Wembdon: Economic history

Pages 330-332

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 seven estates that in 1086 made up the later parish of Wembdon (fn. 1) were assessed at nearly 6¾ hides and had land for 18 ploughteams. The recorded teams numbered 14, of which the demesnes accounted for 6½, with 4 of the hides; the agricultural tenants, 13 villani and 20 bordars, had 7½ teams with the remaining 2½ hides. Wembdon, the largest of the manors, had land for 8 teams, 2 teams in demesne with 1 servus, and 5 villani and 6 bordars with 4 teams; Sandford, having land for 3 teams, 1 team in demesne with 3 servi, and 2 villani and 4 bordars with 1 team, was next in value. No tenants were recorded on the Perry manor which Ralph held of Roger Arundel or on Sydenham manor. Meadow, totalling 78 a., was recorded on all the manors except Sydenham, the largest extent being 33 a. on Sandford; pasture, also totalling 78 a., was recorded on Wembdon, Sydenham, and two of the Perry manors; woodland, totalling 55 a. of which 37 a. was on Geoffrey de Vautort's Perry manor, was recorded also on the Perry manor which William held of Roger de Courcelles. The recorded livestock were 88 sheep, 48 swine, 30 beasts, 17 she-goats, and a riding horse, of which all the goats, the riding horse, and roughly half the other animals were on Wembdon manor. Three of the manors had increased in value; none was recorded as having declined. (fn. 2)

In the 14th and the 15th century scattered holdings in the parish were accumulated by such families as the Brents, who held land in Cheslade, Perry, Sandford, and Wembdon between 1318 and 1439. (fn. 3) Richard de St. Clare in 1444 held in Wembdon, Sandford, Sydenham, and elsewhere. (fn. 4) The Coker family, freeholders in the parish since the earlier 13th century, (fn. 5) and in addition tenants of the Michells in the mid 14th century, (fn. 6) had an estate which had grown to c. 1,000 a. at the death of James Coker in the mid 15th century. (fn. 7) The Michells were tenants of the Furneaux family in Perry in the later 13th century (fn. 8) and by the mid 14th century had extended their holding to Wembdon tithing and Bridgwater. (fn. 9) Walter Michell bought well over 100 a. in Wembdon, Cannington, and elsewhere in 1470 (fn. 10) and at his death in 1487 held Wembdon, Cheslade, and West Perry manors in Wembdon parish and other lands in Bridgwater, Cannington, Durleigh, and Chilton, partly acquired from the Cokers. (fn. 11)

Some tenants of Perry Furneaux manor held leases for lives from the 1350s, including two who each held a furlong. (fn. 12) Tenants on Perry Fichet manor paid cash rents of over £310 by 1414, together with geese, cocks, and hens for churchscot. (fn. 13) By 1442 the manor also included burgages and other tenements in Bridgwater. (fn. 14) By 1473 the demesne of Perry Fichet, comprising three pasture closes, was let at farm; the tenants' land, evidently mostly arable, was divided between five holdings. (fn. 15)

In 1586 Perry Furneaux manor, containing c. 500 a., had 18 tenants of former demesne and 17 others, the largest with c. 32 a. (fn. 16) Rack renting was introduced in 1726, (fn. 17) but four copyholders still remained in 1779. (fn. 18) Sydenham manor comprised c. 270 a. in 1621 divided between two principal farms, the later Great (92 a.) and Little Sydenham (60 a.), and other small holdings, the whole let to 15 tenants; (fn. 19) c. 1590 the rent of its land at Dunwear had included a day's work at harvest time, (fn. 20) and in 1621 Little Sydenham was still held for two days' work at haymaking or a rent of 6d. (fn. 21) In 1705 Perry Fichet comprised c. 280 a. shared between 16 tenants, and the largest farm, called Wembdon House, measured c. 46 a. (fn. 22) In the later 18th century Thomas Grabham and his son of the same name occupied 93 a. in several separate tenancies, and John Holway had 51 a. on several leases including a house called Pury Place. (fn. 23)

