Category Archives: People

A-Z of Somerset: Withypool

W is for Withypool

There are no villages beginning with the letter W in Somerset, so we are moving on to W in the alphabetical tour.

In the far west of the lies the quiet village of Withypool. With a history dating back to the Bronze Age, the name derives quite literally – a withy is a willow branch and the pool related to the River Barle, which flows through the village.

Withypool occupied a truly beautiful part of Exmoor, and, on a less damp and dismal day, it would have been a pleasure to explore its lanes and walks more readily. It is situated in the quiet countryside, around halfway between Minehead to the north east and Barnstaple to the west, and has a population of around 200 people. It does have, however, the required constituents that make up a village; a church and a meeting point.

Withypool’s houses are typical, stone-built cottages. They wind down the valley, from one side of the valley, across the river and up the other side. These are workers cottages, and give the village a real sense of community, even in the pouring rain.

At the heart of Withypool is a well-used post office and store. Outside stands an old-fashioned petrol pump, and on the other side of the road, next to a small café, is what was another petrol station; Exmoor is a place for tourists, and, situated at the heart of the rolling countryside, Withypool would have been the ideal spot to refuel.

The main focal point for the villagers themselves, however, would have been the local pub. This particular pub, The Royal Oak Inn, had a lot of its own stories to tell, though.

Author R. D. Blackmore wrote part of Lorna Doone in the bar, while artist Sir Alfred Munnings, celebrated for his portraits of horses, had a studio in the loft.

In the 1930s, the inn was owned by Gwladys and Maxwell Knight, a spy-ring leader and radio broadcaster upon whom Ian Fleming based the character of James Bond’s boss, M.

During the Second World War, Woolacombe beach, situated a short drive tot he east, was used to simulate the invasion of Normandy, and General Dwight Eisenhower planned some of the operation from The Royal Oak.

The spiritual centre of the Withypool lies not far from the Royal Oak. The Church of St Andrew is of medieval origin, although the main tower has been restored and rebuilt a couple of times since then, most recently at the start of the twentieth century.

The approach to the church is up a steep path; while a relatively small building, its location has been designed to dominate and spread awe. The hill is stands on ensures it can be seen from most of the village, ready to call everyone to services and make them difficult to avoid.

Having said that, the views themselves are stunning, underlining how beautiful a setting the village is in.

Withypool is definitely a place to stop off and explore, if you are ever in the Exmoor area. The ting to remember is that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, so make sure you’re prepared for whatever the Moor decides to throw at you.


Thomas Brearey was born on 5th March 1777 in Hanging Heaton near Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. He worked in cotton mills as a slubber, and lived to a ripe old age.

The Dewsbury Reporter included an article on him:

On Thursday Week were interred at Leeds, the remains of Thomas Brearey… had he lived three days longer, would have been 102 years old.

When young he remembered going with his father to hear the Reverend John Wesley who, on that occasion, preached in a barn in the neighbourhood. Thomas was wont to call him “the bonny little man”. He became a member of the Methodist Society when in his ‘teens’ and therefore was upwards of 80 years a member.

He had an excellent memory – remembered may of the old preachers – was little of a poet and well versed in the denominational hymn book.

He never forgot a sad calamity which took pace in May 1796 in Nelson Street. The Reverend Francis Thorseby, who had been suspended by the Conference, took an upper room to officiate in. He was holding a lovefeast, the room was crowded, and the floor gave way and precipitated the people through the second floor to the ground, in which was a deep sawpit, where sixteen women, a man and a boy were suffocated. Thomas Brearey saw the bodies taken out and laid side by side. Thirty others, including Thoresby, were sadly bruised, some of whom died…

A few years ago [Thomas] was knocked by a butcher’s cart and taken to the Infirmary, being so much hurt from this accident he never fully recovered.

[Thomas attended a later celebration] on the occasion of the marriage of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. Thomas Brearey then received a smoking cap from the Mayor, being the oldest man there or in the town.

He had to keep close quarters during the past severe weather, and was thought likely to survive its severity. He had lately become subject to bronchitis, but only a week ago it became more severe. He was sensible to the last and calmly passed away.

Dewsbury Reporter: Saturday 15 March 1879

A long and varied life, lived to its fullest!