c. 1856. (fn. 98) A policeman was resident at the town hall by 1881 (fn. 99) and in 1891 there was also a police station at South Cary, which accommodated a sergeant. An attack on the constable c. 1882 had led to the appointment of a second officer. (fn. 100) From 1912 until 1933 the caretaker's accommodation at the town hall was occupied, under an agreement with the county council, by a police constable whose wife acted as caretaker. (fn. 101) The police station closed in the 1970s but re-opened in Victoria Park before 1981. (fn. 102)

In 1903 the vestry thought it desirable that Petty Sessional Courts be kept at Castle Cary. The following year the same wish was expressed by the parish council. (fn. 103) As a result the Castle Cary Occasional Court House was established at the town hall where a local magistrate dealt with drunks and vagrants until 1905 or later. (fn. 104)


  • 1. Pipe R 1214 (PRS n.s. 35), 104.
  • 2. R.E. Glasscock, The Subsidy of 1334 (1975), 259.
  • 3. L&P Hen. VIII, XIV(1), p. 289.
  • 4. Castle Cary Visitor Feb. 1899.
  • 5. A. J. Webb, Two Tudor Subsidy Assessments (Som. Rec. Soc. 88, 2002), 33. A single registrar was appointed for the two parishes in the 1650s: E. H. Bates-Harbin (ed.), Quarter Sessions Records, 1646–60 (Som. Rec. Soc. 28), 231.
  • 6. E. H. Bates-Harbin (ed.), Quarter Sessions Records, 1607–25 (Som. Rec. Soc. 23), 166.
  • 7. Bates-Harbin, Quarter Sessions Records, 1625–39 (Som. Rec. Soc. 24), 306.
  • 8. SRO Q/REl 9/2, 10.
  • 9. TNA, HO 107/1931; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1906, 1939).
  • 10. Cal. Inq. p.m. X, 514.
  • 11. Wilts. RO 383/321–2, 333–4; 3117/13.
  • 12. SRO, DD/SAS H/53/5/3; DD/HH, box 1; Wilts. RO 383/504.
  • 13. Wilts. RO 383/321–2, 333–4; 3117/13.
  • 14. Castle Cary Visitor Nov. 1896, April 1906.
  • 15. Above, econ. hist., inns etc.
  • 16. Wilts. RO 383/321, 333.
  • 17. SRO, Q/SO 9.
  • 18. Ibid. DD/SAS H/53/5/1.
  • 19. Robson's Dir. Som. (1839).
  • 20. Castle Cary Visitor March 1902.
  • 21. SRO, DD/HH, box 1.
  • 22. Above, soc. hist.; Castle Cary Visitor March 1902.
  • 23. Wilts. RO 383/332.
  • 24. TNA, C 3/136/4.
  • 25. Ibid. C 106/193/2.
  • 26. Shilton & Holworthy, Medieval Wills, 59.
  • 27. SRO D/P/cas 4/1/1.
  • 28. Ibid. 4/1/3.
  • 29. SRO, DD/X/BRO 6, book kept by William Clarke, surveyor.
  • 30. Ibid. D/P/cas 13/2/1.
  • 31. Ibid. 14/5/1; above, intro.
  • 32. TNA, RG 12/1901.
  • 33. SRO, D/P/cas 4/1/1.
  • 34. Ibid. D/D/Va 1/4, 2/4.
  • 35. Ibid. 1/4; D/P/cas 4/1/3, 13/2/1.
  • 36. Ibid. D/PC/cas 1/1/1; D/D/Va 12/4.
  • 37. Ibid. D/PC/cas 1/1/1; Castle Cary Visitor Feb. 1896.
  • 38. SRO, D/PC/cas 1/1/1, 1/2/1; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1939).
  • 39. SRO, D/PC/cas 1/2/2, 4/2/1–2.
  • 40. Youngs, Admin. Units, I, 674, 676.
  • 41. SRO, D/R/winc 32/2/1.
  • 42. Ibid. 31/1/1; below, this section.
  • 43. SRO, DD/RR 35.
  • 44. Ibid. D/PC/cas 6/4/1.
  • 45. Ibid. A/AGH 1/63.
  • 46. Ibid. D/PC/cas 7/3/3.
  • 47. Bates-Harbin, Quarter Sessions Records, 1607–25, 197.
  • 48. Records lost since 1938: J. E. King (ed.), Som. Parochial Documents (1938), 84–5.
  • 49. SRO, D/P/cas 13/2/1, 4; above soc. hist.
