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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'Wembdon', in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes), (London, 1992) pp. 323-325. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol6/pp323-325 [accessed 18 April 2024]


The main part of the ancient parish of Wembdon lay close to the town of Bridgwater on the north-west side. (fn. 1) A small part of it was within Bridgwater borough from 1835, (fn. 2) and the southeast corner has been increasingly occupied since the 1840s by the expanding suburbs of Bridgwater. North-east of the town a detached part of Wembdon parish, c. 170 a., (fn. 3) including Sydenham which gave its name to a medieval estate, lay between the Parrett and Horsey rhyne, much of its boundary formed by a curving ditch which may mark a former course of the river.

From 1 km. beyond the town's west gate the southern boundary of the main part of the parish ran for 3 km. west, first along the road to Wembdon village and then along a hedge, part of which may have been the northern edge of Queen's wood in Bridgwater parish. (fn. 4) From that line the parish stretched northwards for more than 5 km. to the river Parrett. The western boundary with Cannington followed a stream, called in succession from south to north Perrymoor brook, Cannington brook, and Fenlyns rhyne. In the north the parish boundary followed the limit of high water in a wide curve of the Parrett and ditches and embankments around detached parts of Chilton Trinity parish. The irregular eastern boundary, from 1802 modified by the inclosure of Chilton common, (fn. 5) is marked in part by the Chilton road at Crowpill.

The boundaries were altered in 1886, when parts of Wembdon including the part in Bridgwater borough and the detached area of Sydenham, containing together 21 houses and 81 persons in 1891, were transferred to Bridgwater parish, and a part containing 1 house and 9 persons was transferred to Chilton Trinity, while uninhabited parts of Bridgwater and Chilton Trinity parishes were added to Wembdon. A further part of Wembdon, containing 270 houses and 1,141 persons in 1901, was transferred to Bridgwater borough and civil parish in 1896, reducing the area of Wembdon from 2,470 a. (1,000 ha.) to 2,351 a., and another 69 a., uninhabited in 1921 but with 6 persons in 1931, were transferred in 1933. (fn. 6) In 1938 Wembdon successfully resisted Bridgwater's attempt to absorb the rest of the parish. (fn. 7) The history of Sydenham, taken into the borough under Acts of 1928 and 1938, (fn. 8) is treated here with that of Wembdon.

Most of the northern part of the parish and the whole of the Sydenham area lies on alluvium below the 8-m. contour, with small areas of Burtle Beds in the centre; (fn. 9) sand was dug at Sandford in the early 15th century (fn. 10) and sandstone occurs north of Wembdon village near Perry Court. (fn. 11) The southern part, formed largely of Keuper marl, comprises two parallel eastwest ridges, both reaching over 30 m. above sea level, the valley between them drained by the Kidsbury rhyne. The northern ridge, its centre known as Mount Radford from the mid 18th century, from a messuage named Mount Rodburd c. 1727, (fn. 12) contains a deposit of Upper Sandstone which was quarried from 1842 until after 1909. (fn. 13)

A watercourse known as Crowpill channel was dug before 1439, (fn. 14) Bradelake was mentioned c. 1540, (fn. 15) Fichet's rhyne in 1579, (fn. 16) Great or Wildmarsh rhyne in 1705, (fn. 17) and Pippins rhyne in 1802. (fn. 18)

Saxon burials have been discovered on the northern ridge where Wembdon Hill and Moore's and Hollow lanes may outline a triangular defensive site of the Bronze Age and later. (fn. 19) The hill gives the second element of the name of the parish. Traces of Romano-British settlement have been found further north near Perry Court and enclosures of uncertain date southwest of Perry Green. (fn. 20)

Wembdon village remained small until the 1840s, confined largely to the ridge between Mount Radford in the west and the church and parsonage house in the east. Houses were thereafter built along the road to Bridgwater, first detached houses south of the village in the 1840s on what came to be called Wembdon Rise and later terraces and semidetached houses stretching along Wembdon Road. (fn. 21) By 1851 a street of small terraced houses called Provident Place had been built, (fn. 22) and by the 1880s Newtown had been established as a suburb of Bridgwater for workers at the docks, (fn. 23) and higher-quality dwellings at Washington Terrace in Malt Shovel Lane (later Victoria Road) and Alexandra Villas, later Alexandra Road. By the same date there were larger houses on the ridge in Wembdon village, including Elm Grove (later Down House) and Mount Radford, Hoxton House, and Prospect Cottage, besides terraced cottages at 'Top of the Hill' and others called Sunny Banks, later Sandbanks. (fn. 24) In the 1920s building began off Wembdon Road in Hillgrove and Orchard lanes, and in the 1930s smaller houses on Wembdon Hill. (fn. 25) More houses were built off Church Road in the 1950s, (fn. 26) and in the valley west of Wembdon Road (later Wembdon Rise) in the 1970s and 1980s. (fn. 27)

