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An A-Z of Somerset Villages

With everything else that has been going on in the world, it’s taken a while to get there, but here is the complete list of alphabetical Somerset villages posts. What started out in August 2020 as something of a lockdown photographic project, helping me explore parts of my new home county that I might normally bypass, became much more than just something to challenge my satnav.

Twenty six villages, each with their own individual personalities and traits. Each came into being in different ways, for different reasons, but each brings something different to the county, adding different stories to the county’s history.

(The previously mentioned disclaimers apply to the alphabetical journey. There are no villages in Somerset beginning with a J or a V, so K and W are doubled up. Zeals is technically not in Somerset, but is within a few hundred yards of the border, so I have taken the liberty of including it in the list, as there are no other places in the county starting with that letter.)

Click on an image to visit the village post.


Ashcott

Baltonsborough

Charlton Mackrell

Dinder

Evercreech

Farrington Gurney

Godney

Haselbury Plucknett

Isle Abbotts

Kingweston

Kingsdon

Lydeard St Lawrence

Milverton

North Curry

Othery

Pilton

Queen Camel

Rodney Stoke

Stanton Drew

Tintinhull

Ubley

Withypool

Walton-in-Gordano

Exton

Yatton

Zeals

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.



A-Z of Somerset: Tintinhull

T is for Tintinhull

Just to the north west of Yeovil lies the quiet village of Tintinhull. The derivation of its name is steeped in mystery – ‘tin’ meant ‘fort’ in old English and ‘examine’ in Saxon, while ‘hull’ is an old term for ‘hill’. The village sits in the lea of Ham Hill, so a combination of elements seems likely.

Tintinhull has a population of just over a thousand people, and the manor dates back to pre-Norman times. The local Saxon tribes used to avoid siting their villages on the old Roman roads, so the village sits just away from the Fosse Way (now the A303).


Most of the houses in the village are made from Ham stone – quarried from the local hill – and this gives a quaint, consistent feel to the place. A lot of the original cottages are thatched and, barring the telegraph poles and cars, Tintinhull has the typical chocolate-box feel you would expect of a West Country village.


There is not an immediate heart to the Tintinhull – the village green is surrounded by cottages – but there are plenty of gathering places, both contemporary and historic.

Opposite the new Village Hall, the old Lamb Inn has been tastefully converted to cottages and in the same stretch of road the old Working Men’s Club still bears the Toby Bitter advertising sign.

The remaining village pub – the Crown & Victoria – is set on the way to the manor house, and was obviously the stopping off point for farm workers ending their shift and returning home.


The manor house itself is now owned and run by the National Trust, and it is the connected Tintinhull Gardens that now draw people to this part of Somerset. (Sadly, due to the time of year and the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, the gardens were not open at the time of visiting.)


Most of the villages I have visited on this alphabetical journey include the main elements of the manor house, a school, a gathering place and the church, and Tintinhull is no exception.

St Margaret’s Church sits away from the manor house – unusual, as they are normally intrinsically linked. As with most village churchyards, it is a peaceful place, somewhere to reflect and gather one’s thoughts.

Approached by way of a long path, you feel a sense of great reverence as you walk towards St Margaret’s; this sensation is added to by the imposing wall on the left of the path, hiding a dramatic house behind it.

Once in the churchyard itself, the extent of the building behind the wall is revealed; this is Tintinhull Court, in its medieval glory.

Originally the parsonage, it was first built by the abbot of nearby Montacute Priory; remodelled three times since its original construction, it has been designated a Grade I building.

The history of Tintinhull Court begins to make more sense of the village layout; this was the original manor house and its owners built the church next door, with window overlooking the the graveyard and the parishioners walking towards their weekly sermon.

The resident Napper family built Tintinhull House – on the other side of the village – as a dower house in the seventeenth century; close enough that the Court’s widow was in walking distance, but far enough away for her not to disturb the ongoing matters of her heirs.

The graveyard also commemorates three residents who fell on home oil during the First World War.