  • 50. SRO, D/P/cas 2/1/1, 13/2/1; Parson Woodforde Soc. Jnl. XX (4), 8.
  • 51. SRO, Q/SO 17.
  • 52. Ibid. Q/Fr 32/1.
  • 53. Ibid. D/P/cas 14/5/1.
  • 54. SRO, Handlist of Guardians' Rec. 112.
  • 55. G. Venn, Market House (1999), App. 1–2.
  • 56. TNA, RG 11/2398.
  • 57. Wilts. RO 383/504.
  • 58. Ibid. 383/333. Winniards was a personal name in Castle Cary: SRO DD/SAS C/212, survey 1810.
  • 59. SRO, DD/SAS (C/212), survey 1810; ibid. tithe award; Castle Cary Visitor July 1898.
  • 60. Castle Cary Visitor June 1897; VCH Som. VII, 226.
  • 61. OS Map 1:2500, Som. LXV.5 (1930 edn); Living History Group, Time to Reflect, 40.
  • 62. SRO, D/P/cas 4/1/3; Parson Woodforde Soc. Jnl IX (2), 8.
  • 63. Memoirs of Robert Clarke (1829), 12–13.
  • 64. SRO, D/P/cas 4/1/2–3, 13/2/4, 14/5/1; Castle Cary Visitor May 1900, April 1903; July 1912.
  • 65. SRO, D/PC/cas 1/1/1, 1/2/1; Castle Cary Visitor April 1903.
  • 66. Castle Cary Visitor March 1896, April 1903.
  • 67. Castle Cary Past and Present (1974), unpaginated.
  • 68. SRO, D/PC/cas 1/2/2.
  • 69. Som. CC. Lib. negatives 15943, 23160; SRO D/PC/cas 5/4/1; Living History Group, Time to Reflect, 124.
  • 70. Castle Cary Past and Present, unpaginated; Castle Cary and Ansford Guide (1981); SRO, D/PC/cas 1/2/4.
  • 71. SRO, D/P/cas 14/5/1; Bragg, Dir. Som. (1840); above, this section.
  • 72. SRO, D/P/cas 15/1/1, 5; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1906).
  • 73. PO Dir. Som. (1866).
  • 74. OS Map 1:10560, LXIV.NE (1885 edn); TNA, RG 10/2422; RG 11/2395; RG 12/1901; SRO, D/R/winc 14/2/14.
  • 75. SRO, D/P/cas 13/1/21; D/R/winc 14/2/15.
  • 76. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1939); Living History Group, Memories, 75.
  • 77. SRO, D/PC/cas 1/1/1, 1/2/1.
  • 78. Ibid. 1/1/1, 4/3/1.
  • 79. Ibid. D/P/cas 16/2/1; Castle Cary Visitor Sep. 1911.
  • 80. SRO, D/PC/cas 1/1/1; D/R/winc 32/2/1; Castle Cary Visitor June 1897.
  • 81. SRO, D/R/winc 32/2/1; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1906).
  • 82. Castle Cary Visitor Dec. 1910.
  • 83. Living History Group, Time to Reflect, 31.
  • 84. SRO, C/S 30; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1923); OS Map 1:2500, Som. LXV.5 (1930 edn).
  • 85. SRO, D/PC/cas 1/2/2; D/R/winc 31/1/1; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1923).
  • 86. SRO, D/PC/cas 1/2/1–2; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1906).
  • 87. SRO, D/PC/cas 1/2/3.
  • 88. Above, econ hist., market.
  • 89. Som. Co. Herald, 30 Dec. 1933; above, soc. hist., educ.
  • 90. SRO, D/P/cas 4/1/3.
  • 91. Ibid. 14/5/1.
  • 92. SRO, D/PC/cas 1/1/1.
  • 93. Castle Cary Visitor Feb. 1907.
  • 94. The cells were thereafter used for storage: Venn, Market House, 14, App. 1–2.
  • 95. SRO, D/PC/cas 1/2/2, 6/4/1.
  • 96. Ibid. 2/1/1.
  • 97. Ibid. 2/2/24.
  • 98. Castle Cary Visitor May 1900.
  • 99. TNA, RG 11/2395.
  • 100. Ibid. RG 12/1901; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1894); Castle Cary Visitor May 1900.
  • 101. SRO, Q/AP 32; Venn, Market House, 14.
  • 102. SRO, A/AGH 1/63; ibid. D/P/cas 7/3/3; Castle Cary and Ansford Guide (1981).
  • 103. SRO, D/PC/cas 1/1/1, 1/2/1.
  • 104. Ibid. D/PS/winc 3/13.