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 large parish of North Petherton (fn. 1) lies between the river Parrett, from which it takes its name, (fn. 2) and the lower slopes of the Quantocks. It measures 10 km. from east to west at its widest point, and 7km. from north to south. It contains the large village of North Petherton, with North Newton village 1.5 km. to the south-east and Moorland or Northmoor Green 3 km. to the east. There are c. 14 other hamlets, of which Huntworth, 2 km. north-east, and Woolmersdon 0.5 km. north-west are the largest, and several farmsteads besides scattered houses and cottages. In 1886 land in the south and east was transferred to Lyng and Weston Zoyland leaving 10,484 a. (fn. 3) In 1933 St. Michaelchurch civil parish (46 a.) and 247 a. of Bridgwater Without civil parish were added, while 194 a. were transferred to Bridgwater Without. (fn. 4) In 1981, following minor changes in 1952, the civil parish measured 4,275 ha. (10,563 a.). (fn. 5)
The north-eastern boundary of the parish probably followed the Parrett's eastern branch, abandoned apparently in the 16th century for the western branch, leaving land beyond Moorland isolated across the river. Similar but smaller areas, such as Old River Ground, (fn. 6) were the result of deliberate straightening. The southeastern boundary follows the probable earlier course of the river Tone, which was diverted in 1374-5. (fn. 7) The whole alluvial area is occupied by moor land known as Hay moor to the north, Little moor and Horlake moor around Moorland, and North moor in the south. The eastern third of the parish lies below the 15-m. contour on alluvium, with an 'island' of Burtle Beds occupied by the hamlet of Moorland, a small area of peat near Northmoor Corner, and beside the river some clay, used in brick and tile manufacture. (fn. 8)
Most of the remainder of the parish, rising from 15 m. to 46 m., is on Keuper marl and river deposits giving way further west to sandstone, with alluvium in the extreme north at Stock moor. (fn. 9) Quarrying took place at several sites, (fn. 10) and there is some evidence of lime burning near Shearston, south of Maunsel, and on the road from North Petherton to North Newton. (fn. 11) In the west, where the land rises steeply from 46 m. to 183 m. on the Quantocks, the parish occupies a ridge of Morte slates which falls steeply at King's Cliff to the stream which there forms the parish's northern boundary. Quarrying at King's Cliff had begun by the 14th century when a Langport slater worked there. (fn. 12) The quarry was regularly used in the 18th (fn. 13) and 19th centuries, (fn. 14) and gravel and sand were also extracted in the area in the 1960s. (fn. 15)
The principal route through the parish joined Bridgwater to Taunton. It entered the parish at Reed Bridge and crossed Stock moor by a causeway, created by 1603 and probably by 1502. (fn. 16) Until c. 1821 the road followed a tortuous route through North Petherton village. (fn. 17) From the village the main route to Taunton led via Farringdon and Shearston to Thurloxton, (fn. 18) but the present line was adopted by 1730 when it was turnpiked. (fn. 19) A second important route ran by the early 17th century along the Parrett bank linking Huntworth with Northmoor Green and Burrow Bridge. (fn. 20) The general direction of the Bridgwater-Taunton road was followed further south by the M5 motorway, opened in 1975.
