Ashcott takes its name from the woodland which
probably once covered the eastern part of the Poldens.
(fn. 1) It lies 7 km. south-west of Glastonbury and includes Ashcott village and the hamlets of Pedwell, Nythe, Buscott, Berhill, and Ashcott Heath. It is irregular in shape, with projections into the peat moors to the north and Sedgemoor to the south-west resulting from inclosure. It measures roughly 4.5 km. from north to south and 3 km. from east to west at its widest point. The Sutton and Greinton rhynes, recorded as the ditch of Sedgemoor and Blackbrokesditch c. 1520, form most of the southern and south-western boundaries; stones and careful measurements were needed to mark its limits in the Middle Ages when the moors were not considered part of the parish.
(fn. 2) After inclosure of the moors in 1798 the parish measured 2,272 a.
(fn. 3) but minor alterations to the boundary with Greinton in 1883 and with Walton in 1885 resulted in a modern civil parish of 964 ha. (2,382 a.).
Most land lies above 7.5 m. (25 ft.) on the eastern end of the Polden spur, rising to 68 m. (225 ft.) in the west. A ridge of small hills lies on the southern side of the spur including Pedwell (71 m., 235 ft.) and Priest hills (61 m., 200 ft.).
(fn. 5) The parish lies largely on Lower Lias clay, but faults running north-west of Ashcott village along the southern edge of the parish are marked by pockets of Rhaetic clay. A narrow band of Keuper marl borders Sedgemoor, and a small outcrop of the same in the moor constitutes the low 'island' of Nythe. The moors to the north and south lie on the peat, divided from the main part of the parish by narrow bands of alluvium.
The Bridgwater road was turnpiked by the Bridgwater trust in 1759,
(fn. 7) and the road to Glastonbury east of Piper's inn, where the Bridgwater, Taunton, and Ilchester roads converge,
(fn. 8) was turnpiked in 1753.
(fn. 9) The Taunton road was turnpiked by the Wells trust in 1779.
(fn. 10) Gates were set up on both the Bridgwater and Taunton roads west of the inn.
(fn. 11) The parallel ridgeway to the north of the Taunton road and the lane which links them were turnpiked in 1826 as part of the High Ham and Ashcott turnpike road, which continued through Ashcott village to Meare with a tollgate at Buscott. The lane north from the corner of the High Ham turnpike in Pedwell to the Bridgwater road was adopted in 1827 by the Wedmore trust.
The Glastonbury canal, opened in 1833 and closed in 1853,
(fn. 13) ran along the northern boundary. The Somerset Central Railway, built along the canal bank, was opened in 1854. Ashcott and Meare station was built just inside the parish boundary. The line was crossed by a narrow gauge peat tramway worked by light petrol-driven engines, one of which caused a serious derailment in 1949. The line closed in 1966, and in 1997 the station was a private house.
In the later 13th century 154 eggs were due from the parish, possibly an Easter offering from all adults.
(fn. 15) During the early 14th century between 40 and 50 males a year paid chevage to Glastonbury abbey
(fn. 16) but the number fell to 14 in 1349 and to 10 in 1350 and 1375.
(fn. 17) There were said to be c. 260 inhabitants in 50 houses in the 1780s, about a quarter of which were in Pedwell.
(fn. 18) In 1801 the population numbered 358 and in 1811 463. It rose to 712 in 1821 and continued to rise to a peak of 859 in 1851 before falling gradually to 839 in 1881, more sharply to 656 in 1891, when 23 houses were uninhabited,
(fn. 19) and to 598 in 1901. Numbers remained stable in the early 20th century but extensive housing development in the village in the later 20th century caused the population to rise sharply to 942 in 1961 and to 1,202 in 1971 before stabilising. There were 1,173 residents in 1991.
SETTLEMENT AND BUILDINGS
Evidence of Mesolithic occupation has been found on the Polden slope north of the village and in Ashcott Heath, and a Neolithic hurdle trackway, named . Rowland's trackway and discovered in 1975, evidently crossed Ashcott Heath to the island of Meare. Fragments of another trackway and Mesolithic and later flints have also been found there. A Romano-British site on Pedwell Hill may have been a shrine.
Ashcott parish 1838
The turbary on Ashcott Heath
A turf cutter's cob house on Ashcott Heath c. 1910
Ashcott is a large nucleated settlement around an irregular grid. It was almost surrounded by the former north and south fields, also known as Ashcott and Bradley fields.
(fn. 2) The older houses are of stone and many are colourwashed. At least one house of medieval origin survives and another dates from the 16th century.
(fn. 3) The increased use of the Bridgwater-Glastonbury road after it was turnpiked encouraged building alongside in the form of large houses in substantial grounds. Ashcott house of the later 18th century was altered in the early 19th century. The early 19th-century Lockhill Hall, near the junction of the Taunton and Bridgwater roads, has a Tuscan portico and a gated entrance. Ashcott Villa, south of the Bridgwater road, also dates from the early 19th century. The later 19th-century Ashcott Hill House had thirteen bedrooms, billiard room, circular library, strong room, and conservatory in 1937 and extensive grounds including two large kitchen gardens, vinery, heated glasshouses, archery glade, and tennis courts, all screened from the road by massive walls.
(fn. 4) Millslade Villa, later Millslade Hall, was built 1911-12 between Ashcott and Buscott for F. R. Howe. In the early 20th century houses were built along the principal roads notably around the junction of the Taunton and Bridgwater roads, at Berhill on the Ilchester road, and west of Ashcott village. Eight houses were built by the local authority in Back Lane c. 1938 and significant later 20thcentury development has taken place mainly within Ashcott village on former gardens and orchards.
Pedwell occupies the narrow space between its former east and west fields, also known as Honeypots and Pedwell fields.
