Cannington: Economic history

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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A P Baggs. M C Siraut, 'Cannington: Economic history', A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes), (London, 1992), pp. 85-87. British History Online [accessed 18 June 2024].

A P Baggs. M C Siraut. "Cannington: Economic history", in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes), (London, 1992) 85-87. British History Online, accessed June 18, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Siraut, M C. "Cannington: Economic history", A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes), (London, 1992). 85-87. British History Online. Web. 18 June 2024,

In this section


Arable seems to have predominated in the later 11th century, with substantial areas of meadow on the holding of Erchenger the priest, the estate called Candetone, and one of the two holdings at Combwich. No moor and only small areas of pasture land were recorded but several flocks of sheep together with goats, pigs, and cattle. There were unbroken mares on one of the estates called Chilton. Bordars were recorded in greater numbers than villani on all estates save one at Combwich, and there were servi at Chilton and Combwich. Cannington, Williton, and Carhampton shared 11 servi between them. (fn. 1)

In 1276-7 Rodway manor produced over 60 qr. of peas; (fn. 2) twenty years later the main crops there were wheat and oats but rye, barley, peas, and beans were also grown. Cattle, geese and poultry, meadow, pasture, and works were sold. The manor was owed 1,431 days of spring work and 441½ days at autumn; a considerable demesne employed a hayward, reeve, reaper, carter, and two drovers. There were 7½ ploughteams in use. Money was spent on making and repairing ploughs, mending carts, buying seed barley for sowing and salt for the household pottage, roofing the grange, cattle shed, and granary, threshing, winnowing, hoeing, mowing, reaping, ditching, and maintaining sea defences in the marsh. The following season wheat was to be sown at 1½ bu. to the acre on 79½ a., rye on 10 a., barley on 9 a., peas and beans on 30 a., and oats on 47 a. (fn. 3) The meadows were common pasture after the hay was carried and there was also pasture on Alden or Cannington Hill. In 1296-7 there were 58 a. of fallow, and in 1301 the manor had 324 a. of arable, ½ a. of meadow, and 20½ a. of pasture. Six customary tenants paid churchset. (fn. 4) The Chilton Trivet demesne was largely arable in 1316. Rents accounted for more than two thirds of manorial income. (fn. 5) By 1473 Rodway manor demesne was farmed and spring and autumn works were sold. The manor continued to maintain the drainage and in 1485 repaired the pound. (fn. 6) By the early 16th century even the pound was farmed. (fn. 7) In 1485 all rents were in cash and more than half came from overland (fn. 8) and demesne. (fn. 9) A neif at Rodway obtained permission to live out of the manor in 1532, (fn. 10) and in 1541 eleven men and their families there were manumitted. (fn. 11)

In 1539 Thomas Michell's livestock at Gurney Street included 14 oxen, a bull, and 36 other cattle, sheep, 8 horses, and 19 pigs. (fn. 12) The Cannington priory estate was let to farm in the 1530s, when the demesne measured 93 a., (fn. 13) and continued to be let by its lay owners. (fn. 14) Early 17th-century farming inventories record wheat, peas, beans, butter and cheese, pigs, cows, and sheep. One man had a flock of 21 sheep but the wealthiest yeoman, from a family manumitted in 1514, had two thirds of his wealth in cash. (fn. 15) A tenant farmer in 1664 had to work on the rhynes and was allowed to till only half his holding. (fn. 16) Inventories of the later 17th century show an increase in wealth; crops such as clover and meadow grass were recorded, and there were greater numbers of livestock, especially sheep. (fn. 17) One farmer in 1684 had 165 sheep, some fattening in the marsh, 8 plough oxen, cattle, horses, pigs, crops of wheat, barley, oats, peas, and hay, and cheese. There were two new rooms in his house and he held several leases. (fn. 18)

On the Brymore estate in the early 18th century tenant holdings were very small but the demesne farm measured 224 a. (fn. 19) Cannington manor was also divided into a large number of small holdings and the demesne lands were also let, including the park. (fn. 20) Early 18th-century inventories include clover, trefoil or vetch, and flax. Most farmers made cheese. One farmer kept ducks and geese in the marsh with young cattle and sheep. (fn. 21)

