Broomfield: Economic history

A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1992.

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'Broomfield: Economic history', in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes), (London, 1992) pp. 12-14. British History Online [accessed 24 April 2024]

In this section


Thirteen ploughlands were recorded on the two Domesday estates of Broomfield and Blaxhold in 1086, but there were only 7 ploughteams to support the 20 tenant farmers. The livestock on Broomfield manor were 135 sheep, 16 goats, 17 pigs, 13 cattle, and a riding horse. More than half of the land taxed was in demesne, but there was only one demesne ploughteam. The estates had increased in value by half since 1066. (fn. 1)

By the end of the Middle Ages, the large downs or 'balls', mostly under furze and heath, were used like the woodland for pasturage. At Ivyton there were pasture grounds up to 70 a. in extent, with very small closes for meadow. (fn. 2) Small areas of common land on the high ground, such as a plot of 14 a. on Buncombe Hill in 1515, were probably brought under cultivation and in 1593 tenants of Broomfield manor had to hedge their hill plots within three weeks of sowing. (fn. 3) Encroachments on the commons for tillage and settlement continued in the 17th century, and oats were grown there in 1637. (fn. 4)

From the mid 16th century land was acquired by the Halswell family of Goathurst, and farmsteads were established in the remoter parts of the parish. Hatcombe, Melcombe Stream, Oggshole, and Patcombe were bought by Nicholas Halswell between 1556 and 1560, and the Halswells and their successors the Tyntes continued their purchases on the division of Broomfield manor and the dismemberment of other estates until c. 1910. (fn. 5) Other farms seem to have been formed in the 17th century with the break-up of the Heathcombe estates. They included a farm successively called Smocombe, Heathcombe, and Broaddown, another called Gillards, now Smocombe farm, Smocombe House, Willoughbys and Wood farms, and the land which came to be attached to Broomfield Hall. (fn. 6)

Tenants on the Halswell estate at Patcombe in the 1660s were required to apply lime and soap ashes and to plant clover to improve the soil, and Broomfield Down may by then have been ploughed. (fn. 7) Common rights for as many as 700 sheep on Wood Common had been shared between 11 tenants c. 1600 (fn. 8) and sheep were numerous on one farm at Ivyton in 1686, where pigs and bees were also recorded in an inventory of a prosperous tenant, who grew wheat and barley on his arable land. (fn. 9) The owner of Binfords also kept pigs and bees, the latter producing 60 lb. of honey a year, and among his crops were apples and hops. (fn. 10) Peas were grown on 20 a. at Patcombe in 1711, hops at Heathcombe and elsewhere later in the century, and flax at Ivyton. (fn. 11)

Improvements in the 18th century included the inclosure of Priors Down by 1755 (fn. 12) and the creation of catch meadows on the hillsides above Rose Hill and west and north-east of Stream Farm. (fn. 13) Farm amalgamation took place, notably on the Halswell estate, where the larger units were let at rack rents. By 1835 several of the farms had been amalgamated at Ivyton, and Stream had absorbed five other holdings. (fn. 14) In 1838 there were still 20 holdings of under 50 a. and a further 16 of under 100 a.; nine more measured between 100 a. and 200 a., and three were over 200 a. including Ivyton (361 a.) and Stream (338 a.). Broomfield Common covered 303 a. despite encroachments. (fn. 15)

Significant changes took place in the later 19th century. In 1838 there were 2,478 a. of arable and 764 a. of meadow, pasture, and orchard. (fn. 16) By 1881 the number of farms over 300 a. had increased to four and the number of recorded farm labourers had dropped from 92 in 1871 to 79. (fn. 17) Between 1838 and 1905 the arable land in the parish had been reduced by more than half and converted either to grass or to woodland, grass amounting in 1905 to 1,536 a. (fn. 18) During the 20th century the number of farms shrank still further, the population fell sharply, and many isolated farm sites, including Hatcombe, Willoughbys, and Denman's Well were abandoned. Returns for 1982 covering about half the parish showed a predominance of grassland and livestock husbandry, but a variety of crops was also grown. The main crop returned was winter barley but some wheat and oats were grown together with potatoes, beans, turnips, swedes, and fodder crops. Of the 13 holdings recorded, 7 were over 50 ha. (c. 124 a.) and 3 were worked only part-time. There were 8 specialist dairy farms and 2 holdings rearing cattle and sheep. Livestock comprised 1,189 sheep, 992 cattle, 106 poultry, and 12 pigs. (fn. 19)

