A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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ST. DECUMANS INCLUDING WATCHET AND WILLITON
The parish of St. Decumans, (fn. 1) named after the patron saint of its church, (fn. 2) occupies the coastal plain at the mouth of a broad valley between the Quantocks and the Brendons. The former borough and market town of Watchet, on the coast in the north-west corner of the parish, and the large village of Williton, 2 km. south on the southern boundary, are the main settlements. The parish is roughly L-shaped, (fn. 3) occupying a band c. 2 km. wide which runs for 4 km. along the coast. At its western end it stretches southwards for 4.5 km. into the Brendons. A detached part of Nettlecombe in Warmoor, by the western boundary, was absorbed into St. Decumans in 1882 and part of Washford, beyond the western boundary and hitherto part of St. Decumans, was transferred with 7 houses and 34 people to Old Cleeve in the same year. Three detached areas in the Brendons, part of the ancient parish, were transferred to other parishes, Hayne, now Lower Hayne, and Kingsdown (4 houses, 10 people) to Nettlecombe in 1883, and Timwood (1 house, 10 people) to Old Cleeve in 1886. (fn. 4) After those changes the parish measured 1,407 ha. (3,483 a.). (fn. 5) In 1902 the parish was divided between the urban district of Watchet and the civil parish of Williton. The two areas became constituent parishes in the West Somerset district in 1974. (fn. 6)
The boundaries of the ancient parish rarely followed natural features and interlocked with Old Cleeve between Washford and Kentsford (fn. 7) around an estate established there in the 10th century. (fn. 8) The eastern part of the parish lies on limestone, shale, and marl and slopes down from Rydon, on the eastern boundary, to the gravels of the Doniford stream. Further west, in the centre of the parish, is a limestone ridge rising to 75 m., which divides Watchet from Williton. North of the ridge the land slopes down to the coast and to the valley of the Washford river, and beyond the river rises steeply north-west to Cleeve Hill, the site of Daw's Castle. (fn. 9) The cliffs, largely of blue lias and marls with bands of harder limestone and gravels and rich in fossil remains, (fn. 10) have suffered severe erosion notably in Watchet and around the mouth of the Doniford stream. South of the limestone ridge, Williton lies on a broad band of marl, with gravels along the course of a stream flowing down from the Brendons. Further south the land rises over Upper Sandstone and Pebble Beds, and slate of the Upper Devonian to reach just over the 152 m. contour above Woodford in Nettlecombe. (fn. 11)
The parish was thus rich in building materials. Limestone was burnt in quantity from the later Middle Ages, (fn. 12) and sandstone was quarried south of Williton in the 19th century and probably before. Veins of alabaster in the cliff face were worked in the 17th century, (fn. 13) and lias for paving was taken below the high water mark. (fn. 14) There were attempts c. 1840 to find iron ore at Daw's Castle, iron and manganese at Stream quarry, and silver lead at Doniford. (fn. 15) Iron ore at Timwood was not actually reached when the Brendon mines were reopened in 1907. (fn. 16)
Palaeolithic, mesolithic, and neolithic flints have been found in quantity at Doniford, and three Bronze Age barrows, known as Graburrows, (fn. 17) survive at a site more familiarly known as Battlegore, north of Williton, where the discovery of weapons gave colour to the name. (fn. 18) The site was called Bytelgore (fn. 19) in the 14th century, probably a reference to the shape of a piece of land at the corner of an open field. A fourth round barrow, known as Bloody or Bleary Pate, near the parish boundary south-east of Rydon, (fn. 20) was known as Bleripate in the 16th century, (fn. 21) and the name is thus not Victorian. (fn. 22) A Romano-British site at Doniford was occupied in the 4th century. (fn. 23) Mother Shipton's Tomb in Black Down wood has been shown to be a copy of a Roman tomb found in Cumberland by the Wyndham family and was constructed in the late 18th or early 19th century. (fn. 24)
Celtic survival in the parish is suggested by the name Watchet, known in the 10th century as Waeced or Weced, (fn. 25) formed from two Welsh words meaning 'under the wood'. (fn. 26) The limestone ridge above Watchet was once covered in trees, as indicated by field names ending in 'grove', (fn. 27) and it retained some coppice in the late 17th century. (fn. 28) Celtic influence is also implied in the dedication of the church to the Welsh saint Decuman. (fn. 29) Williton (Willettun in 904) (fn. 30) appears to be named from the stream which passes through the hamlet of Stream and then flows close to the former manor house (fn. 31) and church. Both that stream and, by the 12th century, the Doniford stream (fn. 32) which it joins north-east of Williton, were called the Willet. (fn. 33) The Doniford stream at its mouth is known as the Swill river, and the tributary alternatively as the Guilly or Swilly. (fn. 34)
Apart from the main settlements of Watchet and Williton there were hamlets and farms scattered throughout the parish. Washford, Kentsford, (fn. 35) Doniford, (fn. 36) and an unidentified hamlet of Sualewecliffe (fn. 37) are recorded by name before the end of the 12th century. By the late 13th century there were houses or small farms at Little Silver in the Washford river valley, (fn. 38) Egrove (Hymgrave c. 1275), (fn. 39) and Wibble (Wybbehill); (fn. 40) at Bardon (Beredon) (fn. 41) on the ground rising towards the Brendons, Curlinch immediately west of Williton church; (fn. 42) at Culvercliffe, on the coast east of Watchet, (fn. 43) and at Huish. (fn. 44) Stream was established as a hamlet by 1314, (fn. 45) Rydon (Ridene) probably by 1327, (fn. 46) and there was a house or hamlet called 'la halle by Watchet' in the 1330s. (fn. 47) The last is not found after 1336, Sualewecliffe not after the 12th century, nor Huish after the 13th, and their sites have not been traced. Culvercliffe disappeared in the 15th century. (fn. 48) Orchard had emerged as a settlement by 1479, (fn. 49) and Snailholt (Snaylehole in 1528), (fn. 50) and Liddymore (fn. 51) were mentioned in the 16th century.
By the mid 17th century Doniford, Bardon, and Stream were the principal hamlets. In 1667 Stream comprised eight households, (fn. 52) and by 1714 it was in two parts, known as Higher and Lower Stream. (fn. 53) In 1801 Lower Stream had only one house, (fn. 54) and in 1851 Higher Stream comprised four farms and several cottages with a total population of 64. (fn. 55) Bardon, whose population of 113 in 1667 included some people living in Stogumber parish, (fn. 56) comprised only Bardon House and associated cottages in 1801. (fn. 57) In 1851 the population of Bardon was 9, but isolated cottages to the north at Shells (or Shelves) and Tomblands gave a total of 32 in that part of the parish. (fn. 58)
Apart from the expansion of Watchet and Williton, two other areas of growth in the 20th century were Five Bells and Doniford. The name Five Bells, used of a cottage in 1720, (fn. 59) was later given to the high ground at the junction of roads from Williton and Washford to Watchet, south-east of St. Decuman's church. (fn. 60) A few cottages beside the junction were joined in the 1930s by substantial detached houses. Doniford, which included cottages called Stoates Place in 1851, (fn. 61) had a summer camp site for the Territorials in the 1920s which continued in army use until the 1960s. (fn. 62) The camp site has since been developed as a holiday village.
Earthworks surviving on Cleeve Hill, near the boundary of Old Cleeve parish and known as Daw's Castle, were almost certainly (fn. 63) part of the burh of Watchet recorded in the Burghal Hidage. (fn. 64) The hill appears to have been occupied in Roman times and perhaps earlier, (fn. 65) and included the probable site of a minster church. (fn. 66) The defensive work, which may have been just over three furlongs in length, (fn. 67) was subsequently damaged by coastal erosion, lime workings, (fn. 68) and the adaptation of the area for a golf course. (fn. 69) The earthworks were known as 'le castell' c. 1537 when part of the hill was occupied by Thomas Dawe. (fn. 70)
A mint had probably been established in the burh in the late 10th century. (fn. 71) Old Cleeve manor had the third penny of the burgherist from four hundreds including Williton in 1086, (fn. 72) and it is possible that the burh of Watchet was the recipient of the tax.
The medieval town of Watchet, which succeeded the settlement on the headland, lay around the edge of a shallow bay, in a small area of level ground at the mouth of the Washford river, sheltered from the west by Cleeve Hill and from the east by the headland of Culvercliffe. At its heart was a large open space, (fn. 73) by the early 15th century known as Chipping Street and later as the market place or Market Street, (fn. 74) which was the site of the shambles, (fn. 75) the Great Cross, (fn. 76) Holy Cross chapel, (fn. 77) the pillory, (fn. 78) and the 'tollestrig', (fn. 79) possibly a tolsey. At the west end the river was divided by an island to form east and west water. (fn. 80) A bridge spanned the river by the late 13th century. (fn. 81) Beyond west water, at the foot of Cleeve Hill, lay Bynneport or Byngeport, a name which perhaps signified an inner market or harbour, and which survived until the late 15th century. (fn. 82)
From the market place Culvercliffe Street ran eastwards along the shore. The street is mentioned from the 1270s until the mid 15th century. (fn. 83) By the 14th century there was a parallel street further south, known as Culver Street, (fn. 84) which survived into the 18th century, and is perhaps in part the modern Esplanade Lane. (fn. 85) During the 14th century the town spread inland with the formation of South Street (named between 1361 and 1385) (fn. 86) and Swine (later Swain) Street, the latter running from the eastern end of the market place to Lime Cross. (fn. 87) There may have been some building to the south-east, in an area known in the 14th century as Lourtegale, (fn. 88) where Glovers, later Govier's, Lane was recorded in 1438. (fn. 89) Culvercliffe Street seems to have disappeared when storms in the 1450s (fn. 90) swept away burgages and exposed the town to constant erosion. (fn. 91)
In the 16th century the town was protected by a weir or breakwater, (fn. 92) and by the quay which formed the northern side of the market place. The quay was rebuilt in the late 16th century. (fn. 93) The additional protection perhaps encouraged expansion or rebuilding at the western end of the market place. That end was called High Street by 1622, (fn. 94) a name which survived until 1743 or later. (fn. 95) New street names in the 18th century suggest infilling south of the market place, between the river and Swine Street: Silver Street by 1736, (fn. 96) Back Lane by c. 1725, (fn. 97) which later became Back Street and later still Anchor Street, (fn. 98) and Keck Alley Street by 1824. (fn. 99) By the 1850s the town had begun to expand westwards, in West Street, (fn. 100) but principally over the fields to the south and east, overlooking the harbour. Causeway Terrace was built in 1859, (fn. 101) Temple Villas and Temple Terrace were so called after the Bible Christian Chapel which was built on the town's edge in 1860. (fn. 102) Almyr and Wristland Terraces were named from the former open fields on which they stood. (fn. 103) Detached villas on Cleeve Hill had been built by the 1880s, (fn. 104) but 20th-century building was principally to the south and east.
Meanwhile the creation of the harbour permitted some restoration of the ancient street pattern. The quay, damaged in the 1640s by storm, (fn. 105) was repaired in the 1660s by means of levies on imports of coal and salt (fn. 106) and by the issue of briefs. (fn. 107) The quay was said in the early 18th century (fn. 108) to be too low and not long enough to supply shelter, and it was seriously damaged c. 1797. (fn. 109) In 1807–8 it was extended with elm piles after suggestions that an eastern breakwater should be formed in place of the rocky beach. In 1838 George Rennie suggested an eastern breakwater as well as rebuilding and extending the pier which by 1801 had been constructed from the western end of the quay. (fn. 110) The works allowed the construction of the Esplanade in the 1840s. (fn. 111) Increasing business offered by the iron ore mines, deteriorating conditions in the harbour, and difficulties over ownership led to the appointment of harbour commissioners in 1857, (fn. 112) and under them the harbour was rebuilt by James Abernethy in 1861–2. The western pier was rebuilt and extended with a wooden breakwater and jetty, and an eastern quay and pier were added, thus enclosing a harbour capable of taking vessels up to 500 tons. (fn. 113) Much of the reclaimed land was used by the railways serving the quays. (fn. 114)
Surveys of Watchet from the mid 16th century described small town properties, normally twostoreyed, sometimes containing shops, and one having an outside stone stair to upper rooms, solars, and lofts. (fn. 115) A detailed covenant of 1517 specified the construction of a loft over a hall, which was to have windows and doors, and the insertion of a chimney. (fn. 116) Most of the earliest surviving buildings in the town are in Market and Swain streets, the main shopping area. They include no. 29 Swain Street, which dates from the later 17th century; Bank House, Swain Street, built c. 1735 in brick with stone dressings; the later 18th-century former court house and council offices; and the London inn. Earlier 19th-century building included the present West Somerset Hotel. There are at least two 18th-century houses on the Esplanade, and three cottages in Mill Street which date from the later 17th century. Building east and south-east of the harbour included the mid 19th-century Sea View Terrace.
There were at least five ale sellers in the town in the 1650s, (fn. 117) but the oldest named inn to be found was the Three Mariners, which was standing on the south side of the market place by 1657 (fn. 118) and continued into the 18th century. (fn. 119) The Blue Anchor was mentioned in 1707 (fn. 120) and survived until after 1807. (fn. 121) Three other inns in the earlier 18th century were the Black Boy (by 1711, washed away by 1738), (fn. 122) the White Hart (1743), (fn. 123) and the Bell (by 1744), (fn. 124) the last probably a new name for the former Three Mariners. In 1736 there were seven licensed houses in the parish as a whole, (fn. 125) and in 1755 eleven. (fn. 126) By 1787 there were eight inns in the town: the Greyhound, the George, the Ship, the Jolly Sailor, the Royal Oak, and the New Inn to add to the two earlier inns. The New Inn, the White Hart, the Ship, and the Jolly Sailor all stood on the quay, facing the north side of the market place and High Street. (fn. 127) By 1818 there survived only the Bell, the Greyhound, the Anchor (recorded in 1800), and the George. The London is first found in 1822, the Star in 1825, (fn. 128) and the Sailor's Delight in 1840. (fn. 129) The George had closed by 1841, (fn. 130) but the Greyhound survived until after 1861, (fn. 131) when business was transferred to the New Commercial, later the West Somerset Commercial (or Mossman's) Hotel. (fn. 132) The Wellington (1861) and the Railway (1866) survived for short periods, and by 1889 the Castle Temperance Hotel was established. (fn. 133) By 1894 the Anchor was offering accommodation for tourists. (fn. 134) The Bell, the London, the Anchor, the Star, and the West Somerset were the town's surviving historic inns in 1979.
