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Government

Stone Age Celtic Roman Saxon Medieval
Tudor Stuart Georgian Victorian Modern
Somerset Constabulary Sign People organise themselves, or get organised by other people, to manage the affairs of the society.Governments means taxes and law and order. The picture on the left shows the original Somerset Constabulary sign that used to be attached to the police house. The picture is courtesy of Gerry Brice, the last policeman to be based in the village.

Somerset County Council and Mendip District Council operate a two tier system. The Parish Council is the lowest level of local government

Government
Stone Age A permanent settlement at what is now called Chewton Mendip could have been founded as early as the Neolithic era. Somebody sooner or later adopted a role that we would now call chieftain who ruled the area more or less according to his personal whim. There may have been a spiritual centre based around the springs that feed the river Chew. Return to the top of the list.
Celtic The two bronze age barrows show this area had some significance. Perhaps this is the source of the name ‘Kings Hill? The nearest hill forts are at Burledge Hill near Widcombe/Bishop Sutton and Blackers Hill as Chilcompton. Priddy has a concentration of burial mounds and ritual circles. The hills forts may have been the base of the local military powers but the range of finds from the bronze and iron ages shows that there was probably permanent occupation in Chewton Mendip. Lead and coal amongst other minerals were probably being mined by the Celts but mining may have been controlled by a different group. Return to the top of the list.
Roman Evidence for occupation in the Roman era was mainly circumstantial until recent discoveries of a range of Roman coins and pottery show that Chewton Mendip was more than just a watering stop on the way to the mines at Charterhouse or the spas and temples at Bath. However, the lack o substantial buildings in what is now the parish boundary suggest that administrative control was based elsewhere. Return to the top of the list.
Saxon The first documented evidence of the existence of Chewton Mendip is the will of Alfred the Great dated 899. The basis of the English common law  and taxation was already in place. Some land belonged to the office of King but Chewton Mendip was owned by Alfred personally showing that it must have been a significant place. The concept of raising a set number of men to fight for the King was already established in Saxon times. Chewton Mendip duel secular roles as a military and legal centre was established some time during the Saxon period in a system of tithings and hundreds within a shire. Alfred left Chewton Mendip to his eldest son, Edward the Elder. Chewton Mendip was held by Edith, the Queen of Edward the Confessor at the time of the battle of Hastings. She was a member of the powerful Godwinson family and her brother Harold, was briefly King in 1066. Return to the top of the list.
Medieval Azelin Govel de Perceval was the Norman knight who was given control of several villages in the area after the Norman Conquest. He probably had military responsibility for Chewton Mendip as well. Chewton Mendip village was assigned to the Abbey of Jumieges.The Assize of Arms Act of 1252 created the role of Constable to raise troops and deal with disturbance of the peace. This could be described as the beginning of the police force inEngland. Tracking the ownership of medieval manors is extremely confusing because the Lords usually had several titles and a variety of second names, if they had a second name at all. The Saxon system of land ownership was retained with some changes that may have been introduced by the Normans or we just know of them from the Norman records. The Lord may have never visited a particular manor but that does not mean there was not a manor house. It may have been occupied by a reeve or some other functionary but there needed to be a building of sufficient quality to accommodate the Lord, and his family, if he chose to visit. The Manor House may have also operated as a local court room. At least one, and perhaps more, medieval lords lived in Chewton Mendip contrary to some accounts.Both common law and ecclesiastical law were well established but ‘common’ law was used to control the common people rather than provide justice as we now it. Manor courts were held by the lord or the manor or his representative and were used as form of revenue creation more than promoting the rights of individuals. Return to the top of the list.
Tudor The Tudor period is usually seen as the end of the medieval era and it was a turbulent time for Chewton Mendip. A member of the Mannersfamily hase  been selected as the icon for this period.Francis Grey, the Earl of Suffolk was the Lord of the Manor of Chewton Mendip at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. He briefly lived in Sheen Abbey which had held Chewton Mendip before the dissolution so he may have combined the roles of Lord of the Manor and Rector for a short time. His daughter Lady Jane Grey was briefly Queen of England but she was deposed by Mary Stuart who became Mary I of England. She had Francis Grey and his daughter Lady Jane executed in 1554.Mary I rewarded Sir Edwarrd Waldegrave of Essex for his support during the reign of her brother Edward VI who tried to make her renounce her Catholic faith. Sir Edward was imprisoned by Elizabeth I for practicing his Catholic faith too publically but allowed him to keep the manor of Chewton Mendip but she awarded the church lands to Roger Manners. He may have only held the lands for the duration of his life when the church lands may have come under the control of the Bishop of Bath & Wells. Queen Elizabeth I enacted laws to make the parishes responsible for supporting he poor of the parish. This was a function had been performed by the monasteries before their dissolution. Most of what we know se as local, and some central government, functions were controlled by a group of local people who met in the church vestry so they became known as the vestry committee. Return to the top of the list.
