In the introduction to the history section reference was made to Elizabeth Bicknell's book;"Isle Abbots" which is sadly now out of print. However in the 1983/4 Elizabeth wrote a series of 15 articles for the monthly Parish Magazine which were entitled :-

The History of Isle Abbotts

The articles are reproduced here with thanks to Mrs Barbara Rickitt who was kind enough to supply copies of the original articles.

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part I

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.

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part II

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 HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part III

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 HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part IV

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.

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part V

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.

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part VI

During the last ten years of his reign, Henry VIII dissolved the Monasteries. Muchelney and its manors became the property of the Earl of Hertford and his heirs. The Dean and Chapter of Bristol acquired the patronage of Ile Abbots Church.

Queen Elizabeth 1 called a muster of fighting men in 1569, among the Ile Abbots quota were some familiar names. Thomas Lumberd was a billman carrying a kind of scythe, wearing a plated corselet and skull cap, he also carried a sword and dagger. William Tyce was an archer with a bow of yew or one spliced with ash. His arrows were of hornbeam with quills of grey goose. Until a few years ago a cottage was named Tysons and another was named Lumbards Plot.

The Lamprey family requested planning permission from the Earl of Hertford for a dwelling on a small piece of land known as White Barn Pound. Three hundred years later this reverted to the Crown and is now known as Manor Farm. Thomas Isham of Ile Brewers held copyholds of land in Ile Abbots under the same Earl.

Well built stone cottages of this period remain in the village. Pitts carries a date stone of 1583, also Colliers and the earlier part of Bromes; Cuff's Orchard is a half timbered cottage, unusual in this district, which has been protected by an outer addition. These among many others indicate that the village shared in the general prosperity of England. E.M.B.

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTS – Part VII

Towards the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I John Pitt was born, one of 4 sons to Robert & Mary Pitt of Ashford Old Farmhouse. This tenement was leased to Robert by Nicolas Wadham of Merrifield. The initials R. P. & M. P. are carved into the panelling at the house. John had a life interest in some of the lands as help towards “his finding at Oxford” but he had to make over the income to his Mother as soon as he had a “competent spiritual living for life”. This soon came about through promotions at Wadham College where he eventually became Warden. He held several livings, Chardstock and East Chelborough in Dorset also at South Braden. During the Civil Wars the Rev. Dr. Pitt was turned out of his college by the Parliamentarians, most of his possession being confiscated. He retired to Ilton where he lived a few years longer with his nieces. Among the possessions remaining to him he bequeathed to his nephew Robert a Gold ring set with Bristol diamonds; Religious books and a silver bowl went to his nephew James with 3 silver spoons which had belonged to his Father. The quarters rent which he owed to his niece Anne was paid from his lands at Braden. To the poor of Ile Abbots 20/- were allotted in varying portion divided among 10 named legatees. He asked to be buried in the chancel of Ile Abbots Church, dying a few days after this Will was made in October 1653. His tombstone is in a garden in the village.

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part VIII

The Rev. Thomas Masters began the Baptismal, Marriage and Burial Registers in 1581; 16 men declared their assent to the Protestant religion when the articles of religion were proclaimed in Church. His vicarage was described in 1613 as having little orchard but no barn or stable and just less than an acre of ground with 41/2 acres of glebe land. The harvest of these lands was paid to the Vicar by the occupiers of the premises until they were taken over by the Walronds of Sea. William lived in the Vicarage but did not pay the rent. This house may have been Monk's Thatch near the Church, it seems that after the Dissolution there was no permanent vicarage for the parson. The Brome family were now in the house of that name, the south porch is dated 1627. Roger Baker "a poor man" of Ile Abbots lost £40 from a fire, he had a wife and "6 poor children and was given £5 by the Hospitals of the Western Division, witnessed by Nathanial Still, member of a family buried in the Churchyard, with a date stone on Sadlers. A labourer, Robert Back requested permission to build a cottage on the waste of the Manor although it lacked the statutory 4 acres, he had to obtain the consent of the villagers as well as that of the Lord.

