A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.
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The parish of West Camel, some 3½ miles long and 1¾ mile wide at its broadest, lies 3 miles northeast of Ilchester, and comprised 1,995 a. (fn. 1) The boundary with Podimore follows a green way known as Eastmead Lane, that with Babcary the road known as Steart Lane. A footpath marks the division between Queen Camel and West Camel from the Lambrook almost to the church, and the limits of the southern part of the parish, the ancient estate of Little Marston, are formed by a road on the east and streams on the north and west. The 'ditch' of Lambrook was regarded as the boundary between Little Marston and West Camel in 1241. (fn. 2)
West Camel is bisected by the western part of a ridge of Middle Lias, rising to 216 ft. at West Camel hill. There is evidence of quarrying and limeburning at West Camel hill, Steart hill, and Annis hill during the 19th century. (fn. 3) North of the hill the land falls away abruptly to meadow land on the stiff loam of the Lower Lias; to the west Annis hill rises to 122 ft. but the land on the extreme boundary is only 58 ft. above sea level. South of the ridge the land falls to the valley of the river Cam, around which most of the main settlement is concentrated. Further south, again on the Lower Lias, the road from Queen Camel to Yeovilton (the 'rigeweye' of 1305) (fn. 4) follows the contour at just over 100 ft., though the land still further south falls to below 75 ft.
Apart from the river Cam, flowing south-west in the valley below the lias ridge, there are two streams from Marston Magna flowing through Little Marston. The more northerly has been called Lambrook at least since the 13th century. (fn. 5) The northern half of the parish is less well watered, Dyke brook and a tributary in the extreme north being the only streams of size, forming part of the boundary of the Stock mead. Repeated orders for cleansing ditches and waterways in surviving court rolls (fn. 6) emphasise the value of man-made drainage in the area.
The road pattern in West Camel is complex. The parish is bisected by the Exeter-London road which gradually climbs the dip slope of West Camel hill and finally crosses the ridge in the adjoining parish. This road was turnpiked in 1753 and came under the Ilchester trust. (fn. 7) Several roads lead from it north and west: the road through Podimore to Langport and Taunton branches west at a small green formerly called Cob Door Cross, and later Camel Cross; (fn. 8) northwards two roads serve Downhead, converging above the settlement, and thence lead to Newclose farm and the fields. A fourth road leads north over Steart hill from Conegore Corner towards Babcary and the Charltons. Steart hill is linked to Downhead by Slate Lane, now a green track, which runs along the ridge to West Camel hill, and served both the fields and later the quarries. The roads in the southern half of the parish are more influenced by adjoining settlements; three lead into the Cam valley, the one from Plowage formerly creating a triangular green where it joined the London road, known as Ploughage Green in 1826. (fn. 9) These three roads continue the line of those serving the north of the parish. Roads within the village and further south along the slight ridge meet these at right angles, forming a rough grid. The main settlement of the parish is found scattered rather loosely around this grid.
Fore Street, and its westward extension Keep Street (Kip Street in 1752), (fn. 10) were evidently the principal streets of the village, modern houses between the older farms and cottages still reflecting this position. Roughly parallel, on the southern side of the Cam, is Back Street, having two old established farm-houses (fn. 11) at its western end and more modern development to the east. These two parallel roads are joined by the narrow Frog Lane in the west and by the road from Conegore Corner southwards leading eventually to Yeovil, and for that reason the busiest thoroughfare of the village. For some yards southward from its junction with Back Street this road divides, forming parallel ways around a small green. This road now contains the inn, the former school, the Rectory, and the church.
There are several small clusters of farms and private houses distant from the main settlement. The largest of these, probably dating back beyond Domesday, is Downhead, (fn. 12) which at the end of the 18th century comprised eleven houses. (fn. 13) This is the only ancient settlement in the northern half of the parish, though late in the 18th century 'many bodies regularly arranged in rows' were discovered in two 'catacombs', evidently in this area. (fn. 14) Downhead is now much smaller, but includes the substantial farm-houses of Downhead Manor farm and Glebe farm. Urgashay is a settlement west of the main village. As 'Orgishie' it occurs in 1618, (fn. 15) and at the end of the 18th century was a group of nine houses. (fn. 16) Slowcourt farm represents another such isolated settlement, dating from the early 13th century. (fn. 17) At the junction of Plowage Lane and Keep Street is a later group, evidently a development on the manorial waste, once including the pound, the Second Poor house, and a carpenter's shop with Methodist chapel above it. (fn. 18) Buildings along the London road reflect the importance of this line of communication: there were scattered houses along its route early in the 19th century at Ploughage Green, Conegore Corner, and later around the site of the Methodist chapel, post office, and bakery. (fn. 19) Twentieth-century building in West Camel includes local authority housing at Howell hill, erected in 1926, (fn. 20) houses at Steart hill and South Street, and caravans at Plowage.