Perry and Sandford were the most populous areas of the parish in the earlier 14th century; Wembdon tithing, presumably including Wembdon village, had only 5 taxpayers in 1327 compared with 28 in Perry tithing. (fn. 28) West Perers or West Perry was a distinct settlement in the later 13th and the earlier 14th century, (fn. 29) and was perhaps an earlier name for Perry Green. There is some evidence of depopulation there, possibly in the 17th century. (fn. 30) Earthworks south of Sandford Manor may represent a change of site of the manor house rather than a lost village. (fn. 31)

Sydenham may have been only a single farmstead until the division of the estate in the 15th century. (fn. 32) By 1881 there were some cottages and a group of substantial farm buildings called Mile End barn along the Bristol road. (fn. 33) Much of the southern part of Sydenham was from 1935 covered by the factory of British Cellophane Ltd. (fn. 34)

Cheslade Farm, later known as Chislett, lay in the north end of the parish and was the centre of an estate by the mid 13th century, surviving as a single dwelling until the 1920s; (fn. 35) west of it by 1670 was a farm known as Hillocks. (fn. 36) After the inclosure of the commons in 1802 (fn. 37) a farm was established beside Harp common, known in 1809 as Wallen and later as Waldings or Waldrons farm. (fn. 38) In the earlier 14th century there was a small settlement at Kidsbury, (fn. 39) 0.5 km. SSE. of Wembdon church. At least one house survived there in the mid 18th century, (fn. 40) but by 1841 only fields bore the name. (fn. 41) The spring below Wembdon Hill, whose curative properties were discovered in 1464, (fn. 42) was then known as St. John's well, and later as Holywell or Holowell. (fn. 43) The well head was rebuilt in 1855. (fn. 44) The name Medigdon given to land near Wembdon village in the later 13th century (fn. 45) may be the origin of Haddington Green, named in the 16th and the 17th century. (fn. 46)

The Saxon burial site on Mount Radford lies beside an east-west route which seems to have linked a possible crossing-point of the Parrett at Crowpill with Cannington, passing close to the site of Wembdon church. It may have given its name to a field called Hareway. (fn. 47) By the 14th century two other routes through the parish from Bridgwater seem to have been formed, one through Kidsbury, (fn. 48) the other further south to Bridgwater park. (fn. 49) The southern route later turned north-west as the main route to Cannington, leaving the parish church on a side road. It was turnpiked in 1730. (fn. 50) A toll house and gate were erected at the foot of Wembdon Hill; (fn. 51) by 1886 the house was used as a police station (fn. 52) and in 1987 was no. 119 Wembdon Road. There was also a toll gate at the crossroads on Wembdon Hill west of the village, where Moore's and Skimmerton lanes joined the Cannington road. (fn. 53) In 1922 a new route, called Quantock Road, was made further south to bypass Wembdon village and rejoin the former turnpike road just within Cannington parish. (fn. 54)

A medieval route further north snaked along a causeway at the edge of the marsh, linking Chilton Trinity village with Perry. One part of the route was described in 1340 as the highway to Cannington, (fn. 55) and it may be the route indicated by the field name Rudgeway. (fn. 56) Roads were created in Harp and Chilton commons after inclosure, and were extended in the mid 19th century. (fn. 57)

Open-field arable farming has been traced south-west of Wembdon village where there were fields called Waeforland, Godyvelond, Blackland, and Checkacre; (fn. 58) and also on Wembdon hill. (fn. 59) A cultura called Cokke at Sydenham was mentioned in 1414, a north field there in 1507, and Sydenham field in 1573 and 1604. (fn. 60) There was still a common arable field on Perry Furneaux manor in 1582. (fn. 61)

A common meadow called Monemede or Mowing mead, near Perry, was mentioned in 1397, (fn. 62) and by the later 16th century there was common grassland called Perry moor, Chilton moor, Harewey, and Langland, all north of Wembdon hill. (fn. 63) Bound stones in Perry moor were reported down in 1747 and stones and posts were replaced in 1785 by stones marked 'O' to define the limits of the Oglanders' manor of Perry Furneaux. (fn. 64)

Extensive common grazing north of Wembdon village (fn. 65) included Chislett Warth, also called Sheepsleight or Sheepwalk, in the extreme north beside the Parrett in both Wembdon and Chilton Trinity parishes. (fn. 66) There was also common adjoining on Potter's Slyme, (fn. 67) and elsewhere. A second common called Sheepsleight, on the east bank of the Parrett, belonged to Sydenham. (fn. 68)