Stuart The Waldegraves retained the ownership of the manor of Chewton Mendip but were not resident. The Hippisley family bought the manors of Ston Easton and Emborough and were influential in Chewton Mendip. The Plaister family were Lead reeves which gave them some prominence. Sir Walter Brice had a yet unknown role in the village at the time. The common law and ecclesiastical courts were involved in a struggle for supremacy which combined with economic and religious conflicts which eventually resulted in warfare.John Hippisley V (1604 -1664) inherited his estates in Ston Easton and Emborough when he was 9 years old which mean his estates were ‘managed’ for him by the Wards of Courts and Liveries. He was still required to pay for his knighthood as a form of ‘herriot’ and attend King Charles’ coronation, both of which he refused and was duly fined. He was later appointed as Sheriff of Somerset which made him responsible for collecting the very unpopular ‘Ship money’ tax and paying any shortfall. These are all issues that may have made him side with the parliamentarians.The middle of the 17thcentury was dominated by the English Civil War and there were two actions in or near Chewton Mendip. The local aristocrats were on opposing sides. The Waldegraves were Royalists whilst the Hippisley’s were Parliamentarians. The Hippisely’s may have also been on the Rebels side during the Monmouth Rebellion. The Kingsmill family acquired the church lands sometime in the century. The Bishop of Bath & Wells, William Piers or Pierce, feared that the Puritan parliament would abolish bishops and size their lands so he disposed of some of the Bishopric holdings. It is possible that church lands of Chewton Mendip were some of the property sold in transactions of dubious legality. The Kingsmills were paying a pension to the Bishop of Bath & Wells in the late 17th century and Anna Kingsmill was listed as the patron of the Rev Quarles in 1665 and they remained the lay Impropriators until the end of the 19thcentury. The introduction of the Rev Quarles who came from Berkshire may have been made by Richard Hippisley, the brother of John Hippisley V. Richard Hippisley had moved to Lambourn Place in Berkshire which the family had inherited through marriage.The restoration of royalty and the Church of England end of the English Civil war ended some of the medieval powers that had persisted and made the role of the Vestry Committee even stronger. Return to the top of the list.
Georgian The 18th century saw the height of the power of the Vestry Committee. Their duties involved collecting a poor rate from the people who could afford to pay. Poor rates were based on the land held, not just owned, the names of the tenants of the land was recorded. The majority of the land was owned by absentee landlords who were caught up in a complex tangle of receiving rents but paying taxes, rates and tithes. The top tier was the owners of the land who lived elsewhere in most cases so they leased land to local people. The second tier proprietors paid the owners of the land a rent, probably at a relatively low rate, and were responsible for paying the tithes and taxes. The second tier may have sub-let their land to other people, often at a higher rent but for a shorter term.The Vestry Committee were audited by a Justice of the Peace who wold have been caught up in the same web of self-interest. The right to vote was limited to a small number of men as was the duty to sit on juries. In most cases, the same individuals were involved so people outside the privilege few choices. It is not surprising that some people resorted to crime, despite the draconian methods used to punish offenders.The parishes were only responsible for people who had ‘right of settlement’. This included people born in the parish or were awarded the right. People who did not have a right of settlement were unceremoniously transported to their place of origin. A court order was required and many such ‘removal orders’ have survived which provide information about family relationships and other social issues.Robert Brice Kingsmill became the lay impropriator or rector of the Village in 1766 and his impact on the village was significant even if he was another absentee landlord.A map compiled in 1794 for Earl Waldegrave to show the exchange of land between the his estate and the Hippisleys. This map can be linked to the Vestry Records to provide a rich description of the people in Chewton Mendip just prior to the 1801 watershed when the first census was taken. Return to the top of the list.
Victorian The Metropolitan Police Act was passed by Parliament in 1829. This allowed Sir Robert Peel, then home secretary, to found the London Metropolitan Police. Riots and revolutions throughout Europe in the early part of the 19thcentury resulted in the 1832 reform bill. This removed the ‘rotten boroughs’ and extended the right to vote but not to everyone. The 1834 poor law reform removed some of the power from the vestry committee and created the ‘work house’ system of dealing with the poor and needy. This resulted in a harsher regime for many. Chewon Mendip joined the Wells Union so the poor of Chewton Mendip were sent to the Workhouse in Wells rather than being cared for in their own homes.The Somerset Constabulary was formed c1840 and the corn laws which had been introduced in 1804 to protect English agriculture were repealed in 1846 by Sir Robert Peel.The village went into a decline. Partly due to the agricultural depression that resulted from the free trade in agricultural produce that was the result of the repeal of the Corn Laws and industrial revolution which attracted people to industries like coal mining.Their coal mining interest in the area attracted the Waldegraves to move to their Somerset estates in the middle of the century. An already fine house owned by Mr Jenkins was remodelled by Countess Francis Waldgrave to become the mock Gothic Chewton Priory in the 1860s. The family eventually became full time residents in 1898 to become the patrician rulers of the village which most people assume to have been a centuries old tradition.The Local Government Act of 1894 marked he final end of the Saxon tithings and the Tudor poor laws when  Parish Councils were created. Return to the top of the list.
Modern The 20thcentury was dominated by two world wars and the continued change in the village. It was still a mainly agricultural community dominated by the Waldegrave Estate.The Local Government Act of 1974 made several changes. One was to split off the north of Somerset and added the territory to the short-lived count yof Avon. It also merged the Somerset and Bath Constabulary with the Bristol and parts of the Gloucester force to create the Avon and Somerset Constabulary. Families who had been present in the village died out to be replaced by people who commuted to work in the cities nearby. Most of the farms are now private houses but the Waldegraves are still Lords of the Manor. Return to the top of the list.

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

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