Little Marston appears to have had two open fields: East field, in the 13th century reaching the Lambrook to the north-east of Little Marston farm; (fn. 21) and West field, still so named in the 19th century. (fn. 22) By the same date there were still traces of one open field, Hill field, near Downhead, on the southern slopes of West Camel hill, which may originally have occupied the triangle between Slate Lane, the London road, and the road to Downhead from Plowage. (fn. 23) There are also traces of a Middle field, a West field, and an East field at Downhead. Middle field seems to have occupied the area between Downhead Manor Farm and Annis hill. (fn. 24) West field in the 18th century probably lay between Middle field and the Langport road. (fn. 25) There are also traces of furlongs, suggesting an open field, on Steart hill. (fn. 26) These furlongs may have formed part of the East field mentioned in 1437. (fn. 27) West Camel manor had a South field in 1392; it lay south of the road from Queen Camel to Yeovilton and in the 17th century included Warris hill. (fn. 28)
There were 43 inhabited houses in the parish about 1822. (fn. 29) Most of these probably still survive as the rubble-and-tile or thatched farm-houses scattered throughout the parish. The largest single dwelling to survive is probably the so-called Manor House, north of the Rectory, a five-bay stone building of two storeys and attics, with a slate roof and pedimented doorway. It probably dates from the 17th century, but has been much altered and enlarged, having later sash windows. Its only connexion with the manor was as the residence of the tenant of West Camel farm about 1825. (fn. 30)
The population of West Camel in 1801 was 224; there was a gradual rise to 376 in 1851, and then a decline to 224 in 1911. Since the Second World War, and particularly since 1951, the rise has been rapid, reaching 378 in 1961. (fn. 31)
Manors and Other Estates.
Between 939 and 975 three thegns, Aelfar, Cinric, and Brihtric each held lands in 'Cantmell' or 'Cantmel' by grants from Saxon kings, but the lands themselves cannot positively be identified with either West or Queen Camel. (fn. 32) More certain is the grant by Ethelred in 995 to Muchelney abbey. The somewhat suspicious charter purports to confirm to the monastery the land at Cantmael purchased by Abbot Leofric, together with four cassati of land adjoining, given by the ealdorman Aethelmaer. (fn. 33) The abbey certainly held the estate called Camelle in 1086 which afterwards became the manor of CAMEL ABBOTS or WEST CAMEL. (fn. 34) The property gelded T.R.E. for ten hides. (fn. 35)
Muchelney abbey retained the manor until 1538. (fn. 36) Almost immediately the property was granted to Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford and later duke of Somerset. (fn. 37) After his execution and attainder in 1552 his estates were forfeited, but were restored to his son Edward (cr. earl of Hertford 1559, d. 1621) in 1554. (fn. 38) Edward's heir was his grandson William (cr. marquess of Hertford 1641, duke of Somerset 1660), though Camel was in the hands of Edward's widow Frances, then duchess of Richmond and Lennox, in 1629. (fn. 39) William died in 1660 and was succeeded first by his grandson William (d. 1671) and then by his own second son John. John died without issue in 1675 and the estate passed to his niece Elizabeth (d. 1697), wife of Thomas Bruce, earl of Ailesbury. (fn. 40)
Charles Bruce, Lord Bruce, their eldest son, together with his brothers, sold the manor, with the manor of Downhead, to William Player of Hadspen and John Russe of Castle Cary in 1709. (fn. 41) Player died in 1719; his lands were settled on his two sons, one of whom, Thomas, in 1731 procured an Act of Parliament to break the settlement. (fn. 42) Francis Newman of North Cadbury, surviving trustee and devisee of Thomas Player, was lord of the two manors by 1752 (fn. 43) and was holding courts in 1760. (fn. 44) By 1766 his property in West Camel seems to have come to Charles Bragg, who had acquired other parts of the Player estates. (fn. 45) By 1775 the owner was Francis Kingston of Blandford (Dors.). (fn. 46) He was in 1787 succeeded by his greatnephew Francis Kingston Galpine. (fn. 47) Galpine sold the property in 1825 to Richard Webb. (fn. 48) There is no separate reference to the manor of West Camel after that date.
The manor of DOWNHEAD probably originated in the estate held by Dodeman in 1086. (fn. 49) Possibly, though not certainly, it was held in 1166 by Richard Revel. (fn. 50) He or another of the same name was certainly holding two fifths of a fee there of the abbot of Muchelney in 1211. (fn. 51) Richard Revel the younger had succeeded by 1213 but died in 1222, leaving as his heir a daughter Sabina, wife of Henry (I) de Lorty. (fn. 52) She was succeeded in 1254 by her grandson Henry (II) de Lorty. (fn. 53) He held two fifths of a fee of the abbot of Muchelney at Downhead in 1297. (fn. 54) John de Lorty succeeded his father in 1321 and died in 1340, leaving a daughter Sibyl, wife of Robert Holme. (fn. 55)
John du Boys (d. 1309) held the manor of Henry Lorty for a third of a fee, and was succeeded as under-tenant by his daughter Margery. (fn. 56) Walter de Thornhull and his wife Margery sold their interest to Ela, wife of Robert FitzPayn, in 1329. (fn. 57) Walter still claimed rights there in 1340, (fn. 58) though Robert and Ela were clearly in possession in 1354, when they sold the manor to Richard de Acton and John of Somerton. (fn. 59) Four years later Richard made the manor over to Alexander Camel and William Derby; they in turn, acting as feoffees, granted it to Muchelney abbey to provide a chaplain to celebrate in the abbey church. (fn. 60) From that date Robert and Sibyl ceased to be mesne lords. (fn. 61)
The manor then descended with that of West Camel until 1825. Richard Webb, who in that year purchased the manors of Camel and Downhead or West Camel, died before 1839. A namesake living at Melchet Park (Hants) was owner until 1847 when he was succeeded by Francis Webb of Doughty Street, London. (fn. 62) Ten years later he sold it to G. D. Wingfield-Digby of Sherborne Castle (Dors.). The latter was succeeded in 1883 by his nephew John (d. 1888) and then by John's son J. K. D. Wingfield-Digby (d. 1904). His son F. J. B. Wingfield-Digby sold most of the property in 1919. (fn. 63)
