Lyng: Economic history

Pages 58-60

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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Hedges, ditches, old watercourses, and at least one bridge mentioned in the perambulation attached to the charter of West Lyng of 937 indicate the progress of agriculture on the Lyng ridge and the beginnings of encroachment on the moors. (fn. 1) Encroachment and improvement of moor land continued throughout the Middle Ages against a background of disputes, notably in the Tone valley, between Athelney abbey and neighbouring landowners. (fn. 2) The Domesday estate at Lyng measured only 1 hide, half in demesne worked by 6 servi with 2 ploughteams. Three villani and 4 bordars with 2 teams worked the remainder. Apart from the arable, only 12 a. of meadow were recorded. (fn. 3) By 1349 the demesne arable measured 80 a. and there were 20 a. of enclosed meadow and 8 a. of pasture. (fn. 4) A nativus was manumitted in 1481. (fn. 5) Modest expansion seems to have occurred on the tenant holdings: in the early 13th century the prior of Taunton acquired from Henry of Erleigh 15 a. north of East Lyng village which Henry had enclosed with a 7-ft. ditch. (fn. 6) The Erleighs continued to hold small pieces of land on the ridge in the 13th century (fn. 7) but in 1213 Athelney acquired from them 100 a. of moor in a narrow strip under the ridge and a share in common pasture, brushwood, and firewood in North moor. (fn. 8) Some Lyng graziers paid rent for land on the moor to the demesne hundred of North Petherton in the earlier 14th century. (fn. 9) Further grants from Henry of Erleigh gave the abbot an extensive holding in North moor, mostly outside the parish in the wedgeshaped area of North Petherton around Lyng Drove, immediately north of East Lyng village. (fn. 10)

South and east of the ridge the diversion of the western branch of the Tone by building the Baltmoor wall between East Lyng and Athelney island (fn. 11) was followed by several stages of diversion and straightening of the Tone and by agreements with the chapter of Wells and the Aller family over rights in Salt moor and Stan moor. (fn. 12) Further alterations to the Tone's course in Curry moor were made in the 14th and 15th centuries. (fn. 13) Most of the grassland there lay outside the parish but some was part of Lyng manor, which benefited by an increased area for taking fuel and for grazing stock. (fn. 14) A piggery was established on Salt moor in 1241-2, (fn. 15) but pigs were specifically excluded from Curry moor in 1427. (fn. 16)

The Athelney abbey estate at Lyng in 1529 comprised the site and demesne lands on the island and around Lyng Drove, the rectory, the capital messuage later called Lyng Court Farm, and tenants' rents. There were 96 separate tenant holdings in Outwood, West and East Lyng, and Hitchings, on the edge of North moor, of which 46 were in Hitchings. In addition there were 11 tenements at Burrow. (fn. 17) An incomplete survey of 1598 (fn. 18) recorded 604 a. Most holdings in West and East Lyng were described as old auster tenements, probably charged with drainage works in North moor, (fn. 19) but only 35 a. of 138 a. in Hitchings were so described. There were 11 holdings each at East and West Lyng, at the former of 10 a. or less, at the latter up to 27 a. and probably more. Hitchings was divided between 24 holdings.

A survey of 1697 covered 949 a. but included land outside the parish in Salt moor and West Salt moor. There were then 9 farms, all copyholds, measuring between 20 a. and 30 a., including one held by John Leggatt, the origin of the present Leggatt's farm, and one of 48 a. at Outwood. Thomas Pocock held a total of 53 a., probably the largest farm in the parish after Lyng Court and Athelney farms. Among other tenants were members of the Batten and Meade families. (fn. 20)

The importance of meadow and pasture is evident from 17th-century inventories. John Gill (d. 1684), probably tenant of Athelney farm, the holding with most arable, left corn worth £115, cows and horses worth £120, sheep worth £100, a few pigs, and hay and wool valued at £27. (fn. 21) More typical was John Meade (d. 1681), who left 3 plough steers, 6 milking cows, 6 heifers, 3 calves, and 15 sheep, but an insignificant amount of grain in store and only 7 a. of wheat in the ground. (fn. 22) Edmund Wiltsheere's stock in 1668 included 5 milking cows, 2 yearlings, and 2 calves, and Gregory Ryall's in 1685 comprised 6 cows, 1 yearling, and 3 calves, as well as 3 horses and some sheep, pigs, geese, and poultry. (fn. 23) Many farmers left cheese (one inventory included 10 cheese boards), most kept pigs, and several had orchards. (fn. 24)