The street pattern of Williton may have originated as a crossroads, the south-western quadrant thus formed including the manor house, the chapel, and a green. The name Bury, given to a field immediately north (fn. 135) of the chapel, and associated closes called Brodestrete, Lytellstrete, and Pleystrete, named together in the early 16th century, (fn. 136) indicate significant shrinkage at the west end of the village by that date, and the simple crossroads was already modified. The roads from east and west then joined the north-south road from Watchet at separate points, each marked by a cross. (fn. 137) The short street between them, possibly the Hokestrete mentioned in 1471, (fn. 138) was called High Street by 1621. (fn. 139) The eastern road was named Long Street in 1472–3 (fn. 140) and the eastern limit of building along it was marked by White Cross. The western road was later named Priest Street because it passed beside the medieval priest's house; it became Bank Street after the building of a bank there c. 1860. (fn. 141) Other street names include Callis Street by 1750, (fn. 142) Shutgate Street (named after the toll house there) by 1766, (fn. 143) Bob Lane (later Robert Street) by 1816, (fn. 144) and Chapel Street by 1817. (fn. 145) Tower Hill, the south-eastern extension of the village, was so named by 1605. (fn. 146) In the 19th century there was cottage development south-west of the village centre at Catwell and Half Acre (fn. 147) and at the eastern end of Long Street, where the union workhouse and the railway station were built. There was extensive building after the Second World War to the north-east, off the Doniford road, and in the 1970s there was infilling among the scattered houses towards the eastern end of Long Street.
Much of the commercial centre of Williton dates from the later 19th century, but Long Street includes among its well spaced dwellings Honeysuckle Cottage, a small medieval hall-house. The house has traces of painting on the wattle and daub screen, and has a floor supported on high-quality medieval timbers but inserted in the 17th century. The dates 1607 and 1677 are on the outside wall. (fn. 148) In the same street is a row of three cottages dated 1624, and buildings of the 18th and earlier 19th centuries, ranging from roughcast and thatched cottages with access directly to the street, to the White House, an early 19th-century town house with angle pilasters and coved plaster eaves, set back behind a formal garden. There are 17th-century thatched and roughcast cottages in Bridge, Priest, Robert, and Shutgate streets.
The earliest known inn at Williton was the Pelican, established shortly before 1686. (fn. 149) In 1736 there were two inns, of which one was the Red Lion and the other perhaps the Coach and Horses, the second recorded in 1742. (fn. 150) By 1787 there were four: the Coach and Horses, the Red Lion, the New Inn, and the King's Arms. (fn. 151) By 1800 the Red Lion and the King's Arms had gone and the Wyndham Arms had been opened. (fn. 152) The Coach and Horses was pulled down c. 1830 and was replaced by the Wyndham (by 1861 the Egremont) Hotel, a larger establishment for the increasing business brought by the new turnpike road. (fn. 153) The Lamb, founded c. 1850, was renamed the Railway Hotel in 1858. (fn. 154) By 1866 the Masons' Arms, formerly a beer shop, occupied the former Shutgate toll house. (fn. 155)
Traces of open-field farming survived into the 19th century. (fn. 156) There was a park on Williton manor by 1321, (fn. 157) and an area called Stone Parks, near Battlegore, was mentioned in 1472–3. (fn. 158) Bathparks and Langpark were names of fields on Williton Regis manor in 1584. (fn. 159) The park at Orchard Wyndham existed in the early 18th century. (fn. 160) Field names suggest parks, or simply enclosures, on the western edge of Doniford, and adjoining Parsonage Farm and Stream, and warrens north of Parsonage Farm and north-west of Orchard Wyndham. (fn. 161)
Until the 19th century the main coastal route from Bridgwater entered the parish at Rydon and passed through Doniford to Watchet. From Watchet in the Middle Ages there were two parallel routes southwards to Williton, (fn. 162) known as Leechway and Liddymore lanes. They were closed in 1816. (fn. 163) The former took its name from the Leechway which linked Williton with Kentsford and Cleeve Hill. (fn. 164) From Watchet there were at least two other medieval routes, one serving the parish church, Snailholt, and Kentsford, leading to Cleeve Abbey, (fn. 165) the other passing near the site of the old minster, (fn. 166) leading to Dunster, a route reported overgrown in 1472 (fn. 167) and called the Greenway by the early 16th century. (fn. 168) The second route had a branch, probably that known as Old Lane in the 19th century, (fn. 169) which led to Little Silver. (fn. 170)
The principal local routes adopted by the Minehead turnpike trust in 1765 were the coastal route from Rydon through Watchet and over Cleeve Hill to Blue Anchor, and a road from Watchet southwards which divided at Five Bells, one branch passing south through Washford Cross and Fair Cross, the other south-east on the line of the Leechway through Williton to Tower Hill. (fn. 171) Until the early 19th century Williton was served from the south only by minor roads. One, through Stream, was itself probably a replacement for a more ancient route through Aller in Sampford Brett, abandoned in the 18th century during the emparkment of Orchard Wyndham. (fn. 172) The other linked the village over Tower Hill with Sampford Brett.
The turnpike road from Taunton came direct to Williton under an Act of 1807, (fn. 173) and in the next two decades improvements were made in existing routes. (fn. 174) A new line from West Quantoxhead c. 1829 (fn. 175) brought traffic direct to Williton from Bridgwater, making Williton 'a great thoroughfare'. (fn. 176) From the 1930s onwards the route became of increasing importance, particularly to holiday traffic.
There were several bridges in the parish. Damsen Bridge (Damejonebrugge in 1465), (fn. 177) probably the bridge mentioned by the late 13th century, (fn. 178) carried the westerly route from Watchet. Cockle Bridge (mentioned 1659), (fn. 179) possibly crossed the Washford river further south. High Bridge (Heybrugge in 1438–9) (fn. 180) took a road east from Williton over the Doniford stream, probably to serve Egrove and Doniford. Fowl Bridge was built by 1492 (fn. 181) to carry the Leechway over a stream at Battlegore. Little Bridge was standing at Doniford by 1515, (fn. 182) and the surviving structure of Kentsford bridge is probably of late medieval date.
After unsuccessful schemes to provide railway links between Watchet and Bridport (Dors.) and between Bridgwater and Minehead (fn. 183) the West Somerset Mineral Railway was founded in 1855 to carry iron ore from the Brendon Hill mines for shipment to South Wales. The track ran along the valley of the Washford river to a station at the south end of the western pier and loading facilities along the jetty. The line was in operation in 1856, but was not used for passenger traffic until 1865. (fn. 184) The West Somerset Railway was opened in 1862, linking the main Taunton-Exeter line with Watchet and providing a station at Williton and a terminus at Watchet with access to the eastern quay and pier. The line was continued to Minehead in 1874, following the mineral line up the Washford river valley to Washford. (fn. 185) The mineral railway survived the closure of the mines until 1898, was briefly reopened between 1907 and 1910, and was used to test automatic braking equipment until 1914. (fn. 186) The West Somerset Railway continued in operation until 1971, and was partially reopened in 1975 by a private company. The stations at Watchet and Williton were reopened in 1976. (fn. 187)
Friendly societies in the parish included a club at Williton by 1815 and the Social Order Benefit Society in 1820. (fn. 188) The Re-Union club was established at Watchet in 1849 and the Watchet United Sailors' Benefit Society in 1864. There were also branches of national friendly societies such as the Foresters, and various temperance societies. The United Sailors' Society, founded at Watchet in 1863, regularized a long-established pilotage system known at the Watchet Hobblers. (fn. 189) Local bands, theatricals at the West Somerset Hotel, the annual regatta, and a local custom called 'Caturn's Night' (25 November) were part of Watchet's social life in the late 19th century. (fn. 190) Williton acquired a reading room c. 1822, which became a school c. 1832. (fn. 191) Penny readings, musical entertainments, and recitations were held at the police station from the late 1850s, and a new reading room was built in 1867. (fn. 192) A newspaper called the West Somerset Free Press, founded at Williton in 1860, continued to be published in 1980. (fn. 193)
There were 63 taxed males in Watchet borough in 1378, (fn. 194) and 136 households in the whole ancient parish in 1563, including 60 in Williton chapelry. (fn. 195) The subsidy of 1667 recorded 503 inhabitants, comprising 167 at Watchet, 158 at Williton, 28 at Doniford, 21 at Stream, and 113 at Bardon, the last figure evidently including detached areas of the parish or manor stretching as far as the southern edge of Stogumber. (fn. 196) From 1801, when the total was 1,602, the population doubled in seventy years, and after a slight decline in the next two decades, reached 3,302 in 1901. (fn. 197) Watchet's population thereafter rose slowly, from 1,880 in 1901 to 1,936 in 1931, and to 2,597 in 1961, but in the next decade reached 2,900. Williton's fell in the first twenty years of the 20th century to 1,131 in 1921, rose slightly by 1931, but after the Second World War increased rapidly to 2,304 in 1961, and to 2,948 in 1971. (fn. 198)
During the Civil War, the Wyndham family was divided in its allegiance: Sir William (d. 1683) accepted a baronetcy from Cromwell in 1658, and Orchard Wyndham was looted in June 1644 by the royalist Francis Wyndham, when it was in the possession of Sir John Wyndham, a parliamentary sympathizer. (fn. 199) Sir Edmund Wyndham of Kentsford was the royalist commander at Bridgwater. (fn. 200) The earl of Bedford's troops occupied 'the hill about Watchet' in 1642 when Hopton was occupying Minehead; (fn. 201) and a royalist ship, stranded by the tide in Watchet harbour, was taken by a troop of horse. (fn. 202) During Monmouth's rebellion in 1685 the parish sent six men to serve the king and another to carry arms to Taunton. (fn. 203) Twenty-six out of sixty muskets kept in the hall at Orchard Wyndham were 'taken away and lost' at the time. (fn. 204)
MANORS AND OTHER ESTATES.
In 1086 Williton formed, with Carhampton and Cannington, a single estate, part of the royal demesne. (fn. 205) Williton passed between 1086 and 1107 to William de Falaise, who between 1100 and 1107 granted two thirds of the tithes there to the abbey of Lonlay (Orne). (fn. 206) The tithes passed to Stogursey Priory, Lonlay's cell, but are not later recorded. Sibyl de Falaise, possibly William's daughter, (fn. 207) married Baldwin de Boulers, and their daughter Maud married Richard FitzUrse (d. by 1158), lord of the barony of Bulwick (Northants.). Richard's son Reynold (d. 1172–5), (fn. 208) one of the murderers of Becket, divided the demesne manor of Williton in two halves. (fn. 209) The barony passed with his daughter Maud to the Courtenays, and King John granted the purparty which included the overlordship of Williton to Hubert de Burgh in 1216 and to William de Cauntelo in 1217. William was overlord of Williton in 1225. (fn. 210) On George de Cauntelo's death in 1273 the barony went to one coheir while the overlordship of Williton went to the other, (fn. 211) John de Hastings (d. 1313). From him it descended in the Hastings family, earls of Pembroke, being held as of Barwick manor. (fn. 212) That tenure was recorded in 1557 and 1629, (fn. 213) though in 1510 and 1524 Williton was said to be held of the earl of Northumberland. (fn. 214)
The manor of WILLITON, sometimes referred to as the manor of WILLITON AND WATCHET, was the half of the holding of Reynold FitzUrse which he granted c. 1172–5 to his half-brother Robert FitzUrse (occurs 1159–1202). (fn. 215) Robert was succeeded by his son John, and John by his son Ralph FitzUrse (occurs 1243, d. by 1269). (fn. 216) John, son of Ralph, was in possession by 1273, but died c. 1280, leaving another Ralph, a minor, as his heir. (fn. 217) Ralph died c. 1321, and was followed by his son, also Ralph, a knight by 1335. (fn. 218) Sir Ralph died in 1350, holding Williton and the borough of Watchet jointly with his wife Maud, and leaving as heirs two daughters, Hawise, wife of Hugh Durburgh, and Joan, then unmarried. (fn. 219) Maud survived until 1388, when the heirs were James Durburgh, son of Hawise, and William and Joan Langdon, then under age, granddaughters of Joan. (fn. 220)
For the next two hundred years and more the manor was divided, the two estates being known as Williton Fulford and Williton Hadley. WILLITON FULFORD came into the Fulford family through the marriage of William Langdon with Henry Fulford. William's sister Joan is presumed to have died under age. (fn. 221) Sir Baldwin Fulford, son of William, attainted in 1461, was followed by his son Sir Thomas (d. 1490), and then by Thomas's sons Sir Humphrey (d. 1508) and William (d. 1517). (fn. 222) The estate passed through successive generations of Fulfords to Sir Francis Fulford, who sold what was described as the manors and lordships of Williton and Watchet to Sir John Wyndham in 1616. (fn. 223) The estate then descended like Orchard Wyndham manor. (fn. 224)
The later manor of WILLITON HADLEY descended to James Durburgh on the death of Maud FitzUrse in 1388. (fn. 225) James died in 1416 leaving a son John who died without issue and the estate passed to James's brother Ralph. (fn. 226) Ralph died in or after 1435, (fn. 227) and his Williton estate descended to his younger daughter Alice, wife of Alexander Hadley of London. (fn. 228) Alexander died in 1480 and was followed in the direct male line by John (d. by 1503), Richard (d. 1524), James (d. 1537), and Christopher Hadley (d. 1540). (fn. 229) Christopher's heir Arthur, who succeeded as a minor, married Eleanor, daughter of Sir John Wyndham, and died in 1558. (fn. 230) Eleanor, who married Thomas Carne or Kerne, retained dower in the manor, but Arthur's heir was his sister Margaret, wife successively of Thomas Luttrell and John Strode. (fn. 231) The estate descended in the Luttrell family until 1710, when it was sold by Alexander Luttrell to Sir William Wyndham. (fn. 232) It descended like Orchard Wyndham manor.