The manor of LITTLE MARSTON may originally have been part of the parish of Marston Magna. Until the 19th century it was, like Marston Magna, in the hundred of Horethorne. (fn. 64) It may well have been one of the estates at Marston held by a thegn in the Confessor's time. (fn. 65) The manor of Marston was held by the count of Mortain in 1086, (fn. 66) and Little Marston was said to have been held of Robert, count of Mortain. (fn. 67) It was in the hands of John as count of Mortain before he came to the throne in 1199, (fn. 68) and was thereafter held in chief as parcel of the manor of Barwick. (fn. 69) The connexion with Barwick was retained at least until 1462. (fn. 70)
William son of John held the estate of Robert, count of Mortain. (fn. 71) By 1199 the tenant was Fulk de Cauntelo. (fn. 72) He was evidently succeeded by Sir William Haket, who may have married Fulk's heiress; Haket was certainly lord of Little Marston in 1214, though evidently not in his own right, since in 1245 he became tenant for life of William de Cauntelo (II). (fn. 73) William de Cauntelo died in 1251 and his son William in 1254. The heir was his grandson George (d. 1273). George's successor was John (I) de Hastings (later Lord Hastings (d. 1313)), son of his sister Joan. (fn. 74)
John de Hastings had livery of his lands in 1283. (fn. 75) He was succeeded by his second son John (II) (d. 1325), and then by his grandson Laurence (cr. earl of Pembroke 1339). (fn. 76) Laurence died in 1348, his son John in 1375, and his grandson, also John, in 1389. The heir to the estate was Reynold Grey, Lord Grey of Ruthin. (fn. 77) Grey, however, secured only the reversion, Little Marston forming part of the dower of Philippe, second wife of John (IV). (fn. 78) Philippe died in 1400 and Little Marston passed to the feoffees of Lord Grey. (fn. 79) Two years later Grey sold it to William Stourton (d. 1413). (fn. 80)
John Stourton (cr. Baron Stourton 1448) succeeded on his father's death, and the manor was then held by successive barons Stourton until 1641. (fn. 81) In the time of William, Lord Stourton (d. 1524), the estate, measuring 490 a., was let to the Barbour family, who held it until the middle of the century. (fn. 82) In 1615 the manor was settled on William, son of Edward, Lord Stourton (d. 1633), and William and his sons Edward and Thomas made over the property to a group of trustees headed by Sir Henry Compton. (fn. 83)
The subsequent descent of the manor has not been traced until 1766, though in 1687 Robert Brent and Francis Bagshaw were concerned in a recovery, possibly for this property. (fn. 84) By 1766 it was no longer described as a manor but usually as Little Marston farm. In that year it was owned by Henry Seymour (d. 1805) of Redland Court (Glos.); (fn. 85) it passed to his son Henry (d. 1849), of East Knoyle (Wilts.) and Trent (Dors.), and then to his grandson Henry Danby Seymour (d. 1877) of Trent. Alfred Seymour, brother of Henry, then succeeded, followed successively by his widow and their daughter Miss J. M. Seymour, who sold the land between 1915 and 1921. (fn. 86)
By 1841 the total holding was 271 a., divided into two farms. By 1863 the holdings had been reunited, but were divided again when the Seymours disposed of the property into Little Marston farm and Springside now Spring farm. (fn. 87)
In 1392 the manor-house at Little Marston consisted of a thatched hall and chamber. (fn. 88) The present house, of lias with a slate roof, probably originated in the 17th century, but was extensively remodelled in the 19th century.
A freehold estate of at least 1½ virgate, held of Muchelney abbey, had been established at 'the Slo' by a family of the same name by 1238. Simon de la Slo, possibly a former owner, occurs in 1211. (fn. 89) Gillian, widow of Simon, was assigned dower in 1238, the rest of the holding being occupied for her life by Wymara de la Slo. (fn. 90) Between 1251 and 1274 Roger de la Slo died holding the property. (fn. 91) At the beginning of the 14th century the estate was variously assessed at a messuage and 2 virgates (fn. 92) or 1½ virgate, and was held by knight service in 1316 and 1328 by John de la Sloo or Slou. (fn. 93) In 1353 John atte Sloo and Margery his wife settled their estate in West Camel, together with Slough Court in Stoke St. Gregory, on their sons John and William in tail. (fn. 94) By 1412 John Montague was holding the West Camel lands. (fn. 95) His family had acquired land elsewhere from Margery atte Sloo in 1366. (fn. 96) Agnes Montague became owner in or before 1436. (fn. 97) William Montague (d. by 1481) was succeeded by his son Robert (d. 1509). Robert's heirs were his sister Emme, wife of Thomas Clundell, and his nephews John Bevyn and John Moleyns. (fn. 98) The property, described at this time as a manor, was held in 1536 by John Montague. (fn. 99) In 1573, two years before his death, Montague settled the property, described as 'Sloo Abbattes and Camell', on his elder son George. (fn. 100) The settlement involved Montague in a Chancery suit through an attempt by another party to deprive Montague, 'a very simple man and of very slender judgment', of his lands. Montague believed that he had lost the estate and 'presently languished and shortly after took his bed and for very sorrow died'. (fn. 101) George Montague was still in possession in 1579. (fn. 102)
Ownership passed to the Cheeke family. (fn. 103) Andrew Parsons of West Camel, his wife, and her sister Elizabeth Cheeke sold the property, then called Slow Court farm, to John Cox of Yeovilton and Nicholas Gullye of Urgashay in 1618. (fn. 104) William Parsons was living there in 1629 and it was owned by the Kirton family in the 1630s. (fn. 105) In 1754 it was occupied by 'Farmer' Snook; (fn. 106) Dr. Drummond owned it by 1780 until c. 1810, when he was succeeded by the Palmer family, who retained it until c. 1822. (fn. 107) The farm in 1840 was a little under 80 a.; (fn. 108) it was only 28 a. by 1863 and 21 a. by 1895. (fn. 109)
The house, now called Slowcourt, stands on lowlying ground at the foot of Slowcourt Lane. Gerard considered it appropriately named 'for in winter time the very house stands as it were in a slough or mire'. (fn. 110) It was then 'lately new built'. (fn. 111) The house is of two storeys, of rubble, with a tiled roof and brick and rubble stacks. It appears to be the house Gerard saw.
