A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1978.
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The parish of Lopen, little more than a mile SSW. of South Petherton and half that distance west of Stratton, occupies a roughly triangular area astride the Foss Way. (fn. 1) It was 502 a. in area in 1901. (fn. 2) It lies almost entirely on fertile Yeovil Sands and alluvium between the 250 ft. and 100 ft. contours; (fn. 3) the highest point is on the main Ilminster-Ilchester road NE. of Lopen Head, the lowest along Lopen brook, the southern boundary. A small area of oolitic limestone appears near the surface north of Lopen Farm. It was quarried there and gave the name to the common arable Stonepits field at the end of the 18th century. (fn. 4) Stone was being hauled thence in 1814, (fn. 5) and a limekiln stood there in 1838. (fn. 6) A smaller quarry was opened further north, (fn. 7) above the site of the former school, and marl was dug in the south-west of the parish. (fn. 8)
The boundaries of the southern half of the parish appear to be natural, following the Lopen brook and two tributaries. Parts of the northern limits are marked by lanes including Flower Tanners Lane opposite Seavington St. Michael, and Higgins's Grave Lane at Stratton, recalling alternatively the fate of an intrepid huntsman or of an unfortunate carpenter set upon for his money. (fn. 9) At the extreme north of the parish is Frogmary Green, (fn. 10) in the 18th century an open space with a stone in the centre, at the junction of the parishes of South Petherton, Seavington St. Michael, and Lopen. (fn. 11) Encroachments on the green had begun by 1774, (fn. 12) and it had virtually disappeared by 1838. (fn. 13)
The principal road through the village links Crewkerne with the London—Exeter road via Ilchester at Lopen Head. The line of this road, slightly broken as it crosses the Foss Way, runs south from Lopen Head between sandstone banks into the village, where it forms the main street. The importance of Lopen Head, formerly White Cross, (fn. 14) where roads from Taunton and South Petherton converged, was enhanced when the Ilchester road became part of the Western mail coach route in the early 19th century. (fn. 15) The Foss survives as a narrow metalled road stretching from Long Lane in Stratton through Broomhill and Snap or Strap Ant, and becoming known in the 18th century as Lamb Bridge Lane before leaving the parish over Lamb or Long bridge. (fn. 16)
The village developed well south of the Foss along two small lanes each side of the road to Crewkerne. Church Street, formerly Higher Street, (fn. 17) running east from Cross Tree, the site of the medieval cross and fair, leads past the parsonage barn and site of the manor-house complex, to the church and thence to the fields. Frog Street, further south, leads westwards to Lopen Farm and the nucleus of a secondary Domesday settlement, later Templar property. The street contained several substantial houses at the end of the 18th century, (fn. 18) the survivors of which are Ballarat Farm and Apple Hay. The present Court Farm and the Old Bakehouse, presumably representing the sites of the medieval court house and common bakehouse, (fn. 19) stand beside the Crewkerne road between the two streets. North of Cross Tree the main street is known as Holloway, where 18th-century cottage development on the waste included the parish poorhouses and some weaving-shops. (fn. 20)
Broomhill, on the Foss north of the village and east of the Crewkerne road, was established by the mid 18th century. At least from 1750 cottage property and the product of 42 apple trees was leased to a succession of tenants, establishing the continuity of fruit-growing from that date until the 1970s. (fn. 21) Cottages were also built on the waste at Snap Ant and at White Cross. (fn. 22)
The common arable fields covered all but the southern and south-eastern margins of the parish and the immediate settlement area. Fields such as Hangerland and Truckhay occurred under the same names in the mid 12th and the 19th centuries. (fn. 23) Ridon, later Stratton Rye Down, was so named by the late 14th century. (fn. 24) There was common pasture in the 15th and 16th centuries at Rodmoor in the east and common meadow at Worth mead and Common mead along the Lopen brook. (fn. 25)
There do not appear to be any secular buildings earlier than the 18th century, and of the small number of that period only one or two, such as Apple Hay (dated 1747) are of traditional plan. Cross Tree House probably dates from the 18th century, but had substantial 19th-century alterations. Lopen House and Knapp Cottage belong to the early 19th century, both built between c. 1822 and 1838. (fn. 26)
There was an inn in the parish by 1735, though its position is unknown. (fn. 27) A public house and horsechanging house were established at White Cross with the coming of increased business along the London—Exeter road c. 1811. (fn. 28) There was a licensed inn there by 1813, and since 1822 it has been known as the Poulett Arms. (fn. 29) The King William inn was opened in the village by 1838 and the Crown, in Church Street, by 1840. (fn. 30) The latter survived until c. 1950. (fn. 31)
Lopen fair or play is said to have been the occasion for the young Wolsey's misbehaviour and subsequent appearance in the stocks. (fn. 32) Six Lopen men were thought to be involved in Monmouth's rebellion in 1685. (fn. 33) The local Halloween celebrations are known as Punkie Night. (fn. 34)
In 1783 there were 75 families in the parish and a total population of 285. (fn. 35) The number rose rapidly from 331 in 1811 to 425 in 1821 and 502 in 1831, but fell as rapidly to 292 by 1881. (fn. 36) In 1901 the total was 279 and in 1911 221; thereafter it remained stable, and was 230 in 1971. (fn. 37)
MANORS AND OTHER ESTATES.
