History of Places
Today the civil parish of Stoke sub Hamdon consists of two former manors - West and East Stoke - manors which, although neighbours, have experienced different histories, resulting in two distinct communities. The present parish measures nearly three miles west to east and one and a half miles north to south at the widest point.
From the time of the Norman Conquest, West Stoke was in possession of the Beauchamp family until it passed to the Crown in 1421 and then to the Duchy of Cornwall in 1615. The Duchy has now sold off most of their houses in the village but still retain two farms and the workshop complex in North Street. The other landowner in West Stoke was the owner of the Rectory Estate, the major part of which was dispersed and sold in 1897. Part of the Rectory Estate was the house and barns, now known as the Priory which the National Trust purchased in 1946.
At East Stoke, the tenant after the Norman Conquest was Mauger de Cartrai. It was then held by several families until it came into the ownership of the Chaffey family in the 16th century. It remained their property for nearly four hundred years, until the estate was split up and sold in 1926.
Ham Hill rises 425 feet above sea level and the northern spur is around 200 feet above the High Street. The L-shaped Iron-Age hill fort has a circumference of three miles and was constructed of a double bank and ditch. Probably the largest hill fort in Europe, it was occupied by a Celtic tribe called the Durotriges. After defeating the Durotriges at Maiden Castle in 43AD, it is thought the Romans drove this tribe from Ham Hill around 45AD. They used the northern spur of the hill as a military station to defend the Fosse Way (now the A303). Little is known of the hill in Saxon times except that it was in possession of Glastonbury Abbey. After the Norman Conquest part of the hill was owned by the Beauchamp family. It is unclear when the parish boundaries were set in relation to the hill but by the 16th century three parishes laid claim to the area - Stoke, Montacute and Norton.
The hill is famous for its ‘honey-coloured stone’ of Jurassic age and was probably first quarried during Roman times and was in great demand from the 13th century onwards. By the end of the 17th century the quarries were in decline but were revived in the mid-19th century. The end of full time quarrying came in 1962. At the present time two small quarries remain, one on the northern spur and a deeper quarry on the south-western side of the plateau.
In 1975 Ham Hill Country Park was established and is now run by South Somerset District Council. Regular events are held by the rangers for both children and adults. These events help to increase awareness of the conservation, natural history and archaeology of the hill.
It is thought the present tree, a Wellingtonia was planted in 1863. Another tree was planted in 1992 and this young tree will eventually replace the existing one. Local tradition says Holy Tree was a resting place on a pilgrim’s way but it was also an ideal meeting place for religious dissenters in the 16th century. The name could also derive from the open field leading down to the river Parrett called Holloway.
THE METHODIST CHAPEL - West Street
The first Methodist Chapel in Stoke was constructed by the year 1813 in an area known as Western End, it also accommodated a Sunday School. This chapel unfortunately became unsafe and was demolished around 1909. The Methodist Church exchanged the Western End site for another in the same area. On the new site, the present church was built in only five months and was opened for worship in 1909.
This was built in 1899/1900, previously to this the only routes to Norton were Norton Path and the road via Holy Tree. The first council houses in Stoke were built in New Road in 1921.
WALTERS GLOVE FACTORY - West Street
The original factory in West Street was probably built in the mid-1700s. It was burnt down in the early 1840s, rebuilt in 1845 and extended piecemeal over the decades. Due to the slump in gloving, it was closed in 1974 and converted to housing.
SUMMERLANDS adjoining the Glove Factory
In 1761 Joseph Winter took out a lease on Summerlands. It was, like the factory, burnt down in the early 1840s and rebuilt in 1845. For many years it was the residence of the Winter and Walter families, glove manufacturers, and later the Waterman family, who managed the glove factory.
FLEUR DE LIS INN - West Street
This building was originally called the Church House and was constructed in the early 1540s. It is thought to have become an inn in the late 1700s after being bought by the Duchy of Cornwall. Extensive internal renovation has taken place over the centuries but the building still retains an old world charm.
THE FIVES WALL
The famous fives wall was constructed, at the end of the 1700s, after the Bishop of Bath and Wells banned the playing of fives against church towers. The game of fives was played with a ball which was pitched by hand against the wall, the player standing on a stone base. The scoring system differed from wall to wall. At present there are only five such walls left in Somerset. In 1855, the Stoke team became the Champions of England and it is thought that the last competitive game was played in 1887.
THE CHURCH SCHOOL (All Saint’s Hall)
This building was built in 1831 as a Sunday School connected to the established Church. It burnt down in 1861and was rebuilt in 1862 by public subscription. The church clock has been dated to 1831 and was the only Parish Clock until 1898. It became All Saints Hall in 1926 and in 2009/10 was completely modernised and is now used as a community coffee shop and meeting room.
THE PRIORY - North Street
Only in the 20th century has this building become known as the Priory. Knowledge of the building begins in 1304 but sections are probably earlier. In 1304 John Beauchamp II founded the Collegiate Chantry for five priests, this building then became their home. Their duty was to say mass and prayers for the family in the chapel of St. Nicholas at the manor, later known as the Castle.