(fn. 1) It is a settlement of later 18th- or early 19th-century houses, although one medieval house survives on the Taunton road. A settlement of peat workers grew up at Ashcott Heath in the 19th centuy after inclosure.
Ashcott Union friendly society, recorded in 1778, was still in existence in 1901 when it held a feast on 29 May, possibly the Ashcott revel mentioned in the 1780s.
(fn. 3) A 'club house' and an 'old club house' near the Ashcott inn were three dwellings in 1861.
(fn. 4) Part of the former poorhouse was used as a reading room in 1891.
(fn. 5) A club and institute with facilities for theatrical and cinema presentations and billiards was designed in 1919 as a war memorial but closed before 1980.
(fn. 6) The former school became a church room after 1911 and in 1985 was sold for a village hall, but had to be demolished in 1987 and rebuilt.
(fn. 7) In 1947 there was a cricket club, and a football club was shared with Meare.
A tippler, unlicensed in 1607, was one of two licensed in 1620.
(fn. 9) In 1610 a man from Pedwell was accused of keeping a Sunday ale with musicians and dancers.
(fn. 10) Two tipplers were in breach of the assize of ale in 1622.
(fn. 11) There were two licensed premises on the Bridgwater - Glastonbury road in the 17th century: the Black Boy, named in 1656, but said to have been open since 1616 or earlier,
(fn. 12) and the Castle, there in 1675.
(fn. 13) In 1686 the inns could provide beds for six guests and stabling for eight horses.
(fn. 14) The Castle appears to have been rebuilt, possibly in the late 17th century. Piper's inn, recorded in 1723 and perhaps named after its builder Hugh Piper, almost certainly began as an alternative name to the Castle.
(fn. 15) It was the recorded meeting place of Whitley hundred court between 1746 and 1804.
(fn. 16) Piper's inn remained open in 1997, although during the mid 20th century it was first a temperance hotel and then held an on-licence only.
(fn. 17) In the mid 19th century the inn moved to larger premises adjoining and the old building became a private house.
Other 18th-century inns were the Golden Heart and the Blue Bowl or Ball. The latter was probably renamed the Ashcott inn,
(fn. 19) south of the Bridgwater road, which remains in business. The building dates from the 17th century but was refronted and altered in the 18th and 20th centuries. The Royal Oak, open in 1840 and 1851, and the Queens Arms, recorded in 1851, were probably in Ashcott village.
(fn. 20) The Traveller's Rest was recorded in 1851 but closed c. 1909, and the New Inn, in High Street, open in 1871, had gone out of business by 1926.
(fn. 21) The Sportsman's Arms, opened among the cottages on the turf moors before 1866, closed in 1924 when trade had declined to seven barrels of beer a year. It became a private house.
(fn. 22) The Ring of Bells in Ashcott village, recorded in 1871, and the Albion on the Bridgwater road, open in 1861,
(fn. 23) remain in business.
MANORS AND OTHER ESTATES
Ashcott may have been part of the Saxon estate of Pouelt and thus included in Aethelheard's grant of that estate to Glastonbury in 729.
(fn. 24) An estate at Ashcott was held of Glastonbury by two thegns in 1066 and by Walter of Douai in 1086.
(fn. 25) By the early 12th century Walter's terre tenancy had passed to Baldwin of Ashcott, who held one fee there. His son Juain or Ywain (d. by 1166) was disinherited
(fn. 26) and the abbey resumed the fee and held it in 1189, possibly following an exchange made by Abbot Henry of Blois before 1171.
Glastonbury abbey had a second estate in Ashcott held by Almar in 1066 and by Roger de Courcelles in 1086.
(fn. 28) It probably descended like Curry Mallet through the Malet family to William de Forz, son of Mabel Malet. William's daughter and coheir Cecily, widow of John de Beauchamp (d. 1283), held the fee in 1286 when the abbey agreed to claim only half of it.
(fn. 1) The lordship, a mesne holding, descended in the barony of Compton Dundon to the Strangways family and was last recorded in 1510.
The terre tenancy may have been held by Hugh of Greinton whose daughter and coheir Alemandina, with her husband Walter le Cok or Tok, granted an estate in fee in Ashcott and Greinton in 1253 to Geoffrey of Langley.
(fn. 3) In 1280 Geoffrey claimed to hold a free tenement but (Sir) Richard of Chauton claimed that Geoffrey held his Ashcott land by demise of Richard's father Walter to Walter of Langley.
(fn. 4) In 1287 it was said that Geoffrey held Ashcott of Richard.
(fn. 5) Shortly afterwards Geoffrey granted all his estate at Ashcott to Peter Fardeyn and his wife Alice for a penny rent.
(fn. 6) Peter and Alice conveyed it to Thomas Tilley of Bristol c. 1301, and in 1320 Alice released her life interest to Thomas's son Richard.
Richard Tilley's holding in 1325 was described as a house and 12 bovates held by knight service.
(fn. 8) He was succeeded before 1332 by his son William from whom c. 1333 Glastonbury abbey bought them. Walter de Chauton released his right to Ashcott in 1333, presumably as heir to Richard, the latter having recovered his rights against Geoffrey's heirs with the help of the abbot, to whom he had granted half his interest in 1290.
(fn. 9) In 1349 the abbey was licensed to acquire further land.
(fn. 10) That may have been part of the three virgates held by Walter de Chauton by knight service in 1325, as in 1351 the abbey paid for the care of Walter's sheep.
(fn. 11) In 1343 Walter's son Richard did fealty for two virgates. Richard may have been followed by Walter Wootton whose heirs were said to be Henry Hygon and Walter Michell.
(fn. 12) Walter Michell (d. 1487) held an estate in Ashcott of the manor of Compton Dundon by knight service. His sons William and John died without issue and the estate passed in 1492 to another son, Thomas.