Christopher Lamprey was up before the Justices, Sir George Speke and William Walrond, concerning a bastardy order against him; This case went on for 2 years. The mother Alice had departed, the father made many excuses for not paying the weekly order of 6d

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part IX

During the Civil War an oath was required from every man of 18 by which he attested his allegiance to King, Parliament and the Established Church. 181 men and women are on the Ile Abbots list including Bromes, Viles and Tyces, Christopher Lamprey being the church warden. Henry Cattle signed as Minister, possibly as locum for the Vicar. The list was published in 1642 the names were also taken of those who refused.

Inventories of this period relate to the goods of 2 farmers, They left John Perkins and John Tyse. They left several acres of wheat, beans and barley, farm implements and household goods. John Perkins left 5 cwt, of cheese; his family table tomb is in the Churchyard.

During the reign of Charles II a hearth tax was levied on all rich enough to pay to “the Church and the poor". This unpopular levy was evaded by “beating down” a hearth before the assessor arrived. Two houses in Ile Abbots had 5 hearths both belonging to the Brome family. John Perkins paid for 3 hearths; one was beaten down and converted to a stable. Although John Vile was listed, he was excused for his one hearth by reason of his poverty. William Ilett paid for 2 and was not rated for his private oven. Altogether 40 homes paid tax.

By this time the manor of Ile Abbotts was broken up much of the land including Ilemoor, Millmoor and Otterham was bought from the former owners by Laurence Drake whose tombstone is in the nave of the Church.

Further documents show that the Brome family were related to and became heirs of another member of the Drake family with more increases of land: however many of these fields were sold to a London Merchant as a dowry for his daughter on her marriage to Laurence Brome. The reign of the Stuarts came to an end, part of their coat of arms remains on the South wall of the bell tower.

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTS – Part X

The names of at least 4 men from Ile Abbots were taken in the Monmouth Rebellion, William Mitchell, John Hendy, Edward Burmester and William Grange. These were either killed at Sedgemoor or remained in hiding until the King's Pardon in 1686. Until the last century there was a mound in the North East corner of the Churchyard which was considered to hold the remains of those “who went Dooking". When Thomas Symes was sexton, he removed brambles and thorns from a very rough place and found a pit with bones, buttons from a soldier's coat and a bullet which may have been from the same corner.

Robert Browning, the Vicar, lived with his wife and children in a single storey house having a hall, kitchen and one other room. He made a large quantity of cider having his own press. The house was opposite Manor Farm where the well still remains.

Several members of the Illot family were buried in a table tomb on the South side of the Churchyard.

The bells were rung for the Proclamation and Coronation of King William.

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part XI

The Brome family of Phillips' and Francis, are as difficult to disentangle as the Knights of Bristol. When Phillip married Martha Knight he brought prosperity to his family. Three sons became Merchant Venturers of Bristol. Francis lived for a while in Ireland, but finally settled with his large family in King Street, Bristol. Phillip sailed to Nevis Island whence he shipped sugar back to Bristol. He married into a Dorset family connected with the Monmouth Rebellion, though his tombstone on the Island describes him as being devoted to the King and Church and an able merchant in the African trade, or less politely, slaves. He bequeathed £500 to his father, Phillip in Ile Abbots. Meanwhile at home Francis and Phillip joined with the Walronds of Ile Brewers to harass the local Quakers; overturning and burning the furniture of their Meeting Houses, drinking their cider “sitting at it day and night worse than swine". These excursions gave the Brome family a bad reputation to this day. One has a tombstone in the Chancel and there is a table tomb in the Churchyard with a now indecipherable inscription. E.M.B.

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part XII

The accounts of the Church Wardens and the Overseers of the Poor give details of village life in the 18th Century. It cost £1 to attend to the Church clock, wash the surplice and clean the churchyard. New bell ropes were bought, a new clapper for the great bell and the porch repainted and lime washed. The killing of vermin was paid for, sparrows, hedgehogs and jays. 4d was paid for a polecat.

Possibly Cox's pit was named after Abigail Cox at whose funeral the bell was rung; liquor, bread and cheese was provided for the Wakers as well as treacle and a candle. For another funeral there was the extra charge of fixing the corpse on horseback at Stewley.

Many items of clothing were given to the poor; Mary Baker was given a lb, of cheese and a lb, of soap in her illness. She did not recover. Families found temporary residence in the Poor House at Woodlands.