Wildmarsh and Harp common seem to have been names for common land shared between Wembdon, Durleigh, Chilton, and Bridgwater parishes north-west of Chilton Trinity village. In 1705 the common was variously known as Wildmarsh, Harp common, Chilton common, Wembdon common, Wembdon marsh, and Wembdon warth. (fn. 69) During the 18th century parts of the common were inclosed by agreement, and the remainder, about 260 a. of common meadow and pasture mostly in Durleigh and Bridgwater, was allotted in 1802 under an Act of 1798. Included were c. 23 a. in Wembdon. (fn. 70) There was a small piece of common near Wembdon church in the 18th century. (fn. 71)

There were 55 a. of woodland recorded in the parish in 1086, most of it evidently on the low-lying ground around Perry. (fn. 72) A coppice with oak and ash standards lay on Perry Furneaux manor in 1586 near a field called Rams Park. (fn. 73) A wood formerly called the king's wood adjoined Cokers farm in the south in 1664. (fn. 74) By 1841 there were 4 a. of wood in the parish. (fn. 75)

A field between Bridgwater and Kidsbury was called Euyn churchyard in 1540 and Jews Churchyard in the 19th century. (fn. 76) The origin of the name is not known.

In 1659 an unlicensed tippler was reported in the parish. (fn. 77) Victuallers had been licensed by 1674 and two were in business in 1690. A further licence was issued in 1741. (fn. 78) The Malt Shovel inn had been established at the junction of the Wembdon road and Kidsbury Lane by 1785, (fn. 79) and the present building replaced it in 1904. (fn. 80) The Rest and Be Thankful inn was open in 1856, the Cottage inn, combined with a grocer's shop, in 1861, and Templer's inn, probably later the Rock House inn, in 1875. (fn. 81) The Rock House continued as an inn until 1899 or later; (fn. 82) the Cottage inn was in business in 1987. In 1881 the George coffee tavern was open in Wembdon village and the British Flag public house in Chilton Street, Newtown. (fn. 83) In 1947 a private house called Halesleigh or Halesleigh Tower, at the junction of Wembdon and Quantock roads, was converted into the Quantock Gateway Hotel. (fn. 84)

The Wembdon friendly society was established c. 1852 and was evidently re-formed in 1868. It was dissolved c. 1907. (fn. 85)

The population of the parish in 1801 was 244. It rose to 296 in 1811 and with minor fluctuations reached 370 in 1841. In the next decade it increased to 819, and by 1871 reached 1,107, much of the increase housed in those parts of the parish within Bridgwater borough. By 1881 the total was 1,299 and in 1901 1,842. The total continued to rise as houses were built in the part of Wembdon that had been added to Bridgwater. In 1921 the population within the ancient parish of Wembdon was 2,162 and in 1931 3,612. There was little increase in the next two decades and in 1951 the total of 4,011 comprised 3,116 in Bridgwater borough and 895 in Wembdon civil parish. In 1971 the total in the civil parish was 1,574 and in 1981 1,778. (fn. 86)