(fn. 13) Thomas (d. 1503) was succeeded by his son Thomas who died in 1539, and in 1543 the estate was granted to William Portman during the minority of Thomas's son Richard.
(fn. 14) The later history of the estate is unknown.
Glastonbury abbey acquired several small holdings in Ashcott in the 1290s including a messuage and carucate in 1291 which Anthony of Bradney had received from Sir Richard de Chauton, the lands of Michael le Gouvis in 1292, and in 1293 small parcels of land of Sampson le Fry, son of Walter who had held half a virgate of the abbot.
(fn. 15) Those holdings were probably merged with the manor. By the 1440s the abbey almoner had small rent charges on Ashcott and Pedwell.
Following the Dissolution the Crown leased the manor to William Paulet, Baron St. John, in 1549. It was sold to Sir William Petre in 1553 and settled in 1554 on Sir William and his wife Anne and their son John in tail male.
(fn. 17) The same year Sir William sold the manor back to the Crown in return for an estate in Essex
(fn. 18) and in 1557 it was settled on Sir John Cheke (d. 1557) and his wife Mary in tail male.
(fn. 19) On her death in 1616 Mary, then wife of Henry MacWilliams, was succeeded by her grandson Sir Thomas Cheke (d. 1659).
(fn. 20) The manor presumably descended in the Cheke family until 1704 when it was sold by Edward Cheke and his wife Anne to John Morse and John Ames.
(fn. 21) Between 1719 and 1737 Ames (d. c. 1728) and his devisee, also John Ames, divided and sold and estate called Ashcott farm.
(fn. 22) In 1723 the lordship was held by James Long (fl. 1755), who was followed in the 1780s by a Revd. Mr. Long. There appears to have been no land attached to it
(fn. 23) and in 1787 it was sold by Lucas Pulsford and his wife Jane and James Haynes and his wife Alice to James Patten.
(fn. 24) In 1797 John Lilly successfully claimed to be lord of the manor and held land in Ashcott until 1839 or later.
(fn. 25) (Admiral) V. Hickley and his trustees claimed lordship between 1872 and 1899, and thereafter it was claimed by the Strangways family, the largest landowners in the parish.
In the later 13th century Geoffrey of Langley had licence to build a chapel in his court.
(fn. 27) That may have been the house called Pyneleshall on the former Tilley estate recorded in 1334-5 or the capital messuage said to have been given to the abbey by the Chauton family.
(fn. 28) Neither house nor chapel was recorded in a terrier of c. 1520 but a capital messuage was mentioned in 1553.
Pedwell was held by Algar in 1066 and by Walter of Douai under Glastonbury abbey in 1086.
(fn. 1) It descended with Ashcott until 1166 when Juain son of Baldwin of Ashcott forfeited a fee at Pedwell, and the land was presumably resumed by Glastonbury abbey.
(fn. 2) In the later 13th century an estate in Pedwell was held by William, son of Robert of Middleton, and Maud, daughter of Arnulph de la Strete.
In 1311 lands in Pedwell and elsewhere were settled on (Sir) Richard Pike and his wife Margaret
(fn. 4) and descended in the Pike family with their manor of Moorlinch to Elizabeth, elder daughter of Thomas Pike (d. 1555).
(fn. 5) The descent of Pedwell thereafter is not known until it came into the hands of the Whitehead family, who sold it in 1729 to James Yorke (d. 1736). His widow Ann devised the estate to her kinsman John Hippisley Coxe (d. c. 1768),
(fn. 6) who bought a further estate there and left both to his third son Henry, a minor.
(fn. 7) Henry seems to have sold the land c. 1788 to John Lilly,
(fn. 8) who sold some land in 1814 to Robert Beck Willy (d. 1837) who had married Anne Lilly, and in 1839 she held the Pedwell estate (over 260 a.).
(fn. 9) The estate was probably broken up after her death and its descent has not been traced further.
The principal estate at Pedwell centred on Pedwell Court, by 1988 divided into three dwellings known as Old Court and 22 and 24 Taunton Road. The first named is an 18th-century extension to the north but the others are subdivisions of a medieval hall house and there is a detached medieval building, possibly a kitchen.
In 1839 the rectorial tithes of Ashcott were commuted for £158 16s.
(fn. 11) In 1538 Shapwick rectory comprised 6s. in rents from Pedwell, and tithes.
(fn. 12) The Glastonbury almoner had a barn by 1531 presumably for tithe crops.
(fn. 13) Great and small tithes on certain lands were owed to the rector of Walton in the 17th century.
(fn. 14) From the 1680s a composition was due in lieu on c. 82 a., although the rector made attempts to exact tithe in kind.
In 1086 Walter of Douai's combined holding at Ashcott and Pedwell measured 6 hides; the size of his demesne and of his 10 tenants' holdings is not recorded, but there were 4 serfs. He had 12 a. of meadow and his stock comprised 4 beasts, 23 swine, and 55 sheep. Roger de Courcelles' holding at Ashcott gelded for 2 hides and there was land for 3 ploughteams. The demesne measured 1½ hide with a team of 2 oxen and 2 serfs. Two villeins and 3 bordars had 1 team and the remaining arable. There were 4 a. of meadow and stock comprising 1 riding horse, 2 cattle, 7 swine, 42 sheep, and 8 she-goats.
(fn. 16) By 1171 the estate formerly held by Walter of Douai and lost by Juain of Ashcott had been resumed by Glastonbury abbey, and recorded stock on the demesne, presumably both in Ashcott and Pedwell, were 16 oxen and 1 draught horse.
(fn. 17) By 1189 there were 28 oxen and 4 draught horses and rents de dono of 15s. 8d.
(fn. 18) By 1198 the demesne was let and rents were worth 30s. 8d., almost half gavel rents.