In 1086 there were three separate estates called Lopen. The largest, of 2 hides, had been held T.R.E. by Tofig the sheriff, and in 1086 was in the possession of a king's thegn, the Englishman Harding son of Eadnoth the staller. (fn. 38) The other two holdings, each of 1 hide, were occupied by Gerard the trencher, fossor, fossarius in succession to ejected Englishmen. (fn. 39)
The largest estate descended in the Meriet family like the manor of Merriott until the death of John de Meriet in 1285. His son, also John (d. 1308), succeeded as a minor and received his other lands in 1297, but Lopen, called for the first time the manor of GREAT LOPEN, was held in dower (fn. 40) by his mother Margaret until 1329 if not later. (fn. 41) Her successor was her grandson Sir John (d. 1369), still a minor in 1346. (fn. 42) Sir John's widow Maud, (fn. 43) held Lopen in dower until her death in 1398 when it passed under settlement jointly to William Bonville and Sir Humphrey Stafford and their wives as coheirs of Sir John Meriet (d. 1391). (fn. 44) Subsequently the two joint owners agreed to a rearrangement, Sir Humphrey Stafford acquiring the whole of Lopen and Stratton in South Petherton in exchange for his share of Merriott. (fn. 45) Sir Humphrey died in 1442 and was followed in succession by his son William (d. 1450) and his grandson Sir Humphrey (cr. Lord Stafford 1461, earl of Devon 1469, d. 1469).
The earl was succeeded at Lopen by his granddaughter Eleanor (d. 1501), wife of Thomas Strangways (d. 1484) of Stinsford (Dors.). (fn. 46) From Eleanor it passed to her son Henry (d. 1504) and to Henry's widow Catherine. (fn. 47) On Catherine's death in 1505 it descended to Henry's son Sir Giles (d. 1547). His grandson and heir, also Sir Giles, sold the manor in 1555 to Sir John Sydenham of Brympton. (fn. 48) Sydenham died in 1557, (fn. 49) and his eldest son, also John, sold Lopen to another John, his younger brother (d. 1590), in 1563. (fn. 50) The latter, then described as of the Middle Temple, London, sold it to Sir Hugh Poulett in 1566. (fn. 51) The manor then descended through the Poulett family like the manor of Hinton St. George until 1918, when the land, amounting to 374 a., was sold. The lordship of the manor was not included in the sale, and in 1974 was vested in the executors of the last Earl Poulett (d. 1973). (fn. 52)
In 1066 Lewin held an estate called LOPEN. By 1086 it had been given to Roger de Courcelles, and was held by Gerard the trencher. (fn. 53) The overlordship descended in the honor of Curry Mallet, and it is possible that the 1/5 fee held by Henry de Lopen of William Malet (I) in 1166 represents this estate. (fn. 54) It passed with one third of the Malet barony to the Pointz family c. 1216, and by 1285 was held by Hugh Pointz (II) (d. 1307). (fn. 55) The same property was held for 1/5 fee of Nicholas Pointz in 1311, (fn. 56) and the occupiers of the estate continued to pay 12d. for release of suit to the court at Curry Mallet at least until 1522. (fn. 57)
The immediate successors of Henry de Lopen as occupiers are unknown, and the earliest certain tenant is John de Meriet (d. 1285), who held it by the serjeanty of enclosing a plot of ground in Curry Mallet park. (fn. 58) The property, variously described as a hamlet and a manor, (fn. 59) seems by that time to have been absorbed into the other Meriet estate, and to have descended in the same way.