The Overseers of the highways were Thomas Dukes and Phillip Collier, the rate was 6d. in the £. The stone piers remain of the 1751 bridge at Wellinch which ''ought'' to be built by Ile Abbots and kept in repair by Wellinch Farm; however the Rate book shows a charge for hewing and hauling wood for repairs. The road bridge at Two Bridges has a date stone of 1769.E.M.B.

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part XIII

In 1798 William Humphry wrote that few cared about their souls or knew anything of the Gospel; he attended a chapel at South Petherton but wanted to spread the Good News in his own village. He was baptized at Wellinge Bridge by the Minister of Chard and subsequently, at the same place baptized William Baker and his wife (nee Humphry) a thousand people being present. The infant congregation applied to the Hatch Beauchamp Chapel but were rejected, so the Ile Abbots worshippers founded their own church at Walronds House situated between School House and the Barton, where 3 bungalows have now been built. In 1817 a certificate was issued for a meeting house for the 13 members. William Humphry is buried in the Chapel yard. The Minister’s house, The Manse was bought for £100; after the centenary celebrations, land was bought for stables, trap house and furnace house. Offices and a wall around the burial ground were built.

After a rift between the Chapels of Ile Abbots and Fivehead, they came together again in 1916, when Beatrice Derrick was the chapel keeper.

When Jim Slade, a member for 43 years died, he was succeeded by his son. Messrs William Clarke and Tom Derrick were elected deacons.

In 1951 the Manse was sold for £1000. The Ile Abbots Cricket XI gave a donation of 10 guineas to the Chapel and it still receives a few bequests.E.M.B.

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part XIV

The Tithe Award Map of Ile Abbots in 1842 shows 1877 acres of land all subject to payment of Tithes divided between the Dean & Chapter of Bristol as Rector and the Vicar. A slightly larger part of the land was arable, closely followed by meadow and pasture, only 2 acres of woodland; 125 acres of orchard or garden. Roads and streams accounted for 13 acres. The major land holders were absentees. Manor Farm as it is now called was owned by Edward Hyder Brown of Shepton Mallet, James Page was the occupier.

The Earl of Egremont owned the lands around Ashford with about 10 tenant farmers. Mr William Pyne was the owner of Northalls, William Tilley being the occupier; John Scott Gould from North Curry owned part Brome’s Farm. William Still farmed his own land.

The 1851 census gives the age, occupation and place of birth of all the inhabitants. There were 7 dwellings at Woodlands where Edward Humphry farmed 250 acres, he employed 11 labourers. Five cottages at Roundoak housed 4 labourers and the Hooper family of thatchers. There were 3 houses at Badbury, the remaining 43 houses were all in the Street. Manor Farm was still called Whitebarn Pound, farmed by John and Zabulon Page, who are buried in the church yard. The wives of the labourers were mostly employed as glovers. The total number of houses was 68.

THE HISTORY OF ISLE ABBOTTS – Part XV

By the end the19th Century the population of Ile Abbots had reached 381, this included Stewley. The chief landowners were the Duke of Cornwall, Mr Pine and the Uttermare family. There was a school for boys and girls and a new school was about to be erected: Mrs Alice Burrow was the mistress. The village was quite self supporting; William Burrow was Parish Clerk, Isaac Hooper the Thatcher and a shop was kept by Hannah Humphry. John Patten also ran a shop, a bakery and post office. At Colliers, Abraham Tapp made agricultural machinery. In the surrounding yards a blacksmith worked, with a saw pit nearby. There was also a stonemason, a shoemaker and a butcher named James Walrond.

In 1894 the first parish meeting was held in the board school. The Rev. Taylor was present with Messrs. Humphry, Barrington, Bicknell, Tapp and others. Mr. J. Humphry was elected Chairman and Way Warden and Mr. E. Barrington District Councillor.Owing to the small attendance at the 1897 meeting no steps were taken to commemorate the Queen’s record reign.

Mr Hooper tendered a contract to repair the roads for a year to March 1901 for the sum of £58, his tender was accepted and Ile Abbots entered the 20th Century. E.M.B.

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