This Web site is primarily about the village of Chewton Mendip but it also refers to other places nearby or that have some connection to the history of village or the people involved with the village.
Chewton Mendip, as the name suggests, is near the top of the Mendip Hills. These are not a particularly significant geological feature but influence is greater than the height of the hills.
The highest point is just under 1000 feet or about 280 metres but this is contrasted with the former marshland to the South called the Somerset levels so the hills look more impressive from the South and they form a natural boundary. The formation of the hills left a legacy of mineral deposits and springs. Most of them cold but hot springs still feed the sources of Bath Spa a few miles to the North.
||The Somerset levels provided access to fish and other foodstuffs not available on the stony hillside and the easiest way to travel up and down the hillside was to follow he many streams that ran from top to bottom. These have left many ‘coombes’ or steep rocky ravines or valleys in the hillside, some of which are still used as routes for traveling today.The Mendip Hills run roughly East to West so the coombes tend to run North to South so Chewton Mendip sits on a natural cross roads. Return to the top of the list.
||The rationale that attracted hunter gathers to form permanent settlements applied equally to subsequent inhabitants. The priorities were a reliable water supply and shelter. Food was less of a problem because there was a plentiful supply of edible plants to subsist on. However, the settlers wold have wanted to exert some control over their environment to deal with the bad times when the natural supply of food was scarce. This could have led to the development of some form of hunting territories which could be protected to a certain extent. Hunting trips may have extended over several days but a limit of about two hours walk may have defined the limits of the ‘home territory’. Smaller areas could be enclosed by the use of thorn bushes to create temporary barriers or stones to form a more permanent perimeter.The discovery of metalworking may have changed the shape of the earliest family or clan areas. Access to resources that did not occur in the home territory made some form of ‘political’ agreement necessary. Trade over long distances exited in the stone age but larger groupings into ‘tribes’ may have ben accompanied by exchanges of land so the simple two-hour walking distance no longer defined the clan boundaries. The name of the River Chew may be Celtic in origin. One theory is it comes from the Welsh ‘cyw’, which means ‘the young of an animal or chicken’. It’s full Welsh title ‘Afon Cyw’ would loosely translate as ‘the river of the chickens’. Another interpretation could be linked to some form of fertility cult. It is possible that ‘Kings Hill’ is a reference to the local ruler who may have been buried in the long barrow at the top of the hill. Return to the top of the list.
||The Romans were a very organized society and they made their objectives clear. The main roman centres in the area were the lead mines at Charterhouse and the spiritual centre at Bath. The Roman roads that remain in the area focus on the East/West axis to facilitate the transport of lead and other minerals.The Romans recorded their names for the people they found in the area but imposed their own organisation and infrastructure on the landscape. Return to the top of the list.
||The Saxon period started with a revision to the type of society and building styles that existed before the Roman invasion. It is possible that the form of hierarchical structure that we know by the Saxon names of hundreds and tithing may have existed since Celtic times. These were political units and left few, if any physical marks on the landscape. One exception id Offa’s dyke, part of which can be seen nearby.Few structures remain from the Saxon period because they built mainly in wood. Saxon working has been identified in Chewton Mendip church and there is little doubt that a significant settlement clustered around the church existed in Saxon times. The land around Chew Head would have been uneven or boggy at the times so there would not have been enough space to accommodate more than two or three families. The land around the church is reasonably flat and close to the water supply so it is one of the obvious places to base a settlement. The first reference to Chewton Mendip as a place is in he will of Alfred the Great dated 899 but the spelling of the name would remain inconsistent until well into the modern era. Return to the top of the list.
||The allocation of Chewton Mendip village to Jumieges may have defined the split between the land dedicated to supporting the parish priest and land to provide economic support to the wider community. Glebe land was owned by the church but was given to the parish priest to own in his lifetime to support him, and later his family. Rectory lands were also owned by the church but were to provide income to maintain the chancel of the church (the most holy part) and to provide support to the poor and sick. Chewton Mendip was a minister church with responsibility for several chapels so there may have been some form of accommodation for the chaplain’s situated in the site of what was later known as Chewton Priory. Manor lands were allocated to knights or other military men to provide troops to control the populace and fight the King’s enemies. A Manor House built on the site of Manor Farm was probably built at some time during the middle ages but the castle was built at East Harptree.The divisions between the various land holdings defined in the Doomsday book (1086/7) can still be seen in field boundaries and the plots containing houses. The Doomsday book also describes the villages in the area except Priddy but it may have been referred to in ‘lost’ 7th or 8thcentury charters. The most visible evidence from the Norman and medieval era are the churches, monasteries and castles although only the ruins of the last two remain. The Normans created new royal hunting reserves called ‘forests’. Chewton Mendip was one of several villages that fell within the boundary of the Mendip Forest’ but perhaps only parts of the modern parish were covered by the draconian forest laws. Part of Green Ore falls within the modern parish boundary and the earliest record of the name is from 1369 when it was written as Green worth or farm. This has led to suggestions that the traditional view that the place was named after the colour of lead ore is incorrect. However, names of people and places were very flexible at the time and it is difficult to say if a place was named after a person or vice versa. What is more, one legal document from 1369 uses the name ‘Hyworth’ which was then crossed out. Emborough pond is also of medieval origin and was used to farm fish for the monks who owned the village at the time. Large parts of the countryside were large open spaces that were farmed in strips or common land for grazing but a significant percentage was already enclosed into fields. Return to the top of the list.