There was a 'court' at Lopen by 1285. (fn. 60) At the end of the 14th century the manor complex apparently included a dwelling-house, since a hall and chamber are mentioned. It also included a group of farm buildings with an ox-house, stall, dovecot, stable, and 'kyllons', together with a barton and a pond. (fn. 61) The pound and an adjoining plot called Culverhays, south-west of the church, suggest that the buildings stood near by. The barton and farm complex stood possibly in the grounds of the present Lopen House, and the dwelling-house perhaps south of the church near Court Orchard. (fn. 62)
A third estate called Lopen was held T.R.E. by one Alward and in 1086 by Gerard the trencher of the count of Mortain. (fn. 63) By the end of the 13th century the overlordship belonged to the Lovels, Hugh Lovel holding it for ½ fee of Mortain in 1295. (fn. 64) Confiscation of the Templar lands in 1312 seems to have brought the overlordship to an end. The occupiers after Gerard the trencher are unknown until some date before 1240, when Miles de Franco Quercu (fn. 65) gave a hide of land, the Domesday area, to the Knights Templar. (fn. 66) With the suppression of the Templars in 1312 the property passed to the Crown, and remained in custody until 1332 when it was granted to the Knights Hospitaller. (fn. 67) The order was suppressed in 1540 but in 1558 the lands at Lopen, part of the former preceptory of Temple Combe, were assigned to the refounded priory of St. John at Clerkenwell (Mdx.). (fn. 68) Within two years the property of this abortive priory had come into the hands of agents (fn. 69) who sold the estate, known as Lopen Temple, to John Aylworth of Wells. (fn. 70) Aylworth disposed of it to Edward Basshe of Stanstead (Essex) in 1561, and two years later Basshe sold it to Sir Hugh Poulett. (fn. 71) Thereafter the property, known as Temple Lopen or Lopen farm, was owned by the Pouletts until 1918, when it was purchased by Somerset County Council, owners in 1974. (fn. 72)
About 1312 the only recorded building on the property was a ruined house. (fn. 73) The present farmhouse was much altered in the late 19th or early 20th century, though its ground-plan may reflect that of an earlier building. (fn. 74)
By 1267 Bruton priory held 20 a. of arable and 20 a. of meadow in Lopen as part of the rectory lands of South Petherton. (fn. 75) Some of this property was exchanged for other land, also in Lopen. (fn. 76) Blaise Rodbard of Bridge in South Petherton acquired 34½ a. formerly belonging to Bruton and he and James Ayshe of South Petherton sold them to Sir Hugh Poulett in 1566. One of Poulett's tenants, Andrew Denman, occupied the land involved in the 1267 exchange. (fn. 77)
The tithes attached to the chapel of Lopen were, like those of the other chapels of South Petherton, let with the rectory, from 1532 to Thomas and George Speke. (fn. 78) By 1552 Sir Hugh Poulett was in actual occupation. (fn. 79) The Pouletts retained possession as leaseholders until 1802, when they purchased the freehold, though in 1649, when their estates were under sequestration, the tithes were let to George Sanford for £50. (fn. 80) The gross value of the tithes in 1786 was nearly £76, the net value nearly £32. (fn. 81) In 1839 the tithes were commuted to a rent-charge of £200, together with a modus of ¾d. an acre on 46½ a. of meadow. (fn. 82) In 1786 the buildings on the property comprised a barn and yard, the barn being of two bays with a threshing floor. (fn. 83) It stands on the south side of Church Street.