A similar route, following the 15-m. contour, was taken by the Bridgwater and Taunton canal, opened in 1827. (fn. 21) From a basin beside the Parrett north of Huntworth it crossed the parish through four locks. (fn. 22) Cottages and stables were built around the basin, and several other cottages near Huntworth beside the canal. In 1841 the basin was abandoned and filled in when the canal was extended into Bridgwater. The Bristol-Exeter railway between Bridgwater and Taunton entered the parish where it crossed the Parrett by Somerset Bridge and followed the canal route. The stone bridge, designed by I. K. Brunel, was replaced before the line was opened in 1844 by a laminated timber structure on stone abutments which was in turn replaced in 1904 by a steel girder structure. (fn. 23) The bridge gave its name to a settlement which spread between canal and river around the brickyards and later included a school and a chapel. (fn. 24)
Evidence of mesolithic occupation has been found near North Newton and of Romano-British settlement at two sites near North Newton and one near West Newton. (fn. 25) North Petherton village, apparently established no earlier than the 10th century, (fn. 26) was probably the main focus of settlement in 1066 as the site of a minster church. (fn. 27) A second, pre-Conquest focus may have been St. Michaelchurch, by 1066 independent. In relation to St. Michaelchurch, North and West Newton were so named by the late 14th century, and Tuckerton was called Tokar Newton in the 13th century. (fn. 28) Other pre-Conquest holdings were at Melcombe, Shearston, and Shovel, which may have been single farmsteads in the Quantock foothills in the west; Hadworthy and Woolmersdon were farmsteads on the edge of moorland in the north; and Huntworth, perhaps in a woodland clearing, occupied a site just above the flood level of the Parrett in the north-east. (fn. 29) By the late 13th century more sites had been occupied around the margins of Stock moor in the north (fn. 30) and on the northern edges of North moor in the south and east, including settlements at Bankland and Primmore. (fn. 31) Farms had also been established by then on marginal land in the Quantocks. (fn. 32) Some of these sites, including the Domesday settlement at Hadworthy and the hamlets of Ballcombe and Ernesham, probably shrank in the 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 33)
In contrast Moorland had spread by the early 17th century from the gravel 'island' beside the Parrett along the river bank north and south towards Huntworth and Burrow Bridge, and along the droves into the moor. Moorland House or Court, which retains at its south end the plan of a 17th-century three-roomed house, was extended northwards and westwards in the 18th century and it was largely refitted, extended further northwards, reroofed, refenestrated, and cased in red brick in the 19th century.
Huntworth became a nucleated hamlet containing several large 18th-century houses besides Huntworth House and Huntworth Park House. Huntworth House contains part of an older building at the south-west end which was remodelled and extended north-east and provided with a new staircase and drawing room c. 1830. Huntworth Park House was built in the mid 17th century but was greatly enlarged and altered in the 18th and 19th centuries. (fn. 34) Woolmersdon has houses dating from the 15th (fn. 35) to the 20th century, all of which lie away from the road except the 17th-century Orchard House and Woolmersdon House, built in the 1840s. Shearston is a scattered settlement mainly of 18th- and 19th- century houses. Chadmead, later Northmoor Corner, was an established squatter settlement by the late 18th century; (fn. 36) most of the houses appear to date from the 19th century but there are two older farmhouses towards North Newton called Coxhill and Turners, one of which is medieval, the other of the 17th century. (fn. 37) Bankland, further south and apparently more isolated, is on ground drained earlier, for of its two farmsteads one, Bankland Farm, is probably of the 16th century.
North Newton village appears to lie on a route from Clavelshay and the Quantocks to Petherton park. The church, there by the late 12th century, (fn. 38) occupies what may have been a green at the eastern end of the settlement. Routes to the north and south form a staggered crossroads at the centre of the village. Many of the surviving houses date from the 16th or the early 17th century. The Great House, rebuilt by Sir Thomas Wroth and his tenant c. 1671, has been altered but retains its 17th-century staircase and other features. (fn. 39)
North Petherton village seems to have developed around the church which stands on sloping ground above a stream. Land immediately west of the church which was settled before the mid 11th century had become a cemetery by 1302, but in the 15th century it reverted to domestic use. (fn. 40) The main street, north of the church, was probably known as High Street in the 17th century, (fn. 41) and later as Fore Street. It was lined by several inns and perhaps contained the shirehall (the use of which is unknown), court house, and guildhall in the 14th century. (fn. 42) The market place, possibly dating from the 14th century, (fn. 43) may have been on the north side of the church or further north-east between the present Clare and Queen Streets. South-west of the church is Hammet Street, perhaps in the 14th century Southbroke Street (fn. 44) and known as Hammer or Hammel Street in the 17th century. (fn. 45) Until the 19th century building was largely confined to those streets and a few adjoining them, Queen Street (formerly Back Street), Mill Street, the Newton road, High Street, Cliff Road, and Pilot's Elm or Helm. About 1821 the new Bridgwater road was built to provide a straighter route through the village; during the 19th century large suburban houses were built along it and houses were built on Tappers Lane west from Fore Street. (fn. 46)
In the 20th century houses were built north, south, and east of the village and by the 1970s the old orchards and gardens were largely obliterated. Most of the houses in the centre of the village appear to date from the 18th and the 19th century but a few have earlier features.
