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Widcombe

WidcombeWidcombe was one of the former tithings of Chewton Mendip. It was never physically joined to the main part of Chewton Mendip, or Town, East End, West End and Middlesex formed a contiguous whole.  The ‘e’ on the end of its name was one of the many variations of spelling that were common for places and people until the 20th century. This extract from the 1794 map show how little land the main families of Chewton Mendip, the Waldegraves and Hippislys, owned in what was then part of Chewton Mendip.
 An article  about Widcombe written by the author of this website was published by the Bristol & Avon Family History Society in June 2012, Journal Number 148. The following text is taken from that article with some minor changes.
Widcombe in the Chew Valley, which is not to be confused Lyncombe & Widcombe in Bath,  became a parish in its own right for a short time during the nineteenth century. Previously, it had been a detached tithing of Chewton Mendip for centuries. Some parishes were divided into smaller units to collect tithes and other taxes and Widcombe was grouped with Chewton Mendip for complicated reasons of mediaeval history.
Widcombe consisted of two hamlets – North Widcombe and South Widcombe. It now only contains a few farms and houses situated between the North Somerset villages of West Harptree, Litton, Hinton Blewett and Bishop Sutton.  Subsequently, the whole of North Widcombe and the northern half of South Widcombe have evolved into the contiguous parish of West Harptree, and the southern half to Hinton Blewett.
There may be other explanations for name of a place but ‘wide combe’ is an accurate description of the wide valley. There are other places in the area called a variation of those two words but it has been variously spelt as Witcomb, Whitcomb and mostly Widcomb. It regained the ‘e’ at the end of its name some time after it severed its links to Chewton Mendip.
The detached tithing of Chewton Mendip, separated geographically by a few miles, enjoyed a large degree of autonomy throughout its long existence. This rather anomalous situation can be traced back to the medieval period when a large part of the Mendips was a royal forest. The primary purpose of a royal forest was to provide a hunting ground for the King so farming and forestry was restricted if not banned altogether. The forest law protection was removed in 1298 and what was in effect a new colony was established in Widcombe.
The original lords of the new manor of Widcombe were also the lords of the Manor of Chewton Mendip, so it formed a part of the parish of Chewton Mendip from its earliest days. The Manor of Widcombe was passed to a series of owners, who had more significant manors elsewhere. The Manor House may have been occupied by a reeve or some other functionary.
Another important source for the earlier records is a report “The Manor of Widcombe – an Historic Landscape Survey” produced by Avon County Council in 1988 for the Duchy of Cornwall. The Duchy has been the owner of the majority of the land in Widcombe for several centuries.Thomas Widcombe was previous tenant of a mill and land that probably stood on the site of what is now New Manor Farm in 1462 when it was assigned to Richard Felde.  Richard Buckland bought the ‘new manor’ of Widcombe from Lord Russell in 1542 for £215. A map dated 1611 shows that a Francis Buckland occupying land in Widcombe.  There were 14 tenements in 1611.  A list or people who lived, or were associated with Widcombe, is being compiled in the ‘People‘ page of this website.
Chewton Mendip Church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, is a few miles away from Widcombe. LittonChurch was the easiest for people in Widcombe to reach. Hinton Blewett Church may have been closer to parts of Widcombe but going to that church meant climbing a very steep hill. The earliest extant record for Chewton Mendip parish register is 1554, Litton 1582, and Hinton Blewett 1563. Widcombe was also reporting with the four contiguous tithings of Chewton Mendip for its poor law administration, and recording in vestry committee minutes book (1699-1788), overseers book and Churchwardens accounts. The latter lists the poor rates collected each year. These records are now held at Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton but a significant number of other records relating to the Kingsmills are held in the Hampshire archives.
An invaluable resource for the study of the whole of Chewton Mendip is a website www.boddyparts.co.uk compiled by Mike Matthews of Bristol providing information that focuses on two families with strong local connections. Normally the Hippisley family is the one with most prominence because they were lords of the Manors of Ston Easton and Emborough but they do not appear to have had a significant presence in Widcombe. However, a map drawn in 1794 to depict lands that were exchanged between the Waldegrave and Hippisley estates includes two fields in Widcombe. The other family he records is the Curtis family who were significant in the history of several villages.
