Pawlett: Economic history

Pages 273-275

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 four estates were together assessed at 5 ploughlands, and there were 5 teams on the demesnes compared with half that number on the tenants' holdings. Only 25 a. of meadow were recorded and no woodland nor pasture. Stock comprised 24 cattle, 67 pigs, and 83 sheep. (fn. 1) Parts of the low-lying Hams were grazed in common after haymaking by the mid 12th century (fn. 2) and by the 1330s Stretcholt tithing, which included much of the grassland in the north part of the parish, was one of the most highly taxed places in the hundred. (fn. 3) In the 1390s the master of St. Mark's hospital, Bristol, kept peacocks on his estate. (fn. 4) In the 1490s the rectory estate produced wheat, oats, and beans, and tenants rendered each year 300 hens eggs, 200 stone of cheese, cattle, young pigs, poultry, and geese. (fn. 5) A quarter of the vicarage income arose from wool and lambs. (fn. 6)

In 1259 St. Mark's hospital claimed it was unable to support the poor until its lands had recovered from flooding, (fn. 7) and c. 358 a. of the South Hams, south-west of Gaunt's Farm, were possibly brought into use in the later 13th century, the area being free of vicarial tithe, (fn. 8) but attempts to improve the land further north near Yearsey had been frustrated earlier. (fn. 9) In 1497 St. Augustine's abbey, Bristol, owners of the rectory, had to make 35 perches of Severn wall. (fn. 10) The warths, those grasslands between the defences and the coast or river bank, were reclaimed and drained from the later 16th century. (fn. 11) The reclaimed land was highly valued and in the early 17th century entry fines for leases of pasture in the Hams were between £8 and £21 an acre. (fn. 12) Embanking, sometimes after deliberate breaches to prevent more serious damage, continued (fn. 13) and new closes south of the Hams comprised 150 a. added to the parish because the river had 'gradually shifted its bed and receded westwards'. (fn. 14) A warth in the northwest of the parish was regularly flooded in the mid 17th century, (fn. 15) but a wall was built to protect Great Yearsey Marsh and a second wall was added further south possibly in the late 18th century to enclose land gained as a result of the blocking of the channel east of Humble Island. (fn. 16) The new land, improved by the tenant, was known by 1832 as Great and Little Wharf. (fn. 17) Pawlett Wharf, further east, and land at Walpole had similarly been drained and protected by the earlier 19th century. (fn. 18)

A farming inventory of 1696 recorded 4 dairy cows, 6 plough beasts, 7 calves, 4 mares in foal, 5 other horses, 53 sheep, at least 11 tons of hay, and 20 a. of wheat. (fn. 19) The Hams were usually let in blocks of between 40 a. and 100 a. but holdings elsewhere in the parish were scattered. One tenant with leases of 1697 and 1704 held a total of 58 a. most of it enclosed but about one sixth in the open arable fields; another tenant had 79 a. and a third 95 a. with smaller proportions of common arable. (fn. 20)

Each hamlet had its own open arable fields. Pawlett's north, south, and west fields were west of the village on the heavy clay of Pawlett Hill. (fn. 21) Smaller arable fields called Burhams and Bourdon fields lay south and north-east of the village. (fn. 22) Walpole had three fields, north, middle, and west, (fn. 23) the second divided and renamed by 1746 Churchpath and Little fields. (fn. 24) Grove field north of Stretcholt appears to have remained open arable in 1811. (fn. 25) The common arable fields were finally inclosed between the mid 18th century and 1838 beginning at Walpole and finishing in the fields south and west of Pawlett village. (fn. 26)

Pawlett common mead, east of Pawlett village, Walpole mead, and Stretcholt common mead provided each settlement with meadow, the first being shared with tenants from the two other manors. (fn. 27)

Dunball common in the south, partly in Puriton, was under salt water several times a year in the earlier 17th century, but changes in the course of the Parrett, improved drainage, and the construction of Dunball wall had increased the size of the common to at least 100 a. by 1707. (fn. 28) Grove Warth common, later Grove common, was a similar piece of common pasture west of Stretcholt. (fn. 29)