By the earlier 17th century grassland in closes predominated in the northern and eastern parts of the parish. Arable on Perry Furneaux manor was mostly in severalty by 1582, (fn. 24) and common arable was inclosed by licence on Perry Fichet manor from 1603. (fn. 25) Langland common meadow had been inclosed by c. 1664, (fn. 26) and shortly afterwards c. 70 a. of Chislett Warth were inclosed to form part of Cheslade farm, which was increased in size when further riverside land was inclosed in the later 17th century. (fn. 27) Sydenham field had become pasture by the later 16th century and both meadow and pasture grounds there were said to be higher in value than the former arable. (fn. 28) Owners or tenants at Sandford and the two manors at Perry had grazing rights for sheep and horses in the common pastures: in the earlier 18th century Chilton common was stinted at a mare and foal for each house or house site and two sheep for each acre. (fn. 29) Sandford manor and Cheslade farm had a share of the common at Chislett for 700 sheep in 1664, (fn. 30) but by 1705 tenants of Perry Fichet manor were complaining that large flocks established there by other tenants, notably Mr. Hawker, prevented the small tenant farmers from obtaining much benefit. (fn. 31) In the later 17th century the largest local flock belonging to a resident tenant numbered 30, and several farmers had no sheep at all, while two leases granted to outsiders in 1664 were each for 126 sheep. (fn. 32) Tenants of Wembdon manor and the rectory had no common rights. (fn. 33)

Field names current by the mid 17th century suggest that dairying was well established on Sandford manor. By 1686 water meadows had been created there. (fn. 34) Small farmers grew wheat, barley, beans, peas, clover, and leeks; (fn. 35) one cultivated reeds. (fn. 36) The lessee of the rectory had to plough in vetches, and a tenant of Perry Fichet manor in 1766 was allowed a rent reduction for drainage work. (fn. 37) Commoners on Wildmarsh and Harp were charged with maintenance of the Great or Wildmarsh rhyne. (fn. 38)

In 1773 Wembdon manor comprised 919 'computed' acres in the parish and other lands in Bridgwater, Cannington, and Stogursey parishes. Coker's farm (126 a.), Benham's Leaze (120 a.), and Perry Court (98 a.) were the largest farms and the most substantial tenant, Jonas Coles of Perry Court, farmed a total of 206 a. (fn. 39) In 1841 the largest individual holdings were Sandford farm (229 a.), William Horseman's Wembdon farm (198 a.), and Burnt House farm (154 a.). (fn. 40) Ten years later there were twelve substantial farms. Wembdon farm had been increased to 300 a. and employed 11 labourers; Sandford farm had 7 labourers; Burnt House farm had only 4 labourers. (fn. 41)

In 1841 there were 720 a. under arable cultivation and 1,730 a. under grass. (fn. 42) By 1905 the arable had been reduced to 418 a. (fn. 43) In 1982 a partial return of agricultural holdings included nearly 500 a. of grass and 205 a. of arable, mostly sown with wheat. (fn. 44) Dairying was of growing importance from the later 19th century: Walden or Waldrons was a specialist dairy farm by 1889, Perry Court by 1894; by 1939 nine farmers described themselves as dairymen, and three milk retailers were in business in the village. (fn. 45)

The quarry in Wembdon village remained in use until 1909 or later. (fn. 46) In 1899 there were in business a grocer, a stationer, a builder, and a cab proprietor, and in 1902 two grocers and a florist. A motor engineer was established in 1919 and by 1939 both a garage and a motor car proprietor. (fn. 47) There was a brewer in the parish in 1851. (fn. 48) The Wembdon Brewery was built c. 1852 and continued production until 1914 or later. (fn. 49) The premises were taken over by the Ministry of Food as a fruit pulping station, but by 1923 were occupied by a private firm, the Somerset Fruit Products Co. Ltd., known by 1931 as the Quantock Preserving Co. Ltd. (fn. 50) The company was making a range of jams in 1988. (fn. 51) British Cellophane Ltd., part of the Courtauld Group, opened a factory at Sydenham in 1937 on a site of 59 a. which has since been extended. (fn. 52) In 1988 three separate factories on the site were producing cellulose and polythene film and bonded fibre fabric. (fn. 53) S. Leffman Ltd., makers of foundation garments, opened a factory in Provident Place in 1939 and were in business in 1988. (fn. 54)

There was a water mill on Robert Clarke's estate in the parish, presumably at Sandford, in 1636. (fn. 55) No further trace of it has been found.

