The Story of our Village
In 1953, Ashwick and Oakhill Women's Institute entered a Village History competition set up by the Somerset Federation to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The following is a copy of that entry, (minus the illustrations) which gained a 'Highly Commended' status.
The Story of our Village
Compiled by Ashwick and Oakhill Women’s Institute. June 1953
Ashwick and Oakhill Women’s Institute wish to express their thanks and acknowledgements to the following:
T.B.Naish Esq., of Berrow for innumerable searchings on our behalf, and to Miss Naish for her translation of Anglo-Saxon conveyance. H.J Balch Esq, Curator of the Wells Museum for permission to copy the ancient map of Mendip and use its explanatory notes. H.Coombs Esq. for use of “A Journal of a Somerset Rector” The Diocesan Registrar for permission to study the Tythe Maps, and to numerous friends in Ashwick & Oakhill for their help and kindly encouragement.
Somerset Federation – Ashwick and Oakhill – Highly Commended - Village History competition - Coronation June 1953
The Story of our Village
ASHWICK AND OAKHILL
Ashwick and Oakhill lie on the northern slopes of the Mendips, which extend across the north of the county like a wall between the Wiltshire border and the sea. Here, thousands of years ago, prehistoric man and beast lived and hunted through the thick forests, left traces of their habitations in the many caves, and buried their dead in the rounded burial mounds. Their implements, the stone hammers and knives, and flint, arrowheads are often found in newly ploughed ground. Fragments of pottery of the Bronze Age and Roman occupation have been discovered in the Mendip quarries.
At the eastern end the hills rise to a narrow ridge on which is the Beacon Hill, the second highest point of Mendip. It is itself a burial ground of ancient man. Excavations by the curator of Shepton Mallet Museum were begun in July 1953, and some remains were found.
Along the Roman road from the Beacon lies Masbury Camp at the western end of the ridge. By the Beacon the road is crossed by the great civil highway of Roman occupation, the Fosseway, on the stretch from Ilchester to Bath.
The name ‘Ashwick” is of Saxon origin, being variously spelt Aishweeke, Asshewike and Eseewiche - “Aere” in the Saxon signifying ‘ash’ and “vie” a village, although Ashwick could hardly be considered a village in the modern sense of the word. It consisted of a green and pound, and its inhabitants lived in isolated cottages, a few near the church, others at Benter, Nettlebridge, Neighbourne and Moorwood.
The earliest reference to Ashwick is in a gift of land by Edward the Confessor to Wulfold, Abbot of Bath In 1061. The gift was free of tax, and comprised about 12 acres, three of them woodland. In the description of the land are many names of Saxon origin, which have no relation to those of today, except Netolford, the modern Nettlebridge. Shortly after receiving this gift, Abbot Wulfold gave it to the Church of St. Peter at Bath.
This is the translation of the original Saxon text:-
“Wulfold Abbot greets Bishop Gisa and Angelnod Abbot and Tofig the Sherriff and all the thegns in Somerset in a friendly manner. And I make it known to you that King Edward my lord, has given me the land (as an inheritance) which my father owned. And the four enclosed homesteads at Ashwick and the four acres which belong thereto. And in woods and fields as much as that which I had. I make it known to you all that I have given the land to the Church of St. Peter at Bath, for the benefit of the monks.
And he that magnifies my gift which I have given to St. Peter’s church, may God magnify his life here in the world. And when he journeys hence, may Christ grant him the Kingdom of Heaven. And he that thinks to belittle it, may God Almighty belittle him in the world and when he may journey hence, may his dwelling be in the land of hell unless he greatly remedies it before his end”.
The value of the gift was half a hide, (A hide in Saxon times formed an estate sufficient to support a free man and his family). There were 2 villeins and a serf. The total value in money was 42 pence. Ashwick continued in the possession of Bath Priory until the reign of Henry VIII when the manor was granted to Thomas Horner, who later sold it to John Stidman and his heirs. Then it passed to Lord Fortescue, who later sold it to J.B Hippisley Esq, the present Lord of the Manor.
Ashwick Court is believed to be the oldest building in the village. The date 1698 is over a stable door and it is thought that most of the present house was built then. The back of the house and a cottage however appear to be of much earlier origin. A fine old oak-studded door was removed from the kitchen by the present owner, Col. Cooke-Hurle, and is now the front door.
Ashwick Court was so called because the Court Leete of the Manor was held there. (There has never been a Manor House at Ashwick) This points to the fact that a Court House, though not necessarily a dwelling, has existed since Norman times. The house has an unexplained ghost story. Several people whilst sitting in the kitchen at night have heard the sound of horses drawing a coach approaching the house, and entering the stable yard. Then the sound of stamping hooves and the rattle of harness chains is heard. What event is supposed to be the cause of this visitation is unknown.
St. James Church – Ashwick
The exact date of the original church is unknown. All that remains of the original building is the tower, computed to be 14th Century. The names of three curates, Cornelius Blake, 1468, John Davys 1520, and. William Weight 1657, are all the records show prior to the 18th Century. Ashwick was a chapel of Kilmersdon, and remained so until a very recent date. An Elizabethan chalice is one of the treasures of Ashwick.
The church was rebuilt in 1825, and had a central and two aide aisles, a small chancel, and galleries on the north and south walls. During the present Century the building was extensively altered. The galleries were removed, the chancel enlarged and the south aisle extended into the Lady Chapel. Lady Ried endowed the Lady Chapel and also gave most of the furnishings. There is a peal of six bells recently repaired and re-hung.
Amongst the charitable bequests are the following:
Tordiffe and Fowler - for the poor of the Parish and church purposes
Billingeley and Gane - for the poor and educational purposes.
In the wall on Zion Hill there is a Holy Water Stoope about which nothing is known. It is possible that there was a small chapel on that site, or that stone from the old church was used in constructing the wall.