An outbreak of cattle distemper involving five farmers who grazed stock on North moor in 1757 (fn. 25) and the perennial problems of flooding (fn. 26) may have been why, in the late 18th century, agriculture was said to be 'badly attended to'. (fn. 27) Lyng Court farm was the largest holding, measuring 278 a. in the 18th century and 258 a. in the 19th. (fn. 28) Six other farms paid land tax of over £2 in 1767. (fn. 29) By 1833 after Lyng Court farm there were three others measuring just over 100 a. including Athelney farm, one holding of 98 a., and three of c. 70 a. (fn. 30) The total acreage of Athelney farm was 172 a. in 1818 and included rights outside the parish on Stan moor, King's Sedgemoor, West Sedgemoor, Curry moor, and Week moor. (fn. 31) The farm, in 1827 measuring 119 a., was let for seven years subject to covenants against changing grass to tillage and against growing hemp, flax, teazels, and potatoes. (fn. 32)

The tenant at Athelney farm in 1827 specialized in dairying. He produced 163 cheeses in 1836 and sold butter in Taunton and Bridgwater. (fn. 33) A corn and cheese factor was in business in Burrowbridge in 1851 (fn. 34) and a 'considerable' amount of cheese was made in Lyng in the 1870s. (fn. 35) Farmers with common rights in North moor early in the 19th century pastured cattle, sheep, sows, ducks, geese, and hens there. (fn. 36) Meadow, pasture, and orchards constituted three quarters of the titheable area of the parish in 1838. (fn. 37) The pattern of holdings continued stable throughout the 19th century, with 12 farms in 1851 and 11 in 1881, although Lyng Court farm had absorbed land to become a unit of 317 a. (fn. 38) At the sale of the Mullins estate in 1911-12 involving farms at the west end of the parish and in Durston, West Lyng farm was divided into 12 lots and Lyng Court farm measured 254 a. (fn. 39) There were still 12 principal farms in 1923 with 3 small holdings. (fn. 40) In 1982 there were 16 farms. (fn. 41) In 1905 arable covered 176 a. and grassland 1,053 a.; (fn. 42) in 1982 arable had increased to about a fifth of the total area, more than half producing wheat. (fn. 43)

The inclosure of the moors north and south of the parish in the 1790s (fn. 44) resulted in the establishment of small withy beds and the production of rods sold to basket makers, at first locally and by the 1860s further afield. (fn. 45) Production of baskets in Lyng had begun by 1889 and in the following three decades the manufacture, locally confined to the parishes of Lyng, Burrowbridge, and Stoke St. Gregory, involved growers, merchants, hauliers, and the makers of baskets and chairs. (fn. 46) The Hector family, based first at Durston station and later at Willow House, Hector's Lane, produced baskets and wicker chairs, and at least four other families of craftsmen found employment in the trade, which was probably at its peak during the First World War. (fn. 47) Production in Lyng continued in 1985. (fn. 48)

The Taunton-Wells road and the rivers Parrett and Tone brought commercial traffic to the parish. A Lyng chapman was involved in business with a man from Berkshire in 1435. (fn. 49) About 1540 a local smith was importing iron up the Parrett through Bridgwater, and the same route was used by a Lyng butcher importing herring in 1620-1. (fn. 50) There were four shops at Burrow by 1539, (fn. 51) and a coal shop there by 1697. (fn. 52) Coal barges of up to 50 tons came to Burrow at the end of the 18th century, when a resident excise officer was rated highly for land tax. (fn. 53) Coal continued to be taken up the Tone to Ham in Creech St. Michael until the 1860s or later. (fn. 54) Tile, iron, brick, stone, lime, and made-up carpentry came along the same route to the wharf at Athelney bridge until the 1820s or later, (fn. 55) and to another at Burrowbridge which was still in use in 1855. (fn. 56) Philip Woodrow (d. 1645) was both a bargeman and a farmer. (fn. 57) Nine boatmen subscribed to the rebuilding of Burrow chapel in 1793, and 15 had their children baptized in the parish between 1813 and 1827, although only two were actually resident in the parish. (fn. 58) One Lyng man was still active as a boatman in 1851, and boatmen continued to work on the Tone until 1895. (fn. 59)

