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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In 1086 there were 8 ploughlands and as many teams, a square league of pasture, and 8 a. of meadow. There were 6 hides in demesne with 2 ploughteams and six servi. There were 10 cattle, 10 swine, 48 sheep, and a riding horse. Twenty villani and 10 bordars worked the rest of the land with 6 ploughteams. (fn. 1) In 1303 Montacute priory's demesne in Creech comprised 304 a. of arable and 51 a. of meadow with some pasture. There were also 26 free holdings on about 11 virgates of land, 31 customary and ferling tenants with another 11 virgates, 9 villeins each having a house and 6 a., and 10 cottars. (fn. 2) Creech was prosperous: in 1327 it paid almost as much tax as Taunton, (fn. 3) and in 1334 it was one of the most highly taxed places in the county. (fn. 4) By 1526 it was still wealthy and the manor bailiff had the second highest tax assessment. (fn. 5) In 1535 the capital messuage and woodland were let to farm and the rental distinguished between tenements, later called 'place lands', (fn. 6) and overland. (fn. 7) In 1535-8 the rental of Creech was over £70, higher than any other of Montacute priory's estates and accounting for about 15 per cent of the priory's income. (fn. 8) During the later 16th century Creech manor was divided and sold. Many holdings remained divided and some were part free and part lease or copyhold until the late 18th or early 19th century when successive lords of the manor sold their estates. (fn. 9)
The moorlands on both sides of the Tone were regularly flooded in winter and provided rich grass in summer. (fn. 10) The tenants of Ham in the 14th century had common rights for draught animals on Westhay moor in North Curry. (fn. 11) Creech moor was said to measure c. 45 a. in 1638 and Ham moor c. 49 a. (fn. 12) Dairying and cheesemaking were important: in 1679 one man had 30 cheeses and another had 72, in 1687 a third had 46, and in 1688 a herd of 8 cows produced 2 cwt. of raw milk cheese and 2 cwt. of household cheese. Oxen were rarely listed before the 18th century but horses were plentiful and were presumably the preferred plough beast. Pigs were kept on the byproducts of cheesemaking. Edward Cely the younger had 90 sheep at Charlton in 1677. One man had 46 geese in 1687 and in 1690 a flock worth 8s. was recorded. Most farmers combined stock rearing with arable husbandry. Bearded barley was recorded in 1645, dredge in 1648, and clover from the 1670s. Apple orchards were common and both apples and cider feature in most inventories. One husbandman in 1681 worked for his landlord ploughing and sowing at 17s. an acre. Many farmers in the 17th century enjoyed considerable prosperity, reflected in their books, furnishings, linen, and plate. One of the wealthier farmers died in 1647 possessed of a quantity of silverware, jewelry, and fine clothing. John Crosse of Langaller, probably the wealthiest man in the parish when he died in 1679 with goods worth over £1,400, possessed silver plate, a clock, and books. (fn. 13)
In 1733 the arable in the parish was estimated at 1,361 a. (fn. 14) In 1781 grass covered 1,045 a., arable 1,016 a., turnips and clover 115 a., and gardens and orchards 205 a. A crop survey of 1784 gave the following acreages: meadow 585½, wheat 365½, barley 174½, fallow 140½, orchard 104, peas 80½, beans 40½, vetches 33½, oats 14, clover 3½, and flax 2. (fn. 15) In 1787 one man grew 47 stone of flax in the parish. (fn. 16) At the end of the 18th century the vicar collected tithe from potatoes and flax and in 1787 he received 87 bags of apples in tithe. In 1800 he recorded over 47 a. of potatoes. (fn. 17) At Little Creech, a farm of c. 25 a., pasture and meadow predominated but crops of potatoes, wheat, barley, and vetch were grown, livestock comprised horses, plough oxen, heifers, steers, ewes, pigs, poultry, and 4 cows which produced an average of 336 gallons of milk a year between 1801 and 1806. (fn. 18) In 1813 artificial, Dutch, and rye grasses were grown in the parish, 30 a. of flax in 1816, and 25½ a. of flax on Sheepham moor in 1817 when 67½ a. of potatoes were tithed in the parish. (fn. 19) There were 74 a. of water meadow on the Court Barton estate in 1825, over a third of the acreage. (fn. 20)
The moors by the Tone, Creech and Langaller Heathfields, and other small areas of common and waste totalling 200 a. were inclosed under an award of 1814. (fn. 21) By the 1820s the newly inclosed moors were growing crops of wheat and beans, and wheat was grown on Creech Heathfield. (fn. 22) The tithe award of 1839 recorded 1,137 a. of arable out of 2,152 a. (fn. 23)