(fn. 19) In 1201 rents had risen slightly, church scot was paid in wheat and hens, and on the demesne were two ploughs although three were needed, 16 oxen and 2 draught horses, 1 sow, 1 boar, and 8 young pigs.
Abbey tenants in 1189 comprised 11 half-virgaters, 25 5-a. holders, later known as ferdellers, 2 of whom had additional land, and 5 holding fewer than 5 a. including a weaver, a carpenter, and a smith. Several half-virgaters owed only light services, usually vineyard or carrying work and rent, one in honey. The others, with the 5-a. tenants, owed more onerous services including ploughing and paid hearth penny and corn at the feast of St. Martin (11 November). Some 5-a. tenants rendered church scot hens instead of corn. Most holding fewer than 5 a. were free of services, but one man was required to provide ironwork for ploughs. Corn and hay were said to be well gathered and the land well cultivated.
By the mid 13th century the former Courcelles' estate had shrunk through subinfeudation, and in 1242-3 Geoffrey of Langley, owner of what remained, was accused of overpasturing at Ashcott and Walton with 150 goats and 20 cattle beyond the customary 16 oxen assigned to the estate.
(fn. 22) The Glastonbury abbey estate, perhaps twenty years later, comprised a demesne holding of 545 a. of arable and 73 a. of meadow, much of the arable lying in units of 20 a. and more, the meadow mostly in a single unit of 64 a. in Dinmede. Wheat, rye, barley, oats and beans were all sown in varying quantities, and two men were needed to keep the plough oxen. Tenants paid gavel rents of 66s. 11d., larder rents of 17s., vineyard rents of 5s. 2d., Peter's Pence of 2s. 9d., 90 church scot hens, and eggs worth 6d.
(fn. 1) In 1257-8 wheat, barley, beans, and oats were grown and among the demesne stock were 24 cattle.
(fn. 2) In 1274-5 wheat (203 a.), oats (66 a.), barley, and beans were sown on 290 a. and there were 32 cattle. Rents then amounted to £4 12s.
In the mid 13th century there were 15 half-virgaters, 1 tenant holding 7½ a., 19 with 5 a., and 1 with a house and croft. Rents had risen over the previous century and works had become more onerous, especially for the half-virgaters. Works included fencing at Pilton park, working in the vineyard at Glastonbury, and carrying wood from Baltonsborough and other supplies to Glastonbury. The duties of tenants of 5 a. were less onerous than those of their large neighbours but included threshing and rick making.
(fn. 4) Later the 5-a. tenants were each required to do 140 day works (handen) as well as 2 days hoeing and two ploughing or carrying.
(fn. 5) Eighteen tenants of 5 a. before the mid 13th century were assumed to have up to 5 sheep each, which were folded with the lord's flock in spring;
(fn. 6) later in the century tenants kept horses, cattle, and geese.
Glastonbury abbey took over more land in the 1290s
(fn. 8) and by 1300 its cash income included customary rents of £6 9s. 5d., rents from life tenants of £3 6s. 1d., some small increased rents, substantial entry fines, and an aid from all villeins worth £2 17s. Wheat and oats were the principal grain crops, but vetches had been sown in the previous year.
(fn. 9) Between 1306 and 1312 rents almost doubled to over £12 6s., and by 1342 had reached well over £17.
(fn. 10) Correspondingly the demesne had contracted: there were 314 a. of arable and 44 a. of meadow in 1325
(fn. 11) and about the same in 1334-5 when a third was fallow for one year, 82 a. for two, and the rest sown with wheat (106 a.), oats (29 a.) and beans (5 a.).
During the 15th century rents rose from over £17 7s. in 1428 to over £25 15s. in 1455 but then remained stable until the Dissolution, excluding the farm of the demesne, but in 1535 arrears totalled over £11.
(fn. 13) By 1427-8 there were only 298 a. of arable including 71 a. of oats, 63 a. of wheat, and 4 a. of beans and the rest fallow, some for three years.
(fn. 14) By 1491-2 there had been a further reduction to 41 a. of oats and 38 a. of wheat
(fn. 15) and only two ploughs were needed.
(fn. 16) By 1497 the demesne was farmed for £5,
(fn. 17) reduced to £4 by 1534 when the acreage had reduced to c. 175 a. from over 260 a., of which 181 a. was arable c. 1520.
(fn. 18) In 1497 the farmer had pasture for cattle, horses, pigs, and sheep
(fn. 19) but apart from the barton there were no closes on the demesne before the Dissolution.
(fn. 20) By 1531, although Ashcott field produced arable crops like dredge, part of it was used as meadow.
Small quantities of grain were consumed on the estate by the livestock or by the household, which was small and varied according to need.
(fn. 22) Hinds, later acremen, carters, cowherds, and drovers were employed and a shepherd when the abbey flock was in the parish.
(fn. 23) Livestock, especially oxen and sheep, were moved between the abbey manors as necessary. The sheep flock regularly left the parish and returned to it until the estate was farmed in the 1490s. In 1366 212 sheep were sent to Ashcott from Glastonbury, followed by 91, mainly ewes, in 1368.
(fn. 24) In 1377-8 there were 5 rams and 183 ewes with 163 lambs, producing nearly 15 stone of wool and 37 sheepskins.
(fn. 25) In 1390 a flock of 690 sheep was received from Glastonbury
(fn. 26) and in 1394 the shepherd washed 207 ewes which produced 16 stone of wool but no lambs.
(fn. 27) In 1402-3 there were 331 ewes, probably including the 200 Welsh ewes bought that year whose wool was sold.
(fn. 28) The next record of the flock was in 1428 when 304 ewes produced wool but again no lambs.
(fn. 29) The flock had increased to 154 ewes in 1454-5 but 150 died without lambing and in 1459-60 110 were bought.