Before 1709 a substantial copyhold estate of over 450 a. had developed from the demesne holding of West Camel manor, and was known as West Camel farm. The fee simple was sold in that year for over £1,100 to John Hody of Middlestreet (Dors.). (fn. 112) Shortly before 1770 Elizabeth Hody sold the farm to William Taunton of Stratton (Dors.). (fn. 113) Taunton died in 1788 and was succeeded by his son the Revd. Dr. Robert Taunton (d. 1796) and then by his grandson W. L. T. P. Taunton (d. 1850). (fn. 114) The latter left as his heirs two daughters. They sold the farm in 1874 to Capt. H. G. St. John-Mildmay of Hazlegrove House, Queen Camel (d. 1882). His brother and heir, the Revd. C. A. St. John-Mildmay, died in 1904; his second son Major G. St. JohnMildmay sold the family estate in 1929. (fn. 115)
By 1825 the farm, the largest in the parish, was described as part of Manor farm and measured 320 a. (fn. 116) By 1841 it was 346 a. (fn. 117) About 1895 the estate was divided: just over 100 a. became Steart South farm, and West Camel farm was reduced to 186 a. (fn. 118) The northern properties were again rearranged in 1912 to create Steart farm, now Steart Hill farm.
The farm-house of West Camel farm stood immediately north-west of the church. It was a rubble and stone building with a tiled roof, and was built probably in the 18th century. (fn. 119) An adjacent house by the present church path was probably an outbuilding belonging to the farm-house complex. Also of rubble, it incorporates a pigeon loft at its western gable end. The farm-house itself was probably demolished at the end of the 19th century when the farm was divided.
The estate of Muchelney abbey in West Camel in the 11th century was assessed at 10 hides; there was land for 16 ploughs, though only 12 are recorded. Nine hides were held by the abbot himself, half in demesne and half worked by 7 villeins and 8 bordars with 6 ploughs. The demesne farm was worked by 5 serfs with 4 ploughs. There were 60 a. of meadow and a similar area of pasture attached to the abbot's holding; and stock included 2 pack-horses, 7 cows, 1 swine, and 91 sheep. (fn. 120)
An estate of 1 hide, possibly the origin of the settlement at Downhead, was held of Muchelney by Dodeman. The demesne farm there, measuring a virgate, had one plough. (fn. 121) The estate supported 4 beasts and 100 sheep though no meadow or pasture is recorded.
The value of the abbot's land was £9, a figure which probably did not include the mill; Dodeman's holding was worth 10s. when he received it and had doubled in value by 1086. (fn. 122)
Little Marston is probably not included in the West Camel assessment, but may well be entered as part of Marston Magna. (fn. 123) By the middle of the 13th century it was closely linked with Barwick and Stockwood (Dors.), other properties of the lordship then temporarily out of the hands of the Cauntelos. (fn. 124) During the 6½ winter months when it was in the hands of the Crown the income, largely from sales of hay, pasture, and stubble was 54s. 5d. including over 30s. arrears. The arable on the estate was cultivated that winter and spring with three ploughs and a harrow, two ploughs coming from Stockwood, and one being lent for part of the time to Barwick. Wheat was sown on 45 a. and oats on 24 a. (fn. 125) Downhead manor at the beginning of the 14th century was predominantly arable. The property included 100 a. of arable in demesne, but only 8 a. of meadow. Six tenants in villeinage held a fardel of land each, and rendered for every fardel 5s. for all services. Four cottars paid 1s. each for their holdings. (fn. 126) Little Marston demesne contained 173 a. of arable in 1392, compared with about 12 a. of pasture. The whole manor was then worth £9 17s. 10d., including rents of 24s. 4d., and a dovecot worth 6s. 8d. (fn. 127)
At least until the 15th century, therefore, the parish seems to have been predominantly under arable cultivation, meadow and pasture playing a relatively minor role in the economy. Annis hill (Aneyshill in 1436–7) was evidently pasture attached to Downhead manor; and Old Land, in the extreme north of the parish, was subject to certain common rights. (fn. 128) As late as 1754 the meadow at Old Land was breached on 30 June, the time of Sherborne fair, and remained common until Candlemas. (fn. 129) The only known woodland was 'Hawksbere', which in 1298 was considered to be part of Neroche forest as a result of illegal extensions of that forest made since 1154. (fn. 130)
Inclosures around West Camel village are probably of medieval origin, and the process was certainly in train on a small scale at the beginning of the 14th century. (fn. 131) How far this process had reached by the end of the Middle Ages is not clear, but it seems from the evidence of field names at Little Marston that by 1503 the arable fields had given place to pasture for sheep. (fn. 132) The glebe terrier, by showing a modus from Little Marston unless corn were grown, confirms this evidence. (fn. 133)
The net value of the Muchelney properties in 1484–5 was just over £25. Assessed rents in West Camel, in a rental of 1462, amounted to £18 10s. 6d., to which were added 3s. 4d. for a dovecot and increased rent for meadow at 'Chestermede'. Assessed rents in Downhead were worth £4 1s. 10d. The demesne, probably of West Camel and Downhead combined, had normally been let for £9, but tenants, holding a nine-year lease, had their farm lowered to £8 for the current year. Decayed rents, including that for the water-mill, amounted to £2 6s. 1d. (fn. 134)