In 1086 the three estates called Lopen were assessed together at four hides. It is unlikely that they were all in the present parish, and probable that at least one stretched into Stratton in South Petherton, to include the medieval holding of Little Lopen. (fn. 84) The largest estate, held by Harding son of Eadnoth, amounted to half the area, and nearly three-quarters was in demesne. Of the two other estates, both occupied by Gerard the trencher, one, later absorbed into Harding's, was entirely demesne. No demesne is recorded on the third holding. The land was predominantly arable, with only 40 a. of meadow divided in the proportion of 10 a. to each hide. The recorded population of 12 included 3 serfs. Stock amounted to 1 ridinghorse, 10 head of cattle, 13 pigs, and 277 sheep. All three estates had doubled in value between 1066 and 1086. (fn. 85)
Between 1210 and 1212 Nicholas de Meriet's estate was held at farm, producing a total of £13 6s. 2½d. for two years. Evidently during that period the demesne arable was let and court perquisites accounted for half the annual income. (fn. 86) By 1285 the same estate was extended at £14 9s. 11¾d. The demesne farm was then 129 a. of arable and 8 a. of meadow, representing a considerable decrease over two centuries from the 2½ hides and 3 furlongs of 1086. Rents of free and customary tenants, however, were nearly of the same value as the demesne. Customary payments including aid, larder rent, church scot, and Peter's Pence together produced 26s. 1d. (fn. 87)
By the end of the 14th century Lopen and Stratton manors were being administered together, and it is not always possible to be certain what items relate to Lopen alone. Assessed rents had certainly grown, and in 1369–70 were worth £5 18s. 2d. By 1378–9 they had increased further, and still included ancient customary rents and an additional levy at Martinmas called 'charnag' or 'chiarnag'. Very few works were commuted and chevage was paid both in cash and in blooms of iron. (fn. 88)
The demesne farm was fully exploited, between 90 a. and 100 a. being ploughed each year to raise mainly wheat, rye, and barley, but also smaller quantities of oats, hemp, beans, and peas. Pasture and meadow was limited, but the arable supported sheep, a new flock of 100 being purchased at Binegar on the Mendips in 1369–70. Some contraction in farming is suggested between 1370 and 1379 in the disappearance of five demesne workers including cow- and pig-keepers, leaving only one ploughman instead of two, a drover, a shepherd, and a carter. (fn. 89)
After the death of Maud, widow successively of Sir John Meriet and Sir Thomas Boclond, in 1398 there was no longer a resident lord in Lopen. By the mid 15th century, therefore, the demesne was divided into small units and let. One man in 1447 took 23 a. in succession to at least one previous tenant, and covenanted to build a hall of three bays and a barn of four bays. (fn. 90) Later in 1447 other parcels were let for lives including the manor pound and Court Orchard. Freeholdings in the manor were also small, John Bulling succeeding in 1463 to 10 a. of arable and 1 a. of meadow. (fn. 91) Indeed, by far the largest single unit was the former Templar estate, in the 14th century comprising 99 a. of land and 10 a. of meadow, with pasture for 100 sheep. (fn. 92) This remained the largest farm in the parish until c. 1918, and for long periods was held by members of the same family. By 1524 at least until 1574 it was occupied by the Sampfords, who had held the mill since 1461. (fn. 93) By 1601 the farm had passed to George Sampson, (fn. 94) and in 1657 another George, of Middle Lambrook, took a lease for three lives for a fine of £560. (fn. 95) Richard Sampson in 1748 took it for a fine of £250 and a slightly increased rent. (fn. 96) By 1788 the Sampsons had been succeeded by the Bartletts, Robert Bartlett having the farm for 14 years for a rent of £126. (fn. 97) At the end of the term his lease was converted to one for three lives or 99 years for a rent of £2 12s. 6d. and a fine of £640. (fn. 98)
Three copyhold farms in the parish amounted to over 50 a. each by 1601 and another to 40 a. (fn. 99) The last, held by John Chapple, probably originated in a former demesne property dating at least from 1572 and probably from the 15th century. (fn. 100) The farm is traceable as a fairly constant unit down to 1781. (fn. 101) A similar continuity is shown by the Denman family, tenants by 1567, (fn. 102) who by 1601 had a farm of 51 a. (fn. 103) Members of the family were still substantial tenants in 1918, (fn. 104) and continued as owner-occupiers until c. 1940. (fn. 105)
The Poulett estate in the 18th century, virtually the whole parish, comprised rents of just over £30 and tithes worth in 1778 over £83 and in 1797 £109. (fn. 106) In 1814 the tithe income was £240, and between 1815 and 1818 averaged over £185. (fn. 107) During the same period the arable acreage was increased from 289 a. in 1778 to 301 a. in 1797, and to 361 a. in 1803, (fn. 108) and from 1814 the average area was c. 320 a. (fn. 109) The arable was still managed on a three-field system of two sowings and fallow, the units smaller than the original medieval fields but cultivated in strips on a large scale. The units had been reduced from eleven areas in 1566 to seven in 1786, though by that date each had relatively few unfenced strips, (fn. 110) some of which continued until after 1918. (fn. 111) Worth mead was described in 1803 as 'lately marked out for inclosure', (fn. 112) and Common mead still survived in division until after c. 1822. (fn. 113)