In the earlier 19th century Burrowbridge was home to a chaise driver and a mason, and Lyng to a shoemaker, a blacksmith, and a saddler. (fn. 60) By 1851 there were a 'horse and a cow doctor', three pig dealers, three tanners, two smiths, and an auctioneer, all relating to agriculture, and three bakers, a milliner, a tailor, a mantua maker, a dressmaker, and a staymaker. (fn. 61) Bricks were made at Outwood in the 1870s. (fn. 62) By 1881 there was a shirtmaker (fn. 63) and three shops were trading in Burrowbridge in 1889. (fn. 64) The railway company by 1881 had opened refreshment rooms at Durston station and employed an inspector, an engine driver, a ticket collector, 5 porters, a switchman, and 3 labourers all living at Outwood. (fn. 65) In the 1930s the increasing road traffic brought a motor engineering business and a commercial temperance hotel at East Lyng (fn. 66) and by 1985 a restaurant and guest house at the former King John inn at Burrowbridge.

Two mills were recorded in 1349 (fn. 67) and they were still in use, although less valuable, in 1399. (fn. 68) Alterations to the course of the Tone may have led to the disappearance of the mills thereafter.

A weekly market on Mondays was established at Lyng in 1267. (fn. 69) By 1349 there was no market, but an annual fair at the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (14 Sept.). (fn. 70) That fair was apparently no longer held by 1399, (fn. 71) and no income from it was recorded later. A fair at Lyng on the first Monday in August was established by 1861. (fn. 72) It declined for some years before 1907 when neither cattle nor farmers appeared. (fn. 73) It was not revived, although a ginger bread stall was erected on fair day by the Rose and Crown inn until the Second World War. (fn. 74) By 1861 there were two fairs at Burrowbridge, on the last Tuesdays in March and August. (fn. 75) The August fair was 'good' in 1875 and survived in 1899. (fn. 76) A ginger bread stall was set up at the King Alfred inn on fair day until the Second World War. (fn. 77)