(fn. 30) The flock was 138 in 1465-6 and 227 in 1475-6, of which only 30 had lambs and 115 died.
(fn. 31) A flock of 318 in 1491-2 produced 50 lambs and nearly 11 stone of wool.
(fn. 32) Church scot hens and eggs were sent to Glastonbury together with capons and geese bought and raised on the demesne,
(fn. 33) but by the 1390s poultry were also sold or supplied to Whitley hundred and other courts.
(fn. 34) The manor dovecot produced up to 360 squabs a year in the early 14th century but was farmed by 1325,
(fn. 1) and by 1388 it was ruinous and appears not to have been repaired.
(fn. 2) Swarms of bees were hived and sold throughout the 14th century.
(fn. 3) In 1331 two sows were bought which produced piglets for sale, but normally pigs were acquired as heriots and sold.
(fn. 4) During the 14th century tenants' sheep and pigs were impounded, including a flock of 80 ewes in 1352,
(fn. 5) and in 1357 26 unringed pigs broke a ditch and got into the meadows.
Tenants were still classed as half-virgaters or ferdellers c. 1520 whatever the actual size of their estate. The number of holdings was almost the same as in the 13th century: 16 half-virgaters, 14 ferdellers, and 6 cottagers, at least one of whom was a neif. Three tenements had a second dwelling, one of them a ferdeller's messuage, a cottage and its land had been let for a church house, and 5 ferdeller's holdings with tofts, presumably the sites of their houses, had been incorporated into other tenements. Ten of the holdings were at Pedwell.
Arable land probably continued to predominate in the parish in the 17th century. In 1638 and 1659 a local man was licensed as a corn badger with up to three packhorses.
(fn. 8) Ashcott farm (320 a.) was described in 1715 as mostly poor ground hardly worth sowing,
(fn. 9) and in order to improve quality a tenant in 1710 was required to dung the arable and to leave part of the last crop of peas, beans, or vetches.
(fn. 10) During the 18th century there appears to have been a change to grass at Pedwell. The demesne c. 1729 had about 190 a. of arable and pasture. By 1742, although there was harness on one farm for 8 oxen only 4 were kept, and there were 13 milch cows in addition to calves, yearlings, and fattening cows, and a flock of 86 sheep and lambs. Produce comprised 30 tons of hay and 15 cwt. of cheese as well as wheat and beans. In 1760 a list of improvements to be carried out on the estate included laying arable to French grass and inclosing the meadow. The larger farms were let at rack rents, but 14s. of manor rents were received and payments for mowing and haymaking suggest that some meadow was kept in hand.
(fn. 11) Ashcott was said to be mainly arable in the 1780s although the soil was poor and husbandry was neglected.
Common rights on Turfmoor and Sedgemoor survived until the end of the 18th century and probably extended to the whole of each moor, irrespective of parish boundaries. Pedwell manor had common rights over 12,000 a. of King's Sedgemoor c. 1729.
(fn. 13) In 1769 there were disputes with Shapwick over common on Sedgemoor. Inclosure was planned and 526 a. of moor were said to belong to Ashcott landowners. Pedwell Plain had already been divided from the rest of the moor and Nythe farm taken out of the moor.
(fn. 14) In 1798 Turfmoor and Sedgemoor, 450 a. and 330 a. respectively, were inclosed.
In 1839 there were 1,438 a. of titheable grassland and 736 a. of arable. Moduses were due on ancient meadow and on cows and heifers in lieu of milk tithe. The largest holding was Pedwell farm with over 260 a. Six farms had between 100 a. and 200 a., six between 50 a. and 100 a., seven between 25 a. and 50 a., and eight fewer than 25 a.
(fn. 16) During the mid 19th century 20 farms were recorded employing c. 50 labourers.
(fn. 17) In 1867 cheese was said to be the chief article of sale. There was an ample supply of cottages
(fn. 18) but in 1871 many lodgers were recorded and one elderly labourer lived in a stall.
(fn. 19) By 1881 there appears to have been a fall in the number of labourers employed although the number of farms had hardly altered.
(fn. 20) Arable had shrunk to 365 a. in 1905 when there was 1,934 a. of grass.
Holdings remained relatively modest in the 1920s and in 1939 there were only four farms over 150 a.
(fn. 22) In 1923 the 37-a. holding at Lockhill Hall had accommodation for 18 cows, a cider house, granary, and three piggeries.
(fn. 23) Cows were still milked in the open air at one farm in the 1950s.
(fn. 24) There was a poultry farm near Piper's inn in the later 20th century.
In 1086 there was 40 a. of underwood at Pedwell.
(fn. 26) Woodland at Southsuddon, probably Pedwell wood, and Whitley in the east of the parish covered about 56 a. and was cropped in alternate years in the 14th century.
(fn. 27) A wood called Osenhulle or Esenhull was recorded in the 14th and 15th centuries, apparently part of Whitley wood.
(fn. 28) Underwood from Whitley and Huccomb in the south-east was sold in 1449.
(fn. 29) About 1520 the demesne included 28 a. of underwood in Whitley. Pedwell wood (30 a.), planted with oak, ash, hazel, maple, and thorn, was said to be saleable every 12th year and the vicar rented 4½ a. at Talley on Pedwell Hill, although the great trees were later said to be reserved.
(fn. 1) The farmer of the demesne in the 1530s held 28 a. of pasture and underwood in Whitley in several.
(fn. 2) In 1543 the clergy of Street were given rights to firewood, both hardwood and underwood in Pedwell and Eswele, probably Esenhull, and tenants of the manor were entitled to spars and stretchers.
(fn. 3) In 1838 over 47 a. of woodland survived, some in small areas at Pedwell Hill and Priesthill in the south but mainly in coppices at Whitley,
(fn. 4) which had been cleared by 1885.