By 1535 the Muchelney properties, the manors of West Camel and Downhead, were worth just over £40, including rents from copyhold and freehold tenants amounting to £28 4s. 5d. (fn. 135) These were slightly higher by 1671, freehold rents amounting to 25s. and copyhold to £28 18s. 6d. The total net income in 1671, including arrears, was £39 12s. 4d. (fn. 136) The regularity of fields in the north-west of the parish, and the frequent use of the names Pindle and Breach, the former for a narrow inclosure, the latter for an inclosure ready for sowing or uncultivated land, suggests some fairly large-scale inclosure, possibly during the 17th century. There is no direct documentary evidence for such a process, but the field-name Pindle occurs in 1710. (fn. 137)
The sale of the former Muchelney manors by Lord Bruce in 1709 marked the beginning of the dispersal of the ancient holdings in the parish. West Camel farm, with over 450 a., was sold in 1709, and another copyhold farm of over 100 a. to John Chalcroft in 1710. (fn. 138) The second farm was formed from four smaller units, mostly in the north of the parish, and passed from John Chalcroft in 1763 to his nephew, John Beaton. The Beatons still retained the property at least until 1801, but Henry Beaton's holding in 1839 was only some 59 a. (fn. 139) Other small farms, such as that of George Vincent, of 50 a., one fifth arable, also emerged during the 18th century. (fn. 140)
Among the farmers in West Camel at the beginning of the 19th century was J. W. Parsons whose farm, probably Parsonage farm, was the subject of a survey by the Bath and West of England Society in 1803. Parsons's views on land and cattle improvements and on cider were given publicity by the same society between 1796 and 1810. (fn. 141)
By 1840 there were six farms in the parish of more than 100 a.: the largest, West Camel farm, measured 406 a., followed by Downhead farm with 349 a. The holdings of Robert Welsh, including Parsonage farm, and of Henry Seymour (Little Marston), were of almost equal size, just over 270 a. There were several smaller holdings of between 50 a. and 100 a., including Urgashay farm. By the end of the 19th century some of these larger units had begun to split. By 1897 the largest was Downhead farm with 278 a., followed by Little Marston with 271 a., West Camel farm with 186 a., and 'No. 2 Back Street farm', now Parsonage farm, with 158 a. Lower farm (134 a.) and Steart Hill farm (101 a.) were next in order of size. Further division had evidently taken place by 1921, for there were then only three farms of over 150 a., though by 1939 there were four. (fn. 142)
In 1086 there was a mill at West Camel worth 10s. (fn. 143) It belonged to Muchelney abbey, who still owned it in 1305. (fn. 144) Robert the miller occurs in 1327, (fn. 145) and in 1437 the miller was accused of demanding excessive toll. (fn. 146) This mill may be identified with Old Mill or Higher Mill, on the river Cam, north of the church. By 1825 it belonged to the Way family, and as Way's Mill it occurs in 1863. It was then owned by the Feaver family, (fn. 147) but between 1883 and 1889 passed to the Mildmays. (fn. 148) It seems to have continued in use as a mill until soon after 1927. (fn. 149) A second mill, called New Mill in 1825, stood on the north bank of the Cam west of Frog Lane. (fn. 150) Its usual name was Lower Mill and was also known as Beaton's Mill. The Beaton family held it until 1843. (fn. 151) It seems to have ceased production between 1875 and 1883. (fn. 152) There may have been a mill on the estate at Little Marston, though the only indication is a field called 'Mullehay' in 1392. (fn. 153)
Muchelney abbey claimed the assize of ale, tumbrel, and rights of waif and stray in West Camel by 1280. (fn. 154) Downhead, not then in the hands of the monks, owed separate suit to the hundred court, and separate courts continued to be held in the two manors after 1358 when both were owned by Muchelney. (fn. 155) Court rolls have survived for Michaelmas 1436 and for Christmas and Hockday 1436–7; there are entries for Camel Abbots manor for each session and for Downhead for Michaelmas and Christmas. (fn. 156) There was then only one bailiff for the two manors, chosen from four nominees at the Michaelmas court, (fn. 157) though each manor was represented by its tithingman chosen at the same court.
Business at the courts in 1436–7 included orders against individuals for illegal breach of fields and for excessive toll at the mill. In 1436 compensation was required of four dyers who had allowed what was called 'flor' and other poisons to enter the river. (fn. 158)
No further court rolls have been found. (fn. 159) By the 18th century the vestry was in control of the parish, making decisions on labour and haulage, probably for the repair of roads, and on payments from the overseers' rate. (fn. 160) Before 1744 the vestry decided to negotiate with the lord of the manor for the purchase of a poorhouse. (fn. 161) In 1752 the lord leased to the rector and overseers a cottage built on the waste in Keep Street for the use of 'the second poor who received no alms'. (fn. 162) This was presumably the 'small old tenement' in 'considerable decay' which by 1823 was called the Second Poor house. The parish had paid rent for the house for many years up to that time, and it had usually been occupied by the parish poor. Small rents were taken from such occupants as could pay, who were few. (fn. 163) By 1839–40 the rector and overseers owned the house which was divided into two tenements. (fn. 164) It stood near the junction of Plowage Lane and Keep Street.
