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 parish was divided into a number of tithings. The borough was possibly the tithing of North Petherton recorded in 1242-3, and was later represented by Denizen or Town Denizen tithing. (fn. 1) Buckland fee tithing was also recorded in 1242-3 as the Hospitallers' jurisdiction. (fn. 2) Newton Plecy tithing, apparently the same as North Newton and in Freemanors hundred, (fn. 3) was recorded in 1396 along with Huntworth and West Newton tithings. Shearston, Tuckerton (sometimes Tuckerton and Hedging), and Woolmersdon tithings were recorded from the early 15th century. (fn. 4) The part of North Petherton village that was in Andersfield hundred in the 1670s (fn. 5) probably formed a separate tithing then as in 1841 when it was known as Petherton limit. (fn. 6) Tithings called Moorland and Bankland had been formed by 1766, (fn. 7) following the growth of settlement in North moor.
North moor was administered by a moorward until the end of the 18th century. (fn. 8) Henry of Erleigh, lord of North Petherton, granted the hereditary office of moorward to Philip Maunsel in the mid 13th century. (fn. 9) The office, held with Maunsel manor, was usually exercised by deputy, who accounted for issues of the moor, collected grazing rents, and presumably supervised the regular chase or drive of the moor. (fn. 10)
A borough court, described as a portmote between 1308 and 1331, (fn. 11) and later simply as a court, was held monthly in the 1390s, (fn. 12) but no reference to it has been found after 1399. A portreeve was in office in 1293 (fn. 13) and from 1299 until 1399 or later two borough reeves. (fn. 14) In the 1390s there was also a catchpole. (fn. 15)
Court rolls for the inner (intrinsecus) hundred or the manor of North Petherton survive for the years 1296, 1332-3, 1349-50, 1382, 1389-90, 1397-8, 1401, 1417, 1420, 1431-3, 1484, (fn. 16) and for 1653. (fn. 17) Seven sessions were held in 1293-4, (fn. 18) and between 10 and 14 each year in the period 1386-9. (fn. 19) Leets with view of frankpledge were held twice a year. The officers of the court were a bailiff and a clerk shared with the foreign hundred, and in 1397-8 an aletaster. (fn. 20) Business included civil pleas, tenures, and orders for roads, bridges, and rhynes, and the court maintained a pillory and held prisoners. (fn. 21) There was a court house in 1290. A new hall was built there in 1304-5, part of which was let in 1328-9. (fn. 22) Courts leet for the inner hundred were held each autumn between 1767 and 1779. The court appointed constables and tithingmen, and presentments included encroachments on manorial waste and the lord's failure to erect gateposts and to maintain stocks and pillory. (fn. 23)
Each part of Newton manor seems to have exercised leet jurisdiction. A record of one meeting for Newton Plecy survives for 1398. (fn. 24) A court was held in the 'largest and fittest lower room' at Parker's Field in the 17th century. (fn. 25) A court was also held for Newton Wroth manor, usually twice a year in the 1630s. (fn. 26) By the 18th century Newton Wroth and Newton Regis were administered together, and shared a court leet every other year, alternating with the court for Newton Chantry and sharing some profits and a pound. (fn. 27)
Court rolls for Newton Chantry manor survive for various years between 1453 and 1610, (fn. 28) for 1613-38, (fn. 29) 1661-5, (fn. 30) and for most years 1689- 1864. (fn. 31) There are presentments for every alternate year from 1794 to 1864. (fn. 32) In the mid 15th century the leet, view of frankpledge, and halimote were held twice a year, the halimote on the same day as the presentment of the homage but separately from it. In the 18th century only the leet and view were held, and by the end of the century presentments were made every other year. (fn. 33) A court baron for property transactions was held by the vicars choral at Wells twice a year in the 17th century. (fn. 34) The leet appointed tithingmen and reeves in the 15th century, (fn. 35) and surveyors were recorded in 1589 and 1619. (fn. 36) In the 18th century two constables assisted the reeve and tithingmen, then chosen in rotation by tenement. (fn. 37) A pound keeper was appointed in 1816 and a hayward from 1826. In the 15th century courts dealt with breaches of assizes and nuisances. In the 16th and 17th centuries the court made orders to control animals, prevent flooding, and repair buildings and hedges. In the 16th century the vicars choral of Wells, as lords of the manor, were said to have built an alehouse and stables for holding court, and they provided stocks, cucking stool, and pillory. (fn. 38) A reeve's dinner was held at Michaelmas 1661. (fn. 39) By the 18th century tenants of ten holdings in rotation provided accommodation for the court. (fn. 40)
