Category Archives: Nature

An A-Z Of Somerset: Dinder

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.

An A-Z of Somerset: Charlton Mackrell

C is fo Charlton Mackrell

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.

An A-Z of Somerset: Baltonsborough

B is for Baltonsborough

The second of the Somerset villages I’m showcasing, and it’s a short eight mile hop to the east of Ashcott where we find Baltonsborough.

This certainly has more of a village feel than Ashcott, mainly to to its smaller population – less than 900 inhabitants – and the fact that it’s not situated on a main road. The houses are, generally, older, and the centre of the village – the pub – is within spitting distance of the village hall and church.

The church itself is dedicated to St Dunstan. Born in Baltonsborough, Dunstan was Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury before dying in 988.

Other notable sons of this quaint village include a Canadian politician, the person responsible for introducing rabbits to Australia and Victoria Cross recipient Edward Noel Mellish. While not born in the UK, actor Nicholas Cage has also made Baltonsborough his Somerset home.

The village centre is also where the War Memorial is located. Alongside the plaques to those who lost their lives in the two world wars is one commemorating the other villagers who fought.

An A-Z of Somerset: Ashcott

A is for Ashcott

The first of an ad hoc, semi-regular roam around the villages of Somerset…

We’ll begin out journey in the village of Ashcott.

Situated on the side of the busy A39, three miles (5km) to the west of Street, Ashcott is a small village made up of a mix of old and modern buildings.

While the village seems to lack a real central focus, All Saints Church dominates the eastern heights.

The local amenities include a couple of pubs – the Ring O’ Bells and the Ashcott – and, while no longer served by the railway (Ashcott and Meare station and, indeed, the whole of the Burhnam branch line, were axed as part of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s), it is still a pleasant walk down to the Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall nature reserves, where the trains once passed.