Clover was described as a new crop in 1711 and was mown twice, the second time to be kept for seed. (fn. 30) Wheat accounted for most of the arable crop on Pawlett Gaunts manor in 1810, followed by beans, vetches, clover and tares, and a small amount of barley. Several farmsteads then included dairies, and cider houses and a new apple orchard were recorded. (fn. 31) Withy beds were established at Stretcholt in the 18th century but of three beds recorded in 1838 one had been converted to orchard. (fn. 32) A new pound and sheep houses were ordered to be built on the Hams in 1777. (fn. 33) There were severe penalties for breaking pasture or meadow for tillage and in 1798 a man was charged with ploughing grassland for potatoes. (fn. 34)

By 1838 tithes were payable on 596 a. of arable, 1,734 a. of grass, and 62 a. of orchard, and a modus was paid on milk. Most holdings were less than 50 a. and many of those consisted of a single large field in the Hams. Ten holdings measured between 50 a. and 100 a. and 7 between 100 a. and 150 a. (fn. 35) Holdings were consolidated especially on Lord de Mauley's estates; by 1851 9 farmers worked more than 100 a. of whom 3 had more than 200 a. but none employed more than 4 labourers. (fn. 36) Lord de Mauley's agent later admitted that he had got rid of the smaller tenants and divided the farmhouses into cottages to house men employed to look after stock on the Hams. (fn. 37) From 1861 several farms were described as dairy farms and specialized labour included dairy men and maids. In 1871 3 farms of over 200 a. employed c. 29 labourers; by 1881 the number of labourers had fallen although one farm which had increased to 400 a. had 16 labourers. (fn. 38)

The Hams remained separate from the farms and were let annually from 1857. Fluctuations in livestock prices affected rents which fell by nearly half between 1871 and 1881. In 1879 1,700 a. in the Hams were let for £6,258. (fn. 39) By 1905 arable land had decreased to 357 a. and 2,794 a. were under permanent grass. (fn. 40) The de Mauleys owned most of the parish by 1920, with a rental of £14,235 a year of which £11,000 came from letting their 1,451 a. in the Hams. Most farms by that date specialized in grazing and dairying and Walpole Farm included two cheese rooms. (fn. 41) Grassland farming continued to be practised in the 1980s, and there were 7 farms over 50 ha. (124 a.). Returns made in 1982 for three quarters of the parish recorded 1,328 cattle, 1,271 sheep, 731 pigs, and 183 poultry. The main arable crops were wheat and barley, but potatoes were grown and some horticultural crops under glass. (fn. 42) In the 1920s and 1930s the West Somerset Nursery in Pound Lane had specialized in sweet peas. (fn. 43)

Alternative occupations included clothmaking in the 17th century (fn. 44) and fishing, mainly for salmon, in the 18th. The fisheries were associated with the Clifford estate at Yearsey (fn. 45) and Black Rock at West Stretcholt. (fn. 46) By the mid 19th century the de Mauleys claimed three sites in the river at Pawlett, Cannington, and Black Rock where four men had 1,000 putchers or butts, conical baskets for catching salmon. Between 1868 and 1873 the number of licensed butts fell from 1,360 to 450. The decline was blamed on the damming of Cannington brook which prevented salmon from reaching their spawning ground and on the shrimp putts which consisted of three baskets of diminishing size. Shrimp were valuable but the putts and hose nets used to catch them also took fry and other young fish. (fn. 47) Between 1841 and 1871 there were 6 to 8 fishermen in the parish (fn. 48) and 5 fishermen and 2 fish dealers in 1881. (fn. 49) Salmon putchers remained in the river in 1920 and were sold with the de Mauley estate. (fn. 50)

