A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

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'Introduction', in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2, (London, 1911) pp. 68-69. British History Online [accessed 15 April 2024]

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THE houses for Benedictine monks in Somerset were all, with the exception of Dunster, which was a cell of Bath, of great antiquity and importance. Glastonbury claims a longer continuous monastic occupation than any other site in England; and the abbeys of Bath, Athelney and Muchelney were all founded before the Norman Conquest.

The Benedictine nuns had establishments at Barrow Gurney and Cannington. The Cluniacs were settled at Montacute and the Cistercians at Cleeve.

At Witham was founded the first English house of the austere order of Carthusians, who had also a second monastery in the county at Hinton.

The less strictly monastic order of Austin Canons had seven houses in Somerset, of which Bruton, Keynsham, and Taunton were the most important, the others being at Barlynch, Burtle Moor, Stavordale and Worspring. There was also a short-lived priory of this rule at Buckland in Durston. It is possible that the sisters of the Hospital of White Hall, Ilchester, belonged to this order, but in the absence of definite evidence their house is here treated as a hospital.

The military order of the Knights Templars had a preceptory at Templecombe, which passed on the dissolution of the Templars to the Hospitallers, who had also a commandery or preceptory at Buckland. Attached to this latter was the only house in England for women belonging to the order of the hospital.

The Dominican Friars settled at Ilchester, the Franciscans at Bridgwater, and the Carmelites made an abortive attempt to establish themselves in Taunton.

Of hospitals the most important were those at Bath, Bedminster, Bridgwater, Wells and White Hall, Ilchester. Others, apparently unendowed lazar houses, existed at Langport, Ilchester, Taunton and probably elsewhere, while at Yeovil almshouses were founded in 1476 for twelve paupers under a warden with two assistant officers in connexion with a chantry. (fn. 1) There was also a hospital of St. John the Baptist at Glastonbury closely connected with the abbey, and other monasteries may have maintained similar establishments.

The chief collegiate church in the county was the cathedral of Wells, connected with which were the college of vicars choral and the college of chantry priests called New Hall. There were colleges also at Stoke-underHamdon, or Stoke-sub-Hambdon, and North Cadbury, while at Puckington there was a semi-collegiate chantry founded by Gilbert de Knovill in 1301, consisting of four chaplains, of whom the chief was called the archpresbyter. (fn. 2)

The only alien house which was not made denizen in Somerset was the priory of Stogursey, a cell of the Norman abbey of Lonlay.

Examples of the solitary orders of hermits and anchorites, if not so frequent as in some counties, are not uncommon. Hermits are mentioned at Winscombe (fn. 3) and Glastonbury (fn. 4) in 1335, and an anchoress at Twerton about the same date. (fn. 5) In 1328 a case occurs of a man apparently passing from the less rigid order of hermits to the strictly secluded position of an anchorite, becoming 'inclusus' in the hermitage of Worth in Aller parish. (fn. 6) A century later, in 1420, a Franciscan friar received papal licence to retire to a cell or hermitage near the Hospitallers' house of Buckland. (fn. 7)


  • 1. Inq. a.q.d. 17 Edw. IV, no. 61.
  • 2. Cal. Pat. 1301–7, p. 3. Presentations of these archpresbyters occur in the Epis. Regs. of Bishops Drokensford and R. of Shrewsbury, passim.
  • 3. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. ix, no. 279.
  • 4. Ibid. no. 934.
  • 5. Ibid. no. 1132.
  • 6. Ibid. i, p. 284.
  • 7. Cal. Papal Letters, vii, 182.