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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The ancient parish of Stockland Bristol, formerly Stockland Gaunts, derived its secondary names from its former owners, first the Gaunts hospital, Bristol, and later Bristol corporation. (fn. 1) The main part of the parish lay between Otterhampton and Stogursey, 9 km. north-west of Bridgwater; the remainder comprised several detached parts mostly to the east and north-east, including the hamlet of Steart, on the coast 4 km. north-east of Stockland village. The ancient parish covered c. 1,150 a. (fn. 2) In 1886 the detached land around Steart (including 8 houses and 46 persons) was transferred to Otterhampton parish and parcels in the south-west passed to Fiddington. Knaplock was added from Cannington parish. (fn. 3) The area of the resultant civil parish is 335 ha. (828 a.). (fn. 4)
The principal part of the parish lies in the south-west across a low ridge reaching 30 m., from which the land falls to the flat marshes at c. 7 m. in the north-east. Weaving water or North brook flows down the hill and then forms part of the western and northern boundary. The eastern boundary is marked in part by a stream and in part by the road from Stockland to Steart. Much of the southern boundary followed the road between Combwich and Stogursey. The boundaries of the detached area at Steart were the coast and the sea wall which protected Wall common in Stogursey and gave its name to fields called Wallsend in Stockland parish. (fn. 5)
The sloping ground is clay overlying Blue Lias with pockets of limestone. (fn. 6) Much of it was formerly woodland, (fn. 7) full of springs, and was described as cold clay, not very productive, and benefiting neither from lime nor, if wet, even from animal manure. (fn. 8) Quarrying was obstructing roads in 1575 and 1646, and in 1577 the lessee of the rectory sold 60 cartloads of stone from the estate, possibly from the land north of the church. In 1637 tenants were forbidden to sell paving stones outside the manor without licence. In 1579 three men were accused of building two unlicensed lime kilns and of making 700 bu. of lime in each. In 1774 a tenant of the manor was given permission to build a limekiln. (fn. 9) The alluvium of the marsh land was good both for arable and for sheep provided that it was well drained. (fn. 10) Maintenance of the clyces or sluices and watercourses was of considerable importance and an earth wall to protect an outwarth (fn. 11) was constructed in 1445. (fn. 12) The marsh north of Stockland village, known formerly as Pederham or Petherhams Marsh, (fn. 13) is drained by North, Middle, and South brooks, which flow eastwards into the Parrett through North and Combwich clyces. In the 1630s and 1640s Stockland manor court ordered hollow trees to be laid to improve field drainage. (fn. 14) The manor was responsible not only for the drainage within the parish but also for Stockland clyce, probably either the present North clyce or Combwich clyce. (fn. 15) By 1741, however, responsibility for the clyce was shared with other landowners and Stockland manor paid only half the cost of rebuilding it that year. (fn. 16)
Stockland village, a single street running along the edge of the marsh eastwards from the church, may originally have extended further west, where earthworks north of the church suggest the original nucleus. The surviving street, with nearly all the houses, farmyards, and paddocks on the north side running down to South brook, faced an open arable field whose nearest furlong was called Burgage. (fn. 17) A survey of 1547 described 17 dwellings in Stockland manor, probably the whole village except the vicarage house. At least four were single storeyed, a further seven appear to have had halls open to the roof, and one seems to have had two halls to accommodate two related households. Two dwellings appear to have been longhouses, many had ground floor chambers, and only one parlour and one buttery were recorded. Four houses had kitchens, one of which might have been separate from the dwelling. (fn. 18) Surviving houses include Rosemary Cottage, a medieval building enlarged in the 16th century, and two of the 17th century, the Poplars and Rogers Farm, the second having plasterwork dated 1675. (fn. 19) Most houses remained small in the 18th century and in 1833 several were described as old and thatched although one had had a new roof and another had new farm buildings. (fn. 20)
Steart hamlet appears to have been called Marsh in 1377 (fn. 21) and in 1762 and 1822 the Marsh houses were recorded. (fn. 22) By the mid 19th century the hamlet was known as Steart Marsh and in 1881 also as Steart Bay; from the late 19th century it has usually been called Steart. (fn. 23) It is a remote settlement of widely spaced farms and cottages.
The road from Combwich to Stogursey ran through or along the southern edge of the parish and was joined there by the road from Steart through Stockland village. Both were evidently well used in the 17th century as gifts to travellers by the parish officers in 1655 amounted to most of the annual parish expenditure. (fn. 24) The parish was indicted in 1809 for failure to repair the first route. (fn. 25) The second, straightened in the 1860s south-west of the village to improve the grounds of the new Vicarage, later Stockland Manor, (fn. 26) led along Marsh or Steart drove to Wall common and then along the beach to Steart, a route which was vulnerable to erosion and storms such as that of 1869. (fn. 27) During the later 19th century attempts were made to prevent Lord Clifford allowing pebbles to be removed from Steart beach for road repair as this was said to be weakening the sea defences. (fn. 28) There was no made-up road across Wall common and the fields until the 20th century and it was not metalled until c. 1961. (fn. 29)
The field names Beaverland and Midfurlong indicate an open arable field on the rising ground south of the village street, where small strips were still cultivated in 1547. (fn. 30) A common meadow north of the village was still in strips in the 1820s. (fn. 31) There may originally have been common grazing on the marshes but there was apparently none in the 17th century, (fn. 32) although some manor holdings were awarded allotments in Steart common in 1803. (fn. 33)
No woodland was recorded in 1086 (fn. 34) but field names show that the southern part of the parish was once well wooded, largely with oak. Timber was still plentiful in the 17th century, (fn. 35) and 602 timber trees were sold in 1813, mostly oak and elm but also ash, aspen, and walnut. (fn. 36) Stockland moor, described as peaty and unimprovable in 1801, had been planted by 1837 when there were 60 a. of woodland, most owned by Bristol corporation. (fn. 37) In 1947 over 25 a. of woodland was felled, but at least 25 a. survived in 1982. (fn. 38)
The Stockland friendly society had been disbanded by 1921 when it was decided that its poles and flags should be kept in the church. (fn. 39)
The population rose in the first three decades of the 19th century from 144 in 1801 to 202 in 1831 but fell thereafter to 181 in 1851, 142 in 1861, and 138 in 1871. By 1881 there had been a sharp increase to 188 but following the transfer of Steart to Otterhampton in 1886 the total was 140 in 1901 and it declined during the 20th century to 97 in 1971. Ten years later the population totalled 130, (fn. 40) because of new building in the village and the subdivision of Stockland Manor.