In the 16th and 17th centuries wine, coal, and timber were landed, probably at Pawlett reach or pill, (fn. 51) and a Pawlett merchant owned three ships and a share in a fourth between 1795 and 1819. (fn. 52) There were berthing facilities in 1861 and a boatbuilder was in business. (fn. 53)

Before the 19th century bricks may have been made in the wet land east of the village and in the Hams. (fn. 54) Thomas Parker began brickmaking on the river bank south of the church shortly before 1810 (fn. 55) and by 1826 the site comprised brickyard, coalyard, counting house, and cottage. (fn. 56) In 1829 the yard was bought by Lady Barbara Ashley-Cooper's trustees. (fn. 57) In 1859 it was run by Browne and Co. and by 1894 belonged to the Somerset Trading Co. (fn. 58) By 1851 25 workers made brick and tile there (fn. 59) and by 1881 there were 33 brickyard workers in the parish including a foreman and an engine driver. Gaunt's Farm was converted into cottages for labourers and Browne's Buildings, a row of 15 houses, later called Mount View, were built by the company to house workers. (fn. 60) By 1886 the brickyard site comprised many buildings, ponds, cottages, and two landing stages. (fn. 61) The yard was last recorded in 1894 (fn. 62) and the kilns and associated buildings had been demolished by 1904 although the landing stages remained. (fn. 63) In 1909 the claypits were said to be exhausted and the land was converted to a small farm. (fn. 64) By 1986 only one row of five cottages remained with the farmhouse and an outbuilding converted from part of the oldest brickyard building. The large water-filled pits were used by an angling club and the remains of a wharf and jetty could be seen.

A mill recorded on Pawlett Gaunts manor in 1377 was probably the windmill called Alderigge mill in 1528. (fn. 65) A windmill was mentioned until 1696. (fn. 66) It stood on a mound east of Mill Batch field on Pawlett Hill. (fn. 67) Mill Moot in South Field in 1647 (fn. 68) may represent an earlier site or another mill. A windmill was recorded on the Newports' manor of Pawlett in 1604. (fn. 69) A windmill was used to pump fresh water from Cannington under the Parrett into the rhynes in the late 19th century. (fn. 70)

In 1257 Henry de Gaunt, master of St. Mark's hospital, Bristol, was granted a three-day fair at the feast of the Decollation of St. John the Baptist (29 Aug.). (fn. 71) There is no further record of this fair but in the early 19th century a cattle fair was held on the last Monday in August. (fn. 72) An additional fair was held on the last Monday in October, said to be one of the most considerable cattle fairs in the west of England in 1860, when 300 graziers, farmers, and stock dealers petitioned for its retention. (fn. 73) It was last recorded in 1888. (fn. 74)


