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Court House

Some local histories of Chewton Mendip incorrectly state that Chewton Mendip has always been an insignificant village in the wilds of the Mendip Hills.  The reality is quite different and Chewton Mendip was the centre of a ‘hundred‘ since Saxon times if not before. The area was less hospitable in those days so it is reasonable to assume that the village was centred around the church which sits on a natural defensive position. This may not have been the original centre of the village but the majority of the  Town tithing was probably contained within some form of defensive perimeter. One of these buildings would have doubled as the home of the local ruler and a ‘court house’. Not much will be left of this building, if anything, and would require professional archeologists to identify.
 Saxon and later ‘moots’  may have been held in the open but the climate of the Mendips means they would have needed an indoor alternative to a clearing in a forest. Relations between neighbours was not always cordial so a form of ‘neutral ground’ was an advantage. What was the location of Chewton Priory was well situated between the other tithings so the Court House may have been there and it may have also severed as the Church House.
A similar argument could be made for Chewton House being built on th site of the original Court House. In both cases, any subsequent trace of a Court House would have been long gone. Both of these buildings as well as sites of the vicarage or rectory house  were Kingsmill  properties from the Tudor period so some of the most informative records from the earlier period are  held in the Hampshire archive .
There are also records of a Lead Reave’s court and weighing house which may have been in the village. The  Waldegrave  owned the mineral rights and were lords of the temporal manor and it is probable that what is now called the Manor House fulfilled some of the functions of a ‘court house’. Somerset record Q/SR/308/153 dated April 1740 is concerned with evidence given by Benjamin Stevens and James Middle, both of East Harptree, in a case concerning the theft of lead weights, solder and other items stolen out of a weighhouse at Chewton Mine belonging to Lord Waldegrave, in which John and James Sawyer, labourers, late of Priddy Mine, are the suspects. The place of residence and the mine suggest this building may have been in the Middlesex tithing close to were the parishes meet in what really was the wilds of the Mendips. This may have been a wooden structure or have been destroyed in subsequent reworking of the mine waste.
The group of cottages now called  ‘The Folly’ was always part of the Waldegrave manor so the original ‘Folly House’ may have been the Court House somewhere on that site if it was in the centre of the village.
Some records from the poor book   from about 1750 support the theory that the ‘Court House’ was a different building than the Church House were different buildings. No direct reference the Court House has yet been found in the  churchwarden accounts, which start in 1699 but only a small percentage of this document has been transcribed. There is no reference to a Court House in Collinson’s or shown in the 1794 map but several other buildings that are known to have existed are not in either of those sources.
 Court House Glazing BillThis is the bill for re-glazing the Court House from c1750 but is not particularly helpful in identifying the building. The records are not listed in any particular date order and the name of people and probably buildings varied depending on who compiled th accounts.
Court House SparsThis record is dated c1751 and is strong evidence that the Court House was probably not the Church House and is most unlikely to have been the ‘small house in he church yard’ also maintained by the parish. The hundred spars mentioned suggests quite a large building. Bricks are not a traditional building material and are not consist with a lime-washed building like the Church House. Bricks were used for some features and internal walls so that is not conclusive proof. There is also circumstantial evidence that the Court House was subsequently used as a girls school and may have been the ‘Folly House’.
 A record from the Hampshire archives (41M89/311) dated 20/11/1776 defines a field called  Court Hays which  was probably owned by the Kingsmills. This may be a clue to the location of where the Court House may have been located.
 It is known that there was a school situated in what was Veals Farm but it is possible that the Court House was used as the original girls school until it was demolished.
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