The Suppression of the Chantries Act in 1548 closed down the Chantry at the Castle. The Crown then seized the land and buildings associated with the Chantry, These were subsequently leased out until sold in the 17th century. In the 19th and early 20th century it was the property of the Hawkesworth family and was known as Parsonage Farm, they sold most of the estate in 1897, leaving only the house and 34 acres. The house was purchased by the National Trust in 1946.
THE CONGREGATIONAL CHAPEL - North Street
This was constructed in 1866, on the site of two farmhouses, which burnt down in 1862. In 1875 the chapel was extended and the Infant Sunday School Room built at the back. Further internal renovations are recorded in 1879 and 1889. The clock on the spire was added in 1898 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee. The chapel is now known as the United Reformed Church.
SOUTHCOMBE’S FABRIC or SPATS FACTORY North Street
This glove factory was built by Richard Southcombe in 1854 and extended in 1865. Apart from fabric gloves, from the 1880s to the 1930s, spats were also manufactured. It was used to billet troops in WWII. Due to deterioration the top floor was removed in 1948 and sadly the factory closed in 1991. It has now been converted into flats.
SOUTHCOMBE’S COLE LANE FACTORY
Constructed by the year 1877, this factory was involved with the making of leather products and had an adjoining tannery. The factory and tannery are still operating and, of all the former glove companies in Stoke is the only one left.
THE TUN WELL
This medieval ‘town well’ used by the castle, also supplied a number of fishponds. It was used as a local water supply until the mains water system was introduced into the village in 1927.
THE CONDUIT - High Street
‘God be thanket, I, William Prankett in 1701, caused this water here to run.’ So reads the inscription on the stone plaque above the public water supply which was in use until 1927, fed by a spring from Ham Hill. It is known that the Conduit was in existence in the 1600s.
THE INSTITUTE (now known as the ‘Club’)
Built in 1882, it provided for men only, a reading room and a games and lecture room, with no alcohol being served. Alcohol was not introduced until 1930. The premises were extended in 1923 and extensively modernised in 1969. It is believed women were only allowed entry in the 1920s.
CASTLE PRIMARY SCHOOL
The school was built in 1876 after the Education Act of 1870 was passed. It was extended in 1901 and an infant section introduced. It became a Primary School in 1940 when the Stoke Senior School at Stanchester was opened.
THE GABLES - North Street
This was probably built in the early 1600s and looks very much like a small Elizabethan manor house. The plaster ceiling in the dining room is reputed to be the work of the plasterers of Montacute House. From 1886 to 1904 the property was owned by Dr. Walter Winter Walter, who kept a very interesting museum there full of local artefacts.
SITE OF CASTLE AND CHANTRY (Free Chapel of St. Nicholas)
The house and chapel were built in the early reign of King Edward I (r1272-1307) by the Beauchamp family. John Beauchamp I was buried here in 1282. The chapel became a Chantry in 1304. Unfortunately, the last resident Beauchamp died without an heir in 1361 and the buildings gradually fell into decay. The chapel existed until the Suppression of the Chantries Act in 1548, it was then closed and, like the castle, used as a source of local building stone for many centuries.
One of two pounds in the village, this one was associated with the medieval manor house (Castle) and mentioned in the Duchy Survey of 1615. It was last used during WWII when it was used to raise pigs and chickens.
THE VICARAGE - East Stoke
Surprisingly, the village had no vicarage until 1879, probably due to the fact that we had an absentee Lord of the Manor.
THE CHURCH - East Stoke
The Norman Church was probably constructed in the early to mid-12th century and the founder is unknown. The early Norman building consisted of chancel and nave only. The north transept (side chapel and base of the tower) was added in the late 12th century, the rest of the tower in the 13th and 15th centuries. The south transept is late 13th century and the porch 14th century. The rare and interesting tympanum in the porch was uncovered in 1865; the meaning is a subject for debate. The church is a unique example of different styles of architecture and was partially but carefully renovated during the Victorian era.
LOWER EAST STOKE FARM
This building is probably the oldest house in East Stoke and was for several centuries the home of one branch of the Chaffey family until East Stoke House was built. It was partially destroyed by fire in 1890 and rebuilt.
EAST STOKE HOUSE
Probably built between 1730 and 1750 by the Chaffey family, the house has Queen Anne and early Georgian influences, although the east wing is earlier. The south front was added in the Victorian era. The Chaffey estate was split up in 1926 and the house and part of the estate was sold to Percival Petter (the Petter family founded Westland Aircraft Works). It has been the home of the Shuldham family since 1936.
STANCHESTER SCHOOL - East Stoke
Built in 1940 on land which was previously part of the Chaffey Estate, the school, now called Stanchester Academy serves no fewer than 12 parishes, with approx. 900 pupils attending. Adjacent is a Community Sports Hall built in 1985.
THE ROSE AND CROWN
It was the oldest known drinking establishment in the village, and was in existence in 1776 but closed nearly two hundred years later in 1969. It acquired the name of the ‘Nut Tree’ due to the large walnut tree which used to grow on the opposite side of the road.