To find out more about the lives of Private William Newman, Stoker Henry Lucas and Boy Albert Matthews, follow the links, or head over to the CKPonderingsCWG website.


Tintinhull has a long history, and economically it has survived well; primarily an agricultural community, the village has also been a focus for glove-making, dating back as far as the thirteenth century. By the late nineteenth century, much of the village’s employment came from the industry, and it continues today, although on a much reduced level.



CWG: Private Augustus Dodge

Private Augustus Dodge

Augustus Kenneth Dodge was born in September 1898 to shoe and furniture dealer Augustus William Dodge and his wife Mildred. The elder of two children, Augustus and his family lived on Cheap Street, the main retails thoroughfare of his home town, Sherborne.

Augustus William had been plying his trade for a number of years, having been apprenticed to his father – another Augustus – in Frome and Devizes.

Augustus Kenneth joined the 7th Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment, a territorial reserve, which was trained in North Wales and based on a camp in Wool, near Bovington, Dorset. Sadly, I have been able to find little else of his military life, but it is unlikely that he was involved on the front line.

Private Dodge died on 31st March 1917, aged just 18. Nothing in the newspapers of the time suggest an unusual or violent passing, so it can only be assumed that he died from an illness, possibly influenza or pneumonia.

Private Augustus Kenneth Dodge lies at peace in the cemetery of his home town, Sherborne.


I was intrigued that Augustus Kenneth’s gravestone also commemorates his father – Augustus William Dodge – and so I did a bit more research. I found that the 1910s were not a good time for the Dodge family.

Augustus Dodge Sr (Augustus William’s father) died in 1912, at the age of 88. He left his estate – totalling more than £500,000 in today’s money – to his widow, Mary Ann, and two of his sons, including Augustus William.

Mary Ann Dodge passed away in April 1916, as the local newspaper reported:

Mrs Dodge, widow of the late Mr Augustus Dodge [Sr] died unexpectedly at her residence at Butts-hill on Thursday last. Mrs Dodge, who was in her 82nd year, walked down to St John’s Church in the morning and attended a service, and then walked up the hill to her home. She was taken ill at noon and passed away two hours later. On Saturday morning, the family received the news that Mr Hubert Dodge, bootmaker, or Warminster (brother of the late Me Augustus Dodge) had died.

Somerset Standard: Friday 28th April 1916

By this point, and within six years, Augustus William Dodge had lost both of his parents and his uncle Hubert. He had also lost his daughter, Ethel, who had died in 1910.

Another of Augustus William’s uncles, Albion Dodge, died in 1917, as did Private Augustus Kenneth Dodge, his son, and the protagonist of this post.

The effect of these losses – particularly that of his eldest son – cannot be underestimated and may well have contributed to his own passing, a year later.

Augustus William Dodge died on 17th June 1918, aged 51.

The Somerset Standard show how much of a businessman he had been, however, with an announcement of the sale of his estate, which included:

LARGE SHOP AND DWELLING-HOUSE, with extensive Premises in the rear, No 3 Stony-street, Frome, in the occupation of Mr Arthur Dodge, at £40 per annum.

SHOP AND PREMISES, No 4 Stony-street, Frome, in the occupation of the Argentine Meat Co. Ltd’, t £25 per annum.

SHOP AND PREMISES, No 13 Market-place, Frome, in the occupation of the National Party, at £18 per annum.

Substantially-built and Commodious TWO-STOREY WAREHOUSE, with Accommodation for Motor Car or Van, situate in the Blue Boar Yard, Frome. The top story is in the occupation of the Frome Town Band, at £12 per annum. The bottom storey is void.

DWELLING-HOUSE AND PREMISES, No 25 King-street, Frome, in the occupation of Mrs Thomas at £13 8s 8d per annum.

DWELLING-HOUSE AND PREMISES, No 1 Willow Vale, Frome, lately occupied by Mr Clarke, a £15 12s per annum.