Reynold FitzUrse gave to his half-brother Robert c. 1172–5 'a little house where he was accustomed to live'. (fn. 233) In 1321 Annora, widow of Ralph FitzUrse, was assigned as dower two barns and other buildings, and reference was then made to an old house and a lower court towards the water. (fn. 234) The division of the manor in 1388 involved a physical division of the house. One share was a chamber called 'lady chamber' with a privy, and a cellar below, with part of the hall including the porch as far as the service wing (which had a room called the 'gentleman chamber'), together with the eastern half of the barton next to the water and half the barn and the byre. (fn. 235) The two parts seem thereafter to have been regarded as two separate houses. The Hadley share of the house was held with a few acres in 1558 (fn. 236) and by 1568 it seems to have been occupied by John Wyndham (d. 1572) and his wife Florence. (fn. 237) From 1578 it was let to Humphrey Wyndham, John's youngest brother, (fn. 238) who was still there in 1613. (fn. 239) From 1615, described as the 'capital messuage called the mansion house of Williton', it was let. (fn. 240)
The Fulford part of the house was let in the 15th century, and included a high chamber at the east end of the hall in 1454. (fn. 241) By 1605 it was let with half a ruined dovecot, (fn. 242) but a reversionary lease granted c. 1615 suggests that both parts were to be united in the occupation of the Dawe family. (fn. 243) The subsequent history of the house has not been traced, but it seems likely that the former manor house of Williton thus reverted to a single unit. It probably stood on the north side of the stream south-west of Williton chapel. There were buildings on the site in 1801. (fn. 244)
Before 1172 Reynold FitzUrse gave, or possibly sold, half his manor of Williton to the Knights Templar, perhaps to raise money to travel to Rome and the Holy Land to do penance for his part in the murder of Becket. (fn. 245) The estate passed to the Crown on the suppression of the Templars in 1312, and was given to the Knights Hospitaller in 1332. (fn. 246) On the dissolution of the Hospitallers in 1540 the estate again reverted to the Crown, but in 1544 it was granted to John (later Sir John) Leigh of London (d. c. 1563). (fn. 247) He settled it on his nephew, also John, but by 1567 some claim had passed to Edward FitzGarrett and his wife Agnes, Sir John Leigh's daughter. (fn. 248) John Leigh granted the manor to the Crown in 1572, but a 99-year sublease had been made in 1556 to Sir John Leigh's servant Richard Blount (d. 1575), of Coleman Street, London. (fn. 249) Blount's widow Margaret, married successively to Jasper Fisher and Nicholas Saunders of Ewell (Surr.), retained the estate until 1584, and in the following year it passed to Blount's nephew, also Richard Blount, to whom the Crown granted a 1,000-year lease in 1575. (fn. 250) Sir John Wyndham occupied the estate as farmer from 1573, (fn. 251) and in 1602 he acquired the remainder of Blount's lease. In 1609 he purchased the freehold. (fn. 252) The estate, which until that date had usually been called the manor of WILLITON TEMPLE, was known in the 17th century as the manor of WILLITON HOSPITAL, and in the 18th as WILLITON REGIS. (fn. 253) It descended with Orchard in the Wyndham family, and Mr. G. C. Wyndham was owner at his death in 1982.
The capital messuage of the estate was let by 1505. (fn. 254) In 1612 it was held on lease with 68 a., and was described as lying by the highway and was associated with land called le Line. (fn. 255) Fields called Lines in the 19th century suggest that the site may be on or near the southern side of Bridge Street in Williton, leading to the green and the site of the other manor house. (fn. 256)
A fee held by William de Reigny (d. 1186–9) of Reynold FitzUrse in 1166 was evidently given by Reynold's father Richard (d. by 1158). (fn. 257) The fee was identified by 1196 as DONIFORD. (fn. 258) William's son or nephew John de Reigny was succeeded in 1222 by another John de Reigny, (fn. 259) who in 1225 held ½ fee in Doniford and Stogumber of William de Cauntelo as of the honor of Bulwick. (fn. 260) The overlordship descended with that of Williton until 1375 or later. (fn. 261) John de Reigny was succeeded apparently in 1246 by his grandson Sir William de Reigny, (fn. 262) whose heirs at his death in 1275 were his aunts and their heirs, namely Joan wife of Robert Grubbe, Joan wife of John de Locun, Alice wife of William le Pruz, Nicholas of Walton, and Elizabeth of Horsey; Joan Locun and Alice were jointly entitled to one of the quarter shares (fn. 263) in which the manor was later held.
Elizabeth of Horsey's share appears to have been held in 1316 by Walter of Rumton; (fn. 264) it was held by William of Horsey (d. 1327) in 1325, by Ralph of Horsey (d. 1354), and by Ralph's son John. (fn. 265) Eleanor Horsey was owner in 1375, Sir John Horsey in 1418, and by 1431 Henry Horsey of Clifton Maybank (Dors.). (fn. 266) Sir John Horsey of Clifton sold his estate in Doniford to John Wyndham in 1543. (fn. 267) Nicholas of Walton (also called Nicholas of Barton after his manor in Winscombe) (fn. 268) retained his share in 1325, (fn. 269) and that quarter was settled on Stephen of Walton in 1338, with remainder to Alan and Isabel Walton. (fn. 270) Isabel survived until 1361 and was succeeded by her son John. (fn. 271) As John Barton he still held the estate in 1375, (fn. 272) but the family interest seems to have been leased by 1431. (fn. 273) John Huish (d. 1551–2) held a lease from John Walton which his cousin and heir Robert Walton afterwards confirmed. (fn. 274) The family's connexion with Doniford has not been traced further. John Grubbe was one of the lords of Doniford in 1316 (fn. 275) and 1325. (fn. 276) His quarter share was settled in 1329 on his son John and on that John's wife Clemence, (fn. 277) who held it in 1375. (fn. 278) In 1431 it and the Waltons' quarter share were evidently those held by Henry North and William Allinscombe; (fn. 279) the Grubbes' share has not been traced thereafter. John Fraunceys in 1316 and 1325 held a quarter of the manor, (fn. 280) presumably as heir to Joan Locun and Alice le Pruz. His estate is said to have passed in 1369 to Oliver Huish, whose family had held land there by 1254. (fn. 281) The Huishes continued at Doniford until 1669, when Edward Huish died, but it seems likely that much of their land had already been sold by John Huish (d. 1649), Edward's brother, to the Wyndhams. (fn. 282) There were further sales c. 1672. (fn. 283)
In 1275 William de Reigny had a small hall, chamber, barn, stable, and dairy, all thatched, and a kitchen and granary roofed with stone, together with a chapel, used as a chantry served by the rector of Aisholt. (fn. 284) A mansion house was held by the Huish family by 1627, (fn. 285) and was acquired by the Wyndhams in 1669. (fn. 286) Known as Doniford Farm, it is a complex building. The present dwelling comprises on the south side of a courtyard a hall and parlour with a cross wing west of the hall and a kitchen at the rear of the parlour, the hall and parlour dating from c. 1500. North of the courtyard is a range with a smoke-blackened cruck roof which may have been an earlier house, later converted for use as the kitchen range of the present house.
An estate known as HARTROW AND DONIFORD manor had emerged by 1527 as an extension of the Sydenhams' manor of Hartrow in Stogumber. It was divided between the sisters and heirs of John Sydenham (d. 1526), half passing to John and Elizabeth Wyndham and half to Thomas and Joan Bridges. (fn. 287) In 1549 Bridges sold his share to Sir John Wyndham and John Sydenham of Brympton. (fn. 288) In 1559 Sir John Wyndham conveyed his estate, described as three parts of Hartrow and Doniford manor, to Joan Sweeting. (fn. 289) Joan's husband, William Lacey, acquired the Sydenhams' quarter share in 1563. (fn. 290) The land descended on William's death in 1607 to his son, also William (d. 1641), and then to his grandson William, son and heir of Thomas Lacey (d. 1626). (fn. 291) William died in 1690 leaving Doniford manor to his youngest son Arthur (d. c. 1729), (fn. 292) who probably sold the estate to discharge a mortgage. By 1730 it was owned by Sir John Trevelyan, and it descended in his family until exchanged with the earl of Egremont in 1804 and absorbed into the Wyndham estate. (fn. 293) It then comprised Court farm and some meadow and woodland.
Court Farm, Doniford, probably the manor house, has a cross-passage entry and three-roomed plan with extensive later additions. The former farm buildings were in 1980 converted for holiday accommodation.
An estate which in the late 15th century was known as the manor of ORCHARD (fn. 294) may be traced back to 1287 when Thomas of Orchard acquired lands called Orchard by exchange with Cleeve Abbey. (fn. 295) Thomas died in 1311 and was succeeded by his son John (d. c. 1360) and by John's daughter Joan, wife of John of Luccombe. Joan's daughter, also Joan, married Richard Popham of Alfoxton, who held lands in Watchet of the fee of Brompton Ralph in 1448. (fn. 296) Their daughter, a third Joan, married first John Sydenham (d. 1464), son of John Sydenham of Bathealton, and then John St. Aubyn. (fn. 297) In 1459–60 Orchard and other lands in St. Decumans, Crowcombe, Stogumber, and Dodington were settled on John and Joan and their son John Sydenham (d. 1521), (fn. 298) though in 1503 John St. Aubyn successfully claimed Alfoxton and other lands belonging to the Orchards. (fn. 299) John Sydenham was succeeded in 1521 by his grandson, also John Sydenham, who died in 1526 leaving as his heirs his two sisters, Elizabeth and Joan, subsequently married to John Wyndham and Thomas Bridges respectively. (fn. 300) Under an agreement of 1529 Wyndham acquired the Bridges' share, an estate which included the demesnes at Orchard, and lands at Curlinch, Snailholt, and elsewhere in St. Decumans, and at Cheddermarsh in Stogumber. (fn. 301) That purchase was the first stage in a process by which the Wyndham family became the dominant landowners in the parish within a century.
Sir John Wyndham survived until 1574, outliving his son, also John (d. 1572). (fn. 302) The younger John's son, another John (later Sir John), succeeded to the family holdings in 1581. (fn. 303) He bought the Fulford and Hospital manors, and at his death in 1645 was followed by his second son John (d. 1649), and then by John's son William (cr. Bt. 1661, d. 1683). Sir William's son Edward (d. 1695) was followed by his son William (d. 1740), chancellor of the Exchequer under Queen Anne, and William's son Charles (d. 1763). Charles inherited from his uncle Algernon Seymour, duke of Somerset (d. 1750), the earldom of Egremont, estates in six counties, and a principal residence at Petworth (Suss.). George Wyndham, son of Charles and 3rd earl of Egremont, died unmarried in 1837, and was succeeded in the title and some of the estates, including Orchard Wyndham, by his nephew, George Francis. George Francis died without children in 1845, leaving the estate entailed, first for the benefit of his widow Jane (d. 1876) and then for a distant cousin, William Wyndham of Dinton (Wilts.). William died in 1914 and his son, also William, sold Dinton in 1916, thereafter making Orchard Wyndham his home. William Wyndham's charitable endowments, especially in the causes of local history, archaeology, and education, were assessed on his death in 1950 at £40,000. He died unmarried and was succeeded in the estates by his nephew George Colville Wyndham, the owner at his death in 1982. (fn. 304)
The house known as Orchard Wyndham lies in parkland 1 km. south-west of Williton. The house is arranged round two courtyards. One, on the southeast, is still open, the other now contains the main staircase. The central range was formerly a medieval open-hall house, and it retains a smoke-blackened cruck roof of three and a half bays. A two-storeyed cross wing with an arch-braced collar beam roof, probably of the 15th century, abuts the north-east end of the hall, but at the other end the line of the main roof is carried out to a gable above rooms on two floors, an arrangement which may be contemporary with the hall.
According to Leland John Sydenham (d. 1521) 'builded most part or almost all the good building of Orchard' (fn. 305) including a chapel licensed in 1499. (fn. 306) The new work included a second hall with cross wings to the north-west of the earlier house, with a short two-storeyed range running north-west from the end of the south-west cross wing, and a narrow range running back from the wing to the end of the earlier hall range. Other 16th- or early 17th-century buildings completed the south-east courtyard and housed, at least on the ground floor, the service rooms and offices. A 17th-century wing running north-west from the north corner of the house may have been stables. Early 17th-century moulded plaster ceilings survive at the east corner of the house, above the present kitchen, and in a first floor room, which has contemporary panelling, in the earliest cross wing. The room now used as a library, at the west corner of the house, and the room above it, were refitted in the late 17th century.
In the 18th century the narrow range joining the later cross wing to the earlier hall was removed, and the space occupied by it and the adjacent open court was filled by a new stair hall and drawing room. It is probable that by then both halls had upper floors and ceilings. (fn. 307) During the 19th century the northeast wing was refitted and brought into domestic use, and the front wall of the hall was carried out to the line of the ends of the cross wings. At about the same time the south-west wing was demolished and the north-east front of the house was refenestrated with mullioned and transomed windows. Further internal alterations resulted from the need to make provision for dressing rooms and bathrooms in the later 19th and early 20th century. Recent restoration has exposed a number of features including the roof of the second hall and a number of blocked windows and doorways.
In the 18th century a group of outbuildings, which may have been farm buildings, lay northwest of the house. (fn. 308) They were probably demolished early in the 19th century when new stabling and outbuildings were being erected south-east of the house. There was formerly a park centred on the valley south-west of the house. In the early 18th century it was being extended to include the small knoll of Black Down, where a wood was intersected by vistas. (fn. 309) The stream in the valley bottom was dammed to form ornamental ponds. The slope between them and the house was probably terraced in the 18th century and became an area of informal garden in the later 19th century.