Court rolls for Chadmead manor survive for various years between 1441 and 1485. The court normally met once a year, at Michaelmas or in early summer. Officers included a steward, bailiff, and rent collector. (fn. 41) There is a record of one court for Hulkshay in 1511. (fn. 42) The manors of Huntworth and Buckland Fee were administered together by the 18th century but court rolls survive only for 1728. The court appointed a tithingman for Buckland Fee and the leet jury were entitled to a dinner or 4d. in lieu. Buckland Fee had its own pound. (fn. 43) In 1611 a court for the Halswells' manors of West Melcombe and Moorland was held with that for Woolmersdon and Hadworthy. (fn. 44) Rhode and Shearston shared manorial officers but each had its own homage and records. Court rolls survive for 1519, 1530, (fn. 45) 1553-4, (fn. 46) 1559, and 1562-72, (fn. 47) and the court dealt with property transactions and nuisances. (fn. 48) For West Newton manor copies of court rolls survive from 1558, 1619, and 1631 (fn. 49) and a court was held in 1798. (fn. 50) There was a pound at West Newton in 1800. (fn. 51) At Woolmersdon the Pokeswells employed a steward in 1445-6. (fn. 52) The Halswells and their heirs held courts for their share of the manor of Woolmersdon and Hadworthy during the 17th and 18th centuries: in 1611 a court was held jointly with courts for Moorland and West Melcombe. Each manor had its own jury and a separate record. (fn. 53) Rolls for the court baron of the Verneys' manor of Woolmersdon survive for 1382, 1508, 1511, and 1516. (fn. 54) There were manorial courts from the 16th to the 18th century for Buckland Sororum, Chadmead, (fn. 55) and the Sydenhams' manor of North Petherton. (fn. 56) Suit of court was owed by tenants of Clavelshay, (fn. 57) Maunsel, (fn. 58) West Melcombe, where courts were held twice a year, (fn. 59) three of the Moorland estates, (fn. 60) and Shearston Chantry. (fn. 61) A court was held twice a year for Stamfordlands manor in the 17th century (fn. 62) and Bankland tenants attended a court at Lyng 1741-6. (fn. 63)
A forest court or swanimote was held for Petherton park twice a year and there are court rolls for 1396-8 and 1400. (fn. 64) The court had two verderers, four foresters, and a jury of regarders. The court was attended by the moorward of North moor and the tithingmen and their attendants from Huntworth, Newton Plecy, West Newton, Durston, and Lyng. (fn. 65)
Strong parochial administration emerged in the 17th century when the parish was divided between Town, South, and Moorland each with its own officers. There were three churchwardens until the 19th century, assisted by three sidesmen, (fn. 66) and normally three overseers. (fn. 67) The division of the parish into three was used by the waywardens in the 17th century, but between then and the early 19th century the waywardens reorganized their areas three times. (fn. 68) In 1843 the parish appointed 22 constables for 11 divisions. (fn. 69) An Easter vestry had been established by 1671, (fn. 70) and in 1718 a parish meeting held in the chancel of the parish church drew up a list of orders for parish government, church maintenance, and poor relief. Among particular concerns were unlicensed alehouses, strangers, unemployed dependents, and drunkenness on and around May Day. (fn. 71) By the early 19th century the vestry met about four times a year and additionally to bind out apprentices. In 1811 a clerk was appointed, in 1816 an inspector-general of accounts, and in 1819 an assistant overseer. (fn. 72) By 1823 a select vestry was formed. (fn. 73) In 1846 a collector of taxes was employed and in 1850 the salaries of officers including the sexton and the clerk were burdensome and had to be reduced. (fn. 74) A burial board was appointed in 1855 after the virtual closure of the churchyard, (fn. 75) and Heathfield cemetery was opened in 1856. (fn. 76) A police station was established in 1860. (fn. 77) A parish council, created in 1894, met in private and appointed overseers and waywardens. (fn. 78) Parish meetings discussed general concerns such as street lighting and the council set up committees for lighting and firefighting. In 1912 fire inspectors were appointed and in 1917 a corps of firemen was established for Moorland and Somerset Bridge. (fn. 79) A town council, headed by a town mayor, replaced the parish council in 1974.
Poor relief in the 18th century divided regular recipients, described as in the calendar, from the rest. (fn. 80) The vestry in 1718 attempted to reduce costs by fixing maximum prices for supplies and funerals and by refusing to employ a surgeon except for fractures 'or such extraordinary occasion'. (fn. 81) Money was given in 1625 and 1698 towards building a workhouse, (fn. 82) and one was built in 1737-8, probably in High Street near Tappers Lane. (fn. 83) Until then the only lodging for paupers was probably the former church house, (fn. 84) known by 1709 as the poorhouse. It was evidently rebuilt, on the same site west of the church, in 1720, and was maintained by the wardens and overseers. (fn. 85) It was apparently abandoned after 1738. In the 18th century inmates of the workhouse were supplied with a wide variety of food, fuel, and clothing, and kept a pig. (fn. 86) In the early 19th century the governor farmed the poor for a small salary and 3s. 6d. per head a day. (fn. 87) In 1831 the workhouse was enlarged to house the assistant overseer, (fn. 88) and from 1836 to 1838, following the creation of the Bridgwater poor-law union, it was used as an annexe, where inmates were allegedly ill-treated, and for illegitimate children. (fn. 89) It may have been sold after 1838 (fn. 90) and by 1851 it was divided into nine dwellings. (fn. 91) It may have been the almshouse recorded in 1871. (fn. 92)
The parish became part of the Bridgwater rural district in 1894 and of Sedgemoor district in 1974. (fn. 93)