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.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
THE large ancient parish of Cannington lies on the west bank of the river Parrett, the village itself 5 km. north-west from Bridgwater. The name, which is also borne by the hundred, seems to be derived from the Quantocks, (fn. 1) and Cannington was linked with two other royal estates, Williton and Carhampton, in King Alfred's will. (fn. 2) From the 12th century it was the site of a Benedictine nunnery. (fn. 3) Leland in the earlier 16th century described it as a pretty uplandish town, (fn. 4) and in the 1840s it was known as a genteel village admired for its unrivalled salubrity of air. (fn. 5) The parish formerly included part of the village of Combwich, with its port and ferry terminal. (fn. 6) In 1881 the parish contained 4,980 a. (2,015 ha.), much of which lay in detached pieces, particularly in the marshes north of Combwich. Detached and peninsular pieces were transferred to other parishes, the part of Combwich and lands to the north, with 45 houses and 226 people, to Otterhampton in 1882 and 1886, Coultings, with 1 house and 4 people, to Fiddington in 1884, and part of Knaplock, with 1 house and 7 people, to Stockland Bristol in 1886. Also in 1886 Idstock and Beere, forming a detached part of Chilton Trinity with 3 houses and 21 people, were transferred to Cannington. (fn. 7) The modern civil parish measures 1,650 ha. (4,077 a.). (fn. 8)
The parish drains ENE. into the river Parrett, which with Fenlyns rhyne (otherwise Perrymoor brook) forms much of the eastern boundary. Across the centre runs Cannington brook and across the north Combwich pill into which two smaller streams flow north across Wild moor (otherwise South moor). The land rises from the floodplain of the Parrett only a few metres above sea level to the summit of Cannington Hill at 80 m. between Cannington brook and Combwich pill, to 65 m. at Woodcock Downs on the south boundary, and to nearly 50 m. west of Cannington Hill. The low-lying land is alluvium, with river deposits along Cannington brook. The higher land lies mostly on sandstone (Mercia Mudstone in the south and south-west, Otter Sandstone on the north side of Cannington Hill and in the south-east) and limestone (Rodway Siltstone on the south side of Cannington Hill and further west, an outcrop of carboniferous limestone at the top of the hill). (fn. 9) In the north blue lias was quarried, and there were limekilns in the north-west. Quarrying for building and road stone on Cannington Hill began in the late 18th century, (fn. 10) and continues for road stone, gravel, and aggregate in the later 20th. (fn. 11)
Mesolithic material has been found at Brymore and in a cave at Cannington Hill. The hill is crowned with an Iron Age hillfort, called Cynwir or Cynwit Castle or Cannington Camp, which has field systems nearby and seems to have been in use during the Roman period. Also nearby was a cemetery of up to 2,000 graves, in use from the mid 4th to the 8th century with some earlier material. There may have been a Roman temple near the cemetery. Both hillfort and cemetery have been damaged by quarrying. At Combwich there was a settlement from the 1st to the 4th century. (fn. 12)
The Saxon 'herpath' entered the parish via the Parrett crossing at Combwich and seems to have passed south of Cannington Hill through Knoll to Ashford. (fn. 13) Settlement at Cannington may have originated where a road south from Combwich and the 'herpath' crossed an east-west route. The church and the later nunnery were built on a gentle south-facing slope above a stream. The village street north of the church and nunnery was called King Street in the 15th century, Cannington and Frog streets in the early 19th, and High, Fore, and East streets in the later 19th. Church Street may have been part of the original north-south route; Brook Street, to the east of the church and so named by 1861, was part of the turnpike road by the 18th century. Northwards there were routes to Rodway and Combwich along Rodway Lane; and further west along Conduits Lane, later Chads Hill, through Knap to Cannington Hill. (fn. 14) The route from Bridgwater through the village to Watchet was turnpiked by the Bridgwater trust in 1759 (fn. 15) and improved in 1822, notably by cutting the New Road from Sandford bridge towards Chilton Trivet. (fn. 16) A turnpike gate was recorded in 1841 and 1861, probably between East and Fore Streets at the end of Rodway Lane. (fn. 17) The road through Rodway north to Combwich increased in importance when the power station at Hinkley Point was begun in the late 1950s. To the south, Malt Shovel Lane bypasses the village and serves Blackmoor Farm, crossing Blackmoor bridge. It was suggested as a bypass for Cannington in 1822. (fn. 18) The bridge was mentioned in 1632 (fn. 19) and was replaced in 1792. (fn. 20) Brook bridge, recorded in 1708, (fn. 21) was probably Cannington bridge on the Bridgwater road, which was rebuilt further east in 1929. (fn. 22)
Apart from the church, Cannington Court, and the almshouses, most of the buildings in the centre of Cannington date from the late 18th or 19th century and are of brick or local stone. Frog Cottage in East Street and two cottages in Church Street probably date from the 17th century and 1 Fore Street is of the mid 18th.
