History of Isle Abbots - Parts 1 to 5



    There was a saying in the Village that a man’s whereabouts could be traced by the state of his boots. Blue Lias showed that he came from Fivehead, his boots were cut by the flints at Ilton and the gravel was picked up at Ile Abbots. The gravel seam runs through the village. Off Otterham Lane is a water-logged gravel pit, but as most gardeners know the subsoil is heavy clay. In the Street this is immediately below the road surface. Collinson, in his description of the village (1791), refers to the “strong wet clay” suitable for the growth of oak trees, few of these trees and woodlands remain. 

    In the reign of King Edgar (966) the boundaries are delineated, starting at Ashford, up the lane to Claywey over the hill to the “meeting of the streams” then north to the fen or moor, along the Earn to the River Isle and back to Ashford. Today the line is obscured by the Aerodrome.  A field is marked Clayhanger, from this part, clay was dug and fired on the spot for the bricks which were used in the rebuilding of Mr Goodland’s house in the 18th century.

    The river Earn has also been called the Ragg, but is now marked on the O.S. Map as the Fivehead river. Various donations of land were given to the Abbey of Muchelney by Saxon kings so that its manors, including Ile Abbots, extended towards the Forest of Neroche and remained thus until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  E.M.B.


    In the next 100 years the land held by the Abbey grew into a village. The Monks probably built a chapel on the site of the present chancel. An archaeologist has suggested a Saxon enclave surrounding it.  In the Domesday returns, tax was paid on nearly 200 acres, cattle, pigs, sheep and 1 cob were registered. The mill was valued at 15/-, there is doubt where it was situated. Possibly on the R.Isle  at Millmoor where there are several sluices, or on the Fivehead river near some stone walling.

   Many tenants and smallholders paid their dues to the Abbey and their services to their local liege lords. When the Bishop of Bath and Wells handed over several Rectorships to the Abbey, Vicars were appointed, the first name on the Ile Abbot’s list being William de Summer in 1262. His first problem concerned Sir William Everard of Stewley; This tithing was part of Ile Abbot’s parish until 1929. Sir William petitioned the Abbot that he might be allowed to have Divine Service in the Chapel of his Court, as owing “to the dangers of the ways and the inundations” it was difficult for his household to attend at Ile Abbots. The objections of the Abbot and the Vicar were over-ruled by the Bishop, who laid down strict conditions, one of which was that Sir William and his heirs should pay 12d annually for ever.  Later the Vicar and some friends were summoned for entering the manor of Staple in Neroche Forest and taking goods and chattels of Sir Richard de Briewers. Even in those days he was probably trying to make both ends meet. E.M.B.


    The Saxon ways of Otterham Lane and Ile Abbots Drove, together with the R. Isle, provided access to the North and East; but the mediaeval village expanded westwards comprising the cottages of the Street, and Southwards to Badbury. In 1283, Ile Abbots paid the Abbey of Muchelney 5d. an acre on 50 acres of arable and 2d. an acre on 7 acres of meadow, some of the cottagers paying 9/1d.

    Northalls farm is now mentioned as being worth 14/7d paid on 35acres of arable and 2/- an acre on 2 acres of meadow.  These fees with those of the cottagers were paid to Master William of Ditton, who was the principle contributor to the Ile Abbots subsidy.  The work of “lofting the meadows and other works” were valued at 18d. 

    The open fields where the cottagers had their strips of land were Town Field, West Field and Stembiland, or Stemmalong or more recently Steamalong. As well as the arable and common pasture they often had sufficient land around the dwelling for a pig or a cow.  Their services were usually paid in kind, for example the smith was given an acre of meadow for sharpening the scythes, a horse skin for his bellows and butter to grease them. The shepherd’s dog was given a daily cup of fresh whey from Easter until August.

    The coming of the Black Death changed the pattern of English farming and resulted in the 1st Statute of Labourers decreeing a fixed money wage.   E.M.B.


   The plague which recurred for several years took away a third of the population, labour was scarce, the fields stayed untilled. The great era of sheep keeping began, the demand for wool and cloth brought wealth to the landowners.

    The chancel of the church was already adorned with the sedillia and piscina, the Decorated gave way to Perpendicular architecture. By 1500 the tower was completed, local men supplied winches and cranes, laying the foundations under the eye of a Master Mason. The North aisle may have been subscribed by Lady Margaret Beaufort and fan vaulting was added to the earlier South Porch. After this time work on the church was to consist of repairs and restoration.

    The Abbot of Muchelney won a suit at court excusing him from payment of the 9th. sheaf of wheat, the 9th. lamb and fleece; but the Vicar of Ile Abbots "Nicholas" was not so lucky being excommunicated for non-payment of taxes. Ralph Drake, the Abbey cantor was allowed, among other items, 4 wagon loads of wood for his stove to be taken from Ile Abbots wood. In return he had to attend various services and teach 4 boys and at least one monk how to play the organ. This may indicate the presence of a small school at the Abbey, though by this time the Vicars were university educated and may have taught the local children. Medicine, judging by the amount of recipes, may have remained in the practise of the Abbey: the cure for deafness was to drop in the ear the juice from a freshly roasted eel. It is to be hoped there were not many thus afflicted in Ile Abbots.  E.M.B.


    In 1441 John Sperehawk was instituted Vicar having studied at Cambridge. He and some friends went off to enjoy a fair, having to borrow money from the College chest for their expenses. It took them 5 years to pay off this debt. He then settled down becoming an expert in Canon Law. His assistance in this capacity to the Bishop of Bath & Wells earned him the Prebend of Ashill. He left Somerset and died in Hertfordshire where there used to be a brass over his tomb at Hitchin. In his will there are bequests to Ashill and to his friends of fairground days. To other friends he left many books and a "horologium". At Ile Abbots he was followed by Robert Hayne whose advice was sought at “Hacche” in an enquiry as to the patronage "Pokington". Money was left to the Church by Richard Rumpayn who asked to be buried in the Churchyard, he also made a donation for the mending of the bridge at Ile Abbots.

    So the Middle Ages came to a close, another local family, the Habberfields were established in the Bridgewater area and Henry VIII was about to ascend the throne of England. E.M.B.

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