An estate called WATCHET, held by Dodeman of William de Mohun in 1086, (fn. 310) has been identified with the later holding of KENTSFORD. (fn. 311) Between 1154 and 1189 land between St. Decuman's church and Kentsford, part of the estate and the fee of Ralph son of William, grandson of Durand de Mohun, was given to the abbey of Neath (Glam.). (fn. 312) Some of the Kentsford estate was later said to be in Watchet, in the fee of Nettlecombe, when another part was granted by Ralph before 1212 to John, son of Richard de Mohun, and then by John in fee to Roger the nephew and the heirs of Robert FitzHerbert. (fn. 313) Part of Durand's estate, including that granted to Neath, was considered part of Withycombe manor in 1520–1. (fn. 314) The continued interest of the Mohuns is reflected in Bruton Priory's claim to tithes there in 1238. (fn. 315) Kentsford was still held under the Luttrells, successors to the Mohuns, in 1555. (fn. 316)
Between 1154 and 1189 William de Staver confirmed to Neath Abbey a grant which his brother Gervase had made of land which their father had held of Ralph son of William. (fn. 317) By 1242 Hamon of Basing held ¼ fee in Kentsford of Reynold Mohun. (fn. 318) Hamon made over the estate to his son William, (fn. 319) and by 1259 William had been succeeded by Ralph of Basing, who survived until soon after 1280. (fn. 320) Ralph was followed by John of Basing (I), whose successor in 1327 and 1330 was Jordan de Lovelinche, probably husband of John's widow. (fn. 321) Sir John Basing (II), son of John (I), died in 1337 leaving a son, John (III), a minor until 1340. (fn. 322) John (III) was still holding the estate in 1367 and probably in 1379, (fn. 323) and had been succeeded by his son Gilbert by 1393. (fn. 324) Gilbert died in 1436, leaving a young son Simon, (fn. 325) but under a settlement of 1416 the estate passed to Gilbert's daughter Eleanor and her husband John Kemmes. They conveyed it to Richard Luttrell, who in 1445 granted it back to them, to hold half in tail and half for lives, with reversion to Richard. (fn. 326) Richard's estate escheated to the overlord, Sir James Luttrell. (fn. 327) Eleanor, as a widow, settled her estate in 1450, apparently for the benefit of her daughters Jane and Edith. (fn. 328) Edith married first Richard Lood and secondly John Stalling, with whom in 1490 she held half of Kentsford in fee tail and received a grant of the other half for three lives from Sir Hugh Luttrell. (fn. 329) John and Edith, apparently alive in 1509, were succeeded by Edith's son Edward Lood, who claimed to hold the whole in fee tail and made a demise for lives. (fn. 330) The demise resulted in a Chancery suit which lasted until 1531 when it was decided in favour of Sir Andrew Luttrell. (fn. 331) About 1532 the estate seems to have passed, possibly by sale, to John (later Sir John) Wyndham and Sir John Sydenham, and Sir John Sydenham was in occupation of the capital messuage and some 80 a. at his death in 1557. (fn. 332) That estate was left to Sir John's widow Ursula, but then passed to John Wyndham (d. 1572). John was followed by his brother Edmund (d. 1616). Thomas (d. 1636), son of Edmund, was succeeded by his son, the royalist Sir Edmund (d. 1683). (fn. 333) Edmund Wyndham, son of the last, died in 1698 leaving no issue. (fn. 334) Kentsford passed to his uncle, Thomas Wyndham of Tale (d. 1713), and on Thomas's death was sold to William Blackford of Dunster (d. 1728). Another William, son of the last, died in 1731. (fn. 335) By 1748 Kentsford was occupied, if not owned, by Edward Dyke, and had passed by 1751 to Sir Thomas Acland (d. 1785). Sir Thomas paid rates on the estate until 1755, (fn. 336) but by 1794 it had come to the owners of Combe Sydenham manor. (fn. 337) In 1806 it was bought by the earl of Egremont and was absorbed into the Wyndham estates. (fn. 338)
Kentsford Farm lies in a valley beside the Washford river on the extreme western edge of the parish. It is of two storeys with attics on an irregular L- shaped plan. The west wing, facing the river, may retain the plan of a late medieval house. It appears to have been largely rebuilt c. 1600 when it became the cross wing to a hall range running eastwards and entered by opposing doorways with a porch on the south. Further alterations seem to have taken place in the late 17th century when a kitchen fireplace was put into the south room of the cross wing, and the room beyond the entrance passage was made into a parlour. The cross wing includes a bedroom decorated with a moulded plaster ceiling. A carved fireplace formerly in a large attic room was removed to Orchard Wyndham. (fn. 339) Among the farm buildings is a stable of c. 1600. A medieval cross, probably to mark a parish boundary, is incorporated in a wall at the entrance to the farmyard.
About 1190 Simon Brett gave the church of St. Decuman as a prebend in Wells cathedral. (fn. 340) The PREBEND or PARSONAGE was farmed by 1434, the first known lessees being the vicar of Carhampton and William Everard of Aller in Carhampton. (fn. 341) William Bowerman was farmer in 1577, probably in succession to two members of the Clark family. (fn. 342) By 1586 it was let to Hugh Norris, the first of several generations of his family to occupy the estate until 1676, when the lease was assigned to Sir William Wyndham. (fn. 343) Thereafter successive members of the Wyndham family or their trustees held it on lease from the prebendaries until 1858 and the Wyndham trustees bought it from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1862. (fn. 344)
The prebend comprised lands, including 23½ a. given by Robert FitzUrse, and the tithes of the parish. (fn. 345) The whole was valued at £23 6s. 8d. in 1291, (fn. 346) and more realistically at nearly £54 in 1321, but was reduced in that year by 8 marks to augment the vicarage. (fn. 347) In 1535 the net value was said to be £22 15s. 4d. (fn. 348) The lessee's net income from the estate in 1724 was £211 13s. 6¼d. (fn. 349) The net income was £1,212 14s., less the hay tithe, in 1805 (fn. 350) and £1,190 19s. in 1822. (fn. 351) In 1844 the rent charge for the prebend was assessed at £526 7s. (fn. 352)
The prebendal glebe, known in the late 15th century as the 'sanctuary of St. Decuman', (fn. 353) amounted to c. 66 a. in 1613 and to just over 57 a. in 1841. (fn. 354) It was said to be worth 40s. in 1535, (fn. 355) but some forty years earlier a figure of £3 6s. 4d. was given. (fn. 356) Tithes at the same time were worth nearly £25, and a little less in 1535. (fn. 357) Tithes in kind in the 1620s were collected by throwing aside every tenth sheaf of corn, or if not sheaved, every tenth 'ridge, swathe, wad, or otherwise'. No tithe was taken on green beans or peas grown for their owners' or the poor's use, and there was no tithe on raking or gleaning. (fn. 358) The tithes seem to have been sublet by the Wyndhams from the late 17th century; (fn. 359) in 1744 one tenant paid £90 for the Williton tithes for three years, and another paid £160 from 1747 for three years for the Watchet 'side'. (fn. 360)
The 'fair dwelling house' of the parsonage was mentioned in 1635–6. (fn. 361) Parsonage Farm is a twostoreyed, L-shaped building which appears to date from the late 18th century.
A small estate held by the Brett family in Culvercliffe passed like Sampford Brett manor to the Courtenays. (fn. 362) Described in 1377 as rent in Watchet and Williton, (fn. 363) in 1563 it was known as the manors of CULVERSCLYFF AND WATCHET, (fn. 364) and in 1611 as the manor of CULVERCLIFFE WATCHET. (fn. 365) The name survived in 1826, (fn. 366) but in 1846, when it was sold to Sir Peregrine Acland, the estate was reduced to two strips of land. (fn. 367)
A reputed manor of WATCHET, owned by Sir John Wyndham in 1598 and in the 17th century known as WATCHET WITH THE MEMBERS, (fn. 368) descended with Orchard Wyndham manor, and was not mentioned after 1729. (fn. 369)
Thomas, son and heir of Thomas of Halsway, owned an estate in Watchet c. 1275, and the heirs of John, son and heir of Thomas, succeeded c. 1295. (fn. 370) The estate descended with Halsway manor in Stogumber, (fn. 371) and was known as WATCHET HAWEYE in the early 14th century. (fn. 372) It was sold in 1637 with the Stradling family land in Halsway and elsewhere to James Cade of Wilton (d. 1640). (fn. 373) James, son of James Cade, was in possession in 1655, (fn. 374) and another James Cade had property in the town in 1718. (fn. 375)
In 1303 Matthew Furneaux (d. 1316) held a fee at LITTLE SILVER of Cecily Beauchamp as of Compton Dundon manor. (fn. 376) It descended with the manors of Kilve, Weacombe in West Quantoxhead, and Lodhuish in Nettlecombe to Simon Furneaux (d. 1358) and to Simon's heirs until it was sold in 1419 to John Roger or Rogers of Bryanston (Dors.). John was in possession in 1428 (fn. 377) and his grandson Henry was holding Lodhuish in 1472, (fn. 378) but no later reference to the fee at Little Silver has been found. There seem to have been at least two holdings called Little Silver by the end of the 15th century, one held by the Sydenhams of Orchard and another, following Lodhuish manor in Nettlecombe, held by the Waldegraves of Sudbury (Suff.). (fn. 379) A tenement called Little Silver was quitclaimed by Edward Waldegrave to John Wyndham in 1543, (fn. 380) but the Waldegrave holdings in Stream under Lodhuish manor were not sold to the Wyndhams until 1669. (fn. 381)
An estate at BARDON, held from the Hospitallers' manor of Williton by Robert Heythman by 1505, (fn. 382) passed to the Leigh family between 1589 and 1595. (fn. 383) A second estate there, held from Williton Fulford manor, was let to the Dawe family until the mid 17th century. (fn. 384) The two holdings were then combined under the Leighs, who remained tenants at the death of William Leigh in 1844. (fn. 385) The family continued their interest, purchasing the property from the Wyndham estate in 1919, but selling it in 1924 shortly before the death of Robert Kennaway Leigh. (fn. 386) From the mid 17th century (fn. 387) the Leighs practised as attorneys, and the legal practice was continued at the house in 1897. (fn. 388) Papers relating to the imprisonment and trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, and others were discovered in the house in 1834, brought there perhaps by the Scudamore (fn. 389) or Throckmorton families.
The south range of the house contains traces of a probably three-roomed plan with an added wing projecting forward from the western end. Additions were made to the north, partly around a courtyard, in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
In 962 King Edgar granted to Abingdon Abbey a vineyard near Watchet, with its vine growers and the land belonging to it. (fn. 390) No further trace of the estate has been found. The abbot of Cleeve had a burgage in Watchet c. 1383, (fn. 391) and at the Dissolution had small pieces of land in both Williton and Watchet. (fn. 392) In 1458 the canons of Barlinch held land in Doniford manor, (fn. 393) and the prioress of Buckland had land in Watchet by 1536. (fn. 394)
In 1225 Watchet was independent of the hundred, and in 1243 was described as a borough. (fn. 395) It was owned by Sir Ralph FitzUrse at his death in 1350, (fn. 396) and descended with the manor of Williton, half passing to the Fulfords and half to the Hadleys on the division of the manor in 1388. (fn. 397) Thomas Fulford held half the borough at his death in 1610, (fn. 398) and that half passed to Sir John Wyndham in 1616. (fn. 399) The other half was held by Richard Hadley in 1524 (fn. 400) and evidently passed to the Luttrells in 1558. (fn. 401) In 1678 the chief rents of the borough were shared between Sir William Wyndham and Francis Luttrell, (fn. 402) but the borough was not mentioned separately from the manor of Williton Hadley when that estate was conveyed to Sir William Wyndham in 1710. (fn. 403)
Borough reeves were mentioned from 1293, (fn. 404) and in 1302 the borough was represented in parliament. (fn. 405) Watchet was taxed as a borough from 1306 onwards (fn. 406) and land was given to the 'community of the borough' in 1369. (fn. 407) There were 49 burgages c. 1383. (fn. 408) Burgesses were last mentioned in 1473. (fn. 409)
Agriculture was of prime importance in the parish, but the port at Watchet supplied a wide hinterland, and the parish, and notably Watchet, was a centre for grain milling, fulling, and paper manufacture. In the 19th century Watchet was the port for shipping iron ore to South Wales, while Williton grew as a local government and commercial centre.
In 1275 the demesne farm at Doniford measured 328 a., most of which was arable, with a small amount of pasture in severalty. The largest tenant held an estate reckoned as 1/5 fee, but 18 tenants, half of whom were freeholders, each had no more than 6 a. Villeins' works were valued at 21s. 3½d. out of a total net value of £10 15s. (fn. 410) The Templar estate was let for 16 marks a year from 1183 (fn. 411) and in 1314 crops and stock there, worth £22 10s., included 42 cattle, small quantities of wheat, barley, oats, peas, and vetches, and 80 a. of corn still growing. (fn. 412) No further accounts or surveys have been found for any estate until 1399. By that date most of the demesne of Williton manor was let for the fourth of a six-year period and cash payments, including rents and commutations for mowing works, produced £26 16s. 10d. out of a total income of £28 14s. 3d. One tenant held both demesne and customary land for a rent of 39s. 8d. (fn. 413) By 1436 the Williton Hadley accounts consolidated demesne and assessed rents. (fn. 414) The income of Williton Hadley and Williton Fulford manors together was slightly higher in the late 15th century than a century earlier, in spite of the fall of income from Watchet borough which was shared between them. (fn. 415) In comparison the rental of Williton Temple was £20 7s. 3½d., (fn. 416) and the Sydenham holding was valued at £17 13s. 4d. (fn. 417)
There seem to have been separate groups of open fields for Williton, Watchet, and probably Doniford. An open field of Williton was referred to in 1288; (fn. 418) Gothangre field was recorded in the late 14th century, (fn. 419) Treagose, later Triggardes, field east of Williton in the late 16th century (fn. 420) and until 1683, (fn. 421) and North field in the 17th century. (fn. 422) All three were apparently small and close to Williton, and formed part of a larger group of 'crofts' and 'lands' of similar size, often divided into strips. (fn. 423) The fields of Watchet were mentioned from the late 13th century and included Wolfrecheslond field, (fn. 424) possibly later Wristland, Almscroft, (fn. 425) and Churchway field. (fn. 426) In 1801 the open fields survived in part as strips and landshares at Culvercliffe, on Cleeve Hill, and on the ridge south of the town. (fn. 427) Three small fields, Skurland, (fn. 428) Lilly, and Elm Stubbs, (fn. 429) remained at Doniford in the 18th century as remnants of open fields. (fn. 430) Elsewhere in the parish there were furlongs, lands, and crofts that contained strips and landshares ('lanskers') but did not make up fields or groups of fields that are now discernible, (fn. 431) unless the areas into which the whole parish was divided for tithe collection by the early 16th century represent such groups. There were 17 of those areas, including one each for Watchet, Bardon, and Orchard and three based on Stream. (fn. 432)
West of Williton streams flowing into Outmoor were evidently diverted by the late 14th century along man-made watercourses to form meadows called waterleets. (fn. 433) Additional water was diverted into Outmoor from below Orchard mill under Mamsey (formerly Martinsey) (fn. 434) Bridge, on the Williton-Washford road, and thence into Mamsey Course. The outflow north and north-east of Williton was similarly controlled, and the regulation of the water was the responsibility of the Williton manor court until the 1950s. (fn. 435) There were waterleets at Doniford by 1418. (fn. 436)
The largest estate in the parish in the 16th century, Williton Temple or Williton Regis, consisted of 1,075 a. of arable, 105 a. of meadow, 20 a. of wood or underwood, and common pasture, together with c. 260 a. of open hill land on the Brendons. There were tracts of 'barren' and 'very wild' arable at Bleripate and on the ridge between Williton and Watchet. In 1584 three leasehold tenants between them held the manor house; copyholds varied in size, the largest including 112 a. at Timwood, 50 a. of 'wild common hill' at Kingsdown, 82 a. of inclosed land mostly near Williton, and 68 a. at 'Knapp'. (fn. 437) Small-scale exchanges and inclosure and improvements of marginal land are evident in the later 16th century during the tenure of the estate by the Wyndhams as lessees, but the total rent of £22 4s. 5½d. and the value of 12 harvest works compared unfavourably with the rent of £10 12s. 7½d. from the 320-a. Fulford estate in 1615. (fn. 438) The manor of Watchet, which comprised the borough and some surrounding land amounting to 217 a., produced in 1622 an income of £24 11s. 9d. and the value of 17 harvest days. (fn. 439)
By 1616 the Wyndhams were major landowners in the parish, having over 90 years acquired Orchard, Curlinch, Wibble, (fn. 440) Rydon, Snailholt, the estate of Watchet chapel, (fn. 441) Williton Regis, and Williton Fulford. (fn. 442) Tenant farms were largely unaffected by these changes. Most were under 60 a. and often changed hands, with the notable exceptions of the holdings of the Dawes and the Leighs at Bardon and of the Norrises at the Parsonage. The Dawes were tenants by 1581 and until 1653 or later, (fn. 443) the Leighs from the late 16th century until 1844, (fn. 444) and the Norrises from 1586 until 1676. (fn. 445)
In the later 17th century, when much of the arable land was still farmed in fields of an acre or less, wheat was the predominant crop, accounting for over 500 a. At the same time there were well over 300 a. of barley and smaller quantities of peas, beans, oats, dredge, and rye. By 1729, when a few strips had been consolidated, the acreage under beans had been doubled and the amount of oats and peas reduced. Stock and crops on Parsonage farm, probably the largest farm, comprised in 1744 a flock of 122 sheep, 18 adult pigs, horses worth £5, and bullocks worth £47 8s. There were five stacks of grain, mostly wheat, and some wheat and peas in the ground, the whole worth £296. (fn. 446)
By the end of the 18th century most of the parish had been consolidated into nucleated farms. Shortterm leases often included improvement clauses, the Wyndham leases finally in a standard, printed form. (fn. 447) Wibble and Kentsford farms had been consolidated by the late 1730s, (fn. 448) Kentsford evidently combining the ancient estate with outlying grounds held in the 16th century by the farmer of the Parsonage. (fn. 449) A divided holding on the Luttrell estate in 1743, largely at Higher Stream but including a strip in the common field at Culvercliffe on the opposite side of the parish, was let for seven years with covenants to lime or manure all conversions from grass to arable, which were to bear only three crops, of which one should be wheat. At the end of the lease 8 a. or more were to be left under clover. (fn. 450)
Between 1804 and 1815 Lord Egremont bought or exchanged land with the Trevelyans and the Escotts to acquire Kentsford, which his ancestors had occupied in the 17th century, Doniford Court and Wibble farms, and other small properties. (fn. 451) By 1841 the Wyndham estate comprised over 3,087 a., including many houses and cottages. (fn. 452) The only other landowners of consequence then were the Trevelyans, who owned some 200 a. in the detached parts of the parish at Kingsdown and Hayne. The Wyndhams continued to consolidate their holdings by exchange until 1846 or later (fn. 453) and by the mid 19th century their rent roll amounted to £3,380. (fn. 454)
By 1841 the farming units had achieved a stable pattern. The largest was Doniford farm (250 a.), followed by Rydon (163 a.), Snailholt (143 a.), Kentsford (131 a.), and Washford (123 a.). Several others, such as Bridge, Higher and Lower Stream, Egrove, and Wibble farms amounted to over 70 a. each. In the parish as a whole, arable was twice the area of grassland. (fn. 455) Within the next ten years there were slight re-arrangements of that pattern, notably the extension of Egrove to 156 a. and of Bridge farm (250 a.) to include the demesne lands of Orchard Wyndham, the merger of land in Old Cleeve with Kentsford and Washford farms, and the emergence of a dairy farm at Egrove. In 1851 119 men and 17 boys were regularly employed on the farms of the parish. (fn. 456) By the early 20th century the total acreage under grass had increased to 45 per cent of the parish. (fn. 457) Parts of the Wyndham estate were sold in 1918–19, 1952, and 1957, and in 1980 the estate totalled 2,289 a. including Aller farm in Sampford Brett. (fn. 458) The whole parish, rather more than half under grass, was divided between 12 farming units, six of them measuring over 100 ha. There were three specialist dairy farms, one mainly dairy, two breeding cattle and sheep, and one having mostly cereals. (fn. 459)
Trade And Industry.