Between 1804 and 1825 (fn. 165) a poorhouse was erected in the centre of the village. By 1839 it was occupied by a local farmer. (fn. 166) It was demolished in or before 1869 when a house for the schoolmistress was built on or near the same site. (fn. 167) The parish became part of the Yeovil poor-law union in 1836. (fn. 168)
If the fragment of decorated crossshaft, influenced by the Jellinge style and now mounted in the north transept, originated in the parish, then the church must date from the late 9th or early 10th century. (fn. 169) The earliest written evidence yet traced is from 1219, (fn. 170) but the Norman font, if not the cross-shaft, is evidence of a church building at an earlier date. The church may well have been founded by Muchelney abbey, owners of the manor from the 10th century, and, physically, it is close to the remaining buildings of the former demesne farm. (fn. 171)
The rectory was in the patronage of Muchelney abbey until 1239 when Bishop Jocelin of Bath and Wells acquired the advowson. (fn. 172) Thenceforward the patronage was in the hands of successive bishops, though appointments were also made by papal provision or by the Crown during the voidance of the see. (fn. 173) In 1574 the duchess of Somerset and her second husband, Francis Newdigate, jointly presented, (fn. 174) and Henry Albin was presumably intruded about 1646. (fn. 175) The benefice has been held in plurality with Queen Camel since 1944. (fn. 176)
The value of the living in 1291 was £13 6s. 8d. (fn. 177) The fruits were sold for the same sum in 1329– 30, (fn. 178) and the assessment remained constant throughout the 15th century. (fn. 179) The clear value was given as £13 8s. 8d. in 1535. (fn. 180) By c. 1668 the benefice was worth some £80; (fn. 181) the average net income by 1831 was £275, (fn. 182) rising to £323 in 1851. (fn. 183)
The tithes of corn were valued at 25s. 4d., and oblations, obventions, and other small tithes at £4 in 1334. (fn. 184) Predial tithes were worth £8, tithe wool and lambs 20s., and oblations and personal tithes 60s., making a total of £12 in 1535. (fn. 185) By the beginning of the 17th century a modus of 42s. was usually paid by the occupier of Little Marston, though tithe corn was payable there whenever it was sown. Some 25 a. in Marston Lanes, possibly in Marston Magna parish, were also charged with tithe by the rector of West Camel. (fn. 186) By the middle of the 18th century some tithes had been commuted for cash payments: people not resident in the parish paid 20d. in the pound for agistments, and the parishioners paid 4d. for offerings and 1d. for each garden. Most tithes were still paid in kind: the rector received every seventh calf, or, if one was killed, the left shoulder; milk was also paid in kind 'if not agreed for'; and the rector claimed the third of a litter of seven or more pigs, and the eighth best lamb and thereafter a share, amounting to three lambs in every twenty-five. The whole tithe of shorn wool was also claimed. (fn. 187) By 1775 a modus of 2½d. a cow, 1½d. a heifer, and 2d. an acre was payable in lieu of great and small tithes on just over 140 a. at the northern edge of the parish, known as North moor or Stock mead. (fn. 188) The moduses of 42s. for Little Marston and of 2d. an acre at North moor were still paid in 1839. (fn. 189) The tithes were valued at £254 3s. 10¾d. in 1830, and were commuted in 1839 for a rent-charge of £264. (fn. 190)
In 1305, in addition to property he already possessed in right of his church, the rector was allowed common rights over the demesne lands of Muchelney abbey in his parish 'according to the extent of his holding'. He was permitted to pasture six oxen with those of the abbot, except in the abbot's gardens and in the 'grove'. Further, he was assigned 8 a. of inclosed land between the 'rigeweye' and his own farmyard. This agreement was ratified in 1394. (fn. 191) By 1334 the rector's total holding was thus substantial, amounting to a virgate of arable, worth 20s., 6 a. of meadow, and rents worth 8s. (fn. 192) The glebe was worth 40s. in 1535, (fn. 193) but by 1606 it amounted to 70 a., together with a small farm of 18 a. let by copy and a small plot in Chilton Cantelo. (fn. 194) There was still 70 a. of glebe at the end of the 18th century, though by 1830 some 5 a. had been sold. The glebe was then valued at £88. (fn. 195) The small holding, now represented by Glebe farm, Downhead, was also still retained. (fn. 196) Some 25 a. of glebe were sold in 1912, and by 1961 there remained just over 38 a. (fn. 197)
The rectory house and buildings covered 2 a. in 1606, and comprised the dwelling-house, together with barn, stable, garden, and orchard. (fn. 198) Edward Willes found the house 'very small' for his large family in the 1820s, (fn. 199) and in 1836 it was enlarged. (fn. 200) The present house is a T-shaped building and clearly comprises two distinct parts: the south wing, of two storeys and attics, has sash windows and deep eaves. This is presumably the 1836 addition. The range at right angles to it on the north side is built of stone and appears to represent the solar wing of the medieval rectory house. It is of two storeys with 16th- or early-17th-century mullioned windows and other alterations of this and later periods. Near the east end of the south wall are the remains, visible both outside and in, of a blocked stone doorway with a pointed head. The range is now of five bays but the westermost bay is a later addition; in the former west gable end, now concealed, is the head of a pointed window. The roof over the original range has four archbraced collar-beam trusses, the collars supporting crown posts with two-way struts. The chamfered braces below each collar meet in the centre, forming a depressed arch with a small ogee at the apex. The timbers are not smoke-blackened and it may be assumed that the formerly open roof covered a long upper room or solar in a range that was always two-storeyed. The medieval hall may have been on the site of the 19th-century wing.
To the west of the rectory house is a stone-built tithe barn with five compound cruck trusses, probably dating from c. 1500. (fn. 201) A circular dovecot, standing south-west of the house, may also be of late-medieval date. It has buttressed stone walls and a conical roof crowned by a central cupola.