The Curtis family of Widcombe, first appeared in the Litton register of baptisms in 1591, showed a degree of individuality which was typical of the semi-autonomous hamlet. There was a father and son pair of Downton Curtis and Paul Downton Curtis. These gentlemen keep appearing in several roles in addition to farmer and overseer. Paul Downton Curtis was described as the Tithingman in 1745. This means he was in political control of the tithing of Widcombe. Records held in Taunton (ref: Q/SR/313/224) show the people Paul Downton Curtis identified as suitable to serve on juries in 1745. An earlier Somerset record from 1741 (ref: Q/SR/309/311) lists how Paul Downton Curtis was a ‘gentleman’ who suffered the theft of a bull. One interpretation of another Vestry Committee record from 1741 is that a Mrs Curtis had inherited the responsibilities of an overseer but was unable to write so she had to get a John Hawkins to prepare the accounts for her. She may have been the widow of Downton Curtis.
A prestigious memorial in Chewton Mendip Church shows that the Playster/Plaister and Webb(e) families were powerful people in the 17th century. It has been confirmed that they were Widcombe residents, or at least occupied land there. Isabel Tegg was the second wife of John Plaister I and the mother of John Plaister II.  The Plaister family are commemorated in the Lady Chapel of Chewton Mendip Church.
The 18th century Vestry Committee records show that Widcombe was almost as populous, or at least wealthy, as the other tithings of Chewton Mendip. The churchwarden accounts contain a detailed list of the people who were paying poor rates for most of the 18th century.  Some elements of the York family also had a presence in Widcombe. A similar story applies to the Wesson and Wookey families who are listed in the poor relief records in the context of Widcombe but may have only been signing as Overseers. A number of other names also appear on the records for Widcombe but this could be an early example of collective responsibility for the accounts rather than a sign of residency or ‘settlement’ which was the term used at the time. The Pickering family in Widcombe appeared to have had mixed economic fortunes and appear as both recipients of poor relief and Overseers in roughly the same period. Benjamin Rich was recorded as an Overseer in 1780 and the father of several illegitimate children with Susannah Pickering who were baptised in Litton.  Mr Tucker was an Overseer in 1737 and Charles Tucker was a man of importance in 1840. The servant of presumably another Mr Tucker was found to be ‘in the family way’ in 1771. Ann Phillips is a likely prospect for the mother but the records are not conclusive.
One Somerset record (ref: Q/SR/308/343) describes some petty theft in 1740 regarding Widcombe residents.  Stephen Braine of Widcombe was accused of stealing some buckles from the shoes of James Green, a servant to John Veale.  George Franks gave evidence. The first point of significance of the moment of weakness of Stephen Braine is that both he and George Franks were fullers. This was a job that involved using fuller’s earth, the basic component of talcum powder, to clean fleeces in preparation for further processing. The ‘river’ Chew is now just a babbling brook but most of its flow is now extracted at source but this incident shows that Widcombe once supported small scale industrial wool processing. Fulling required a lot of water so the building would have been near the river which would have been more substantial at the time. The fuller’s shed may have been a temporary structure which has left no trace.
Chewton Mendip parish built a poor house in Burledge Camp which is the Iron Age camp on the hill that overlooks Widcombe and Hinton Blewett. The Church House was frequently mentioned in the 18th century poor law records. This new Poor House may have been built as a replacement of the Church House or addition to the accommodation for the poor. It may have been built to replace ‘the Folly House’ mentioned in the poor law records for Chewton Mendip. This was used until 1836-7, when their inmates were transferred to Wells Union Workhouse.
The medieval system of collecting tithes which had evolved into all sorts of complicated arrangements was put into some order in 1839. This meant that the Kingsmill family were still receiving tithes from Widcombe in 1794 and continued to do so until 1839 and beyond.  William Kingsmill, who had inherited the Kingsmill money and lands, had appointed his brother, Henry, as the vicar of Chewton Mendip. William Stallard, John Marmaduke Pool and Charles Tucker were all described as yeomen of Widcombe who were involved with valuing the land to decide the ‘modus’ or cash alternative to the tithe that was due to the Kingsmill brothers. The Kingsmills were still Rectors of Chewton Mendip in 1890, when they contributed to the restoration of the church tower, but the Waldegraves, who are the current lord of the manor of Chewton Mendip, assumed that role soon after.
In the early 19th century, there were 24 tenements in Widcombe which had been reduced to nine by 1988. A dissenters’ chapel was built in Widcombe in 1821. Some common land was never enclosed in Widcombe but some of the unusually wide verges may be the sight of some of the houses that have long been demolished. One farm, Parsons Farm, was abandoned in the early 20th century.
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