  • 1. Above, map on p. 192. This article was completed in 1988.
  • 2. V.C.H. Som. ii. 347, 352.
  • 3. S.R.O., tithe award.
  • 4. O.S. Map 6", Som. XXXVIII. SW., L. NW., SW., NE., SE. (1886 edn.).
  • 5. S.R.O., Q/RDe 29.
  • 6. Census, 1891; Sydenham was entirely in Bridgwater parish by 1891: O.S. Map 6", Som. L. NE., SE. (1889, 1891 edn.); cf. above, map on p. 194. Between 1901 and 1911 the acreage given in Census increased to 2,365 a., either through recalculation or because of changes in the river's course.
  • 7. Squibbs, Bridgwater, 130.
  • 8. Bridgwater Corporation Act, 1928; Bridgwater (Extension) Act, 1938; S.R.O., GP/D 19, Som. Review Order.
  • 9. Geol. Surv. Map 1", drift, sheet 295 (1956 edn.); Proc. Som. Arch. Soc. lxxxiii. 178.
  • 10. S.R.S. lviii, p. 52.
  • 11. Geol. Surv. Map 1", drift, sheet 295 (1956 edn.).
  • 12. S.R.O., DD/CH 45; D/P/wem 9/1/1; cf. P.N. Devon (E.P.N.S.), ii. 437.
  • 13. Plaque in quarry; S.R.O., D/R/bw 15/3/26.
  • 14. S.R.S. lviii, no. 690.
  • 15. P.R.O., LR 3/123, f. 14A.
  • 16. S.R.O., DD/WG 16/8.
  • 17. Ibid. DD/WG, box 6.
  • 18. Ibid. Q/RDe 29.
  • 19. Suggested by Mr. H. Woods, archaeologist, Wembdon; inf. from Mr. R. A. Croft, County Archaeologist.
  • 20. Som. C.C., Sites and Mons. Rec.
  • 21. S.R.O., tithe award; below, econ. hist.
  • 22. P.R.O., HO 107/1925; R. Jarman, Hist. Bridgwater (1889), 261.
  • 23. P.R.O., RG 11/2376.
  • 24. O.S. Map 6", Som. L. SW. (1886 edn.); S.R.O., D/R/bw 15/3/26.
  • 25. S.R.O., D/R/bw 16/19/1, 22/1/23.
  • 26. C. Rayner-Smith, Wembdon and its Church (1959), 5.
  • 27. Local inf.
  • 28. S.R.S. iii. 242-3.
  • 29. Pole MS. 2366, 2558, 2692, 2837.
  • 30. Hants R.O. 7M54/20; S.R.O., DD/WG, box 6 (1705 survey).
  • 31. Suggested by Mr. H. Woods.
  • 32. Below, manors (Sydenham).
  • 33. P.R.O., RG 11/2372.
  • 34. C. H. Ward-Jackson, The 'Cellophane' Story (priv. print. 1977), 84, 89.
  • 35. Below, manors; P.R.O., RG 11/2376; O.S. Map 6", Som. L. NW. (1886 edn.); inf. from Mr. A. H. Sparkes, Pury Court Farm, Wembdon.
  • 36. S.R.O., DD/DP 73/2; S.R.S. iii. 243 (John Hillok); inf. from Mr. A. H. Sparkes.
  • 37. Below, this section.
  • 38. S.R.S. lxxvi, intro., p. 25.
  • 39. Ibid. xlviii, no. 83.
  • 40. S.R.O., D/P/wem 9/1/1.
  • 41. Ibid. tithe award.
  • 42. S.R.S. xlix, p. 414.
  • 43. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 247; P.R.O., SC 6/Hen. VIII/3137; below, church.
  • 44. Plaque on building.
  • 45. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 68.
  • 46. Ibid. DD/SP inventory, 1668/5; DD/PAM 8 (sale partic. Wembdon manor).
  • 47. Dors. R.O., D.1. MW/M4.
  • 48. S.R.S. xlviii, nos. 52, 83, 85, 95, 124.
  • 49. Ibid. nos. 93, 212; liii, nos. 386, 449; lviii, nos. 503, 588, 623, 629, 635, 651-2.
  • 50. S.R.O., DD/SAS (C/2402) 34; J. B. Bentley and B. J. Murless, Som. Roads (1985), i. 23.
  • 51. S.R.O., tithe award.
  • 52. O.S. Map 6", Som. L. SW. (1886 edn.).
  • 53. Cat. of MSS. offered for sale by A. J. Coombes (1982).
  • 54. Squibbs, Bridgwater, 122.
  • 55. S.R.O., DD/SAS PD 31.
  • 56. Dors. R.O., D. 1. MW/M4.
  • 57. S.R.O., D/P/wem 4/1/1, accts. of waywardens.
  • 58. S.R.S. xlviii, nos. 2, 67, 86, 101, 110, 204; lviii, no. 565.
  • 59. Ibid. lviii, no. 632; Dors. R.O., D.1. MW/M4; S.R.O., tithe award.
  • 60. S.R.O., DD/L P36/6; DD/SG 20.
  • 61. Ibid. T/PH/vch 65.
  • 62. Pole MS. 4033.
  • 63. S.R.O., T/PH/vch 65.
  • 64. Ibid. DD/X/DS 4.
  • 65. Ibid. T/PH/vch 65.
  • 66. Hants R.O. 7M54/199/21.
  • 67. S.R.O., DD/DP 33/3.
  • 68. Ibid. DD/SG 20; ibid. T/PH/no 3; P.R.O., E 178/6028.
  • 69. S.R.O., DD/WG, box 6.
  • 70. Ibid. Q/RDe 29.
  • 71. Hants R.O. 7M54/200.
  • 72. V.C.H. Som. i. 484-5, 499; below, manors (Perry Fichet).
  • 73. Dors. R.O., D.1. MW/M4.
  • 74. Hants R.O. 7M54/196/17.
  • 75. S.R.O., tithe award.
  • 76. Longleat House, Seymour Papers, XII, Seymour Rental, f. 16; S.R.O., DD/OS 76; ibid. tithe award.
  • 77. S.R.S. xxviii. 371.
  • 78. S.R.O., Q/RL vict. recog.
  • 79. Ibid. D/P/bw. m 13/2/16.
  • 80. Squibbs, Bridgwater, 12.
  • 81. P.R.O., FS 2/9; P.O. Dir. Som. (1861, 1866, 1875).
  • 82. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1883, 1899).
  • 83. P.R.O., RG 11/2376.
  • 84. Squibbs, Bridgwater, 134.
  • 85. Bridgwater Mercury, 15 June 1870; M. Fuller, W. Country Friendly Soc. 100, 107, 144; P.R.O., FS 2/9.
  • 86. V.C.H. Som. ii. 347, 352; Census, giving figures for the ecclesiastical parish, nearly equivalent to the ancient parish.