At the end of the 18th century the land was said to be 'exceedingly good', (fn. 114) and was enhanced in value by careful manuring. A lessee of 1781 undertook to provide 15 hogsheads of lime or 20 putts of rotten dung or good marl an acre between every three crops, or to sow with every second crop 2 bz. of 'good ever grass seed' and 10 lb. of 'good clover seed'. (fn. 115) In 1778 153½ a. were sown with wheat, but only 6 a. with barley and 3 a. with oats. (fn. 116) In 1786 119½ a. were under wheat, 48 a. under barley, and 61½ a. under Lent grain. Beans accounted for 65½ a. in 1778 and 28 a. in 1786; flax for 29 a. and 12 a. Small crops of potatoes, hemp, and peas were grown in 1778 but were replaced in 1786 by vetches. (fn. 117) During the same period grassland increased and was improved, and between 1797 and 1803 orchards had nearly doubled in size. (fn. 118) By 1838 meadow and pasture amounted to 140 a. and orchards and gardens to 46 a., as compared with 297 a. of arable. (fn. 119) In 1905 there were 279 a. of arable. (fn. 120)
Throughout the 19th century the pattern of holdings remained constant despite the steady consolidation of ancient arable strips. Apart from Lopen farm the largest unit in 1838 was that of Thomas Templeman the sailcloth manufacturer, who held 52 a. Three other farms were of c. 20 a. (fn. 121) By 1918 some change had created a 53-a. holding at Broomhill farm and a 38-a. one at Court farm. (fn. 122) Lopen farm was itself divided c. 1918 as part of Somerset County Council's smallholdings estate. By the 1970s arable had become of less importance for grain, and substantial areas were devoted to fruit and potatoes.
Although sheep were kept in large numbers from the time of Domesday if not earlier, the wool was certainly sold in the 14th century, (fn. 123) and the origin of cloth manufacture in the parish can only be traced to the late 17th century. Richard Willy, a clothier, died possessed of a shop in 1678, and in the 1690s both a silk-weaver and a flax-weaver occur. (fn. 124) At least six linen-weavers were at work between 1700 and 1742 and more later in the century, when they were joined by dowlas-weavers and yarn-washers, most if not all of whom combined their trade with small-scale farming. (fn. 125) At least two of these craftsmen, James Gummer and Thomas Arden, had links with a sailcloth maker and a shipwright at Bridport (Dors.). (fn. 126) The long outbuildings attached to several of the substantial houses in the village are witness to the concentration of the industry in the hands of a few employers by the turn of the 19th century, though at least one weaving shop survived in a cottage in Holloway in 1803. (fn. 127) By 1822 more than half the families in the parish were employed in trade and manufacture of dowlas, a time when at least five men described themselves as manufacturers. (fn. 128) By 1840 the most successful seems to have been Thomas Templeman; described as a sailcloth manufacturer, he occupied 12 a. of land called bleaching grounds, together with a building north of the mill. (fn. 129)
A wickyarn manufacturer occurs in 1841. (fn. 130) By 1861 twine was also being produced in the parish, and Sutton Brothers were established at Lopen mill as flax spinners and sailcloth manufacturers. (fn. 131) By 1883 the complex of buildings there was occupied by three firms producing sail twine, rope and twine, and sailcloth. (fn. 132) Between 1886 and 1901 a ropewalk was built. (fn. 133) Weaving continued only until the early 1890s, (fn. 134) but Denman Brothers produced rope and twine until after the First World War. (fn. 135) During the war part of the premises was taken over by the Flax Production Branch of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. (fn. 136) Flax was processed on a small scale by the Linen Research Association during the 1930s, (fn. 137) and a new plant was constructed by the Government during the Second World War. (fn. 138) When production ceased after the war, some of the buildings were used for grain-drying and storage, especially for rolled barley and flaked maize. (fn. 139)
There was a mill attached to the manor by 1285. (fn. 140) By the end of the 14th century it was normally let for lives, (fn. 141) and by 1381 was known as the 'nywemulle'. (fn. 142) It was still a water-grist-mill c. 1700, and may have remained exclusively so until the middle of the century. (fn. 143) James Gifford, who held the mill by 1764, was certainly a linen-weaver or linman, but grain milling continued to share water power until after 1883. (fn. 144) The original buildings were apparently abandoned soon after the First World War. (fn. 145) The mill-house, a plain brick building dating from the late 18th or early 19th century, stands next to more modern buildings which have destroyed all but a few traces of the mill-pond and leat.