(fn. 5) There were 25 a. of woodland in 1905.
Turf cutting in the moor by tenants without licence was recorded in 1344-5
(fn. 7) In 1531 and 1538 there were no turf tithes paid as none had been dug but tenants were said to have turf rights on Heath moor.
(fn. 8) The lord of Pedwell manor had turbary rights on Turfmoor c. 1729
(fn. 9) and under the 1798 inclosure award the poor were allowed 20 a. to cut for their own use.
(fn. 10) From 1808 turbary allotments were bought and sold and by the 1830s the first houses were being built on them.
(fn. 11) In 1839 some turbary allotments had returned to agricultural use
(fn. 12) and it was said that all the turf had been cut in some areas. One plot was a new orchard and another produced alternate crops of wheat and potatoes.
Commercial exploitation of the peat had begun by 1851 when three turf cutters and eight turf merchants were recorded.
(fn. 14) More houses were built on the moor and by 1866 a beerhouse had opened.
(fn. 15) In 1867 men, women, and children worked together turf cutting in spring and summer. It was considered demoralising work and the turf cutting community on the moor was described as uncivilised, their cottages small and overcrowded.
(fn. 16) In 1871 11 turf merchants lived in the parish and at least 13 in 1881 when a shop was open on the moor. Others probably cut turf part-time. Many allotments had been subdivided and at least one converted to a withy bed.
(fn. 17) Hand cutting on small areas of moor continued into the 20th century dominated by one or two extended families.
(fn. 18) A peat factory had been established near the railway station by the 1920s, producing peat fuel, firelighters, mould, dust, litter, and bulb fibre.
(fn. 19) In 1947 it employed between 15 and 20 workers.
(fn. 20) By 1967 there were two companies digging peat on over 50 a. and extraction had increased by 1972 but the industry has since declined. Digging was active in one small field in the 1990s.
In the mid 13th century there was a mill in Ashcott belonging to the Glastonbury abbey cook. It was probably a windmill and was still owned by the cook in 1325.
(fn. 22) It appears to have stood in the north-east, near the later Millslade Farm,
(fn. 23) and was still in existence in the later 14th century.
(fn. 24) A miller was recorded in 1738.
A horse mill at Pedwell was in decay by 1531.
TRADE AND INDUSTRY
A weaver and a carpenter were recorded in 1189
(fn. 27) and there may have been another weaver in the mid 13th century.
(fn. 28) A tanhouse south of Ashcott village had gone out of use by 1839. A brewery was in business at Pedwell between 1808 and 1839.
(fn. 29) It may have gone out of use shortly afterwards and had been demolished by 1885.
(fn. 30) The Moor Brewery at Ashcott was founded in 1996.
There was evidence of early 19th-century quarrying and brickmaking along the Taunton road and there were limekilns at Millslade farm, probably worked by the limeburner recorded in 1851, and in the extreme south-east.
(fn. 32) In 1891 there was a family of quarrymen presumably working in the small quarry north of the church.
Ashcott's position on a major road probably accounted for the number of businesses in the 19th century: 27 households were engaged in trade in 1811.
(fn. 34) In 1840 several mail coaches and waggons to London, Taunton, Bridgwater, and Exeter passed through daily and the village had a post office, two drapers, a grocer, a wheelwright, a surgeon, an attorney, several building workers, and a straw bonnet maker. A tallow chandler, a cooper, and a basketmaker were recorded in 1841.
(fn. 1) In 1851 there were two solicitors, a broom maker, a builder employing eight men, and a saddler with two journeymen.
(fn. 2) A glover and a sieve maker were recorded in 1861 and a saddler and sack contractor in 1866.
(fn. 3) In 1871 there were at least six shops, one occupied by a harness maker, and another at Pedwell. Four women worked in a shoe factory, presumably at Street. Some women in 1881 were shoe fitters and finishers.
(fn. 4) A watchmaker was at work by 1889 and in 1891 there were several railway employees.
(fn. 5) There was a saddlery in 1909.
(fn. 6) In 1939 local businesses included a tanhouse and a hairdressing salon
(fn. 7) and in 1947 there were an agricultural engineer employing three people, three general shops, a butcher, an ironmonger, shoe- and car-repairers, and a district nurse. Four shops remained open in 1980 together with a hairdresser and two garages.
(fn. 8) The store and post office remained open with a hairdresser, a furniture maker, and a catering butcher's.
By 1840 a stock fair was held at Ashcott on 9 January.
(fn. 9) School children were given a holiday for the fair in 1901 and it was recorded in directories until 1939 but no other evidence for it has been found.
Ashcott formed a single tithing and paid a fine to Whitley hundred, also known as Post and Sine, amounting in the 1530s to 5s. probably twice a year. By the 18th century the sum was 14s. 4d. a year paid by a number of inhabitants until 1739. Thereafter until 1836 or later it was paid out of the poor rates.
Halimote and manor courts were held two or four times a year between the 13th and 16th centuries. Court rolls survive for 1265,
(fn. 12) 1299-1300,
(fn. 13) and for several years between 1304 and 1408,
(fn. 14) estreats for 1544-5,
(fn. 15) and a copy of court roll for 1691.
(fn. 16) In addition to tenancies the courts dealt with pleas between tenants, agricultural matters including fines for bad husbandry and presentments of dead animals, ditching, repairs to buildings, appointments of reeves, unlicensed turf cutting, villein tenants living or marrying out of the manor, collecting male chevage, and thefts.
(fn. 17) By the later 14th century courts were held at Shapwick, and were still held there twice a year in the 1540s when business appears to have been confined to tenancies and strays.
(fn. 18) The pound, recorded in 1342,
(fn. 19) probably abutted the church yard.
