Skip to content

Chewton Priory

Stone Age Celtic Roman Saxon Medieval
Tudor Stuart Georgian Victorian Modern
Chewton Priory  Chewton Priory. Courtesy Rock and Gill Salt and ultimately Earl Waldegrave Bathway is one possibility for the site of the original settlement that grew into Chewton Mendip. It is also the site of what is now a cheese dairy but was once the site of Chewton Priory shown on the left Placs icon places

Bathway is now on the outskirts of the village so it is the least likely location of the original settlement so it is called site ‘C’. The more probable sites for the origin on the village are Lower Street (site ‘A’) and the High Street (site ‘B’). Bathway  is sometimes called a separate hamlet but there is no evidence that it was ever been as a single administrative unit. Bathway  has always been a crossroads linking economic centres in the east with the lead mines in the west.  Some histories state that Chewton Priory was the site of an ancient ecclesiastical buildings whilst some people discount this and idea because the last building on the site was a Victorian gothic reproduction.

Stone AgeStone Age The coombe that has been deepened to form the modern road would still have provided a north/south route for hunter gathers to follow but the east/west route would have been difficult due to thick scrub or woodland. There may have been tracks linking the various coombes and the location of modern farms at the head of each coombes show the significance of the rocky valleys as route ways. Return to the top of the list.
CelticCeltic Sacred groves were as important to the Druids as water and the lead mines made east/west traffic important. It is possible there was something of significance on the Bathway site in the Celtic era  but there is no firm evidence of Celtic occupation. Return to the top of the list.
RomanRoman Lead ingots from the early Roman period  were found near Green Ore about a mile to the south of Bathway. There was a large  lead mining area to the west in Charterhouse so Bathway probably was an important cross roads at the time. The city of Bath to the north was an important place in Roman times and the name ‘Bathway’ shows the significance of that city from early times. Return to the top of the list.
SaxonSaxon A form of Romano-British Christianity may have persisted after the Roman legions left but Saxon Christianity may be dated to about 658. It is possible there was a form or religious community based on the strategic cross roads that provided reasonably good travelling conditions even in winter when the Litton road running through Lower Street would have been impassable.  The Lead mines may have been exhausted in the Saxon period and the once thriving settlement at Priddy and Green Ore may have been abandoned or reduced to  smaller farming communities. Bathway was a convenient place to base preachers who would travelled to scattered  settlements on the to the south, west and east. Cheddar, along with Chewton Mendip, was an important place in Saxon times and were held personally by King Alfred the Great. He refers to both places in his will dated 899 and mentions there was a religious community at Cheddar. The east/west road crossing Bathway is still known as the Cheddar Road so this would have been a sensible place to locate a community of monks or chaplains. This was close enough to the places they needed to visit but far enough from the comforts of Chewton Mendip.  A book called “Chapters in the early history of the church of Wells A.D 1136-1333” written by the Rev C M Church in 1894 states Edit awarded a charter to Giso that mentions Chewton Mendip. This may have been to award Chewton Mendip to Giso in total but it have only allocated part of the parish to Giso. Return to the top of the list.
MedievalMedieval The Norman influence in the area predated the Battle of Hastings so accommodation for clergymen from France may have been needed from an early date.  The Abbot of Jumieges may have built a residence for both the local vicar near the church and a place for his economic representative in the Bathway area. The ‘Early history’ book refers to an event in 1214 when the prior and convent of Bath surrendered the advowson of “…Chew, which they held from Savaric, and all rights in the church…” . It is assumed that Savaric was Savaric fitzGeldewin who was bishop of Bath & Wells until 1208. Other records confirm that ‘Chew’ refers to Chewton Mendip. A number of chaplains may have lived in the village as suggested by a document dated 1241. This is concerned with a transaction between the Bishop of Bath and Wells and the Abbot of Jumieges but it makes reference to “…the house, hitherto