  • 1. V.C.H. Som. i. 497, 499.
  • 2. S.R.S. xi, p. 151.
  • 3. Subsidy of 1334, ed. R.E. Glasscock, 260.
  • 4. S.R.O., DD/SAS NP 12.
  • 5. Accts. of St. Augustine's, pp. 7, 35.
  • 6. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i. 212.
  • 7. Cart. St. Mark's, p. 10.
  • 8. H.M.C. Wells, i. 389; S.R.O., tithe award.
  • 9. S.R.S. xi, p. 166.
  • 10. Accts. of St. Augustine's, p. 35.
  • 11. M. Williams, Draining of Som. Levels, 94.
  • 12. Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MSS., E/S 219.
  • 13. S.R.O., DD/MLY 6-7; D/RA (C/2259); Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MSS., E/A 42, 127, 144; L 79; LE 1001; Williams, Som. Levels, 94.
  • 14. S.R.O., tithe award.
  • 15. Ibid. D/RA (C/2259).
  • 16. Ibid. DD/CH 70/4; Williams, Som. Levels, 94. Also called the Island.
  • 17. S.R.O., DD/CH 70/4; Clifford MSS., Som. estate, 1805.
  • 18. S.R.O., DD/MLY 12; ibid. tithe award.
  • 19. S.R.O., DD/SP inventory, 1696.
  • 20. Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MSS., E/S 16, 219; LE 1001-2.
  • 21. S.R.O., T/PH/ea map 1780.
  • 22. Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MSS., map 1658; S.R.O., T/PH/ea map 1780.
  • 23. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 218.
  • 24. Ibid. DD/ARN 12.
  • 25. Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MSS., map 1658; S.R.O., DD/MLY 1.
  • 26. S.R.O., DD/ARN 12; DD/MLY 6; DD/SAS (H/202) 4; ibid. tithe award.
  • 27. Ibid. DD/MLY 3; DD/NW 63.
  • 28. Ibid. D/RA (C/2259); DD/MLY 6; DD/S/WH 133.
  • 29. Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MSS., map 1658; S.R.O., T/PH/ea map 1780.
  • 30. Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MSS., E/T 61.
  • 31. S.R.O., DD/MLY 6.
  • 32. Ibid. 1; DD/X/BRC 10; ibid. tithe award.
  • 33. Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MSS., E/C 32.
  • 34. Ibid. M 209; S.R.O., DD/AH 20/5.
  • 35. S.R.O., tithe award.
  • 36. P.R.O., HO 107/1925.
  • 37. Rep. Com. Employment in Agric. p. 483, H.C. (1868-9), xiii.
  • 38. P.R.O., RG 9/1626, RG 10/2390, RG 11/2377.
  • 39. Williams, Som. Levels, 214; Taunton Courier, 1 Feb. 1860; W. Som. Free Press, 29 Mar. 1879.
  • 40. Statistics suppled by the then Bd. of Agric. 1905.
  • 41. S.R.O., DD/KW 4.
  • 42. Min. of Agric., Fisheries, and Food, agric. returns, 1982.
  • 43. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1923-39); local inf.
  • 44. S.R.O., Q/SR 21/77.
  • 45. Clifford MSS., Som. estate, acct. 1770-1, 1795-6, c. 1808; S.R.O., DD/CH 70/3-4; D/RA 5/1.
  • 46. S.R.O., DD/X/BRC 9; DD/MLY 11.
  • 47. Ibid. D/RA 5/1-2.
  • 48. P.R.O., HO 107/953, HO 107/1925; ibid. RG 9/1626, RG 10/2390.
  • 49. Ibid. RG 11/2377.
  • 50. S.R.O., DD/KW 4.
  • 51. Ibid. D/B/bw 1463, 1480, 1504, 1513, 1515.
  • 52. Ibid. DD/FA 11/1-2.
  • 53. P.R.O., RG 9/1626.
  • 54. S.R.O., T/PH/ea map 1780; ibid. tithe award; Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MSS., E/C 32.
  • 55. S.R.O., DD/MLY 8.
  • 56. Ibid. D/P/pawl 13/1/1.
  • 57. Ibid. DD/MLY 8.
  • 58. P.O. Dir. Som. (1859); Kelly's Dir. Som. (1894).
  • 59. P.R.O., HO 107/953, HO 107/1925.
  • 60. Ibid. RG 11/2377.
  • 61. O.S. Map 6", Som. XXXVIII. SE. (1886 edn.).
  • 62. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1894).
  • 63. O.S. Map 1/2, 500, Som. XXXVIII. 15 (1904 edn.).
  • 64. S.R.O., D/R/bw 15/3/21, 22/1/6.
  • 65. Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MSS., M 205; LE 995.
  • 66. Ibid. E/S 9, 12, 220.
  • 67. S.R.O., tithe award; Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MSS., map 1658.
  • 68. Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MSS., LE 995, 1001.
  • 69. P.R.O., CP 25(2)/345/2 Jas. I East.
  • 70. S.R.O., DD/KW 11.
  • 71. Cal. Chart. R. 1226-57, 472.
  • 72. Som. Co. Gaz. Dir. (1840).
  • 73. S.R.O., DD/MLY 12; P.O. Dir. Som. (1861).
  • 74. Rep. Com. Market Rights and Tolls (1889).