The churchwardens were recorded in 1520,
(fn. 21) and in the 17th and early 18th centuries were responsible for maintenance of several rhynes, gates, and bridges, the parish house, and the parish land. They also relieved large numbers of travellers and in 1707-8 contributed towards the repair of a house, possibly the parish house.
(fn. 22) In the 17th century the parish shared with its neighbours responsibility for maintenance of the Bridgwater road and Burrow bridge.
(fn. 23) The overseer paid poor relief in cash by the late 18th century and also paid for repairs to ditches, hedges, and gates.
The parish house south-west of the churchyard, sometimes called the church house or poorhouse, was probably the former church house and was let out in 1723 and 1755.
(fn. 25) The overseers of the poor maintained it from the late 18th century and in 1781 bought furniture and other household items for the use of the poor.
(fn. 26) In 1811 there were 19 people there.
(fn. 27) In 1839 the house had become the property of the churchwardens and was still occupied by paupers.
(fn. 28) In 1852 it was used as a school and in 1889 as a temporary church.
(fn. 29) By 1891 part was a private house. In 1948 it was said to form part of the church charity property, in 1949 was in need of repair, and was used as a store until c. 1964 when dwellings for the elderly were built on the site.
Ashcott formed part of the Bridgwater poor-law union from 1836, from 1894 was part of Bridgwater rural district, and in 1974 was absorbed into Sedgemoor district.
ORIGINS, PATRONAGE AND ENDOWMENT
Ashcott was originally a chaperly of Shapwick
(fn. 1) and was mentioned as such in a list of the churches and chapels of Glastonbury abbey in 1168.
(fn. 2) In 1269 the vicar of Shapwick agreed with the abbey to a transfer of all or some of his glebe, including his residence, from Shapwick to Ashcott,
(fn. 3) and probably for that reason the living was often described as the vicarage of Ashcott.
(fn. 4) The living continued to be annexed to Shapwick after the dissolution of Glastonbury.
(fn. 5) From 1974 it was also held with Burtle.
In 1189 tithes of freeholders were payable to the sacrist of Glastonbury abbey
(fn. 7) and in the 13th century a pension of 5s. was payable to the abbey.
(fn. 8) Before 1269 the chaplain of Ashcott had ½ virgate of arable land and associated meadow,
(fn. 9) and Sampson, evidently the chaplain, was described both as vicar and decanus of Ashcott.
(fn. 10) From 1269 the vicars of Shapwick had tithe sheaves from untaxed crofts as before, with named exceptions, and the ½ virgate of arable with most of the meadow.
(fn. 11) The tithes were valued at £7 in the mid 16th century.
(fn. 12) In 1638 there was over 51 a. of glebe in Ashcott and the vicar was entitled to personal tithes, corn tithes from Pedwell fields, and tithe hay and sheaves from certain specified closes elsewhere.
(fn. 13) In 1839 the vicar was awarded a rent charge of £160 in lieu of Ashcott tithes and held 40 a. of glebe there.
(fn. 14) Much of the glebe was sold in 1920, the rest in 1968.
A house with a croft next to the chapel was assigned to Shapwick vicarage in 1269.
(fn. 16) In 1638 a dovecot, barn, and outbuildings stood near the house.
(fn. 17) The house was said to have been burnt down 'many years' before 1840.
In 1535 the vicar of Shapwick employed a chaplain at Ashcott for £5 6s. 8d.
(fn. 19) There was no communion table in 1600 but one had been acquired by 1634 when it was railed but the church was short of linen and plate.
(fn. 20) In 1665 a minister was paid £20.
(fn. 21) There were some 20 communicants at Ashcott c. 1788.
(fn. 22) In 1815 there was no curate and only one Sunday service was held, alternately morning and evening.
(fn. 23) By 1827 there was a resident curate although still only one service.
(fn. 24) Throughout most of the 19th century Ashcott was served by curates paid by the vicar of Shapwick; they found their own accommodation in the parish.
(fn. 25) In 1843 there was one Sunday service and communion was celebrated four times a year, but by 1873 there were two Sunday services, monthly communions, and midday celebrations on feastdays. The curate was said to have sole charge.
(fn. 26) During the early 20th century two Sunday services were held but in the 1960s they were reduced to one.
About 1520 the tenant of ½ a. was required to provide the holy loaf and the churchwardens held on lease a cottage and curtilage on which to build a church house.
(fn. 28) The house later became a poorhouse.
The church of All Saints was so dedicated by c. 1244.
(fn. 30) It was rebuilt in the Perpendicular style, the nave with parapets of pierced quatrefoils and a painted roof with pierced panels above the beams. The chancel was originally without a parapet but its arch incorporated a foliated capital of 'early Gothic work'. The west tower bears the initials of John Selwood, abbot of Glastonbury 1456-92. Fragments of medieval glass, some carved benches, and a stone pulpit survived in the 1820s.
In 1762-3 a gallery was built at one end of the nave and a second, at the other, by the 1780s.
(fn. 32) Before 1830 the south porch was added with a private pew above. In 1831, evidently according to designs by J. Baron Beard of Taunton, the north wall of the nave was rebuilt further north to provide additional seating,
(fn. 33) its roof was ceiled, a three-decker pulpit built, partly from 17th-century woodwork, and the east gallery replaced by one on the north side of the nave. Later a vestry was constructed on the north side of the chancel.
(fn. 34) In 1888 controversial proposals by Edward Dampier of Colchester (Essex), resulted in the removal of the west gallery, with its stair in the north-west corner, and the private pew over the porch. The chancel roof and nave ceiling date from this period. An organ chamber with heating chamber beneath filled the space between the vestry and the north-east corner of the nave, and west-facing pews in the chancel were replaced by choir stalls. A low stone screen was installed between chancel and nave, and the font was placed under the tower.