||Family names were stabilised but names of farms and fields still varied. The owner ship of former monastery land changed the physical as well as political landscape. Some of the former monastery land was enclosed by the new owners but the wealth from the monasteries was used by the new owners to make improvements to the land and their houses.Parish priests were some of the beneficiaries of this new wealth so it is possible that a new Tudor Rectory house was built on the site of Chewton Priory. Return to the top of the list.
||The existing Manor House, previously Manor Farm, was built at the beginning of the century, probably on the foundations of the mediaeval Manor House.Many place names were stabilised during the 17thcenturies so farms and fields retained the names of owners or tenants after the family’s tenure of the land ceased. Out right ownership of land was possible after 1665 when the mediaeval system of leasing land from the King changed.The Civil War provides a second theory for the name Kings Hill but Royalist troops only made a brief appearance in the village in 1643. A third, and probably the strongest theory is that it is named after the Kingsmill family who were owners of some of the church land from at least 1665. Another family that gave its name to a hill is the Scutt family. Scutt’s Hill is the name of the hill field above Chew Head. Both hills are a further warning to anyone trying to link names of people to maps. The locals pronounce them as ‘kinsel’, and ‘scutsel’ not how they are spelt on the maps.No reference to Bathway has yet been found from the 17thcentury but it was probably established by this date if not earlier. It is significant that it was called Bathway and not the Bristol Road for a number of reasons. One was that the main road to Bristol followed a different route at the time. Bathway was always a cross-road but the Bath/Bristol road probably went through what is now called ‘The Folly’. Ford on the border with Litton is another name that probably predates it first written reference.Cutlers Green had probably also got its name bay this time. It is possible there was a blacksmith specialising in cutting tools and instruments but it is unlikely there was ever a significant weapons manufacturer on the site. Cutler is a relatively common name and a family called Cutler appear in the records of Chewton Mendip.Chewton Mendip has two Coles Lane. One in the west near Coles Farm which is largely overgrown and one in the East which is a tarmaced road. Return to the top of the list.
||Parish and tithings were still the significant political organisations of land in the parish. The centre of the village was in the ‘Town’ tithing flanked by East End and West End. The Middlesex tithing extended up to Priddy and included the mining territory. The names Town and Middlesex identify the Saxon origins of the tithings. There was a fifth detached tithing called Widcombe which now forms part of West Harptree and Hinton Bluet. The cottage and farms on the ‘the edge’ became Nedge during this century.The Turnpike roads built in the middle of the century made many changes. There may have been a footpath running through the centre the village where the modern main road now runs. Lower Street and Coles Lane (East) had been a major route for some time but the improved drainage for the Turnpike Road may have enabled the construction of a ‘new’ Vicarage’ on the site of what is now called the Old Rectory. It is possible that the old medieval vicarage became ‘Priory Farm’.Two theories to explain the name of “The Folly” are that it was a silly thing to have built houses at the top of the hill away from the water supply and that too much money had been spent on building labourers cottages. Recent analysis of the 18thcentury poor law records provide a third theory. There were references to repairing ‘the Folly’ several years before the dates on the current cottages suggesting that a ‘Folly House’ had been built to house the poor. The current cottages may have used recycled stones from the original building.A map produced in 1794 t show the exchange of land between the Waldegrave and Hippisley estates shows their holdings in detail. The land held by other people is shown as blank spaces in most cases with two exceptions. The church and Mr Jenkins house at the site of the priory are both drawn in some detail. Return to the top of the list.
||The improvement in communications was having an impact on the landscape and the people. The human population continued to grow until the middle of the century and then went into a sharp decline. Many houses and farms shown in the 1794 ma were abandoned. Some of the local villages grew whilst others declined. The introduction of railways had a significant impact on Chewton Mendip although no railway reached the village.The introduction of photography meant that contemporary images of what the village used to look like are available. The existing Old Rectory and Old Vicarages were both built sometime between 1823 and 1854 and Chewton Priory was rebuilt or remodelled in the 1860s. This has led to the incorrect accounts that Chewton Mendip did not have a manor house before his date. Return to the top of the list.
||The population continued to decline and old houses were abandoned or pulled down. Most of the farms have been converted to new uses along with most of the agriculture related businesses. Chewton Priory was demolished after WW2 and the land used for light industry.The elongated shape of the modern parish shows the medieval, if not Saxon, outline and the need to incorporate mining and meadow land. The village is now dominated by the North/South axis formed by the main road between Wells and Bristol.The lowest point of the village was reached sometime after WW2 and now news houses are being built. Return to the top of the list.
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