  • 1. H. P. R. Finberg, Early Charters of Wessex, pp. 130-1.
  • 2. Below, this section.
  • 3. V.C.H. Som. i. 469.
  • 4. P.R.O., E 152/78/3.
  • 5. S.D.N.Q. viii. 111.
  • 6. Cal. Chart. R. 1327-41, 314; S.R.S. xiv, p. 157.
  • 7. S.R.O., DD/SL 1.
  • 8. S.R.S. xiv, pp. 156-7.
  • 9. S.R.O., DD/SAS NP 1, mm. 11-13, 16-18; 2, mm. 2-6.
  • 10. S.R.S. xiv, pp. 153, 158-9.
  • 11. Above, intro.
  • 12. Cur. Reg. R. xvi, nos. 1270, 1702; Reg. Regum AngloNorm. iii, no. 28; S.R.S. vi. 108-9; xiv, pp. 167-8; H.M.C. Wells, i. 317-18.
  • 13. H.M.C. Wells, i. 318-19, 325, 329; S.R.S. xiv, pp. 197-9; Cal. Pat. 1307-13, 265.
  • 14. S.R.S. xiv, pp. 190-1.
  • 15. Ibid. vi. 108-9; xiv, pp. 190-1.
  • 16. H.M.C. Wells, i. 329; S.R.S. xiv, pp. 197-9.
  • 17. P.R.O., SC 6/Hen. VIII/3144.
  • 18. Ibid. SC 12/34, no. 21.
  • 19. See S.D.N.Q. xxix. 157-62; M. Williams, Draining of the Som. Levels, 120-1.
  • 20. S.R.O., DD/SL 11/12.
  • 21. Ibid. DD/SP inventory, 1684/70.
  • 22. Ibid. 1681/86, 1685/12.
  • 23. Ibid. 1668, 1685/71.
  • 24. Ibid. 1645, 1668, 1674, 1684/70, 1685/12, 49, 51, 71, 75.
  • 25. Ibid. Q/AD 2.
  • 26. e.g. ibid. DD/SLM box 2.
  • 27. Collinson, Hist. Som. i. 84.
  • 28. S.R.O., DD/AH 16/7, 23/3, 41/10, 65/13, 16.
  • 29. Ibid. Q/REl 2/7.
  • 30. Ibid. D/P/lyn 23/6.
  • 31. Ibid. DD/SLM box 2, bk. of maps, 1795.
  • 32. Ibid. DD/SL 23.
  • 33. Ibid. DD/S/DA 2.
  • 34. P.R.O., HO 107/1924.
  • 35. E. Jeboult, Valley of the Tone (1873), 61.
  • 36. S.R.O., DD/HYD 47.
  • 37. Ibid. tithe award.
  • 38. P.R.O., HO 107/1924; ibid. RG 11/2373.
  • 39. S.R.O., DD/X/CRE 1-5.
  • 40. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1923).
  • 41. Min. of Agric., Fisheries, and Food, agric. returns, 1982.
  • 42. Statistics supplied by the then Bd. of Agric., 1905.
  • 43. Min. of Agric., Fisheries, and Food, agric. returns, 1982.
  • 44. Below, N. Petherton.
  • 45. Proc. Som. Arch. Soc. cxxix. 169; Rep. Com. Employment in Agric. (1868-9), 484.
  • 46. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1889 and later edns.); S.R.O., D/P/lyn 2/1/5.
  • 47. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1889 and later edns.); S.R.O., D/P/lyn 2/1/5, 13/1/2; DD/X/BWN 1; DD/X/BTT 5; D/R/bw, box 22/1/8; inf. from Mrs. E. Champion, Lyng.
  • 48. Inf. from Mrs. Champion.
  • 49. Cal. Pat. 1429-36, 436.
  • 50. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1436, 1440, 1503.
  • 51. P.R.O., SC 6/Hen. VIII/3144.
  • 52. S.R.O., DD/SL 11/12.
  • 53. Collinson, Hist. Som. i. 85; S.R.O., Q/REl 2/7 (1767).
  • 54. Above, Creech St. Michael, econ. hist.
  • 55. S.R.O., D/P/lyn 4/1/1 (1714, 1738); DD/PH 169; DD/S/DA 2 (1824).
  • 56. Ibid. DD/X/ME 2; Proc. Som. Arch. Soc. lv. 175.
  • 57. S.R.O., DD/SP inventory, 1645.
  • 58. Ibid. D/P/lyn 2/1/4.
  • 59. P.R.O., HO 107/1924; E. Hembrow, Winter Harvest (1990), 19.
  • 60. S.R.O., D/P/lyn 2/1/4.
  • 61. P.R.O., HO 107/1924.
  • 62. S.R.O., D/D/Bbm 236; O.S. Map 6", Som. LXXI. NE. (1888 edn.); Bridgwater Mercury, 4 May 1870.
  • 63. P.R.O., RG 11/2373.
  • 64. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1889).
  • 65. P.R.O., RG 11/2373; S.R.O., DD/X/BTT.
  • 66. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1931).
  • 67. P.R.O., E 152/78/3.
  • 68. Proc. Som. Arch. Soc. xliii. 141.
  • 69. Cal. Chart. R. 1257-1300, 85.
  • 70. Cal. Inq. Misc. iii, p. 15.
  • 71. Proc. Som. Arch. Soc. xliii. 141.
  • 72. P.O. Dir. Som. (1861).
  • 73. V.C.H. office, letter from the Revd. E. A. M. Godson, Vicar of Lyng (1908).
  • 74. Inf. from Miss P. I. Champion, Stoke St. Gregory.
  • 75. P.O. Dir. Som. (1861).
  • 76. P.O. Dir. Som. (1875); Burrowbridge sch., log bk. 1868-99.
  • 77. Inf. from Miss Champion.