There was a fair at Lopen by 1201. (fn. 146) It was taken into Crown hands under Quo Warranto proceedings in 1280, and in 1292 was in the custody of John Tony of Crewkerne as keeper. (fn. 147) It remained in Crown custody despite petitions for its return from John de Meriet in 1303 and from George de Meriet in 1328. (fn. 148) A later petition found, evidently incorrectly, that the confiscation had taken place after the death of John de Meriet in 1308. (fn. 149) A succession of keepers or farmers continued to be appointed by the Crown. In the early 14th century the farm was 50s. a year, though in 1285 the value had been put at 40s. and in 1328 at 26s. 8d. (fn. 150) The fair, which in the 14th century was held for seven days from Whitsun, suffered after 1361 from competition from White Down Fair in Cricket St. Thomas. (fn. 151)
Later farmers paid considerably less for the fair: one in 1386 held the hamlet of Christon in addition for the same rent, and another in 1449 held two hamlets and the fair for 4d. a year. (fn. 152) In 1552 Christon and the fair were leased for £3 0s. 10d. (fn. 153) Gilbert North, appointed keeper in 1629, is the last holder of the office to have been traced. (fn. 154)
The fair survived as an entertainment until the end of the 19th century with wrestling and singlestick and cudgel-playing. About 1810, when the Exeter-London stage adopted the Ilchester route through White Cross, the 'fair' was moved to the main road. About 1880 the date of the event, known then as 'Lopen Play', was changed to Trinity Wednesday in order to avoid a clash with Somerton. By 1882 the entertainment was limited mainly to gingerbread stalls in the village street. (fn. 155)
A physical survival of the fair site is a fragment of a carved medieval cross shaft, partly buried at the foot of the Cross Tree in the centre of the village.
By the end of the 14th century Lopen and the Meriet estate in Stratton were administered together, (fn. 156) a practice which continued until after 1463. (fn. 157) Each property formed a tithing represented at courts held at Lopen twice, and occasionally three times, a year. Sessions were normally described as 'courts' or 'courts leet'. Rolls survive for 1442–9 and 1461–3. (fn. 158) By 1494–5 separate 'manor courts' were being held or at least recorded on the same day for each of the former tithings. (fn. 159) Court rolls for Lopen alone survive for 1511–12. (fn. 160) After 1555 the two estates were in different ownership. The Lopen court under the Pouletts continued to meet twice a year at least until 1572. It was usually described as a 'legal manor court', and its rolls survive for 1566–72. (fn. 161) There are court books for 1651–77, 1703–10, and 1715–26 (fn. 162) and admissions and surrenders in the court baron have survived up to 1819. (fn. 163) A summons to 'the usual place' was addressed to the hayward in 1756. (fn. 164)
In the early 1440s the tithings of Lopen and Stratton each elected a tithingman, rent-collector, and hayward, though later in the decade the rentcollectors' appointment is not recorded. By the 1560s the haywards and tithingmen for Lopen were serving in rotation and thus occasionally by deputy. (fn. 165) In the 15th century the courts, concerned with the normal administration of agriculture and hearing cases of assize breaking, were also involved with repairs and renewals of buildings and with the levy of chevage. Both homages were fined in 1448 for 'chattering and disturbing the court'. By the 1560s most of the business concerned tenancies, though there were several attempts to enforce suit to the mill by Stratton tenants and to limit the damage done by pigs, ducks, and geese. A tumbrel and stocks were purchased in 1369–70. (fn. 166)
Court Farm, on the west side of the village street, was known in the 19th century as Court House, and may well represent the medieval court house of the manor. (fn. 167)
Active support for the poor was the principal concern of a select vestry, meeting monthly from the mid 18th century. (fn. 168) Regular relief for badged paupers was supplemented by the payment of house rent, repairs, and the provision of fuel and medicine. One man in 1758 was sent to hospital at Bristol. The poor-rate, administered by two overseers, was used on occasion for digging the parish ditch, employing a man to examine chimneys after two fires in 1755, repairing highways or, in 1745, celebrating the victory at Culloden with cider. By the 19th century the vestry, with slightly smaller membership, was acting as tithe collector for Lord Poulett, the lay rector. (fn. 169) By 1827 a salaried overseer was employed, and in the following year a parish molecatcher was paid from the waywarden's rate. After 1837 the offices of overseer and waywarden were combined, and from 1849 the post was salaried.