Further north, Combwich seems to have been confined to the north side of the pill until the later 20th century and appears to be on a regular grid, its eastern boundary defined by an earlier line of the river bank. Brookside probably represents a quay; Ship Lane, extended into School Lane, is the northern street, and the two were joined by 1851 by May Pole Street, renamed Church Street after 1868. (fn. 23)
Of three 11th-century farmsteads or hamlets Blackmoor was still a small hamlet in the later 18th century, (fn. 24) when Chilton and Clayhill were single farms. Other 11th-century sites, Dodesham, Pedredham, and Pillock, did not survive the Middle Ages, perhaps partly because of flooding in the 15th century, notably c. 1427 and in the 1480s. (fn. 25) Pedredham was recorded in the later 14th century (fn. 26) and the name was still in occasional use in the early 17th century, (fn. 27) but thereafter only Petherhams Marsh is recorded. Brymore, Withiel, Forde (later Ashford), Knaplock, Orchard, and Putnell occur in the earlier 13th century, (fn. 28) Knoll by 1333, and Oatley in the 15th century. (fn. 29) Knoll and Oatley both seem to have developed as scatters of houses around a green, and a similar settlement had emerged at Bradlake, later Bradley Green, by 1494. (fn. 30) The first two disappeared, Knoll Green in the early 19th century. (fn. 31) Rodway was a small hamlet perhaps arranged around a green and in existence by the early 13th century. (fn. 32) Rodway Farmhouse, formerly Lower Rodway, and Park Farm, formerly Higher Rodway, are threebayed houses of two storeys with attics probably dating from the 17th century but with later alterations.
Open arable fields, implied at Rodway in 1301, (fn. 33) have not been found on other estates in the parish and were not mentioned again at Rodway, although furlong names survived in the later 14th century. (fn. 34) Common pasture on Alden Hill, that part of Cannington Hill outside the park, belonged to Rodway manor between the 13th and the 17th century. (fn. 35) Bradley Green, also known as Customary Green, provided common for Chilton Trivet manor in the 16th century. (fn. 36) It had been encroached on by the early 19th century and only a small area, called the common, remained in 1839. (fn. 37) Various people could feed sheep on Combwich common, and it was used for village sports and festivities. An attempt to claim ownership by the purchaser of the sheep leazes failed in 1903 and the common remains public open space. Knoll Green may have been common but had been enclosed by 1839. (fn. 38) There appear to have been several areas of common meadow in the marshes mainly at Wild moor, north of Cannington Hill, which was the subject of a private inclosure award in 1818. (fn. 39) Common meadows east of Gurney Street were apportioned by agreement c. 1856. (fn. 40)
There were at least 36 a. of wood or underwood recorded in 1086 (fn. 41) and there were 40 a. of wood on Rodway manor in 1301. (fn. 42) The whole parish had only 67 a. of woodland in 1839 (fn. 43) and 68 a. of woods and plantations in 1905. (fn. 44)
The park at Cannington Hill may have been in existence in the 14th century (fn. 45) and the park pale was recorded in 1664. (fn. 46) Described as Old Park in the early 18th century, it was divided into the Higher and Lower Parks and let out. (fn. 47) Chilton Trivet park lay detached from the farm east of the Bridgwater road. In the 1480s there was a rabbit warren on a low hill south-east of Gurney Street, where the name Conygars survived into the 19th century. (fn. 48) A warren east of Cannington Hill, recorded in the 17th and 18th centuries, was destroyed by quarrying. (fn. 49) There was a decoy pond on the edge of the marsh north of Cannington Hill; it was partly planted with willows in the early 19th century. (fn. 50)
The river crossing at Combwich, alternatively called White House passage after the inn on the Pawlett side, was made by either boat or causeway. A ferry was probably in operation by the mid 13th century. (fn. 51) By the 16th century its ownership was shared, half belonging to Pawlett Gaunts manor (fn. 52) and half divided between the owners of Combwich in proportions which appear to go back to a division of property between Walter Romsey and William Trivet in 1285. (fn. 53) Thus in 1569 a quarter share in the ferry boat had formed part of the copyhold lease granted by Sir Robert Whitney (d. by 1568) as part of his manor of Combwich. (fn. 54) The same share descended on the dismemberment of the manor to successive owners of the Anchor inn until 1786 or later. (fn. 55) One sixth share had passed by 1730 to Sir George Chudleigh as owner of the former Trivet lands absorbed into Otterhampton manor. (fn. 56) The remaining share formed part of Otterhampton Romsey manor. (fn. 57) Ralph Dyaper left ferry profits to his wife and daughter in 1630, together with possession of the wharf. (fn. 58)