Woodland management can be traced from the later 16th century. Copyholders had the right to shroud trees in certain areas and in 1580 some rights to shrouds on Buncombe Hill and other places were let in return for manuring and tillage and later some small-scale felling. Broom was also sold. (fn. 20) Woodland near Binfords was coppiced in the early 18th century, (fn. 21) and felling at Buncombe c. 1815 produced 516 oaks. (fn. 22) Timber from the parish may have been used to build two vessels at Bridgwater c. 1879 and continued to be exploited c. 1910. (fn. 23) The parish provided employment for several carpenters in the later 19th century. (fn. 24)

In 1814 iron and copper ores were found in the parish; (fn. 25) c. 1825 Andrew Crosse attempted to mine copper by means of a 100-yard adit, and two shafts were sunk into the hill at Wort wood. In 1845 the mine was revived using a steam engine and Cornish miners, but it was abandoned because the engine could not cope with the water in the mine. (fn. 26) In 1853 local landowners agreed to work three mines including an old one near Raswell Farm. The Broomfield Consols Copper and Silver-Lead Mining Co. was formed and later in 1853 it was claimed that good quality ore had been raised. Not only copper and lead but malachite and silver were said to be present, the last at 30 oz. per ton of ore. Mining was abandoned in 1854. (fn. 27)

The only evidence for clothmaking was a fulling mill recorded in the 15th century and the survival into the 19th century of the field names Rack House at Holwell and Rack Close adjoining Priors Down. (fn. 28)


Nailscombe mill, said to have been given to Henry de la Tour (d. by 1280) by Margery de Newburgh, (fn. 29) descended with Ivyton manor until the 16th century. (fn. 30) The miller, John Needs, built a second mill before 1591, and was succeeded by William Needs (d. 1597) and Emmanuel Needs. (fn. 31) In 1612 lower and higher mills were recorded, and in 1653 a middle mill. A mill, probably the higher mill, was burnt down c. 1649, and an adjoining house was later known as Burnt Mill. Only one mill was recorded at Nailscombe in 1681. (fn. 32) It was named Bradford mill after 18th-century tenants and later Broomfield mill. (fn. 33) It continued working until the 1930s. (fn. 34) The mill, beside the Taunton road adjoining the boundary with Kingston St. Mary parish, was converted to a dwelling and the head pond was filled in.

There was a fulling mill called Nailscombe in Ivyton in 1447. (fn. 35) It was probably the mill held by the Warren family in the 1500s and forfeited c. 1523. (fn. 36) It was not recorded thereafter.

There was a mill at Heathcombe in 1293. (fn. 37) Both Broomfield and Enmore manors claimed ownership of part of a mill in the 15th and 16th centuries. (fn. 38) Heathcombe or Ford mill was held by the Towill family for three generations in the 17th century. (fn. 39) They recovered ownership in the 18th, although it was known as Cox's mill after a former owner. (fn. 40) Before 1838 it became part of the Tynte estate, but by 1851 it had gone out of use and had become labourers' cottages. (fn. 41) They had been demolished by 1953. (fn. 42)

Rooks Castle mill was recorded in 1619. (fn. 43) It was also known as Gard's mill, after an early 19th-century lessee, and was occupied by a millwright in 1881. (fn. 44) It was driven by the King's Cliff stream, and remains of a shaft and an overshot wheel could be seen in the 1970s. (fn. 45) Binfords mill, further down the same stream, was recorded in 1662. (fn. 46) There was no record of it after 1775. (fn. 47) There may have been a mill north-west of Fyne Court on the stream that fills an ornamental canal where fields called Mellis were recorded in 1838. (fn. 48)


In 1259 John de la Linde, lord of Broomfield manor, received a grant of a three-day fair at All Saints. (fn. 49) There is no further record of the fair until 1606 when men from Glastonbury attended. (fn. 50) A tolsey was recorded in 1665 (fn. 51) and in 1717 the site was let with the profits of the standings set up at fair time. (fn. 52) Sheep, cows, and horses were sold there in the mid 18th century and in 1748 tolls, shared between Broomfield manor and the Halswell estate, amounted to 27s. 8d. (fn. 53) In the late 18th century the main commodities of the fair, then held on 13 November, were coarse cloth and cattle, but horses were also sold. (fn. 54) During the 19th century it declined as a stock fair and by 1883, when it was last recorded, it was known for toasted biscuits and cider. (fn. 55) A small fair may have been held in the 1890s. (fn. 56)