At least by 1725 there was a house known as the parish house, which was repaired by the overseers and was probably used to house the poor. (fn. 170) By 1774 there were six poorhouses in Holloway, (fn. 171) and a further one was added in 1785. (fn. 172) These were put up for sale after the parish became part of the Chard poor-law union in 1836. (fn. 173)
In or before 1209 Sir Nicholas de Meriet granted the chapel of Lopen to the canons of Bruton. (fn. 174) In origin presumably a manorial foundation of the Meriets or their ancestors, it became dependent on the church of South Petherton, itself already belonging to the canons. (fn. 175) At the Dissolution (fn. 176) it passed with South Petherton to the chapter of Bristol, (fn. 177) but in 1574 acquired burial rights, severing the practical links with the mother church. (fn. 178) The chapter let the rectory of South Petherton and its chapels, and at least from 1562 the lessees were themselves required to find priests to serve them. (fn. 179) The conveyance of the tithes of Lopen from Bristol to Earl Poulett in 1802 expressly excepted the patronage, but the Pouletts retained it under an earlier unsurrendered lease until after 1838, (fn. 180) and possibly until the death of the 5th earl in 1864. Thereafter the chapter presented until 1941, when the advowson was transferred to the chapter of Wells. (fn. 181)
In the 16th century the chaplain received a stipend of £2 13s. 4d. (fn. 182) Sir Anthony Poulett (d. 1600) augmented it in return for four annual sermons. (fn. 183) During the 1650s the chaplain was paid £15 a year, (fn. 184) a sum which remained the responsibility of the farmer of the tithes, though by 1786 the lay rector was actually paying £20 a year for duty once a Sunday. (fn. 185) The benefice was, however, augmented in 1747 by John Castleman, prebendary of Bristol and vicar of South Petherton. After a further augmentation in 1793 (fn. 186) the clear value was c. £69 in 1815, £77 in 1831, and £78 in 1851. (fn. 187)
When the chapel was granted to Bruton priory in the early 13th century a portion of 'the tithes of the demesne of Meriet', formerly held by Roger, archdeacon of Winchester, was attached. (fn. 188) It is not clear whether the demesnes were in the parish of Merriott or were the Meriet demesnes in Lopen or elsewhere. Certainly the chapel possessed tithes in Kingsdon which were granted to Bruton by Hugh de Meriet (d. c. 1236). (fn. 189) Such tithes and any attached glebe thereafter formed part of the rectory estate. Land in South Petherton, amounting to 31 a., was purchased for Lopen chapel with augmentation money in 1749. (fn. 190) In 1851 it produced an income of £56, (fn. 191) but it was sold in 1920. (fn. 192)
In 1619 the curate had a house in the parish, but it was not known whether it belonged to the benefice. (fn. 193) There was no glebe house in the 19th century, though the incumbents at that time lived in the village. The last one to do so died in 1904. (fn. 194)
In 1577 John Vawdye, the curate, was described as 'unmeet' for the charge, 'being a Jersey man, not having the perfect English tongue and unlearned'. (fn. 195) The curate in 1606 held Dinnington with Lopen. (fn. 196) His successor in 1612 catechized only 'now and then' and was not licensed. (fn. 197) In the 1650s the chapel was usually served with Seavington St. Mary. (fn. 198) John Templeman, perpetual curate 1783–1835, lived in Lopen and served Cricket St. Thomas. Services at Lopen were held once every Sunday and on certain holy days. (fn. 199) Two services were held from 1827 and Templeman 'because of advanced age and infirmities' was helped by his son and eventual successor. (fn. 200) By 1851 the services were held alternately morning and evening and afternoon and evening, with average general congregations of 150 in the morning, 250 in the afternoon, and the same in the evening. Sixty Sunday-school pupils attended mornings and afternoons. (fn. 201) By 1870 the minister was reported as serving 'as well as he is able', but there was only one service each Sunday, with a sermon at nearly every one. There were then five or six celebrations of the Holy Communion each year. (fn. 202) Robert Phelps Billing, Ph.D., curate 1871–1904, who held the benefice of Kingstone from 1875, was the last resident incumbent. After his death the benefice was held by successive vicars of South Petherton until 1960, when it was linked with Seavington St. Mary and Seavington St. Michael. (fn. 203)