occupied by the chaplains and two acres of meadow on East towards Aldredscomb…”. This vague description could be made to fit anywhere in Chewton Mendip but it is consistent with the site at Bathway which is to the east of Sages Lane, the bottom part of which used to be called Aldridge Lane. There were other times in the medieval period when new owners of  the  Rectory lands of Chewton Mendip may have built a residence for either chaplains or a more senior person in addition to the parish priest. There are aso references to a farm on the site. Jumieges lost control of Chewton Mendip in 1350 and either Hayling Priory took control or a somebody was based in Chewton Mendip to take economic control of Chewton Mendip. This person may have lived in a house somewhere in Chewton Mendip and Bathway would have been a suitable location. Records from the calendar of manuscripts held by the Bishop of Bath & Wells show that Chewton Mendip was paying a pension of £23 6s 8d to the bishop from at last 1327 to 1559. £23+ was huge sum in 1327 and was still a substantial amount in 1559. Records from 1414 show that John Rodenale was paid expenses by the Bishop of Bath and Wells to discuss a farm in Chewton Mendip with the prior Sheen Priory which had recently been re-founded by the Carthusians who were awarded Chewton Mendip in 1420. The same source also records that a W Gaskin and John Hatton  were paid 1s and 9d for attending  the court of the Prior of Sheen in 1421. The relatively modest budget suggests the prior’s court was held locally. Mr John Stafford was paid 18s in expenses in the same year when he visited the prior in London to discuss Chewton Mendip. return to the top of the list.
TudorTudor The dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII introduces several people who may have built themselves a new house at Bathway.  The lord of the manor was Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset who became the Duke of Suffolk, probably acquired the lands of Sheen Priory because he lived in the abbey after its dissolution. His zenith was under Edward VI when he was one of Edward’s ruling council but his nadir was execution, along with his daughter Lady Jane Grey in 1554 by Mary I. She attempted to reverse the reformation but did not have the money or time to rebuild the monasteries as she wished. She did reward one of her household, Sir Edward Waldegrave with the manor lands of Chewton Mendip which had been confiscated from Henry Grey.  The protestant vicar of Chewton Mendip was evicted and Roger Normecock was appointed by John Haines and John Joberne formerly of Sheen Priory.  Mary I left money to the Carthusians of Sheen so there was still a monastic organisation of sort in place and John Haines or John Joberne needed somewhere to live. Perhaps it was in a residence at Bathway? The first recorded lay impropriator (owner of the church lands) in the Tudor period was Roger Manners (Hampshire archive 19M61/4013/1) in 1576. Another Hampshire record shows that Roger Manners sold his lands in Chewton Mendip to George Kingsmill of Enham in Hampshire in 1591/2.  That record also identifies John Butcher as the tenant of ‘Priory Grove’ and the Church House. Both the Manners  and Kingsmills were wealthy people and they could have commissioned a new rectory house at any of the three locations suggested. It was common for houses to be built in the shape of the letter ‘E’ in honour of Queen Elizabeth and the Manners family had the money and motivation to do that. The building shown in the 1794 map looks to be ‘E’ shaped. The Rev Anthoney Eglesfield was appointed as the vicar by Roger Manners and Elizabeth I in 1588. He could have been the first of the new class of prosperous parish priests who emerged from the wreckage of the monasteries who wanted better accommodation that his medieval predecessors. However, he probably lived in  Egelfelde house.   Return to the top of the list.
StuartStuart Religious tension persisted and conflict between the bishops and parishes added to the political and economic pressures that led to the English Civil War in the middle of the century. The curate, Christopher Harmon, appointed in 1631, the Rev Richard Long   who was appointed in 1635  and the parish church schoolmaster, Brian Thomas appointed in 1636, were appointed by the Bishop of Bath & Wells. It is unlikely that one of these men built a residence at Bathway but these appointments show the influence the Bishop of Bath & Wells had  in the village at the time. His influence was further shown when a Nathaniel Till-Adam was dismissed as curate of Emborough by the Bishop of Bath & Wells in 1644. The most likely explanation is that