In 1296 Matthew Furneaux had a grant of a fair at Perry to be held on the vigil, feast, and morrow of St. George's day (23 April). (fn. 56) In 1301 Matthew received £30 damages for the seizure at the fair of measures and tolls by the lord of the hundred. (fn. 57) The profits were let with the capital messuage of Perry Furneaux manor in 1571 (fn. 58) and again in 1586, (fn. 59) but no later reference to the fair has been found.


  • 1. Excluding 'Ulveronetone', which is not to be identified with Waldron; if it was not the same as one of the estates called Perry is was not necessarily within the later parish: cf. above, manors.
  • 2. V.C.H. Som. i. 484-5, 494-5, 499, 520.
  • 3. S.R.S. xii. 79; Pole MS. 523, 527.
  • 4. S.R.S. xxii. 107.
  • 5. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 68.
  • 6. Ibid. 218; S.R.S. lvii, pp. 31-2.
  • 7. S.R.S. xxii. 145.
  • 8. Pole MS. 2518.
  • 9. S.R.S. xii. 218; xvii. 10.
  • 10. Ibid. xxii. 139.
  • 11. Cal. Inq. p.m. Hen. VII, i, pp. 114-15.
  • 12. Pole MS. 2532, 2545, 2563.
  • 13. P.R.O., SC 6/977/1-2.
  • 14. Ibid. SC 6/1119/17.
  • 15. Ibid. SC 6/977/13-14, 16, 18, 21, 23.
  • 16. S.R.O., T/PH/vch 65.
  • 17. Dors. R.O., D.1. MW/M5, M6, M7; ibid. D279/E4.
  • 18. Hants R.O. 7M54/202.
  • 19. S.R.O., DD/SG 4, 20.
  • 20. Ward-Jackson, Sydenham Manor Ho.
  • 21. S.R.O., DD/SG 20.
  • 22. Ibid. DD/WG, box 6, survey.
  • 23. Ibid. DD/WG 8/2A; 9/4, 5A; 12/2; 13/1.
  • 24. Ibid. T/PH/vch 65.
  • 25. Ibid. DD/WG 16/17.
  • 26. Ibid. DD/X/CHK.
  • 27. Ibid. DD/DP 33/3; DD/SAS (C/114) 21; ibid. T/PH/no 3; P.R.O., E 178/6028; Hants R.O. 7M54/196/32.
  • 28. S.R.O., DD/SG 20.
  • 29. Ibid. DD/WG, box 6; ibid. DD/SAS (C/114) 21.
  • 30. Hants R.O. 7M54/202.
  • 31. S.R.O., DD/WG, box 6.
  • 32. Ibid. DD/SP inventories, 1667/11, 1669/63, 1670/27; ibid. DD/DP 76/7.
  • 33. Hants R.O. 7M54/202.
  • 34. Ibid. 7M54/196/17; 199/3, 21.
  • 35. S.R.O., DD/SP inventories, 1667/11, 1670/27, 1671/31, 1681/14.
  • 36. Ibid. 1669/88.
  • 37. Ibid. DD/WG 8/2A.
  • 38. Ibid. box 6.
  • 39. Ibid. DD/PAM 1.
  • 40. Ibid. tithe award.
  • 41. P.R.O., HO 107/1925.
  • 42. S.R.O., tithe award.
  • 43. Statistics supplied by the then Bd. of Agric. 1905.
  • 44. Min. of Agric., Fisheries, and Food, agric. returns, 1982.
  • 45. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1889, 1894, 1939).
  • 46. S.R.O., D/R/bw 15/3/26.
  • 47. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1899, 1902, 1919, 1939).
  • 48. P.R.O., HO 107/1925.
  • 49. Bridgwater Times, 1 Apr. 1852, p. 2, advt. for builders' tenders; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1897, 1914); Bridgwater Mercury, 15 May 1984.
  • 50. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1919, 1923, 1931).
  • 51. Local inf.
  • 52. Ward-Jackson, The 'Cellophane' Story, 84.
  • 53. Local inf.
  • 54. Bridgwater Mercury, 26 Apr. 1988.
  • 55. P.R.O., CP 43/216, rot. 42.
  • 56. Cal. Chart. R. 1257-1300, 465.
  • 57. Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 243; Pole MS. 2525.
  • 58. S.R.O., T/PH/vch 65.
  • 59. Dors. R.O., D. 1. MW/M4, p. 43.