At the end of the 18th century improvements were made to farmhouses on the Clifford estate and the holdings were reorganized to form larger farms. One tenant held a piece of land for keeping the gates and another had a decoy. (fn. 22) In 1823 farmers were said to be 'opulent' and the parish to contain 1,100 a. of arable, 860 a. of ancient meadow, and 120 a. of orchard. (fn. 23) Between 1825 and 1830 c. 26 new houses were built and others were improved. (fn. 24) There were 1,670 a. under arable in 1839, 2,502 a. under grass, 86 a. of orchard, and 69 a. of gardens. Of the grassland, 670 a. were ancient meadow. Twentyfour holdings were 20-50 a., 9 were 50-100 a., 8 were 100-200 a., and three over 200 a., Gurney Street (233 a.), Brymore and Withiel (323 a.), and Higher Rodway (363 a.). (fn. 25) By 1851 there were 7 farms of over 200 a. and 7 more over 100 a. (fn. 26) Arable had shrunk to 1,286 a. in 1905 and there were said to be only 2,183 a. under grass. (fn. 27) In the mid 20th century Chilton Trivet farm produced crops of wheat, mixed oats, barley, peas and beans called balanced dredge, linseed, kale, mangolds, sugar beet, swedes, and turnips. Some meadow had been reseeded and one field of oats and barley was cut green. (fn. 28) Of 26 holdings covering 1,769 ha. (4,371 a.) in 1982 8 were over 100 ha. (247 a.) and 5 were under 10 ha. (25 a.), 10 were worked part time, 7 were dairy farms, 4 raised sheep and cattle, two specialized in cereals, and one in horticultural crops. The main crop was wheat (368 ha.), followed by barley (184 ha.), oats, potatoes, fodder roots and brassicas, and oilseed rape. There were nearly 12 ha. of horticultural crops including vegetables, glasshouse crops, apples, pears, and soft fruit. Livestock comprised 4,492 sheep, 2,272 cattle, 979 pigs, and 266 poultry. (fn. 29) At Rodway are the large grain stores of Cannington Grain Ltd., a co-operative storing and marketing grain from south-west England.

Combwich pill had attracted trade by the mid 14th century when both local and foreign vessels were shipping corn from there to Ireland and elsewhere. (fn. 30) It was part of the port of Bridgwater. In 1543 Combwich had 13 mariners, (fn. 31) and by 1601 its seamen were impressed for the navy. (fn. 32) Ships called there regularly in the 16th and early 17th centuries with coal, wine, iron, millstones, beans, woad, and oil, (fn. 33) and salt was a prominent commodity which was stored and weighed there before being transshipped to Bridgwater. (fn. 34) Irish boats were at Combwich in 1543 (fn. 35) and a trader from Cannington was taking goods to London in 1609. (fn. 36) Combwich traded by river with Langport and with Ham Mills on the Tone, despite plague, in 1625. (fn. 37) In 1678 a ropemaker worked at Combwich. (fn. 38) A ship was built there in the 1690s. (fn. 39)

In the later 18th century tile, coal, and culm were unloaded at the wharf in the pill, (fn. 40) and among the leading merchants of the period was William Emmet (d. c. 1758). (fn. 41) Henry Leigh, the largest shipowner in the 19th century, built up trade and added harbour facilities, (fn. 42) but vessels were owned or part-owned by a wide range of landowners, farmers, merchants, and even a labourer. (fn. 43) The vessels themselves ranged from small cutters to ships of over 400 tons which were unloaded at moorings in Combwich Reach and the cargoes lightered upstream, often as far as Langport. (fn. 44) By 1832 bricks were being exported from the yard of Henry Leigh the younger on the south side of the pill, and brick and tile became Combwich's main export. (fn. 45) In the 1860s Leigh's fleet sailed to Cardiff, Newport, Saundersfoot (Pemb.), Bristol, and Lydney (Glos.). Coastal trade extended as far as Sharpness (Glos.) and Bideford in the 1890s. (fn. 46) Coal was brought from Wales until the early 20th century and other goods were imported by the Combwich and District Farmers Association. (fn. 47) In the later 1950s the wharf was acquired by the Central Electricity Generating Board to bring in materials for Hinkley Point power station. By that date the brickyards of Colthurst, Symons, & Co., formerly Leigh's, had been closed for 20 years and clay extraction ceased in 1963. (fn. 48)