the Dean and Chapter of Wells held a lease or had some other form of control short of a full ownership of at least some of the rectory lands which may have included the Bathway site. There are references to the land held at ‘Chew’ but that could refer to Chew Magna or Chew Stoke as well as Chewton Mendip. Litton was owned by Wells Cathedral which is very close to Chewton Mendip. Bishops were abolished during the commonwealth period in 1645 or 1646 and Cornelius Burges bought the lands once owned by the Bishop of Bath & Wells. The restoration of  Charles II meant the end of some of the changes introduced by the puritans and Cornelius Burges was deprived of the church lands he had acquired. The Rev Edmund Quarles  from Berkshire was appointed as vicar in 1665. He stands out as somebody who would not have been happy living in a medieval farmhouse and insisted on a new vicarage house being built somewhere in the village. His patron was listed as Anna Kingsmill and the simplest explanation is that she married James Taswell and the Taswell family formed a link between the church, the Kingsmills and Quarles. A Hippisley link or other explanations cannot be ruled out. Return to the top of the list.
GeorgianGeorgian The other people commemorated with memorials in the lady chapel are also prospects for people who benefited form the restoration of the monarch in 1660. The  Plaister  family of Widcombe were lead reeves and enjoyed an improvement in their financial and social standing in the late 17th century.  The end of the 18thcentury saw the Jenkins family in possession of  a fine house at Bathway and a significant amount of land in the village and surrounding area as shown in the 1794 map. Chewton Priory siteSages Farm was also owned by the Jenkins family at the time who probably built a  Gothick style house often called Mr Jenkins House. It is possible that it was the similarity in styles between Strawberry Hill and Chewton Priory that later attracted Countess Waldegrave. The gardens of Chewton Priory included a grotto or ice house that still stands today. This lead to unfounded rumours that it was an entrance to a secret passage that lead to the church.  It is suggested that the windows from Mr Jenkins house were reused in Sages Farm. The windows also show that Mr Jenkins House must have been very small unless smaller windows not shown in the watercolour below were used.  Another possibility was that new windows were put into Sages farm in the Gothick style to match the old Chewton Priory either by Mr Jenkins or Countess Waldegrave.  The Vitorian building was roughly where the yellow dot has been added to the map which is quite different from the position of Mr Jenkin’s House. .Return to the top of the list.
VictorianVictorian The  Goldfinch  lived in Chewton Priory in the early 19th century. Frances Countess Waldegrave purchased Mr Jenkins house in the 1850s and spent huge sums extending it. She used the architects Giles & Robinson who also built the Nat West bank in Wells and the made the much criticised changes to Chewton Mendip church. There is no doubt that the building seen in the photographs was Victorian reproduction but there is also evidence that a building with a central tower and three bays on either side was standing in the 1790s. Return to the top of the list.
ModernModern The Waldegraves made Chewton Prirory their full-time residence in 1898 and it was a ‘traditional’ manor house from that date and a number of old photographs show may social events held there and some people remember visiting it when it was still the home of the Waldegraves.  It was used to accommodate troops during the Second World War. British troops were stationed there at the beginning of the war but Americans were accommodated later.  One contingent of Americans used explosives to open a cellar door. It was a vault containing the family silver but it is thought that the Americans expected to find a wine cellar. Not only were they disappointed in their quest for wine, they overdid the explosives and damaged the roof. Chewton Priory was in such a bad state that it was not reoccupied by the Waldegraves but used as a grain store for a while after the war. Some of the locals remember frightening themselves as naughty little boys and girls running around in something out of a horror story. An attempt was made to sell it  which did not succeed so the decision was made to demolish it. The site is now used for light industry and is known localy as ‘The cheese dairy’. Return to the top of the list.

Please refer to the acknowledgements page for a list of the contributors to this website.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: