Five miles to the west of Taunton lies the pretty village of Milverton. With a population of nearly 1500 people, it feels like more of a town, and the size and architecture of the houses hint at this being a bustling and rich place.
As with much of Somerset, the key trade was cloth, and a silk throwing factory was set up in the village at the beginning of the 19th century, eventually employing more than 300 people.
One of Milverton’s notable residents was Thomas Young (1773–1829). He is a man who had fingers in many pies, counting a scientific understanding of vision, light, solid mechanics, energy, physiology amongst his specialisms. He is probable more notable for his interest in Egyptology, and helped translate the Rosetta Stone.
The parish church is the Church of St Michael and All Angels, set in a quite location, and raised above the surrounding houses. It is a peaceful and tranquil location, perfect for reflection and contemplation.
A number of Commonwealth War Graves lie in the graveyard, which I’ll expand on in coming posts.
For a town of its size, Milverton has the amenities you would expect; there is another church – a Wesleyan Chapel built in 1850 – a school and a lone remaining public house, The Globe. Shops are minimal, as is transport – the village’s station was another of those that feel during the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.
One surprise, however, is the village’s High Street. Doing away with what we nowadays expect, there are no shops or conveniences on it; it is literally a high street, leading up a hill away from the church.
One thing I have found, as I reach the halfway point of my alphabetical journey around Somerset is that, while generally the same, all of the places I have visited have their distinct personalities.
Milverton has just that. It is a large village, the result of its previous industrial heritage, but has slipped back to become a sleepy locale, and is all the better for it.
In the depths of western Somerset, along country roads your SatNav smirks at taking you down, lies the pretty village of Lydeard St Lawrence.
The origins of the name is shrouded in a bit of mystery, but Lydeard may translate as “grey ridge”, while St Lawrence is the saint to whom the local church is dedicated. (It is likely that St Lawrence was added to the villae name, to distinguish it from the village of Bishop’s Lydeard, just four miles down the road.)
The village has a population of 500 people, and it is very easy to find yourself in open countryside within minutes of walking from the village centre.
The Church of St Lawrence is at the top end of the village and, as with may similar religious locations, is a calm and peaceful place to stop and rest.
A plaque on the gate into the churchyard pays tribute to Lance Corporal Alan Kennington, who was serving in Northern Ireland in 1973 when he was shot and killed while on foot patrol on the Crumlin Road, Belfast. He was just 20 years old.
The church also forms the last resting place for a number of other local men who passed away in the Great War – I’ll expand on these in later posts.
Lydeard St Lawrence, is certainly a peaceful village – on its own in the depths of the Somerset countryside and sheltered by the hills it is named after, it is somewhere to get away from it all. There are no immediate amenities – the post office has been closed long enough for the building to be converted into a house – but a village hall and school are there to support the community in all things secular.
I couldn’t let the lack f a J village pass, so I have included a second K in the list.
Just to the south of Kingweston, in between Somerton and Yeovil, sits the quiet village of Kingsdon.
With a population of just over 300 people, it is a tight-knit community, somewhere where, you readily find yourself walking along quiet roads, getting welcoming nods and hellos from local resident and dog-walkers.
The village gets is name from nearby Kingsdon Hill, which in turn reflects its regal connection to Somerton, a royal estate since the Norman Conquest.
All Saints Church, to the north of the village, is a peaceful location and dates back to the 1400s. The churchyard includes two Commonwealth War Graves, which I’ll explore in later blogs.
The community feel runs throughout Kingsdon, with a local pub, a phonebox book swap facility and a village school-cum-shop.
The views south are stunning too, heightening the real sense of countryside living. And, with plenty of footpaths locally, Kingsdon works well as a start point, finish, or stopping off point for an afternoon stroll.
Wedged between the Somerset link roads of the A37/A39 and A362 lies the unassuming village of Farrington Gurney.
As you might guess from my previous posts, it was the village name that drew me in. The Doomsday Book mentions the village of Ferentone, while Gurney is thought to come from the de Gournay family, who owned the lands in the 12th and 13th centuries.
The village owed a lot to the coal industry. There were three pits in Farrington itself, with a further two in neighbouring Midsomer Norton.
The majority of the houses are old, dressed stone, although as time has passed, newer properties have filled in the gaps between them; on the outskirts – just off the A37 – new buildings have started to sprout up.
As you might expect, a manor house is at the heart of the village – hidden behind high stone walls, is a large property dating back to 1637, which you can only see from tantalising glimpses in the tree line.
The village church – dedicated to St Jon the Baptist – is set in open fields around a mile from the village itself. It’s a small parish – there are less than 1000 residents – and the church is easily visible from form the village (and, more importantly, the manor house, the owners of which presumably paid its construction).
It’s a beautiful little church, though, and its peaceful location adds to the calm surroundings.
One war grave sits quietly in the churchyard, that of Gunner Watts – my next post will talk more about his life.
Farrington Gurney is a lovely little village; there’s a bit of a juxtaposition between the old and the new, and the proximity to two main roads can jar a little, but it fits in to the A-Z nicely.
A hop and a skip away from Dinder is a bit of a jolt; the population of Evercreech is ten times the size, and you do notice it.
Just to the south of Shepton Mallet, this has the potential to be a bustling place, although the day I visited was a typically English summer, with heavy showers, so it was quieter than it could have been.
The centre of the village holds onto its Norman roots – Evrecriz was mentioned in the Doomsday book – and the buildings are old stone cottages, with the occasional larger manor thrown in.
The church, however, is one of the things that drew me to choosing this as my ‘E’ village. The renowned twentieth century architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner said than it has one of the finest Somerset-style towers in the county, but it is the mysterious clock that interested me.
The face of the clock has no 10 on it (or no X, in Roman numerals). Instead, the numbers go 9 – 11 – 12 – 12 (IX – XI – XII – XII).
Local rumour suggests that the person who paid for the clock to be made was instructed by his wife that he had to be home from the pub by 10 o’clock. Therefore, he ensured that the 10 o’clock numeral (X) was missing from the clock face.
While the village is a large one – with a population of nearly 2,500 – it is very easy to get into the open countryside.
Walk past the Bell Inn, one of Evercreech’s three pubs, and you find yourself crossing open fields to reach the village’s cemetery.
A small graveyard, but still in regular use, this holds a history of its own.
There is a war memorial to those who fell in both World Wars, while there are four war graves to those whose remains were able to be buried on English soil. Four stories, which I’ll explore in later posts.
Moving on through the highways and byways of Somerset, the next destination is the village of Dinder.
Literally meaning “the house in the valley”, Dinder lies three miles east of Wells and is nestled alongside the River Sheppey.
The village is smaller than Ashcott, Baltonsborough and Charlton Mackrell, and has a population of less than 200 people. There are no shops, pub or school, and the three farms – Higher Farm, Lower Farm and Sharcombe Farm – are interspersed with the houses of those who farmed them.
Not all of the houses are farmworkers cottages, of course. The “house in the valley” is Dinder House itself, shielded from prying eyes by a series of high walls and enveloping trees.
The house – built in 1801 – replaced the previous manor house and was designed and constructed by the Somerville family, who owned the manor and estate. Although the family line ended in 1949, the Somervilles are recognised and commemorated throughout the village, for everything they brought and gave to the village.
The other houses in the village are a mixture of styles, but all showing an age and giving off an air of respectability.
Dinder’s parish church – St Michael and All Angels – is a typically English affair; while it was locked on the day I visited, it seemed warm, welcoming and peaceful in the extreme, with an open churchyard, sitting alongside the manorial house.
Sadly, Dinder was not without its share of wartime losses; this is underlined in the churchyard, where a grave commemorates Private GV Drew of the Somerset Light Infantry.
Gilbert Victor Drew was born in 1898, the youngest of the eight children of James and Theresa Drew, a groom/coachman and laundress respectively.
He enlisted 11th December 1915 and joined the 1st Batallion Somerset Light Infantry. While I have been unable to fond any specific details, Private Gilbert would have seen action on the Western Front. He was discharged from the army on 3rd February 1917 as, according to the records, he was “no longer physically fit for war service.”
Private Gilbert Victor Drew died on 1st July 1917, and was buried in the graveyard of the Church of St Michael in his home village. He was one of six villagers to fall during the Great War.
Dinder also has hints of a more mythological past too. One of the houses on River Road has an iron sign hanging outside; this is the Somerville family crest, a green dragon breathing fire.
The dragon is replicated around the village, from finials on houses roofs to a crest within the church and the tale of the Dinder Worm is one that dates back to the early 1200s.
A terrible dragon was terrorising the villagers and their livestock, and Bishop Jocelyn of Wells was called upon to save them. He rode out to encounter the beast with his soldiers, but at the last minute commanded them to remain at a distance while he rode on and single-handedly beheaded the Worm, saving the village from certain disaster.
To the north of the village, a series of mysterious concrete blocks lie alongside country lanes. These are tank traps, and formed a part of the defensive protection for the area during the Second World War.
According to records, an anti tank ditch was dug round Wells and Dinder, circling Maesbury Ring. Bent railway lines were stuck into slots in the road to stop armoured vehicles and clusters of concrete blocks were cast to keep the enemy tanks where the defenders could see and hit them.
One of the things I have found since moving down to Somerset how different the place names are from back in the south east of England. For every Yeovil there is a Kingsbury Epicopi, for every Bridgwater, a Chiltern Cantelo. The etymology of these place names holds a constant fascination for me, and is another reason I have set out to explore the local area more.
So it is that, on reaching the letter C in my quest, that I choose an unusually named village to photograph.
Charlton Mackrell lies midway between Glastonbury and Yeovil, on Bull Brook, a tributary of the River Cary. It shares its name with the neighbouring village – the similarly named Charlton Adam – and, like Baltonsborough, has a population of around 1000 inhabitants.
The names of the villages can be traced back centuries – Charlton comes from the Saxon word for “farmstead of the freemen”. Adam can be pinpointed to the local FitzAdam family who once lived there. Mackrell is less easy to pin down, but it is likely to have similar origins.
Certainly manorial buildings rule over the village in the way they tend to do; large houses and mysterious gated entrances can be found all over. The local church – Saint Mary The Virgin – sits right next to, and is obviously connected to, one of the larger properties (after all, manorial families often built religious buildings out of their own money to show their devotion to God, which just happened to help them control the local population).
The Charltons also suffered at the hands of Dr Beeching; the railway station closed in 1962, along with the other six stations between Castle Cary and Taunton. Three railway bridges survive, however, the lowest of which is only 2.7m (8’9″) high.
The villages’ war memorial is, unusually, not at the heart of things. It is, instead, nestled in a fork in the road joining the Charltons. Sadly, it only serves to highlight that, even in the depths of the Somerset countryside, tight knit communities were in no way immune to the ravages of war.
There are, thankfully, only eleven names of the lost under each of the villages, but given that the combined population of the two villages at the time was around 600, these twenty-two fallen represented an unthinkable loss for those left behind.
Two of the men on the Mackrell side of the memorial are buried in St Mary’s churchyard. If you have followed my previous CKPonderings blog, you will know that the history and stories behind those who fell during the Great War fascinate me.
Private Quinton Charles Wyatt was born in the Gloucestershire town of Northleach in 1893 to William and Elizabeth. His mother died when he was a toddler and, by the time war was declared, Quinton was working as a farm labourer and waggoner.
He joined the 8th Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment on 22nd November 1915. He was posted to France four months later, but medically discharged from the Army on Boxing Day 1917.
Private Wyatt died in Charlton Mackrell on 11th November 1918 – Armistice Day – and buried in St Mary’s churchyard.
Private Roberts Pretoria Hallett was born in the summer of 1900, to Frank – a shepherd from Charlton Adam – and Emily, who came from Charlton Mackrell. Roberts (the correct spelling) was the youngest of eleven children.
Roberts was just twelve when his father died, and, when war came, he enlisted in Taunton, along with his brothers, Francis and William. The Great War was not kind to Emily Hallett: her son William died while fighting in India in 1916; Francis died in the Third Battle of Ypres in June 1917.
Roberts was assigned to the 5th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment; while I’ve been unable to identify exactly when he saw battle, by the last year of the war he would have been involved in the fighting in northern Italy.
What we can say for certainty was that is was shipped home at some point towards the end of the war, and died – presumably of his injuries – in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 16th October 1918.
William Hallett was buried in India, Francis in Belgium. Private Roberts Hallett, therefore, is the only one of the three brothers to be buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s in his birthplace of Charlton Mackrell.