Both cattle and passengers were conveyed across the river in the 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 59) In the later 18th century the churchwardens of Otterhampton paid for repairs to the slip, possibly at the end of the causeway where the ferries docked. The crossing was evidently still in use in the late 19th century. (fn. 60)
In 1608 there were three licensed tipplers in Cannington and three in Combwich (fn. 61) but of seven licensed in 1609 five were at Combwich. (fn. 62) There were six or seven licensees until the 1630s but in 1649 the inhabitants petitioned to have only two at Cannington. An unlicensed aleseller was punished in 1651. (fn. 63) Numbers fluctuated but in 1687 there were seven licensed victuallers in Cannington parish and one or two in Combwich in Otterhampton parish. (fn. 64)
The Red Lion in Cannington was recorded in 1706 and may have been open in 1674; (fn. 65) it ceased to be an inn in the later 18th century (fn. 66) although the name was still in use in 1883, probably for a private house. (fn. 67) The Anchor, also called the Blue Anchor or Old Blue Anchor, was recorded in 1767 and was kept by the May family until the 1840s. (fn. 68) It was renamed the Friendly Spirit in 1986 and remained open in 1989. The White Horse was recorded in 1724 but had probably been open since c. 1700. It was last recorded in 1743. (fn. 69) A house called the Black Horse near Clayhill was recorded in 1773 and 1861. (fn. 70) The New Inn in Frog Street and the Globe inn in Church Street were recorded in 1861. The former may have been open in 1851 (fn. 71) and was last recorded in 1939. (fn. 72) The latter was open in 1989. The Malt Shovel between Bradley Green and Blackmoor was recorded as a public house in 1861; (fn. 73) the King's Head and the Rose and Crown in High Street were recorded in 1841 and 1881 respectively. (fn. 74) All three remained open in 1989.
The Mermaid at Combwich was recorded in 1668 but had ceased to trade by 1708. (fn. 75) The Three Mariners inn was open in 1673 but was not recorded again. (fn. 76) The Anchor, formerly the Blue Anchor, stood on the riverside at Combwich probably by 1690. (fn. 77) It was still open in 1989 and its 18th-century brick fives wall survives beside the forecourt. The Fleur de Luce at Combwich, recorded between 1727 and 1831, (fn. 78) was substantially repaired between 1775 and 1782 when it was probably a private house. (fn. 79) The Passage Boat was recorded in 1702, (fn. 80) possibly the Ship or Old Ship named in 1730 (fn. 81) and still open in 1989. The Bakers Arms was open in 1871 (fn. 82) and was last recorded in 1939. (fn. 83)
The Cannington friendly society or Loyal Union was founded by 1808 and met at the Anchor inn. It may have ceased in 1834. The British Society, probably also known as the 13 May Club and dating from 1810, originally met in the Anchor but later in the National school. It had 83 members in 1872, but was dissolved in 1874. The Combwich Club was disbanded in 1901. (fn. 84) A free library with c. 500 books was established at Cannington by the incumbent in 1888 but was disused by 1905. (fn. 85) The Cannington village club or institute, east of the church, was rebuilt in 1905-6 to create a hall with a skittle alley beneath, a reading room, a games room, a shop, and a dwelling. (fn. 86) There was a billiard room in Brookside, Combwich in 1939. (fn. 87)
A powder house by the river north of Combwich recorded in 1886 was later used by the Bridgwater port sanitary authority as a cholera hospital. (fn. 88)
In 1563 there were said to be 120 households in Cannington and 20 at Combwich. (fn. 89) In 1801 the population was 868 rising to 1,215 in 1821 when over three quarters were under 40 and a quarter of the houses had been built since 1811. (fn. 90) After reaching a peak of 1,548 in 1851 the population declined to 871 in 1921 but rose to 2,038 normally resident in 1981. (fn. 91)
Three men from Combwich and two from Cannington were involved in the Monmouth rebellion in 1685. (fn. 92)