Watchet, as a 10th-century form of the name, Wecedport, (fn. 460) suggests, was by that time a commercial centre, but direct evidence of trading is not found until 1210, when Flemish merchants were arrested there. (fn. 461) In the 14th century there were business links with Cowbridge (Glam.), (fn. 462) and in the 15th with Bristol. (fn. 463) The port was said in 1458 to have been 'utterly destroyed' by storms, (fn. 464) and customs accounts of the later 15th century suggest that customable trade was no longer carried on at the port. (fn. 465) In 1559 the harbour was reputed to be unfit both for loading and unloading, (fn. 466) but coal and salt were imported; (fn. 467) in 1565 the port was reported as fit to accept small boats bringing wine, salt, victuals, wood, and coal. (fn. 468) In the 1560s a Watchet ship was involved in the wine trade between Bridgwater and La Rochelle, (fn. 469) and wine was coming to Watchet regularly by the late 1590s. (fn. 470) From the late 16th century Welsh cattle and sheep came through the port, (fn. 471) and in 1606 tolls were paid on 28 boat loads of coal, presumably from Wales, and 7 loads of salt. (fn. 472) There was also some traffic with Ireland. (fn. 473)
In 1630 a Bristol merchant was involved in buying the cargoes of two French salt ships at Watchet, (fn. 474) and a year later a bark with peas from Barnstaple was lying at the quay. (fn. 475) Demands for ship money in 1635 were met with the reply that the port was small, with little business save small barks coming from Wales with coal for lime burning. (fn. 476) A memorial of 1665, recalling the destruction of the port by storms early in the Civil War, referred to the import of coal, culm, iron, and salt, (fn. 477) and eight Watchet ships calling at Minehead in 1647 were evidently involved in trade in coal and iron with Wales. (fn. 478) In 1652–3 tolls were paid on 70 shiploads of coal, 72 of culm, and 6 of salt. (fn. 479) A similar rate of imports continued in the 1660s, including also small consignments of barley and malt. (fn. 480) The list of dues for imports and exports published in 1665 included Spanish and Gascon wine, fish from the North Atlantic, and cloth, wool, and livestock from Ireland and Wales. (fn. 481) In 1673 the port's eight ships were involved in bringing coal from Neath and London, taking peas to Barnstaple, and fish, grain, oxbows, and cloth to Bristol. (fn. 482) By the 1680s Watchet was the main importer of Welsh coal along the Somerset coast, leaving Minehead as the main port for cattle. (fn. 483) Among forty seamen recorded as living at Watchet in 1672 was one then absent 'upon Virginia voyage'. (fn. 484) Demands for a new slip in 1671 and for two in 1680 suggest growing business at Watchet. (fn. 485)
By the early 18th century Watchet ships still played a small part in the trade between Swansea and the Irish ports, but the port's main business was with Newton (Glam.) in coal, with occasional appearances of, for example, skins, oatmeal, and stockings. (fn. 486) Accounts of duty levied in the port show the developing pattern of trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1709–10 Swansea, Tenby, and Neath between them sent 2,210 chalders of coal; in 1749– 50 the figure was only slightly higher, at 2,749 chalders, but by 1828–9 some 4,075 chalders were brought in, largely then from Swansea and Newport, and only occasionally from Neath. Other imports in the early years of the 18th century included salt, wine, groceries, bottles, tobacco, iron, yarn, and Irish cloth, all from Bristol; roofing stones from Padstow (Cornw.); and occasional items such as butter and calfskins from Neath, flannel from Tenby, and wool and coal from Gloucester. In 1749–50 the rarer items included bricks from Bridgwater, and from Bristol furniture, clover seed, timber, and five swivel guns. (fn. 487)
Exports in 1709–10 comprised 547 qr. of corn, at least 38 packs of woollen cloth, 164 calves, 20 calfskins, kelp, and cider, all to Bristol. By 1749–50 corn and cloth exports had risen: 2,218 qr. of corn were sent to Bristol and 237 packs of cloth, together with small quantities of wood ash, oxbows, and paper. By 1828–9 17 ships were regularly using the port, mostly for the Bristol Channel trade but reaching as far as London, Liverpool, Newry (Co. Down), and Kircudbright. Watchet's exports then were principally corn (2,716 qr.), flour (531 tons), and paper (203 bales or bundles). Other commodities, on a much smaller scale, included Bridgwater bricks (171,000), timber, and two consignments of Welsh sheep.
In 1843 nine Watchet vessels were regularly trading with Bristol, Liverpool, Ireland, and the Welsh ports, bringing in coal, hides, and general merchandise and taking out corn, timber, flour, malt, and leather. There was also a limited passenger traffic to Bristol and, later, excursions in the Channel. (fn. 488) The port was radically altered by the opening of the iron-ore mines in the Brendons in 1853–5, and the development of the harbour as a terminal for shipping the ore to South Wales. Improvements in 1861–2, giving anchorage for vessels of up to 500 tons, made possible the export of over 40,000 tons annually between 1873 and 1878. (fn. 489) The closure of the mines in 1883 left the port dependent largely on imports of coal and grain and exports of flour and paper. (fn. 490) The import of Scandinavian wood pulp and of coal was the main trade in the earlier 20th century, (fn. 491) but during the Second World War business was restricted to the import of coal, wood pulp, and cattle feeding stuffs from the eastern coastal ports and the export of small quantities of scrap iron. (fn. 492) Coal, wood pulp, and esparto grass for the paper mills were brought in for a time after the war, but when the mills changed from coal to oil burning the losses to the port were serious until, from the late 1960s, timber was brought in from Russia and Scandinavia and other cargoes from Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Exports of motor parts and tractors from the Midlands to Spain and Portugal, which began in the 1950s, (fn. 493) expanded and in 1979 a transit depot for containers was established outside the town to handle the increased business. (fn. 494)
Natural resources exploited in the parish from the Middle Ages were limestone, (fn. 495) fish, and seaweed. Fish weirs were put up both off shore and at the mouths of the two rivers. One, belonging to Doniford manor, was valued at 2s. in 1275, (fn. 496) and there was another at the mouth of the Washford river by 1311. (fn. 497) In 1391 an offshore weir was held of the Crown by the township of Doniford, and one illegal weir in the Doniford stream stopped fish going upstream to spawn, while another diverted water through meadow land. (fn. 498) Three other weirs, described as three ponds with sea fishing and lying on the shore east of Watchet, were held by the Crown between 1398 and 1456. (fn. 499) The increased rent of Watchet borough in 1420–1 was partly accounted for by a weir in the sea and another at 'le Putt', and the tenant of Watchet manor mill was paying part of his rent in salmon by 1399. (fn. 500) The lord's weirs were still standing in 1476, (fn. 501) but stone was carried away from one to Wales in 1480. (fn. 502) In the late 16th century the profits of the borough included the income from two weirs, one described as in the 'fresh', the other 'a little below the quay head', together with a fishery and nets. (fn. 503) The three weirs were still standing in 1622, and then included one formerly belonging to Watchet chapel. (fn. 504) The miller at Little Silver still leased one weir in 1686. (fn. 505)
Ore-weed or seaweed was collected commercially along the shore at Doniford by the end of the 16th century, and a lease of 1572 included the 'ore marke' against a house and a place to dry the weed. (fn. 506) Tenants along the coast in the early 17th century could take the weed between their holdings and the low tide mark, and land was let as 'ore room' for drying or burning. (fn. 507) Tithes were claimed from c. 1600, but the parson or the farmer in fact levied half the sum claimed, provided the owners burnt the weed themselves. (fn. 508) Kelp, the ashes of the burnt weed, was exported to Bristol for the glass industry in the early 18th century, (fn. 509) but by 1847 the landing of the weed was considered in Watchet to be a nuisance. (fn. 510)
Fulling mills established by the early 14th century (fn. 511) seem to have made St. Decumans a centre of the cloth industry. Dyers, fullers, and weavers were found in Watchet before the 16th century, (fn. 512) and in the 17th century there were at least four fulling mills in the parish. (fn. 513) Williton clothiers like Aldred Bickham, (fn. 514) William Pyke, (fn. 515) and the Blinmans paid subsidies similar to those of prosperous tenant farmers, and Watchet clothiers such as the Wheddons and another branch of the Bickhams were not far behind. (fn. 516) In the later 17th century the leading manufacturers were the Slocombes of Little Silver and the Chapplyns of Egrove, (fn. 517) with business connexions in neighbouring parishes. (fn. 518) Cloth making continued in the 18th century, with Wheddons at Watchet and Pulmans at Doniford still in production, the latter until the later 19th century. (fn. 519)
Trade in Watchet in the early 19th century involved milling, malting, and the manufacture of paper, rope, soap, tallow, and mill puff, and dealing in coal, corn, earthenware, salt, alabaster, and timber. (fn. 520) By the 1840s there was a foundry at Watchet (fn. 521) which in 1851 employed four workers. Mariner or sailor was the commonest occupation in Watchet by the mid 19th century, (fn. 522) and in 1861 there were two shipowners, three marine store dealers, a ship builder, and a ship broker, as well as coastguards and a lifeboat station. (fn. 523) The Watchet Trading Co., the Brendon Hills Iron Ore Co., and the West Somerset Mineral Railway Co. had offices in the town. The improvement of the harbour after 1861–2 and the railway from Taunton led to considerable expansion of shipping, and to the beginning of a change in the port. By 1875 there were 21 master mariners, 10 ship owners, and 3 ship brokers, together with agents for sack companies and a bank. (fn. 524) In contrast, visitors were being encouraged by the appearance of two tourist hotels, refreshment rooms, and a widening variety of tradesmen, including a bookseller, a photographer, and a library agent. (fn. 525) A pleasure ground overlooking the harbour included a refreshment room, and a bathing place for ladies was established on a secluded beach. (fn. 526)
Williton remained the centre of an agricultural community, but its commercial life increased after the creation of the new road from Bridgwater and the establishment of the Union Workhouse. By 1851 it had a bank, and was the home of a physician, an architect, two land surveyors, an accountant, and a solicitor. (fn. 527) By 1861 the railway, a newspaper, another bank, an auctioneer, an omnibus proprietor, a post office, and the county court had brought many of the characteristics of a market town. (fn. 528) The Gliddon family moved from Watchet to manufacture prize kitchen ranges and agricultural machinery, but other industry was limited: an organ builder by 1866, an umbrella maker by 1875, a cycle manufacturer by 1897, and the English and American Artificial Teeth Company by 1902. (fn. 529) Essentially, Williton depended on its agricultural surroundings, most of its working population in 1851 being craftsmen and labourers, many living in newly-expanding parts of the village at Half Acre and Shutgate Street. Agricultural depression at the end of the 19th century checked growth, but Williton remained an administrative centre for West Somerset, from 1894 the headquarters of a rural district and an outpost of county government. (fn. 530)
Williton continued its administrative role during the 20th century, becoming in 1974 the centre for much of the West Somerset District Council administration. The decline of the port at Watchet and its subsequent revival after the Second World War, (fn. 531) the reopening of the railway, and the expanding holiday camps on the coast between Doniford and Watchet boosted the economy of the parish as a whole, and Williton became by the late 1970s an important local shopping centre and tourist attraction.