Landholding was fragmented by the division of the manor in the 16th century (fn. 24) and there were few compact farms apart from the old freeholds at Walford and Charlton and the Court Barton estate. In 1839 only 26 holdings were over 25 a. and only 8 over 50 a. The largest farms were Charlton House farm (124 a.), Court Barton (146 a.), and Charlton farm (149 a.). (fn. 25) There was, however, some consolidation during the 19th century. The Coombe family of Charlton were farmers and graziers and bought several estates. (fn. 26) In 1813 they had over 168 a. in Creech (fn. 27) and George Coombe's estates in the parish and elsewhere were worth about £15,000 of which £1,200 was in livestock. (fn. 28) By 1839 the Coombe holdings covered nearly 200 a. and in 1851 George Coombe (d. c. 1857) farmed 250 a. in Charlton, having bought part of Charlton farm in 1846. (fn. 29) In 1881 his son George was farming 401 a. and employing 16 labourers. (fn. 30) George Coombe (d. 1929) held the largest farms in the parish at Charlton and Court Barton. (fn. 31) During the late 19th century the size of the other farms increased: 6 were over 100 a. by 1851, (fn. 32) and 8 by 1871 of which 2 were over 200 a., but the number of labourers declined. (fn. 33) Court Barton employed fewer hands in 1881 than 10 years earlier although the acreage had increased and on at least one other farm employment had halved. (fn. 34)
Drainage was poor and divided ownership inhibited improvement. On Charlton farm before 1834 several large fields were flooded every winter and one year in seven summer floods destroyed half the produce. (fn. 35) Improvements in the late 19th century alleviated sheep rot, though reducing the number of snipe. (fn. 36) An agricultural society for Creech and neighbouring parishes was set up in the 1880s to encourage skilled labour; ploughing and shearing matches were held at Court Barton and Walford, and an annual dinner was given. (fn. 37) By 1905 more land was under grass and only 769 a. were arable, (fn. 38) a figure which had declined still further to 182 ha. (c. 450 a.) in 1982. (fn. 39) Nurseries and market gardens were established, mainly at Creech Heathfield, in the later 19th century. (fn. 40) During the 20th century orchards were established at Charlton, growing apples, pears, plums, damsons, and soft fruit. (fn. 41) In 1982 two specialist fruit farms covered c. 25 ha. (62 a.). The main crops were wheat and winter and spring barley. There was no further consolidation of farms, most of which specialized in dairying and stock rearing. There were 758 cattle, 445 sheep, 345 poultry, and 34 pigs. (fn. 42)
Mills and fishery
A mill at Creech in 1086 (fn. 43) presumably descended with the manor. By the mid 16th century there were two distinct mills, Creech mills and North End mill. Creech mills, also called Philberds or Filberts mills, on the Tone near Creech Bridge, (fn. 44) were probably a pair of mills under one roof. William Knapman sold a half share in two mills to Lawrence Radford in 1578; (fn. 45) in 1585 Henry Shattock and Nicholas Harris sold to Lawrence what was described as three water mills but was probably the other half share. (fn. 46) Lawrence's son Arthur sold the mill with the manor to Robert Cuffe in 1598. (fn. 47) Creech mill descended with the Court Barton estate until 1816. (fn. 48) By 1831 the mill building had doubled in size and a long extension, probably the cottages surviving in 1984, had been built along the river bank. (fn. 49) In 1861 and 1866 the miller was also a seed and manure merchant (fn. 50) and by 1872 milling had ceased. (fn. 51) The river was divided by an island; the northern branch serving as a mill pond was called the Creech river. The other branch, with a lock and towpath, was a navigable waterway called the Ham river. (fn. 52) By 1984 flood prevention schemes had closed the northern branch, leaving the mill without water. The early 19th-century mill house and the mill have been converted to residential use.
North End mill, probably the Creech customary mill, seems to be the mill of which William Knapman sold half to the elder Robert Cuffe in 1558 (fn. 53) and Henry Shattock sold half to Robert Seager, possibly in trust for Robert Cuffe, in 1584; at his death in 1593 Cuffe owned the customary mill. (fn. 54) North End mill descended with the Court Barton estate until 1710 or later but by 1731 was again part of Creech manor. (fn. 55) The miller bought one third of the mill from the lord in 1788 (fn. 56) and the remainder before 1800. (fn. 57) The mill was still in use, converted to steam, in 1906 but probably closed soon afterwards. (fn. 58) In the 1920s it was used as a carpenter's shop and for making cider. (fn. 59) The mill, on the stream at North End, has been partly demolished and the pond filled in. The main building has been converted into flats.