Throughout the history of the benefice there has been a tradition of absenteeism, the result of the appointment of men who were on the staffs of successive bishops. Master Stephen Tripp, rector by 1329 and then only in subdeacon's orders, was an active member of Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury's administration (fn. 202) and in his time and later there was a resident chaplain at West Camel. (fn. 203) Master John Sidenhale, rector by 1351, was also one of Bishop Ralph's clerks. (fn. 204) Thomas Cosyn was licensed to absent himself from the benefice in 1402, but employed a chaplain to carry out his duties. (fn. 205) Andrew Grantham (rector 1472–92) and Thomas Shelyngford (rector 1492 to 1535 or later) were both resident at Wells, the former as a vicar-choral and cathedral chantrist, the latter as a chantrist. (fn. 206) By 1532 Shelyngford was employing two clergy at West Camel. (fn. 207)
The benefice in 1554 was vacant owing to the deprivation of rector John Smith for marriage. (fn. 208) He was succeeded by William Finch (d. 1559), formerly prior of Breamore (Hants), and from 1538 the first suffragan bishop of Taunton. (fn. 209) The rector from 1574 was the Northamptonshire Puritan Eusebius Pagett. (fn. 210) Anthony Richardson, appointed in 1614, lost the benefice about 1646 having, among other things, failed to keep the fast imposed by Parliament, and having continued to use the Prayer Book. (fn. 211) He was replaced by Henry Albin, later a widely-known Nonconformist preacher. (fn. 212) Richardson was restored in 1660. (fn. 213) Dr. John Vannam (rector 1665–1721) was chaplain-in-ordinary to the king and vicar of Bibury (Glos.) from 1673 to 1721. (fn. 214)
The later years of the 18th century saw a return to the practice of appointing diocesan staff to the benefice, as well as a certain amount of nepotism. Francis Potter (rector 1757–67) (fn. 215) was successively archdeacon of Taunton (1758–60) and of Wells (1760–7). Edward Aubery (rector 1784–86) was grandson of the patron, Bishop Edward Willes. (fn. 216) Charles Moss, only son of Bishop Willes's successor, became subdean of Wells shortly after his father's translation in 1774, and held West Camel for about a year from 1787. (fn. 217) On Moss's resignation William Willes, archdeacon of Wells and son of the former bishop, became rector. He, in turn, resigned the benefice in favour of his son Edward in 1797. (fn. 218) Edward Willes's failure to reside at West Camel led to sequestration and cession in 1824, (fn. 219) in favour of Henry Law, son of the then bishop, and archdeacon of Richmond (Yorks.). In 1826 Law was appointed archdeacon of Wells and two years later a residentiary canon at Wells, though retaining West Camel until 1836. (fn. 220)
At a visitation in 1554 the wardens and posts reported that service books required for the restored liturgy were missing. (fn. 221) In 1559 the rector lived in Gloucester diocese, and in 1568 was reported for non-residence and for failing to preach the quarterly sermons. (fn. 222) There seems to have been some trouble during Henry Albin's intrusion in the 17th century: one parishioner was accused of 'very ill behaviour' towards him, (fn. 223) and in 1654 the bell-ringers forcibly prevented the removal of a dog from the pulpit. (fn. 224)
During the mid 19th century the Holy Communion was celebrated six times a year, but in 1870 there were eight celebrations 'at about noon'. (fn. 225) Two and sometimes three sermons were preached on a Sunday by 1840, though by 1851 only two services, morning and afternoon, were normally held. On Census Sunday 1851 the general congregation in the morning numbered 54, and in the afternoon 105; Sunday-school pupils, regularly catechized in the schoolroom, numbered 20 and 18 respectively. (fn. 226)
A church house was rented from the lord of the manor at least until 1671, but was not by that date necessarily used by the parish. (fn. 227)
There was a chapel at Little Marston by 1403, though no mention of it was made in the survey of the manor eleven years earlier. (fn. 228)
The church of ALL SAINTS consists of chancel, nave, north and south transepts, (fn. 229) and south porch. The south transept forms the base of the unbuttressed tower. The present cruciform building dates from the late 13th and earlier 14th centuries with some 15th-century alterations. The arches leading to both transepts, the trefoiled rere-arch of the east window, the narrow north window in the north transept, and traces of roll-moulded string-course outside the north wall of the nave, all belong to the earlier phase of the building. The 13th-century trefoil-headed sedilia and double piscina on the south side of the chancel were completely renewed in the 19th century; to the west of them is a bracket which formerly supported the Lenten veil. The east and side windows of the chancel, one window in the nave, and the belfry windows of the tower have tracery of the earlier 14th century. In the 15th century the west window and a south window were inserted in the nave. The fine tiebeam roof of the nave, low pitched and with carved angel brackets, is of the same period, as are the external parapets and prominent gargoyles. There is also a 15th-century stone pulpit which formerly stood west of the tower arch. (fn. 230)
Before the extensive restoration of 1866–7 the chancel arch was similar in size and style to the surviving arches into the transepts, supported on moulded corbel brackets. (fn. 231) The chancel itself in the 1830s and 1840s was unfurnished save for the surviving Norman font, which is decorated with intersecting arches. (fn. 232) There are traces of secondary altars in both transepts, one of which must have been 'Our Lady yelde' mentioned in 1545. (fn. 233) The north transept contains a 16th-century chest holding a collection of books including the Paraphrases of Erasmus (1523) and Jewel's Works (1609).