A Cannington shoemaker and farmer had leather worth £10 in 1640 and over £65 due on his shop book. (fn. 49) A fuller was recorded in 1649 (fn. 50) and a fellmonger in 1662. (fn. 51) There were several clothworkers in the parish in the later 17th and the early 18th century, (fn. 52) a blacksmith in 1725, and a sievemaker in 1777. (fn. 53) Occupations included bookbinding and watchmaking in 1871. (fn. 54) A brush factory in Combwich, operated by Morgan Brushes Ltd. in the later 20th century, closed in the 1980s. (fn. 55)


In 1086 there was a mill on John the usher's estate and a half mill at Chilton, perhaps Chilton Trivet. (fn. 56) In 1370 John Horsey sold a watermill in Cannington. (fn. 57) The mill of Bosecroft, recorded in 1225, may have been the later Gurney's mill, recorded in 1482. (fn. 58) Gurney Street mills and Southbrook water mill were recorded in 1740, (fn. 59) probably south of Gurney Street Farm on the two branches of Cannington brook. Gurney Street mill was rebuilt in 1872. (fn. 60)

A watermill at Blackmoor was recorded in 1370. (fn. 61) There was also a tucking mill at Blackmoor, probably adjoining the grist mill, between 1579 and 1647. (fn. 62) In 1775 the miller sold meal in Bridgwater and was said to have 'grown from a beggar to a gentleman'. (fn. 63) The mill went out of use in the later 19th century, (fn. 64) was demolished, and the site levelled.

The Cannington priory mill, recorded in 1536, (fn. 65) was later known as Coles's or Town mill. (fn. 66) Milling ceased in 1913 but the following year the mill was used to pulverize spar from Cannington quarry for use in munitions. It was operated by gas and then from a water-powered dynamo and both oil and steam engines. The mill employed c. 10 people and the ground spar was hauled to Bridgwater station by a steam traction engine. After 1918 the mill became derelict and in 1930 it was rebuilt as a dwelling and the pond filled in. (fn. 67)

Chilton mill, later Cook's mill, was recorded in 1494 and was attached to Chilton Trivet manor. (fn. 68) It may have been a fulling mill in 1599. (fn. 69) Like Town mill it was taken over for spar-crushing during the First World War but was later converted to a cheese factory powered by electricity from a turbine. The mill formerly had an overshot wheel. (fn. 70)

There was a mill at Combwich in the early 16th century, (fn. 71) probably on the north bank of the pill where Mill orchard was recorded in the 19th century. (fn. 72) The mill was last recorded in 1682. (fn. 73)