The church house of Lopen, divided into two dwellings by 1700, was burnt before 1781. Its site is unknown. (fn. 204) A bier house, recently built on part of the pound, was conveyed to trustees by Earl Poulett in 1933. (fn. 205)
The church of ALL SAINTS is built of rubble and ashlar and has a chancel, and a nave with north transept, south porch, and western bellcot. The head of a 12th-century window is reset in the porch and it is possible that the nave and chancel may be of that date in origin, although there are no in situ features earlier than the 14th-century south doorway. When not entirely of the 19th century, the windows are of the 15th, but much restored. These and the contemporary chancel roof and rood stair suggest that the 15th century was a time of considerable building activity. The chancel arch may have been rebuilt in the late 16th century. The present appearance of the church owes much to major alterations in the 19th century. The north transept was added in 1833, (fn. 206) and between 1874 and 1886 part of the nave walling, including most of the windows and buttresses, and the south porch were rebuilt and the chancel restored. (fn. 207) Galleries were put up in transept (removed 1958) (fn. 208) and nave, the former approached by an external stair, and the nave was re-roofed and ceiled. The screen, designed by A. F. Erridge, was erected in 1951. (fn. 209)
There are two bells: (i) 1868; (ii) 1765, Thomas Bayley. (fn. 210) The plate includes a cup and cover of 1738. (fn. 211) Registers of baptisms date from 1693, of burials from 1694, and of marriages from 1723 and are complete. (fn. 212)
Two unspecified groups had licences in 1695 and one in 1707. (fn. 213) The houses of Joshua Gummer and Peter Horsey were used by Presbyterians from 1751, and in the same year Horsey's house was licensed for Anabaptists. (fn. 214) Two years later 'the workhouse at the court of Peter Horsey's was used by Methodists. (fn. 215) Horsey himself was described as a yarnwasher. (fn. 216) Later in 1753 and again in 1754 Methodists occupied other premises, and in 1759 licences were issued for both Baptists and Presbyterians. In 1760 Robert Gummer's house, previously used by both Methodists and Presbyterians, was licensed for Presbyterians and Baptists. (fn. 217) 'Some' Presbyterians were reported in 1776. (fn. 218)
The Congregationalist cause started in a private house in 1825. (fn. 219) Meetings continued in a 'small room' until 1864, when a chapel was built through the efforts of the Revd. Samuel Hebditch (1821–88), a native of Lopen and a noted preacher. (fn. 220) The building could seat 150 and cost c. £250. (fn. 221) At the end of the 19th century an evangelist stationed there worked in the surrounding villages. (fn. 222) The cause declined in the 20th century and the chapel was sold in 1952. (fn. 223) The building, of Ham stone, was used in 1974 as a store.
Two schools in 1819 taught reading to 37 children. (fn. 224) A Sunday school began in 1822, the churchwardens contributing in the first year. (fn. 225) By 1826 there were 74 pupils. (fn. 226) Ten years later the Sunday school had 80 pupils, and two day-schools 28 pupils, all three supported by subscriptions. (fn. 227) The Sunday school continued to grow and by 1847 ten teachers were employed. (fn. 228)
A school board was established in 1877 and a school opened in 1879 with 74 pupils. (fn. 229) The premises comprised two rooms and a teacher's house. Average attendance rose from 48 in 1894 to 72 in 1900, and was 63 in 1902. (fn. 230) Attendance fell rapidly during the 20th century and from 1948 senior pupils were transferred to Crewkerne, leaving only 13 in 1951. The school was closed in 1952, and the children transferred to Hinton St. George. (fn. 231)
CHARITIES FOR THE POOR.