There are five bells: (i) 1951, Taylor; (ii) 1737, Knight of Closworth; (iii) c. 1500, a Dorset founder; (iv) 1737, Knight of Closworth; (v) 1617, Purdue. (fn. 234) The medieval plate included a chalice given by the rector in 1413. (fn. 235) He gave, in addition, a pair of vestments, a surplice, and a corporal and case. A rector in 1493 gave a printed missal (de le preynte). (fn. 236) The plate was stolen in 1855 and the present modern plate replaced it. (fn. 237) The registers of burials begin in 1678 but there is a gap for 1704–9; the registers of baptisms and marriages begin in 1710, but there is a gap in the marriage registers for 1751–3. (fn. 238)
From the early 1590s until at least 1629 there was a group of recusants in the parish. Richard Dampier, tailor, Agnes his wife, and their children were regularly reported by the churchwardens, and Richard Smart, yeoman, Richard Mogg, and Anne, wife of Edward Mullyns the younger, were also similarly accused. (fn. 239)
Preaching licences were issued to nonconformists meeting in the houses of John Harris in 1692, of Henry Parsons in 1708, and of Hannah Langdon in 1710, though there is no indication of the denomination of any of these groups. (fn. 240) No further activity has been traced until 1800, when the house of Wilton Tally was licenced for use, though again the denomination of the group is not known. (fn. 241) One of the signatories of the petition for the licence was Richard Mitchell, and in 1817 the house of a Richard Mitchell became the meeting-place of a group of Independents who had their own minister. (fn. 242) This group continued at least until 1833, when the then minister had his own house licensed, (fn. 243) though there is no further trace of them after this date.
The group meeting in Wilton Tally's house, however, seems in origin to have been Methodist, one of the signatories of the petition being Thomas Connock, a native of the parish and founder of Methodism in Somerton. (fn. 244) Connock had been appointed a class-leader by John Wesley, and seems to have taken part in the establishment of a group in his native parish. The Methodist cause may then be traced to the house of Thomas Bennett, licensed in 1809 and again in 1814, perhaps on rebuilding. (fn. 245) Certainly, later worshippers dated the origin of their chapel from the year 1814. (fn. 246) The chapel was the upper storey of a carpenter's shop opposite the pound, at the western end of Keep Street. It was still owned by the Bennett family in 1840, (fn. 247) but later passed to the Digby Estate. J. K. WingfieldDigby sold it to Thomas Martin in 1892. (fn. 248)
This 'upper room' had sittings for 84 people, of which 60 were free. In 1851 there were three services each Sunday, and on Census Sunday the congregations were 6 in the morning, 12 in the afternoon, and 45 in the evening. (fn. 249)
The present chapel, on the London road, was erected on a site given by Mr. A. E. Clothier. The building, of Keinton stone with brick dressings, was designed by James Spire and was opened in 1908. There is accommodation for 140, and an adjoining hall houses the Sunday school. Since 1934 the chapel has been part of the Somerset Mission, and was formerly in the Glastonbury Circuit and then the Mid-Somerset Mission. (fn. 250)
A boarding school and a Sunday school for about 30 pupils had been established in the parish by 1818, but there were no endowments, and the assistant curate reported that 'the poor would be glad of more sufficient means for educating their children'. (fn. 251) By 1825–6 there was a small daily school, and a Sunday school 'particularly worthy of notice'. (fn. 252) Two day-schools, one of which was kept by a dissenter, between them taught 25 children in 1833, all at their parents' expense. There were also two Sunday schools, one said to have been started in 1824; the latter, supported by the rector, taught 21 boys and 19 girls. The other, for 11 boys and 7 girls, was financed by pupils' fees. (fn. 253) A 'village school' for Sunday, day, and evening classes, was founded in 1837, (fn. 254) and was united to the district board of the National Society. In 1846–7 there were 26 pupils who attended on weekdays and Sundays, and 24 on weekdays only. Three boys and two girls attended on Sunday and weekday evenings, 7 boys and 2 girls on weekday evenings only. The staff consisted of a paid master and two paid mistresses, and 2 masters and 3 mistresses served voluntarily. The school was housed in one room and was supported both by subscriptions and by payments by pupils. (fn. 255) A house was added for a schoolmistress in 1869. (fn. 256)
There was accommodation for 67 pupils in this school by 1894, but the average attendance was only 31. (fn. 257) One teacher and a monitress were the sole staff by 1903, though it was reported that 'distinctly good work' was being done. The school was taken over by the County Education Authority in that year, though the buildings remained under the control of the rector and churchwardens, who used it for parochial and other meetings when required. (fn. 258) The numbers in the school declined in the 1920s and from 1926 juniors and infants only were taken: in 1921 there were 29 pupils on the books, but by 1938 the average attendance was only 15. (fn. 259) The school was closed in 1948 and the pupils were transferred to Queen Camel. (fn. 260) The school building reverted to the Digby Estate, and was purchased by the Parochial Church Council for use as a parish hall. (fn. 261)
Charities for the Poor.
Richardson's Gift was probably founded by Anthony Richardson (d. 1665), rector from 1614. (fn. 262) In 1787 the capital sum of £10 produced 8s. a year. In 1799 the principal passed to Edward Willes (rector 1797–1824), and money was distributed by him in small sums to 'those who may appear to stand most in need of relief'. (fn. 263) By 1781 Richardson's Gift was evidently combined with the income from a cottage in Keep Street, formerly the Second Poor house. (fn. 264) The total income of £7 13s. 10d. was distributed in cash. (fn. 265) The charity is now merged with the Feaver Charity.
Silas Feaver in 1859 bequeathed the sum of £100, the interest to be paid to poor unrelieved parishioners. (fn. 266) By 1871 the income was £3 3s. 10d. (fn. 267) The charity is now governed by a body of trustees under a Scheme of 1935. (fn. 268) Its capital was increased by £50 in 1962, and for many years it has been administered with the Second Poor House Charity and Richardson's Gift. The income of the combined charities, still distributed in cash, amounted to £7 8s. in 1968–9. (fn. 269)