Oil mills were recorded on the North End stream in the late 18th century, presumably producing linseed oil from flax. (fn. 60)
The Tone fishery was recorded in 1086 (fn. 61) and probably descended with the manor. Sir Thomas Wyatt let it to John Cuffe (d. 1557), (fn. 62) and William Knapman sold it to Robert Cuffe in 1559. (fn. 63) Freeholders may have had fishing rights, and Edward Cely the younger had a boat at Charlton worth 30s. in 1677. (fn. 64) Fishing rights were sold with the manor in 1767 (fn. 65) and were retained until 1908 or later. (fn. 66)
Trade and industry
Goods brought up the river Tone between the 17th and 19th centuries were usually landed at Coal Harbour or at Ham Mills in North Curry, formerly the upper tidal limit. The Bobbett family imported coal through Coal Harbour from the early 17th century. (fn. 67) Tolls proposed by the Tone Conservators after 1698 brought objections from importers of coal, culm, and salt to Devon, Dorset, and South Somerset, who feared that prices would rise. Coal Harbour then regularly served towns and villages in a 20-mile radius; two Devon villages imported 1,800 lb. of culm each year for limeburning, and dyers and maltsters at Bridport (Dors.) used coal landed there. (fn. 68) Among the traders there from 1714 was a salt merchant of Bewdley (Worcs.). (fn. 69)
Over 40 boatmen petitioned unsuccessfully against the imposition of tolls, (fn. 70) and in 1717 tolls were paid at Coal Harbour on about 800 boatloads of coal and 200 tons of general cargo. The amount of toll collected suggests a decline in volume of trade during the 18th century, and from the 1780s merchants were beginning to use other sites along the river for landing coal and timber. (fn. 71) Most business by the early 1830s had been transferred to Ham Mills, (fn. 72) but still in 1878 the tenant at Coal Harbour was one of the two principal toll payers on the river. (fn. 73)
The Bridgwater and Taunton canal, opened in 1827, took business from the river, and the canal company obtained control of river trade in 1832. (fn. 74) By 1839 a coal wharf and timber yard were established near the canal bridge in Creech village. (fn. 75) The canal company was in turn bought out by the railway company in 1866, but no goods yard was built in the parish. (fn. 76)
In the later 17th century spinning, weaving, and dyeing were all done in the parish: one man in 1677 had a comb shop, over 166 lb. of yarn, 100 lb. of wool out in 'spinning houses', yarn out with weavers, pieces of finished cloth, and dyestuffs. (fn. 77) There is not much evidence of clothmaking in the 18th century. Silkweavers were recorded between 1843 and 1871, (fn. 78) and a few glovemakers in the later 19th century. (fn. 79) In the late 17th century there were two families of tanners, (fn. 80) and in 1695 a shop sold fruit, spice, and silk tape. (fn. 81) In 1821 only 26 families out of 166 were not employed in agriculture. (fn. 82) By 1851 there were several shopkeepers and dealers. (fn. 83) Small manufacturers in the late 19th century included basketmakers, one of whom employed two others, a matmaker, cabinet makers, and pipemakers, and there was a gas fitter. (fn. 84) There was a small brewery by the canal in 1831 (fn. 85) and in 1851 there were several maltsters in the parish. (fn. 86) A lemonade manufacturer was recorded in 1866. (fn. 87) A brickyard at the eastern end of Bull Street was open in 1851 making bricks and drainage pipes, (fn. 88) and in the 1870s bricks and tiles. (fn. 89) The yard had closed by 1904. (fn. 90)
A paper mill, opened west of Creech village in 1875, produced writing, cartridge, and fine printing paper. (fn. 91) In 1881 it employed 140 men and women as rag cutters, grass sorters, washers, labourers, firemen and engine drivers, machine boys, a blacksmith, and beaters. (fn. 92) New machinery was installed in 1948 to produce a wider variety of papers (fn. 93) including by the later 20th century 'bulky' papers for books and lighter paper for stationery and advertising literature. The mill, owned by the British Printing and Communications Corporation and employing 62 people, closed in 1982. (fn. 94) The building was later acquired by Taunton Deane borough council to house small industries.
In 1269 Montacute priory was granted a Tuesday market at Creech and a three-day fair around the feast of St. Matthew (21 Sept.). (fn. 95) The priory's 14th-century copy of the charter gives the date of the fair as St. Augustine's day (26 May). (fn. 96) There is no evidence that markets or fairs were ever held.