THE RELIGIOUS HOUSES OF SOMERSET
THE houses for Benedictine monks in Somerset were all, with the
exception of Dunster, which was a cell of Bath, of great
antiquity and importance. Glastonbury claims a longer continuous monastic occupation than any other site in England;
and the abbeys of Bath, Athelney and Muchelney were all founded before
the Norman Conquest.
The Benedictine nuns had establishments at Barrow Gurney and
Cannington. The Cluniacs were settled at Montacute and the Cistercians
At Witham was founded the first English house of the austere order of
Carthusians, who had also a second monastery in the county at Hinton.
The less strictly monastic order of Austin Canons had seven houses in
Somerset, of which Bruton, Keynsham, and Taunton were the most
important, the others being at Barlynch, Burtle Moor, Stavordale and
Worspring. There was also a short-lived priory of this rule at Buckland in
Durston. It is possible that the sisters of the Hospital of White Hall,
Ilchester, belonged to this order, but in the absence of definite evidence
their house is here treated as a hospital.
The military order of the Knights Templars had a preceptory at
Templecombe, which passed on the dissolution of the Templars to the
Hospitallers, who had also a commandery or preceptory at Buckland.
Attached to this latter was the only house in England for women belonging
to the order of the hospital.
The Dominican Friars settled at Ilchester, the Franciscans at Bridgwater, and the Carmelites made an abortive attempt to establish themselves
Of hospitals the most important were those at Bath, Bedminster,
Bridgwater, Wells and White Hall, Ilchester. Others, apparently unendowed lazar houses, existed at Langport, Ilchester, Taunton and probably
elsewhere, while at Yeovil almshouses were founded in 1476 for twelve
paupers under a warden with two assistant officers in connexion with a
chantry. (fn. 1) There was also a hospital of St. John the Baptist at Glastonbury
closely connected with the abbey, and other monasteries may have maintained similar establishments.
The chief collegiate church in the county was the cathedral of Wells,
connected with which were the college of vicars choral and the college of
chantry priests called New Hall. There were colleges also at Stoke-underHamdon, or Stoke-sub-Hambdon, and North Cadbury, while at Puckington
there was a semi-collegiate chantry founded by Gilbert de Knovill in 1301,
consisting of four chaplains, of whom the chief was called the archpresbyter. (fn. 2)
The only alien house which was not made denizen in Somerset was
the priory of Stogursey, a cell of the Norman abbey of Lonlay.
Examples of the solitary orders of hermits and anchorites, if not so
frequent as in some counties, are not uncommon. Hermits are mentioned
at Winscombe (fn. 3) and Glastonbury (fn. 4) in 1335, and an anchoress at Twerton
about the same date. (fn. 5) In 1328 a case occurs of a man apparently passing
from the less rigid order of hermits to the strictly secluded position of an
anchorite, becoming 'inclusus' in the hermitage of Worth in Aller
parish. (fn. 6) A century later, in 1420, a Franciscan friar received papal licence
to retire to a cell or hermitage near the Hospitallers' house of Buckland. (fn. 7)