Markets and Fairs.
A market had been established at Watchet by 1222, when its existence was said to damage that at Dunster. (fn. 532) Shambles in the centre of the market place were mentioned in 1311. (fn. 533) They survived until c. 1805, (fn. 534) and were replaced in 1819–20 by the Market House. (fn. 535) The market was held on Saturdays by the earlier 17th century, (fn. 536) and apparently continued until the 1830s. (fn. 537) The twostoreyed stone Market House had open arches to the ground floor and an open stair at its west end to the upper floor. The ground floor was later converted to shops, and from 1979 housed a museum. The upper floor was used from the 1920s as a mission church, later known as Holy Cross Chapel. (fn. 538)
The prebendary of St. Decumans had a fair by 1244. (fn. 539) It was held on a site between the church and the prebendal house, later Parsonage Farm, in a field known in the 14th century as Twyfayrecroftes, and in the 19th as Fair close. (fn. 540) A fair house and horse shed on part of the site, (fn. 541) apparently so used in the 18th century and mentioned in 1841, was the former church house. The fair itself, held by 1767 on 24 August for cattle and all sorts of goods, (fn. 542) then belonged to the churchwardens, who let out poles and standings and in 1778 screened and brewed malt there. Income from the fair in the 18th century rose to a peak of £6 15s. in 1751, but by 1816 had been cut to one third. (fn. 543) The fair was discontinued in 1819. (fn. 544)
By 1767 a fair for hardware and toys was held at Williton on Trinity Monday, (fn. 545) and by 1792 there was also a fair at Watchet, held on 17 November. (fn. 546) The Williton fair survived until 1877; (fn. 547) the Watchet fair, later transferred to 16 September, also survived for much of the 19th century, but by 1898 had almost vanished, its memory surviving as a 'lantern night' procession until the early 20th century. (fn. 548)
Cattle fairs or sales and new markets at Williton in the 19th century were established as the village developed as a local centre of trade and communications. By 1861 until the 1880s or later there were cattle fairs on the Friday before the last Saturday in April and the Tuesday before the first Wednesday in December. (fn. 549) By 1866 a market had been established on the second Monday in each month for sheep, pigs, and implements. (fn. 550) The cattle fair in the late 1880s was restricted to the second Monday in December, but markets were held twice a month in summer and monthly in winter. (fn. 551) That pattern continued until the Second World War, but the extra summer market was abandoned by 1910 and the date of the fair was altered to the first Thursday in December. (fn. 552) The market had ceased by 1948. Its site, next to Williton First School, was in 1979 occupied by an agricultural engineering firm. (fn. 553)
There was a mill at Watchet in 1086. (fn. 554) By 1321 there were four mills, of which one was the manorial mill at Williton, later Egrove mill; one was probably the town mill at Watchet; one, held by John of Lodhuish, was probably at Stream; and the fourth was held by Edmund Martin, a tenant of Williton manor. (fn. 555)
Egrove mill was held by John FitzUrse c. 1275. (fn. 556) It descended with Williton manor and was shared in the 15th century between the Fulfords, the Hadleys, and the Hospitallers. (fn. 557) By 1489 it was occupied by the Torrington family, tenants until 1615 or later. (fn. 558) In 1617 Sir John Wyndham was accused of building two new mills near his manor of Williton, probably Orchard mills, taking the stones from Egrove and allowing that mill to decay. (fn. 559) In 1635 Robert Sweeting, a Sampford Brett clothier, agreed to build a fulling mill on the site. The mill was later let to the Chapplyn family, who had been fulling at Egrove since 1605. (fn. 560) In 1656 the mill was let to a West Quantoxhead clothier for 99 years. (fn. 561) It was still a fulling mill in 1712, but by 1721 it was occupied by John Rayner of Bristol as a paper mill. (fn. 562) The lease had passed by 1742 to a Bristol surgeon, (fn. 563) and paper making continued until 1847. William Wood of the Snailholt paper mills was apparently in charge of production in 1816. (fn. 564) Towards the end of the 19th century a new wheel and stones were installed and it became a grist mill. The mill had an undershot wheel driven by a leat from the Doniford stream at Egrove Farm. The wheel was subsequently taken to Combe Sydenham. (fn. 565)
The town mill at Watchet, near the mouth of the Washford river, was shared between the Fulfords and the Hadleys in the 15th century. (fn. 566) The Fulford share was sold to Sir John Wyndham in 1616, (fn. 567) and the Hadley share came to the same family in 1710. (fn. 568) Milling continued until c. 1911. (fn. 569) The site was in 1979 occupied by a private house. The mill held in 1321 by John of Lodhuish (fn. 570) may have been the fulling mill at Stream mentioned in 1468 (fn. 571) and 1472, (fn. 572) of which no later evidence has been found. A fulling mill established in Watchet by 1318 (fn. 573) may be that held by Edmund Martin in 1321. (fn. 574) Known by 1378 as Brutcotes mill after the tenant, (fn. 575) and later as Little Silver, (fn. 576) it was let in 1381 with racks and the liberty to cut timber to maintain the weir. (fn. 577) The mill seems to have descended with the Hadley manor to the Luttrells, and was held by the Blinmans, the Slocomes, and the Wheddons in the 17th and 18th centuries. (fn. 578) In 1807 the mill passed to Richard Gimblett, another clothier, (fn. 579) but fulling was discontinued, probably soon after that date, although the mill may have been used for a time from 1824 to dress cloth made by the poor. (fn. 580) By 1832 the mill had been replaced by a new building further downstream, which was occupied by Thomas Stoate, a flour miller. (fn. 581) Stoate's mill, which had four pairs of stones and two powerful overshot wheels, was extended in 1847 and improved in the 1850s. (fn. 582) The Stoates, who also occupied the town mills, closed both after a fire at their new mills in 1911, transferring the business to Bristol. The building was reconstructed and occupied in 1916 by the Exmoor Paper Bag Company. (fn. 583) In 1979 it was in multiple occupation.
By 1587 a fulling and grist mill was held of the Wyndham estate by Silvester Bickham, and was still occupied by him in 1622. (fn. 584) By 1652 it was producing paper for John Saffyn of Cullompton (Devon) and it was described as at Snailholt, (fn. 585) site of the Wansbrough Paper Co's. mills in 1979. The mill continued to produce paper, and by 1727 the tenant was John Wood, the first of four generations of that family to work the mill until 1834. (fn. 586) By 1840 the mill was held jointly by John Wansbrough, James Date, and William Peach, (fn. 587) and the Wansbrough family continued in partnership with others until 1903. (fn. 588) The business was then bought by W. H. Reed and from 1910 formed part of the Reed and Smith group, from c. 1974 a public company known as Reed and Smith Holdings. In 1978 the company was taken over by St. Regis International of New York. About 1865, when 120 people were employed, the main power supply was a steam engine. The manufacture of paper bags began in 1886, and by the end of the 19th century the mill was the largest producer of its kind in the country. The work force of 280 in 1979 produced c. 1,500 tonnes a week, comprising brown paper for the cardboard box trade and glazed and wet strength papers for bags, envelopes, wallpapers, and wrappings, almost entirely from recycled materials. (fn. 589)
There was a grain mill at Doniford by 1275. (fn. 590) It descended with Doniford manor, and ownership was shared. By 1545 a fulling mill had been built there, (fn. 591) but a grist mill was still in use in 1623. (fn. 592) In the 18th and 19th centuries the Pulman family made cloth there, (fn. 593) and the mill was still in production in 1841. The buildings, standing by a leat fed by the Doniford stream, adjoining fields called Rack meadow, (fn. 594) included a miller's house, in 1979 comprising two houses called Swillbridge House and Ivy Cottage, and two mill buildings.
In 1617 Sir John Wyndham was said to have built recently two grist mills 'near his manor of Williton', (fn. 595) perhaps the origin of Orchard mills. The tenancy was taken in 1740 by John Morle of Stream on condition that he built a 'dry' for drying oats. (fn. 596) Richard Morle took the mills in 1771, and was followed by Thomas Leigh until 1845. (fn. 597) Milling continued until 1967. (fn. 598) In 1979 the mill was opened as a craft shop and museum. (fn. 599) The substantial main buildings are of the early 19th century. The overshot wheel is of iron and timber and the interior machinery of timber.
By 1735 a fulling mill was established at White Cross or Watering Place, at the end of Long Street, Williton. It was occupied by John Pulman from 1784, and by 1819 the buildings included dye houses, workshops, and napping, fulling, and rowing mills. About 1825 the mill was converted for use as a workhouse. (fn. 600)
Land in Watchet was held in the 14th and 15th centuries of the fee of Brompton Ralph, and was described as in the hundred of Brompton Ralph. (fn. 601) By the late 13th century Culvercliffe was part of the fee of Sampford Brett. (fn. 602) That area was still part of Sampford manor in 1586, (fn. 603) and remained part of Sampford Brett tithing in the 17th century. (fn. 604)
Records of Watchet borough court date from 1273, (fn. 605) and survive thereafter for 1472–3, (fn. 606) 1476–7, (fn. 607) 1480–2, (fn. 608) 1490–2, (fn. 609) 1510–11, 1519, (fn. 610) 1558–60, (fn. 611) 1568–9, (fn. 612) 1571–6, 1583–4, (fn. 613) 1606, (fn. 614) and from 1620 to the present. (fn. 615) Sessions were held probably every three weeks during the 13th century, (fn. 616) at least seven times a year in the early 15th century, (fn. 617) and apparently every three weeks in 1621, (fn. 618) but in 1706 the frankpledge jury asked that the three-weekly court should be revived 'as formerly it hath been'. There is no trace of any revival of that court. The twiceyearly views of frankpledge at Easter and Michaelmas, interrupted by plague in 1646, were reduced to an annual meeting in October in 1651, (fn. 619) a pattern which continues to the present. Sessions, held in the court house and in the 18th century at the Bell inn, (fn. 620) were by the late 1970s held at the Downfield Hotel, Watchet.
In the late 13th century the borough reeve (fn. 621) presided at the court, supported by a group of good men, witnesses, and watchmen. (fn. 622) In 1476 the court officers were a reeve, two constables, two aletasters, and two breadweighers. (fn. 623) In 1573 there were also street keepers. (fn. 624) From the 1570s the reeve was normally known as the portreeve. (fn. 625) Holders of burgage property took office in rotation, but in the 1650s the office was frequently held by deputy, and a deputy served whenever it was the turn of the lord of the borough to serve. A water bailiff and two assistants were appointed from 1666 when the port was revived. (fn. 626)
Other officers, reflecting the changed function of the court and the growth of the town, included a scavenger in 1779, succeeded by four in 1813, eight in 1814, and nine in 1818. (fn. 627) Constables to serve in the whole parish were appointed by the vestry from 1842, (fn. 628) but a bellman or crier was elected in the court from 1841, and in 1979 there were also a recorder (clerk), a bailiff, a stock driver, and a pig driver. (fn. 629)
In 1273 the business of the court concerned the assize of ale and cases of debt and trespass. (fn. 630) By 1295 a pillory had been set up. (fn. 631) In the late 15th century the court had oversight of the common fields, made orders for the repair of roads, and levied fines for breaches of the peace and of the assizes. All private brewing in the 1480s was forbidden when either the reeve or the churchwardens held an ale. (fn. 632) From the 1620s the court recorded changes in the ownership of borough properties and attempted, with apparently little success, to control ale selling. In 1623 it reported the stocks, pillory, and ducking stool to be out of repair, and frequently made orders against dangerous buildings. (fn. 633) Later presentments included those of nuisances created by a railway in 1837, by loading seaweed in 1838, and by lodging houses in 1852. (fn. 634) The court in 1980 possessed a bailiff's staff, dated 1722, a punch bowl and ladle, handcuffs, and a set of weights and measures.
For Williton Hadley manor there are court rolls for 1445–51, 1478–9, 1482–4, 1511, 1515, (fn. 639) 1579, (fn. 640) 1604–15, (fn. 641) 1681–3, and 1685–9, (fn. 642) and notes on rolls 1364–1492. (fn. 643) The manor retained its identity after its purchase in 1710 by Sir William Wyndham. Court sessions, held at the same time as the other Wyndham courts, were recorded separately until 1747, and court papers survive for the periods 1742–7 and from 1757 until the merger of the three Wyndham courts in 1766. (fn. 644) The name Williton Hadley survived in the general court books of the Wyndham manors until 1953. (fn. 645)
From the 15th century the court met usually twice a year and appointed a reeve and, by rotation, a tithingman. By 1745 there were a reeve and two constables. The court tried to prevent the playing of tennis against the chapel at Williton in 1445–6, (fn. 646) and in 1511 (fn. 647) presented two men for hunting rabbits in the lord's warren. A copyholder convicted of high treason for supporting the duke of Monmouth was in 1685 adjudged by the court to have forfeited his estate. (fn. 648)
Court books or rolls for Williton, Williton Hospital, or Williton Regis, survive for 1505, (fn. 649) 1549, (fn. 650) 1556–63, 1565–84, (fn. 651) 1585–9, (fn. 652) 1625–40, (fn. 653) 1651–5, 1657, (fn. 654) and 1663–1740, (fn. 655) and court papers from 1741 until business was finally merged with the other Wyndham courts in 1766. (fn. 656) The name was retained as part of the title of the estate court between 1843 and 1953. (fn. 657) By the 16th century there were two court sessions a year, and there were a tithingman, a reeve, and a constable. There were later two constables. The court heard cases of debt, stray, and trespass, and in 1577 confiscated the goods of a felon. (fn. 658) With Williton Fulford and Williton Hadley manors it was jointly responsible for the maintenance of the ducking stool or 'shilvingstole'. (fn. 659) The manor court owned a crow net which in 1628 was reported missing. (fn. 660) In 1676 the court appointed a beadle and two constables, the beadle to serve for parts of Williton tithing in Stogumber and Doniford. (fn. 661)
Rolls of the manor court of Williton Fulford survive for 1473–4, (fn. 662) 1568–9, (fn. 663) 1573–7, 1587, (fn. 664) 1625– 40, (fn. 665) 1651–5, (fn. 666) and 1658. (fn. 667) Court books cover the period 1665–1740, and court papers from 1741. (fn. 668) The name survived in the general court books of the Wyndham manors until 1953. (fn. 669) Sessions from the mid 17th century were held on the same day as the court of Williton Regis. Officers in the 16th century were a tithingman and a reeve, the former serving by rotation. (fn. 670)
By 1743 the three manors of Hadley, Regis, and Fulford in practice merged their activities, but retained separate records for some years. By 1744 all shared the same tithingman and constables, and the jury was common to each court, held annually in October. By 1766, when court records for all three manors were consolidated, two inspectors of weights and measures were appointed. A bailiff to impound cattle was recorded in 1803, and a hayward by 1842. (fn. 671) In 1842 a constable was appointed for the whole parish by the vestry. (fn. 672) Aletasters were recorded from 1843, and the court continued until 1953, its main practical concern being the watering of the meadows. (fn. 673) From the 1740s the courts, whether jointly or severally, were responsible for the stocks, (fn. 674) and retained the right to confiscate a felon's leasehold as late as 1813. By the late 1830s the court met at the Wyndham (from 1842 the Egremont) Hotel in Williton. Sessions in the later 19th century became in practice the annual rent days, when requests for repairs might be made. (fn. 675)
Extracts from court records for the manor of Watchet survive for 1598–9 and 1603–4, (fn. 676) and books for 1651–5, (fn. 677) 1658, 1662–3, (fn. 678) and 1676–1729. (fn. 679) No officers are mentioned, but the jurisdiction covered Watchet 'with its members'. Business was largely concerned with property transfers, and the court is likely to have merged with the borough court in the 18th century.