TWO Substantially-built RESIDENCES with large Gardens, Nos 1 and 2 Hythe House, Rodden Lake, Frome, together with PADDOCK adjoining, in the occupation of Messrs Webb, Golden and Haddrell, at the net annual rental of £37.

FIVE COTTAGES AND GARDENS, Nos 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Rodden Lake, Frome.

A commodious 3-storey WAREHOUSE, with double-door entrance for vans and side entrance, situate and being No 22 Vicarage-street Frome, in the occupation of Mr E Glass at £8 per annum.

SHOP, with DWELLING-HOUSE AND GARDEN, in Cheap-street, Sherborne, Dorset, in the occupation of Miss Beedell, at £20 per annum.

Somerset Standard: Friday 25 October 1918.

For the stories of more of the fallen from the Great War, take a look at my Commonwealth War Graves page.

A-Z of Somerset: Othery

O is for Othery

As history moves on, it seems there were two main routes for villages to take. As we have seen, the first is to thrive, then to settle quietly into the background and become a quintessential English village, as with Haselbury Plucknett and Milverton (see previous posts).

The second option is not as positive, and this has been the route taken by the next village on our Somerset journey, Othery.

Sitting on the crossroads of the main roads between Bridgewater and Langport, Glastonbury/Street and Taunton, Othery once thrived as a stopping off point on the long journeys across sometimes threatening terrain.

The Other Island sits 82ft (20m) above the surrounding moorland of the River Parrett, and so proved a good resting point for horses, carriages and passengers alike. For a population of around 500 people, this was once a bustling place, boasting three pubs, a post office, village store and bakery.

Sadly, the village has not thrived, and is nowadays more of a cut through, one of those places you see the road sign for, before slowing to 30mph and impatiently waiting for the national speed limit sign to come into view.


The buildings on the main road seem a little tired, once white frontages sullied by the dirt and grime of passing juggernauts. The signs outside the one remaining public house – the London Inn – almost beg you to stop, whether for a Sunday carvery or to watch weekend football matches on the huge TV screens.

(I admit the scaffolding does little to show the pub in its best light.)

But the fact of the matter is that, where once it would have had regular bookings, you can’t help feeling that this is very much a locals’ pub, whose inhabitants have set places at the bar and engraved tankards.

One glimmer of hope is that the the bakery seems to attract a lot of support. Again, it was closed when I stopped off here late one afternoon, but whenever I have driven through Othery before, there has tended to be a queue of people outside, and this gives a hint at a sense of community that the commuter doesn’t get to see.

The community sense continues with the school sign too; a typical redbrick Victorian building enticing children in. Another sign of things changing is that, where this was once Othery Village School, it has now merged with neighbouring Middlezoy; families move out of the smaller villages, school numbers drop, changes take place to help support struggling services.


Move away from the main road, though, and you can see tantalising hints of what Othery once was, and probably still would be, had its position on the crossroads not been the main function of its existence.

North Lane is a much quieter affair than the main road. In between the mid-20th Century houses sit more stately structures, hidden behind high walls to shelter them from passing traffic.

St Michael’s Church stands proud above the village, helping direct the wayward and lost to a better life. You get the feeling, however, that locals stay behind their high walls more than they used to, something sadly echoed across rural Britain more than one might care to admit.


I am painting a pretty bleak picture, I know, but, while not deliberately doing the village down, this is the sense you get when exploring a place like Othery.

Where villages like North Curry once had glory, they were fortunate in their locale. Those villages that lie too short a distance from neighbouring towns have struggled in recent years, and Othery is not an exception.

Using the same stretch of road between Street and Taunton as an example, places like Walton, Greinton, Greylake, East Lyng, West Lyng and Durston have also struggled over the years.

Villages with a distinct pull, a unique selling point, like Burrowbridge on the same stretch of road, do survive, but for others it has been a struggle.

Additional housing projects have tried to rejuvenate them, but without the infrastructure to support them, the villages still die or get swallowed up by those neighbouring towns.