The south and east chancel windows are by C. E. Kempe.
(fn. 2) The Royal Arms are those of the house of Hanover after 1816.
(fn. 3) The tower screen, from Butleigh Court, was installed in 1953, and the communion rails are of c. 1964. The statute of Christ in the nave was given in 1986.
The plate includes a plain cup and cover of 1635 and a paten of 1728 given in 1825.
(fn. 5) There are six bells including two of the 1650s by Robert Austen, one of 1949, and the rest of the 19th century.
(fn. 6) The registers date from 1724;
(fn. 7) the earlier ones, probably including the paper book presented in 1660, are said to have been destroyed in a fire in 1920.
Glastonbury abbey owned a chapel at Pedwell by 1168.
(fn. 9) Under an agreement made in 1315 the chapel, described as a chantry and dedicated to St. Martin, was to be served from Ashcott two days a week and on Sunday. The chantry had 11 a. of land in Pedwell.
(fn. 10) In 1319 the duty had not been performed.
(fn. 11) The chapel was recorded c. 1520
(fn. 12) but its site is unknown.
In the mid 13th century Sir Geoffrey of Langley was allowed to build a chapel in his court at Ashcott and to have his own chaplain, provided that the rights of Shapwick church and Ashcott chapel were not harmed.
In 1812 a house in the parish was licensed for Methodists and in 1828 a chapel was built at Pedwell by Wesleyans.
(fn. 14) Membership was 27 in 1840 but had fallen to 12 by 1881.
(fn. 15) In 1960 average attendance was 9 in the morning and 10 in the afternoon.
(fn. 16) By 1967 there was only one Sunday service, alternately morning and afternoon, and until 1979 a monthly Wednesday service.
(fn. 17) The chapel remained open in 1997 with a service once a fortnight. The chapel, on Pedwell Hill, is built of rendered stone with a hipped pantile roof and lancet windows.
Primitive Methodists were established in Ashcott by 1852 when a revival was planned. There was a preaching place in the village and at Ashcott Corner on the Meare boundary during the 1850s.
(fn. 18) A building was registered for worship in 1854,
(fn. 19) and in 1857 a chapel was built on what later became Chapel Hill on land sold to trustees that year for a chapel and school.
(fn. 20) Two Sunday services were held in 1933 with a fortnightly weekday service.
(fn. 21) The chapel was demolished in 1960 and the schoolroom, rebuilt in timber c. 1930, was converted into a chapel, opened in 1964.
(fn. 22) By 1965 there was only one service on Sundays
(fn. 23) and by 1985 one a fortnight. The chapel closed c. 1986.
A house was licensed for use by Particular Baptists in 1819.
Exclusive Brethren were meeting in the parish in the late 19th century.
(fn. 26) A meeting room on the Bridgwater road was registered in 1958.
(fn. 27) It closed c. 1995 and was converted into offices.
There was an unlicensed teacher in the parish in 1586.
(fn. 29) By 1819 a Sunday school had been established with 75 children.
(fn. 30) It remained open in 1825
(fn. 31) and had 50 pupils in 1833 when 30 children attended a day school at parents' expense.
(fn. 32) In 1839 there were 40 children but the teachers were about to leave.
(fn. 33) In 1847 there were two schools open on weekdays and on Sundays teaching a total of 53 boys and 65 girls.
(fn. 34) In 1852 a National school was established in the former poorhouse and later moved to new premises south-west of the churchyard.
(fn. 1) A Sunday school was established c. 1855 at the Primitive Methodist chapel.
(fn. 2) In 1867 an infant school was said to be well attended in winter when the children's labour was not required.
A school board was established in 1874 and took over the former National school with 28 children. By 1887 there were 137 children on the books but attendance was poor until the 1900s when parents were threatened with prosecution.
(fn. 4) In 1903 there were 95 children on the register and an evening continuation school was held.
(fn. 5) The school moved to a new building in High Street in 1911 and in the following year there were 100 children on the books.
(fn. 6) Pupil numbers fluctuated, falling to 68 in 1925 but rising to 91 in 1935.
(fn. 7) Large numbers of evacuees from Bristol and the south-eastern counties joined the school between 1939 and 1942: 30 were registered on one day in April 1942.
(fn. 8) From 1955 it took primary children only; by 1975 there were 154 on the books. In 1986 a new building was opened in Ridgeway and the old school was converted into dwellings. In 1996 there were 120 children registered.
The Kewer family kept a boarding and day school for girls between 1840 and 1861
(fn. 10) and the Chapple family kept another at Lower Pedwell between 1861 and 1891.
(fn. 11) Elmhurst preparatory school, formerly at Weston super Mare, was in Ashcott in 1938-9,
(fn. 12) and between 1967 and 1984 Ashcott House was used by Millfield school, as a girls' boarding house until 1978 and then as a boys' house.
CHARITIES FOR THE POOR
By will dated 1730 Richard Miles of Funchal, Madeira, gave £300 to repair his father's tomb and provide bread for the poor of Ashcott not receiving relief. In 1737 £54, presumably what was left of the Miles bequest, and £7 3s. from the parish was invested in land which, with further capital raised from sales of timber, produced an income in 1786 of £15 11s. 6d.
(fn. 14) By 1806 the land had been combined with property given by John Hurman in 1753 for the use of the church and was known as the Church and Poor estate. In 1825 it was said that too much of the £70 rent was given to the church; the poor received up to £2 each at Christmas.
(fn. 15) By the 1850s c. £35 was distributed to the poor from the rent of Poor Estate farm, south of the church.
(fn. 16) The Miles and Hurman Eleemosynary Charity, divided from the Ecclesiastical Charity under an Order of 1909, had an income of £5,724 in 1995, used to relieve general or individual need.