The prebendary of St. Decumans had peculiar jurisdiction throughout the parish in spiritual and testamentary matters. Wills proved by his official survive from 1348. (fn. 680) The last probate session was held at Wells in 1850. Visitations on behalf of the prebendary in the 17th and 18th centuries were held in the parish church, and involved the three or four retiring wardens, the new wardens, four (later two) assistants or sidemen, and a jury. One session was adjourned to the parsonage house. Presentments involved moral offences, the state of the vicarage house, and the failure of the prebendary to preach his customary two sermons each year. (fn. 681)
By the end of the 16th century the churchwardens of St. Decumans administered the parish in two parts, the Williton side and the Watchet side. Their records survive only from the mid 18th century, when their income derived from land, rates, the profits of St. Decuman's fair, 'lantere' money, and the rent of the Watchet church house. They contributed to the maintenance of Williton chapel as well as supporting the fabric and services of the parish church. (fn. 682) The parish vestry usually numbered eight men in the later 18th century, but on occasions the number was doubled. In 1815 the curate appointed one warden, and fifteen vestry members nominated the other. A select vestry, comprising in 1821 a warden, two overseers, and 21 members, met monthly in the earlier 19th century, alternating between the Market House in Watchet and the New Inn or the vestry room at Watering Place, both in Williton. (fn. 683)
The two chapel wardens at Williton, later supported by two sidemen, administered charitable funds in Williton through a committee of four by 1613, maintained their own services, raised money through church ales, and from 1634 collected a separate church rate. (fn. 684)
Records of the overseers begin in 1638. At that time there were four overseers, their income from parish rates supplemented by the interest from charitable bequests. There was a regular policy of out-relief in the form of house rents, clothing, and cash grants, with occasional extra relief in time of plague (1646–7) or for special medical care (1650– 1). (fn. 685) A poorhouse, formerly the Williton church house and sometimes referred to as the almshouse or the 'four poor folks' house', was rented from 1630. (fn. 686) A workhouse was established at Watchet c. 1730, (fn. 687) and one at Williton by 1748. (fn. 688) Following a proposal in 1821 by a general parish meeting the Watchet church house was converted for the use of the poor. (fn. 689) A proposal to reopen the Little Silver cloth mills in 1824 to dress cloth made by the poor was superseded by the acquisition of a house and mill at Watering Place as a workhouse in 1825. In 1828–9 it was in full use, stocked with raw materials, spinning turns, and other machinery. (fn. 690)
The Williton poor-law union was formed in 1836, (fn. 691) and the union workhouse, later known as Townsend House, in Long Street, Williton, was built in 1838–40 to the designs of William Moffatt. (fn. 692) Its chapel was licensed in 1838. (fn. 693) In 1979 it was used as a hospital. The vestry, meeting either at the Egremont Hotel in Williton or at the West Somerset (or Mossman's) Hotel in Watchet, appointed parish constables from 1842. (fn. 694) A police station and court house were built at Williton in 1857. (fn. 695) A fire service was established in the parish in 1855–6, (fn. 696) public lighting in 1867, (fn. 697) and a water undertaking in 1889. (fn. 698) The rural district of Williton was formed in 1894, (fn. 699) and St. Decumans parish council was created. (fn. 700) In 1902, after extensive damage to Watchet harbour, Watchet urban district was formed to replace the harbour commissioners, with jurisdiction over the town and its immediate surroundings. (fn. 701) The remainder of the ancient parish became the separate civil parish of Williton. (fn. 702) In 1974 the West Somerset district replaced both Watchet urban and Williton rural districts, (fn. 703) and the two civil parishes were thereafter represented by a town and parish council respectively.
The church of St. Decuman was probably Celtic in origin, its dedication to a Welsh saint and its coastal site according closely with similar foundations in West Somerset, North Devon, and Cornwall. (fn. 704) Its original site seems to have been on the headland in or close to the Saxon burh: burials were discovered in the ramparts of the burh, (fn. 705) and a nearby field was called Old Minster. (fn. 706) The site was evidently abandoned in favour of another on the opposite side of the Washford river valley in face of coastal erosion, the move giving rise to a local feast of the translation of St. Decuman. (fn. 707) The present building has no features datable from before the later 13th century.
The name Old Minster suggests that the church was a minster in origin, and still in the mid 12th century it had a dean and at least one dependent chapel. (fn. 708) About 1190 Simon Brett gave the church, which included land given by Robert FitzUrse c. 1175, to Bishop Reginald, to form a prebend in Wells Cathedral. (fn. 709) In 1203 Sir Walter de Andelys, claiming to be patron of the prebendal church, presumably in succession to Brett, sued Bishop Reginald's successor Savaric for the right to appoint a prebendary, (fn. 710) and then sued the occupant, William of Wrotham. (fn. 711) A vicarage was ordained before 1245. (fn. 712) Successive prebendaries appointed vicars until 1554, and thereafter the patronage was exercised by the lessees of the prebend or their assigns until 1858. (fn. 713) The bishop was patron in 1859, (fn. 714) but trustees for the Wyndhams presented in 1884. (fn. 715) William Wyndham transferred the advowson to the bishop c. 1916. (fn. 716)
The vicarage was taxed at £4 13s. 4d. in 1291. (fn. 717) In 1321 it was said to be worth £6 4s. 6½d., and was increased to £11 1s. 2d. from the prebendal estate. (fn. 718) The vicarage was again augmented, from prebendal tithes, in 1464, and was still exempt from taxation because of poverty in 1468. (fn. 719) It was worth only £10 10s. 4d. net in 1535. (fn. 720) The reputed value was £40 c. 1668, (fn. 721) and by 1697 was being increased by £20 a year from the prebendal estate. (fn. 722) The net income in 1831 averaged £134. (fn. 723) By 1851 the sum had increased to £250 gross. (fn. 724)
Before the augmentation of 1321 the vicarage was endowed with tithes of calves, pigs, foals, geese, eggs, flax, and hemp, and of four mills and five dovecots. The additional tithes then given were those of milk, butter, wool, lambs, and honey, and all the small tithes of Doniford, together with the tithe hay of the free tenants of Doniford and the tithe of grain and beans in curtilages cultivated by hand. (fn. 725) The tithe of cheese and apples in the whole parish was added in 1464. (fn. 726) Tithes, with the altar offerings, amounted to £15 7s. in 1535. (fn. 727) By the 1630s the vicar claimed tithes of wool, lambs, pears, apples, hops, honey, and wax, and also the tithes of orchards and gardens. Cash was received for cows and calves. The tithe hay from Doniford was still paid according to custom, with other unspecified small tithes; and 1d. an acre was also received from New or Land meadow, but only in the first year after it was returned to grass. (fn. 728) In 1841 the tithes were commuted for a rent charge of £230. (fn. 729)
The vicarage had no land until St. Decumans Acre was given to it in 1321; (fn. 730) a further 11 a. were added in 1464. (fn. 731) The whole was worth 10s. in 1535. (fn. 732) There were 14 a. in 1635–6, (fn. 733) 12 a. in 1851, (fn. 734) and c. 6 a. in 1979. (fn. 735)
A vicarage house was mentioned in 1321. (fn. 736) In 1786 the house was in bad repair and uninhabited. (fn. 737) It was said in 1797 to be 'totally ruinated' and at various times thereafter to be either non-existent or ruinous. (fn. 738) In 1833 a new house was built in the grounds of the old, on the south side of the churchyard. (fn. 739) The new house was in turn replaced by a house further east in 1977. (fn. 740)
Among the medieval clergy was one who retained the living after promising to enter the community of Bridgwater Hospital before 1245. (fn. 741) Another, admitted in 1461, was found to be ill educated, and had to study successfully for a year or resign. (fn. 742) Alexander Browne was deprived in 1554, probably for being married. (fn. 743) Robert Parsons held the living without any apparent break from 1643 until 1662. (fn. 744) George Knyfton, vicar 1762–98, lived in Minehead for the whole of his vicariate and kept a school there. In 1777 he let the income of the living to the curate for forty years. (fn. 745) Henry Poole, vicar 1798–1835, was also vicar of Cannington until 1804. He resigned St. Decumans in favour of his son, Robert, who died in office in 1884. (fn. 746)
There were c. 12 regular communicants in 1776. (fn. 747) Services in 1815 were held once each Sunday, alternately morning and afternoon; the then non-resident vicar employed a curate who was also rector of West Quantoxhead. (fn. 748) Attendance on Census Sunday 1851 was 225 in the morning and 425 in the afternoon, including at each service the 75-strong Sunday school. (fn. 749) By 1870 the resident vicar was preaching two sermons each Sunday but celebrating communion only four times a year. (fn. 750)
By 1348 there were lights in the church before altars or statues of Our Lady, St. Nicholas, St. Peter, St. James, and the High Cross, and there was a statue of St. Decuman. (fn. 751) Then and in 1403 there was a parish chaplain. (fn. 752)
There was a church house by 1519. (fn. 753) It stood at the east end of the churchyard, beside the road to the church, and seems by the 18th century to have been used as a fair house. (fn. 754) After 1821 it was converted into a poorhouse, (fn. 755) and was still standing in 1841. (fn. 756) Its site was later incorporated into the churchyard extension.
The church of ST. DECUMAN, so dedicated by 1189, (fn. 757) stands in an isolated position above Watchet, its tall tower a landmark for miles in every direction. It has a chancel with north and south chapels, nave with north and south aisles and south porch, and a west tower. The only part of the church to have survived rebuilding in the 15th or early 16th century is the chancel, which is unusually wide and long and dates from the later 13th century. The sequence of the building of the rest of the church is uncertain, but the arcades of four bays are of at least three different dates, and their irregularity may suggest the former existence of a central tower, still there when the aisles were first formed. (fn. 758) The eastern bay of the south aisle appears to have been used as a chapel before the building of the south chancel chapel. The north aisle and chapel are of one date, later than the tower. New work in the building was referred to in 1498. (fn. 759) The waggon roofs, contemporary with the rebuilding, have decorated wall plates and angel supports.
Tiles in the chancel and north aisle, formerly at the east end of the south aisle, were made in the 13th century, probably at Cleeve Abbey. (fn. 760) The late medieval octagonal font has angel-bust supports. Crudely carved figures in niches in the north arcade include St. George and St. Anthony. (fn. 761) The screens, the oldest dating from before 1500, survive from a more complicated arrangement which included a rood loft with entrances at both ends and parcloses forming chapels in the aisles and perhaps also in the nave. The communion table and pulpit are of the early 17th century and the contemporary communion rails were originally arranged on three sides of the altar. The Wyndham pew (1688), formerly in the chancel, stands in the north chapel with tombs and monuments of the Wyndham family dating from 1572 and an earlier slab commemorating one of the Sydenhams, owners of Orchard. (fn. 762) The most remarkable tomb, until the demolition of the stone canopy, was that of Sir John Wyndham (d. 1574), which was in an 'Elizabethan form of Gothic'. (fn. 763) The monument to John Wyndham (d. 1645) and his wife is probably by Nicholas Stone. (fn. 764) The churchyard cross dates from the mid 15th century, and the tower bears a figure which may be a representation of St. Decuman.
The church has six bells, including one probably by the Exeter founder Robert Norton (1422–61), one each by the Somerset founders William Purdue (1668) and Robert Austen (1671), and two by E. and W. Evans of Chepstow (Gwent) (1723). (fn. 765) The plate includes an Elizabethan cup with later stem and foot, a cup of 1634 by 'R.C.', and two patens, one of 1634 by 'I.M.'. (fn. 766) The registers begin in 1602, but lack baptisms 1636–49, marriages 1653–63 and 1678–1704, and burials 1646–53. (fn. 767)
The chapel of the HOLY CROSS at Watchet was probably in existence in the early 14th century. (fn. 768) After 1369 land was given to support a chantry chaplain there to pray for the FitzUrse family, (fn. 769) and rent for wax for a candle before a representation of the holy cross was given in 1448. (fn. 770) By 1525 the chapel owned a tenement called 'le bruhowsse' and 7 a. of land. (fn. 771) Considered to be a chantry, the chapel was dissolved in 1548, and its two bells and ornaments were sold. (fn. 772) The whole property, including a messuage called the Roodhouse and a fishery called Roodweir, passed through the hands of George Payne of Hutton and then of William Moryce of Chipping Ongar (Essex), and was bought by John Wyndham in 1552. (fn. 773) The chapel was still standing in 1673, (fn. 774) and probably in 1701, but by 1830 it was in ruins, 'for many years part converted'. (fn. 775) The site, between Market Street and the harbour, (fn. 776) was occupied in 1979 by the London inn.