In the early 14th century there were two large open arable fields on the west side of the parish called Farringdon and Bulledones fields, (fn. 47) and there was an open field at North Newton called Brundon. (fn. 48) There were probably open fields which have not been recorded around other settlements. Landshares survived south of North Petherton village until the 18th century, small amounts of common arable at Woolmersdon in the late 18th century, (fn. 49) and strips north of North Newton in 1838. Common meadows lay near the moors at Broadmead and Chadmead west of North moor, and at Pontage, Haygrove, and Horlake east of it. (fn. 50) Several small meadows at Woolmersdon were held in common until the later 18th century. (fn. 51)
There were four main areas of common pasture, North moor, Heathfield, King's Cliff, and Stock moor, and smaller areas at South moor in King's Sedgemoor, Lent moor in North Newton, (fn. 52) and Hurdown near Shearston. Stock moor was shared between Woolmersdon and Hadworthy manors and Hamp in Bridgwater by the mid 13th century, (fn. 53) and was probably inclosed before the end of the 17th. (fn. 54) Heathfield was gradually divided and inclosed in the 16th and 17th centuries, (fn. 55) and Hurdown by c. 1654. (fn. 56) The remaining common pasture, nearly 1,500 a. and mainly in North moor, was inclosed in 1798. (fn. 57)
Petherton park, probably a detached remnant of the Saxon royal forest of Quantock, was held from 1086 with that part of North Newton which came to be known as Newton Forester manor. (fn. 58) In Henry II's reign the forest jurisdiction was extended beyond the park to include much of North Petherton parish and manors and hamlets in Durston, Lyng, Creech St. Michael, North Curry, and Stoke St. Gregory. The earlier park or forest boundaries were re-established in 1298. (fn. 59) The boundaries of the park were marked in the late 13th century by watercourses and later by the Park brook on the east and south, by Baymead on the west, and by Heathfield on the north. (fn. 60) The park may have been walled in the early 14th century (fn. 61) and was 4 miles in circumference. (fn. 62) Entrances were Fordgate, probably the same as Highfordgate, Huntworth gate, English's gate, probably at North Newton, and Heathfield gate. (fn. 63) The area was disafforested and disparked in the 17th century. (fn. 64)
There was a park at Newton by 1339. (fn. 65) It was probably divided with the manor (fn. 66) but later belonged to Newton Wroth manor. It lay south of North Newton church and had been divided and let by 1671. (fn. 67) A park north-west of Huntworth village had been formed by the 1580s, a mile in circumference. A small part of it remained parkland in the late 19th century. (fn. 68) A park was created north of Maunsel House in the early 19th century. (fn. 69)
In 1866-7 it was decided to establish a gas and coal company in the parish, (fn. 72) but no gas supply was provided and the street lighting recorded in 1896 appears to have been by gasolene lamps. (fn. 73) The North Petherton Gas and Carbide Co. produced acetylene gas between 1906 and 1931 for street and domestic lighting from October to March in premises in Mill Street. Street lighting was produced from dusk until 10 p.m. The spent carbide was used by farmers as fertilizer. Coal gas and electricity were supplied from Bridgwater from 1931. (fn. 74) A public library was opened in North Petherton in 1984 and a community centre west of the church c. 1988.
There were unlicensed alesellers in the parish in the 14th century, and 22 people were presented for breach of the assize of ale in 1349. (fn. 75) There was a tippler in 1594, a tippler and an innkeeper in 1619, (fn. 76) and an innholder in 1646. (fn. 77) Three alehouses, at Tuckerton, Primmore, and North moor, were suppressed in 1640 (fn. 78) but a 'multitude' still remained in 1647. (fn. 79) Between the 1650s and the early 18th century the number of licensed premises fluctuated between three and ten; (fn. 80) in 1686 they could between them provide 11 beds and stabling for 21 horses. (fn. 81) Among them were the George, in Fore Street, first named in 1619. (fn. 82) It was built in the early 17th century and altered probably in the later 19th century when an assembly room was added to achieve hotel status. (fn. 83) Monthly petty sessions were held there in the 19th century. (fn. 84) It was still in business in 1984 but closed shortly afterwards. The White Horse was recorded in 1676 (fn. 85) and the Anchor in 1699. (fn. 86) The Lion, mentioned in 1711, (fn. 87) may be the White Lion which was rebuilt before 1724 and was renamed the New Inn. (fn. 88) About 1897 the name was changed to the Clarence