The fair appears to have been held on the Fair Close or Fair Field, part of Broomfield green west of the church. (fn. 57)


  • 1. V.C.H. Som. i. 491, 506.
  • 2. S.R.O., DD/L P35/3, 6, 8.
  • 3. Ibid. DD/AH 11/10; DD/S/WH 209.
  • 4. Ibid. DD/S/WH 19, 209.
  • 5. Ibid. 6; above, manors.
  • 6. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 285; DD/PLE 64; DD/SAS JK 2, 18, 22, 32.
  • 7. Ibid. DD/S/BW 5; ibid. Q/SR 133/10.
  • 8. Ibid. DD/S/WH 246.
  • 9. Highclere Castle, Carnarvon MSS., U/C 12.
  • 10. S.R.O., D/D/Pd 13.
  • 11. Ibid. DD/S/WH 45, 253; ibid. Q/RLh 7, 20, 55, 77; Bristol R.O., 21789 (18).
  • 12. S.R.O., DD/WO 11/3.
  • 13. McDonnell, Quantock Hills A.O.N.B.: Arch. Survey, 9-10, 39.
  • 14. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 235.
  • 15. Ibid. tithe award.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. P.R.O., RG 10/2383; RG 11/2372.
  • 18. Statistics supplied by the then Bd. of Agric., 1905.
  • 19. Min. of Agric., Fisheries, and Food, agric. returns, 1982.
  • 20. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 132; D/D/Cd 51.
  • 21. Ibid. D/D/Pd 13.
  • 22. Ibid. DD/S/WH 256.
  • 23. Ibid. DD/FA 11/1; DD/PLE 63.
  • 24. P.R.O., RG 9/1622; RG 10/2383; RG 11/2372.
  • 25. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 326.
  • 26. Ibid. DD/X/HAM 1; Hamilton and Lawrence, Men and Mining in the Quantocks, 72-5.
  • 27. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 326; DD/X/HAM 1; DD/WY 158; Hamilton and Lawrence, Men and Mining in the Quantocks, 72-5.
  • 28. Below; S.R.O., tithe award.
  • 29. S.R.S. xliv. 28.
  • 30. Cal. Inq. p.m. ii, p. 278; S.R.O., DD/L P35/1, 3.
  • 31. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 209; P.R.O., C 142/279, no. 449.
  • 32. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 19, 131, 209; Highclere Castle, Carnarvon MSS., U/C 2, 4, 8; box 2.
  • 33. S.R.O., Q/REI 2/1; ibid. D/P/broo 13/1/2; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1883, 1894).
  • 34. Local inf.
  • 35. S.R.O., DD/L P35/5.
  • 36. Ibid. DD/L P23/16, 19; P35/8.
  • 37. S.R.S. vi. 288.
  • 38. Ibid. xxii. 118; S.R.O., DD/S/WH 209.
  • 39. Highclere Castle, Carnarvon MSS., U/C 9; S.R.O., DD/S/WH 19, 246.
  • 40. S.R.O., DD/DP 23/6; DD/SAS JK 18; ibid. Q/REI 2/1.
  • 41. Ibid. tithe award; P.R.O., HO 107/1924.
  • 42. S.R.O., DD/X/BID 21.
  • 43. Ibid. DD/S/WH 20.
  • 44. S.R.O., Q/REI 2/1; P.R.O., RG 11/2372.
  • 45. Som. C.C., Sites and Mons. Rec.
  • 46. S.R.O., DD/X/BKE 16.
  • 47. Ibid. DD/RN 8.
  • 48. Ibid. tithe award; Som. C.C., Sites and Mons. Rec.
  • 49. Cal. Pat. 1258-66, 110-11.
  • 50. S.R.O., Q/SR 2/104.
  • 51. Ibid. 108/37.
  • 52. Ibid. DD/S/WH 131.
  • 53. Ibid. 253, 255.
  • 54. Collinson, Hist. Som. i. 72; S.R.O., DD/X/VEA 1.
  • 55. Taunton Courier, 18 Nov. 1857; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1883); Proc. Som. Arch. Soc. lxxxii. 145.
  • 56. Local inf.
  • 57. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 246; ibid. tithe award.