Before 1202 Robert FitzUrse granted his right in the advowson of Williton chapel to the church of St. Decuman. (fn. 777) The chapel, which had a resident chaplain, had no burial ground, and attendance at the mother church was required at festivals, (fn. 778) specified in 1412 as the Ascension and the dedication and translation of St. Decuman. (fn. 779) Chaplains, after 1784 called perpetual curates or vicars, were appointed by successive vicars of St. Decumans. (fn. 780)
The chaplain was paid £5 6s. 8d. a year by the vicar of St. Decumans in 1535, (fn. 781) and had a house and 1 a. of land given with the chapel by Robert FitzUrse. (fn. 782) The living was augmented between 1784 and 1792 by Queen Anne's Bounty, and land was bought at Winsford. (fn. 783) By 1792 the vicar of St. Decumans paid a further £5 to a curate to serve the chapel twice a Sunday. (fn. 784) Two further augmentations in 1810 and 1813 totalling £1,400 were used to buy land at Hockworthy (Devon), but all the glebe was sold in 1847 and the proceeds invested, producing an income of £55 in 1851. (fn. 785) Further endowments from the Common Fund in 1882 provided a total income of £236 a year. (fn. 786)
The medieval priest's house stood at the west end of Williton, north of the road to Washford. (fn. 787) It was rebuilt in 1623, (fn. 788) but by 1827 was described as a 'poor cottage' and by 1835 was 'unfit'. (fn. 789) By 1851 the perpetual curate was living at Eastfield, on the south side of the village. (fn. 790) The present vicarage house, west of the site of the priest's house, was built in 1907. (fn. 791)
The fabric and services at Williton were maintained in the late 16th century from the proceeds of brewing ale at Whitsun revels or chapel ales. Other income was from rent of the church house from 1630, from rates by 1634, and from charges for encroachment on the unfenced chapel yard. Laudian furniture was introduced in 1634 and 1637, and chapel ales continued until 1641. They were revived between 1662 and 1688. (fn. 792) Thomas Vickary, curate by 1610 and until 1647 or later, was followed by a succession of temporary ministers in the next decade, and the priest's house was let. (fn. 793) It was let again from 1765 by the vicar of St. Decumans, the beginning of years of neglect of the chapel, which was served until 1792 by a curate who rented both St. Decumans and Williton from an absentee vicar. (fn. 794) Charles Poole, perpetual curate by 1800 and until 1840, and brother of the vicar of St. Decumans, was so unpopular that the fulfilment of his promise in 1807 to live in Williton was strongly discouraged. In 1814 he declared that he would serve the chapel every three weeks, and that if he came once a fortnight it would be an act of grace. (fn. 795)
There was a church house at Williton by 1491. (fn. 796) By 1584 it was handed over by the tenants from Whitsun eve for a month to allow the chapel wardens to brew and sell ale. (fn. 797) The house was rebuilt in 1591 to provide a kitchen, hall, and solar. It was rebuilt again in 1629–30 and was then let to the overseers as a poorhouse. (fn. 798)
The church, formerly the chapel, of ST. PETER was dedicated by the early 14th century to All Saints. (fn. 799) The chapel wardens still presented their accounts near All Saints' day until the early 18th century. (fn. 800) The building has a chancel with north vestry and south chapel, a nave with north and south aisles and shallow north porch, and a western porch and bellcot. Its core is a medieval building of nave and chancel whose east and west walls survive. The south aisle, added in 1810–12, incorporates the late medieval windows of the original south wall of the nave. (fn. 801) The building was heavily restored and the north aisle and vestry added in 1856–9 by C. E. Giles. (fn. 802) A wooden bellcot was replaced by one in stone in 1896. (fn. 803) The Lady chapel on the south side of the chancel was added in 1932. (fn. 804) The alabaster font was bought in 1666. (fn. 805) There are two bells. (fn. 806) The plate includes a cup and cover of 1574 by J. Ions of Exeter and a secular plate of 1679. (fn. 807) Separate registers of baptisms begin in 1792 and of marriages in 1829. (fn. 808)
The mission church of ST. SAVIOUR, Watchet, formerly an iron church on Brendon Hill, had been re-erected by 1887 on the south side of West Street. Its site in 1980 was occupied by nos. 13 and 14 West Street. (fn. 809) In the 1920s it was succeeded by the Mission, later known as the chapel of HOLY CROSS, which occupied the first floor of the Market House. The chapel was restored in 1979. (fn. 810)
Protestant nonconformity was introduced to Watchet c. 1766 (fn. 813) by Lady Huntingdon's preachers, and one addressed 'some hundreds' in 1771, claiming to have 'totally conquered' the people. (fn. 814) Preaching by student ministers continued there and at Williton, (fn. 815) and cottages and land were purchased at Watchet. The congregation changed its allegiance and the property was left by the purchaser's widow to a group of Particular Baptists, who were formally constituted as a church in 1808. (fn. 816) The chapel was built in 1824 and is still in use. (fn. 817) It is a simple building with a curved pediment above arched gallery windows, and stands prominently above the town. In 1851 morning and evening services were held on one Sunday and an afternoon service on the next, alternating with the chapel at Williton. On Census Sunday afternoon the Watchet congregation was 85, with 31 Sunday-school children. (fn. 818) The minister from Watchet was holding meetings in Robert Street, Williton, by 1813. (fn. 819) After difficulty over a lease from the Wyndham estate, a site was acquired from the Aclands at Catwell, and a chapel was opened in 1844. (fn. 820) Services there on Census Sunday 1851 were attended by 70 adults in the morning and 72 in the evening. (fn. 821) Ten years later Watchet and Williton chapels between them had 67 members. (fn. 822) Services at Williton were discontinued in 1919. (fn. 823) From 1883 a disused railway carriage at Doniford was used as a mission room. It was closed c. 1920. (fn. 824)
The house of John Date at Watchet was licensed for worship in 1803, the application for licence supported by Date himself, and by John and Mary Stoate and John Wood, members of three families prominent both in local Methodism and in the business life of Watchet. (fn. 825) Stoate moved to Williton in 1806 and his house, on the site of the present bank opposite the Egremont Hotel, was used for worship from 1810. (fn. 826) A class was formed at Williton in 1820 and another at Watchet in 1824, the latter soon to become the largest in the circuit. (fn. 827) The Williton class may at first have met in a building opposite Stoate's house, (fn. 828) but a chapel was built in 1820 in an alley off the west side of Fore Street. (fn. 829) In 1851 the average congregation was 120 in the morning and 140 in the evening, with 52 Sunday-school pupils in addition. (fn. 830) The chapel was replaced in 1883 by the present building at the bottom of Tower Hill, to which were added a minister's house and schoolrooms. (fn. 831) Membership in 1903 was 76 and in 1959 was 89. (fn. 832) A chapel was built off Swain Street, Watchet, in 1824 after earlier meetings had been held in a barn. (fn. 833) It remained in use until 1871 (fn. 834) when the present building was erected in Station (now Harbour) Road. In 1903 four services were held each week, with an open-air service every Sunday evening in summer. Membership was 71 in 1903 and 85 in 1959. (fn. 835) A Wesleyan preaching place at Doniford was established in 1835, but it was given up in 1844. (fn. 836) In the 1860s there were Methodist meetings at the paper mills in Watchet during the ownership of John Wansbrough, (fn. 837) and the former Anglican chapel at Brendon Hill was brought to the mills c. 1883 but was later transferred to West Street. (fn. 838) Methodist meetings were held at High Bridge between 1874 and 1877. (fn. 839)
Bible Christians were established at Watchet in 1859, and opened a chapel, called the Temple after its Grecian style, in 1860 on the southern edge of the town, near new terraced houses. (fn. 840) The cause duly became part of the United Methodist movement, and services continued to be held there until 1962. (fn. 841) The building was later incorporated into St. Decumans C. of E. school.
The Salvation Army came to Watchet in 1882, and was formally established in 1884. (fn. 842) Until 1928 they occupied the former Methodist chapel in Swain Street, then known as Castle Hall, and later moved to their present premises near the railway station. (fn. 843)
In 1575 Thomas Blinman, newly appointed curate of Williton, was licensed to teach boys there. (fn. 844) Robert Parsons the younger, possibly minister of the parish 1643–62, began teaching at a grammar school in St. Decumans in 1636; (fn. 845) between 1645 and 1660 George Wotton, ejected vicar of Bridgwater, taught at Williton. (fn. 846) There was a schoolroom near Williton chapel by 1791, (fn. 847) and a school was kept in the priest's house in Williton in 1802. (fn. 848) Another school, on Lancasterian lines, was opened in Williton in 1811. It was supported by subscriptions and was intended for children of labouring men 'with no apparent prospect of education whether in the parish or not', as well as for feepaying pupils of any religious persuasion. Known as the Free School of Williton, it survived until 1821, when it closed because of the reluctance of the poor to attend. (fn. 849)
By 1818 there was a 'good' Sunday school in the parish 'tolerably well attended' by 80 boys and girls, and there were four day schools in Williton, together taking 46 children. (fn. 850) A Methodist Sunday school was started at Williton in 1822 and another at Watchet in 1825, (fn. 851) and in 1826 a Methodist established a day and boarding school at Watchet. (fn. 852) By 1835 there were eight day schools and four Sunday schools in the parish. Three of the day schools (100 pupils) were for the children of tradesmen and farmers, the remainder (100 pupils) were to teach poor children to read and write. The Sunday schools between them took 335 children: two were Methodist, one Baptist, one Church of England. (fn. 853) The 'diocesan' school at Williton, founded by 1841 and united to a diocesan board, was described as 'very good' in 1846, and was almost entirely supported by the curate there. It had a total of 75 day pupils and 156 on Sundays. (fn. 854)
In 1851 there were at least five schools: a Wesleyan Sunday school and a boys' boarding school at Sea View Terrace, both in Watchet, a day school and the Baptist Sunday school at Williton, (fn. 855) and a school in the workhouse. (fn. 856) During the 1860s a new day school was opened at Watchet and another at Williton, but the latter seems to have closed by 1866. The 'diocesan' school at Williton was later affiliated to the National Society, and new buildings were opened in 1872. The Watchet day school may have become the undenominational school opened in 1869–70. A new Church of England school at Watchet was built in 1873. (fn. 857)
In 1903 the two schools in Watchet and the National school at Williton were absorbed into the county council system. The undenominational school at Watchet became a council school, and then had an average attendance of 125 boys and girls and 39 infants. The Watchet National school, then regarded as two separate establishments for 'mixed' pupils and infants, assumed aided status, and had 135 boys and girls and 100 infants on its books. (fn. 858) The Williton school was slightly smaller, with 116 boys and girls and 80 infants. (fn. 859) All three schools were retained when a secondary modern school was built at Williton in 1957, with controlled status, for pupils over eleven years. (fn. 860) The Watchet National school was known from 1959 as St. Decumans C. of E. school. Further reorganization in 1971 converted Williton secondary school into a middle school, subsequently known as Danesfield, for pupils in the 9–13 age range, and converted the three contributing schools at Watchet and Williton into first schools. (fn. 861)
There were several private schools in the parish from the later 19th century. In 1861 there was a girls' school at Temple Place, Watchet, which continued until 1875. (fn. 862) By 1889 the Misses Green had established a school for girls at Stream which was still in being in 1910; and there were two other similar, but short lived, ventures, one at Williton and one at Watchet, by 1897. (fn. 863) In the 1920s and 1930s there were two private schools at Watchet known as Westcliff and St. Decumans, and from c. 1932 until 1945 there was a boys' school called St. Decumans on Tower Hill, Williton. (fn. 864) From c. 1927 there was a school for girls in Williton, later known as Beaconwood Private School, which survived until c. 1939. (fn. 865) Buckland School, St. Decumans Road, Watchet, founded in 1955, is a private day school for boys and girls. (fn. 866)
CHARITIES FOR THE POOR.
By 1583 the churchwardens and sidemen of St. Decumans held c. 15 a. of land and other property, the income applied to the repair of the parish church, the maintenance of soldiers in Ireland or elsewhere, support of the poor, or payment of charges on the parish. (fn. 867) The estate almost certainly had been held by the preReformation churchwardens, (fn. 868) and some of it had been given for masses under the will of William Klerc in 1403. (fn. 869) By 1787 the income was £6 4s. 10d. (fn. 870) Part of the estate, called the Poor's Land, c. 12 a. in 1841, (fn. 871) was gradually converted into stock, and by 1901 the St. Decumans charity, as it was called, comprised the stock, just over 6 a. of land, 10 houses and cottages, and a printing office, as well as the stock of charities described below. There was a net income of £103 from real property and £33 9s. 4d. from investments, and 168 people received blankets. (fn. 872) By 1977 all but one cottage had been sold, and investments produced an income of c. £1,100, applied to the repair of the parish church and in distributions to the old, the widowed, and the infirm of Williton and Watchet. (fn. 873) In 1939 coal vouchers replaced blankets, and grocery vouchers were given in the 1970s, in 1979 each worth £3. (fn. 874)
By 1638 the churchwardens administered the income of six other charities: (fn. 875) £100 given by James Huish of London (d. 1590), (fn. 876) £5 by a Mr. Jones, £15 by Thomas Heyman, 26s. 8d. by the rector of Calverleigh (Devon), £20 by Eleanor, daughter of Sir John Wyndham (d. 1574) and wife of Thomas Carne, (fn. 877) and £10 by Edmund Wyndham of Aller (d. 1627). Part of the capital was lent at interest, and by 1677 the income, not certainly including the Poor's Land, amounted to £35 2s. (fn. 878) 'Public money' in 1706 amounted to capital of £610 producing £20 10s., distributed to the second poor partly at need and partly at Christmas and Easter at St. Decumans church or Williton chapel. (fn. 879) In 1787 three of the charities, then of unknown origin, survived, with a combined capital of £602 17s., together with a bequest of £50 from Mary Smith. (fn. 880) By 1826 stock from all sources produced £28 15s. 4d., (fn. 881) and by 1901 had evidently become part of the investments of St. Decumans charity. (fn. 882)
By will proved in 1935 Mary Huxtable Sutton of Minehead gave four houses and £1,100 to the trustees of St. Decumans charity to establish and endow almshouses, the money to build small houses for needy labouring men or women, the existing houses for those not of the labouring class. A pension charity was established from the sale proceeds of two of the houses in 1937, but no other houses were built, and in 1975 the accumulated funds of the two charities were combined to form the Mary Huxtable Sutton Relief-in-Need charity, payable to any living within six miles of Watchet not under 55 years. (fn. 883) In 1979 the trustees agreed to a maximum annual distribution of £200 to all recipients. (fn. 884)
A nursing association for the sick poor of Williton and Sampford Brett was founded c. 1932, supported by an endowment and payments from all but pensioners and those in receipt of parish relief. In 1932 William Wyndham of Orchard Wyndham gave £800 for the sick of Williton. After the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948 the funds were combined, (fn. 885) and in 1980 were regularly distributed in grocery vouchers in the two parishes. (fn. 886)