Hotel, (fn. 89) and c. 1978 to the Walnut Tree. The 18th-century inn, opposite the parish church in Fore Street, was extended in the 1930s (fn. 90) and again in the 1980s. The Nag's Head, possibly earlier the White Horse, was probably open in 1725. (fn. 91) It had closed by the later 18th century but the name survived until the 1830s. It stood in Fore Street west of the parish church. (fn. 92) The Swan, at the east side of the churchyard, was first recorded as an inn in 1727 although the building dates from the 17th century. (fn. 93) It had a fives court by 1838. (fn. 94) and an assembly room by 1898. (fn. 95) It was still open in 1990. The Harp was open between 1765 and 1786 (fn. 96) and may be the same as the Ring of Bells, Hammet Street, so named in 1840 and closed in 1924. (fn. 97) The Mitre, also in Hammet Street, had opened by 1798 and closed c. 1909. (fn. 98)
During the 19th century a number of public houses opened, including the Globe, still open in High Street in 1990, the Bird in Hand in Pound Street, the Royal Hotel in Back Lane, the William IV, the Lamb in Fore Street, open in 1990, and the Mason's Arms in Hammet Street. (fn. 99)
One or more inns at North Newton could provide three beds and stabling for three horses in 1686. (fn. 100) In 1688 there were three licensed victuallers there, (fn. 101) one of them probably at the Black Horse, recorded by name in 1711, and in business until the 1780s. (fn. 102) The Royal Oak, named in 1724, (fn. 103) was probably open between 1688 and 1779. (fn. 104) There were two unnamed beerhouses in 1851 and 1872, (fn. 105) but there is no later record of a public house in the village until the Harvest Moon was opened in 1962. (fn. 106)
There was a licensed victualler at Moorland in 1746, probably at the Fleur de Luce recorded from 1770 to 1786. (fn. 107) The Ferry Boat was open between 1838 and 1861 but probably closed shortly afterwards. (fn. 108) A second riverside house in 1851 may have been the later Thatcher's Arms, so named in 1871 (fn. 109) and in business in 1990.
The Bell near Whitestock on the Taunton road and the Compass inn on the Bridgwater road were both open by 1851. (fn. 110) The Compass remained open in 1990. The Malt and Hops at Somerset Bridge was opened before 1851 by Samuel Fursland at his brick and tile works and it remained open until 1937. (fn. 111) The Boat and Anchor was in business by 1871 in a row of bargemen's cottages near the canal between Somerset Bridge and Huntworth. Extensions and a skittle alley replaced most of the cottages, and the inn remained open in 1990. (fn. 112) The Royal Oak at Northmoor Corner, recorded from 1871, was closed in 1924. (fn. 113) The Fordgate tavern, open between 1871 and 1939, lay beside the railway north of a street of houses occupied mainly by railway workers. (fn. 114)
There was a friendly society in the 1790s which had a membership of 122 men in 1796. (fn. 115) Later known as the Old Blues, the club was still in existence in 1837. (fn. 116) In 1836 a new society was formed at the George inn by the vicar, James Toogood, and was known as the North Petherton friendly society. (fn. 117) In 1837 it was presented with a banner and had 74 members. Later in the century there were two clubs besides the Old Blues, known as the Tradesmen's and the Gentlemen's. (fn. 118) A penny club was founded in the 1830s to provide blankets for the poor. (fn. 119) A book club had been established by 1837 (fn. 120) and a reading room was open between 1861 and 1894. (fn. 121) The North Petherton carnival, held since 1950, attracts many visitors. (fn. 122)
There were 811 communicants in North Petherton in 1547 (fn. 123) and 236 households in the parish in 1563 including 13 at North Newton. (fn. 124) In 1667 nearly 320 people were recorded in North Newton tithing, which extended outside the parish. (fn. 125) The population of the parish was 2,346 in 1801 rising to 3,091 in 1821 and to 3,566 in 1831. Numbers reached a peak of 3,985 in 1871, falling gradually to 3,534 in 1901 and 3,179 in 1931. In 1933 the population of St. Michaelchurch and part of Bridgwater Without was added. (fn. 126) In 1981 there were 4,883 people in the civil parish. (fn. 127)
The poet Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400) was forester of Petherton park from 1391. (fn. 128) Tobias Venner, M.D. (1577-1660), who practised at North Petherton and, in the season, at Bath, was author of several medical works in the 1620s including an attack on tobacco and a book on the baths at Bath dedicated to Sir Francis Bacon. (fn. 129)
A skirmish between a royalist supply convoy and a parliamentary force took place in North Petherton in August 1644. (fn. 130)