  • 1. V.C.H. Som. i. 435-6, 471-2, 485-7, 510, 521, 525.
  • 2. P.R.O., SC 6/974/8.
  • 3. Ibid. SC 6/1090/4.
  • 4. Ibid. SC 6/1090/4; E 142/8.
  • 5. Ibid. C 134/56, no. 4.
  • 6. W. Suss. R.O., PHA 5370; W. Suff. R.O. 449/E3/15.53/2.2.
  • 7. W. Suff. R.O. 449/E3/15.53/2.17.
  • 8. Land not part of a tenement.
  • 9. W. Suff. R.O. 449/E3/15.53/2.6.
  • 10. W. Suss. R.O., PHA, ct. roll.
  • 11. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xvi, p. 383.
  • 12. S.R.S. xxvii. 223-4.
  • 13. P.R.O., SC 6/Hen. VIII/3127.
  • 14. S.R.O., DD/BR/bn 10.
  • 15. Ibid. DD/SP inventories, 1634-7, 1645; L. & P. Hen. VIII, xvi, p. 383.
  • 16. S.R.O., DD/DP 50/9.
  • 17. Ibid. DD/SP inventories, 1671, 1674-6.
  • 18. Ibid. 1684.
  • 19. Ibid. DD/BW 461, 806.
  • 20. Ibid. Q/RR papists' estates, 1717, 1731, 1748.
  • 21. Ibid. DD/SP inventories, 1713, 1720-1, 1725, 1738.
  • 22. Clifford MSS., estate acct. and survey bk. c. 1805; S.R.O., Q/REI 7/2E; above, intro.
  • 23. S.R.O., DD/BR/da 8.
  • 24. Ibid. D/P/can 13/1/1.
  • 25. S.R.O., tithe award.
  • 26. P.R.O., HO 107/1924.
  • 27. Statistics supplied by the then Bd. of Agric., 1905.
  • 28. S.R.O., DD/DHR, box 12.
  • 29. Min. of Agric., Fisheries, and Food, agric. returns, 1982.
  • 30. Proc. before J.P.s, ed. B. Putnam, 191; Cal. Fine R. 1356-69, 291; Cal. Pat. 1364-7, 72, 78.
  • 31. Cal. Pat. 1399-1401, 8; 1401-5, 462; L. & P. Hen. VIII, xviii (1), p. 319.
  • 32. Acts of P.C. 1601-4, 137.
  • 33. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1438, 1440, 1442, 1456-7, 1464, 1471-2, 1477, 1498.
  • 34. Ibid. 1438, 1450, 1481, 1484.
  • 35. Ibid. 1442.
  • 36. Ibid. 1493.
  • 37. S.R.S. xxiv. 9.
  • 38. S.R.O., DD/SP inventory, 1678.
  • 39. Wimborne St. Giles, Shaftesbury MS. L79 (1702).
  • 40. S.R.O., DD/ARN 8; Clifford MSS., Som. estate papers.
  • 41. S.R.O., DD/AH 12/5; DD/FA 11/1.
  • 42. Ibid. DD/FA 11/2; P.R.O., HO 107/935; ibid. RG 11/2371.
  • 43. S.R.O., DD/FA 11/1-2.
  • 44. Ibid. 11/2.
  • 45. Ibid. DD/X/HMY 17.
  • 46. Ibid. DD/RSS 2, 20, 46, 67.
  • 47. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1906, 1939).
  • 48. Som. C.C., Sites and Mons. Rec.
  • 49. S.R.O., DD/SP inventory, 1640.
  • 50. Ibid. DD/WG 13/1.
  • 51. Ibid. Q/SR 102/55.
  • 52. Ibid. DD/SP inventories, 1672, 1675, 1716; DD/DN 463.
  • 53. Ibid. DD/SP inventory, 1725; DD/SAS (H/104) 14.
  • 54. P.R.O, RG 10/2380.
  • 55. Bridgwater Mercury, 17 Jan. 1989.
  • 56. V.C.H. Som. i. 486, 521.
  • 57. Cal. Pat. 1367-70, 457.
  • 58. S.R.S. xi, pp. 209-10; lxx, p. 51.
  • 59. S.R.O., DD/DHR, box 3.
  • 60. Devon R.O. 547 B/P 2340, 3484.
  • 61. Cal. Fine R. 1369-77, 102.
  • 62. S.R.O., DD/S/WH 243; DD/S/BW 5.
  • 63. Ibid. DD/FD 16.
  • 64. P.R.O., RG 9/1621; RG 10/2380; RG 11/2371.
  • 65. Ibid. SC 6/Hen. VIII/3127.
  • 66. S.R.O., D/P/can 4/1/1; ibid. tithe award.
  • 67. Ibid. D/P/can 23/6; D/R/bw 22/1/21; ibid. T/PH/hdn 1.
  • 68. Ibid. DD/S/WH 58; D/P/can 4/1/1; DD/DHR, box 3.
  • 69. P.R.O., CP 25(2)/207/41 Eliz. I East.
  • 70. S.R.O., T/PH/hdn 1; Som. C.C., Sites and Mons. Rec.
  • 71. P.R.O., LR 3/123.
  • 72. S.R.O., tithe award.
  • 73. Ibid. DD/ARN 5.