In 1682 the people of the parish were taxed as follow:
The offerings for every housekeeper and his wife, 2d.
Every child, servant and sojourner of discretion to receive the Sacrament 2d .
For a garden - 1d.
For an orchard - 1d.
For poultry - 1d.
Item, for churching of every woman – 4d.
Item, for every cow and through milch cow - 2d a piece.
Item for every working pack horse and saddle horse or mare — 3d, except one for the mill and market which the housekeeper is to have free without paying.
Item for wood, geese, honey, wax and hops according to the custom.
The Churchwardens and overseers of the poor, elected each year by the parishioners were responsible for collecting these taxes. Here are some extracts from the Churchwardens accounts which started in 1721.
paid Joye and Maisholty 4d
for catching 26 hedgogs 4shillings and 4d
A sack of cole for ye plumar to heat his eyens for mending leads of church 10d
Gave Rich, Hardwick and Sam Roper to drink when they was at work about the bells 1/-
For two hedgog 4d, for 8 hedgogs 1/4d
paid for ye fox 1/-
Joye and Miasholty money 1 shilling, eleven and a half pence (d)
for Bred and Wine for ye Sacrament 3/1
Waishing surplish 5 times 5/-
Waishing the border cloth 3 times 1/6
gave the Turkish Slaves 6d
An order of His Majesty in Council relating to the distemper amongst horned cattle 1/6.
Allowed William James for damage done to his seat by rain while the Church was open 5/-.
Prayers top the Queen’s safe delivery 1/6.
At a meeting of the parishioners it was objected against having the Church ceiled, having complaints of the poor whose distress at this time through the uncommon dearth of provisions are so very numerous and burdensome to the payers of this parish that it renders it quite inconvenient to them for making and erecting new ornaments in our Church.
paid for 3 yds of Broad Cloth for Buring Cloth £3. 11. 6d
for oyl for ye bells 3d.
Gave to fower people in distress 1/-
To a man with a pass 1/-
Prayer in time of war 1/6
From the Register 1730 “The smallpox raged very much t this time, and after a malignant fever”
The Royal Forest of Mendip was a term loosely applied to all the land of Mendip. In fact there were two forests - the Hunting and the Mining. The hunting forest was a favourite summer resort of the Saxon Kings.
The mining forest was parcelled out to the four Lords of the soil, The Lords Royalle, each of whom had his own bounds well known and watched for the purposes of minery jurisdiction. The metals mined were in the main lead and Ochre.
During the reign of Edward IV (c1450) a dispute arose between the Prior of Green Oare and Lord Bonvill’s tenants of Chewton. The Prior complained to the King, who sent the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Choke, to settle the matter. Lord Choke sat at Forge on Mendip, and commanded all the Commoners to appear with the four Lords Royalle. They numbered about ten thousand people. There they agreed that “all ye Commoners of Meyndeepe dwelling within their tenements being within ye bounds of Meyndeepe should turn out their cattle at their outletts as much the summer as they be able to keep the winter, without hounding or pounding upon whose grounds so ever they went to take their course or recourse. To this ye saide foure Lordes did put their seales. And also were agreed that whosoever should break these bounds should forfeite to ye King, one thousand marks and all the Commoners their bodies and goods at ye King’s pleasure, that doth hound or pound”
The old Mendip Mining Laws were drawn up at this time, whereby any man might open a mine, provided he obtained a licence, observed the laws, and paid a tenth of his ore to the Lord of the soil, also the tenth pound that was blown at the Hearth. Punishment for stealing was severe. The Lord or his officer could arrest all his ore house or hearth, grooves and works and keep then for his own use “and shall take ye person that so hath offended and bring him where his house or workes and all his tooles and instruments belonging to the same occupation be, and put him into his house or workes and set fire in altogether about him, and banish him from that occupation before all ye Meynders for ever”.
“Mendlip Mappe Ashweeke Court Rolls; something concerncering the Bounds”. Thus is endorsed the old skin map now in Wells Museum. The lettering on it deciphered by Mr. J, C. Hippisley in 1805, tells why it was made. The date is computed to be during the reign of ElizabethI.
A dispute arose between the Commoners of Mendip and the son of Mr. Robert May of Charterhouse, whom they accused of making encroachments on the common, hounding and pounding their cattle. The inference is that he claimed for the Charterhouse liberty full manorial rights with freedom from liability to commonage. Against this the Commoners asserted that none of his predecessors, the names of whom appear, made such a claim “until this man, Robert May and his son was seized thereof”. They claimed that the whole area of the map 20 miles east to west was theQueens forest, liable in its length and breadth to the run of their beasts, and appealed to Lord Chief Justice Chokes’ Laws in support of their claim. The Commoners won their case.
Other maps of the same period used for mining purposes or commonage claims are known to exist. They differ in various details. Most of them show the four Mineries, the Wells map only three. From the number remaining it is presumed that not only the Courts of the four Lords Royal but also all the Manor Courts claiming Miners rights owned one. The Wells map was supposed to have been found in a blocked-up cupboard in the kitchen ofAshwick Court. Mr. Hippesley states he received it amongst the Manor documents from Earl Fortescue.
No direct mention has been found of Oakhill before 1662. The following extract is part of a quaint and careful description by the Rev. A1len, Rector of Shepton, and master of the Grammar School, of the beating of the bounds by the perambulation walk:-
“Next day they go from Bowlish Bridge up the way that leadeth northwards to Mendip. From Framsgate they go directly up Mendip northward through a deep gully, or slit,
in the earth, and so along heaps of stones to the top of the hill. On the hill the way is perplexed. Yet they go directly northwards as they may, and so descend the hill into a Bottom called Golds March, through a place called Roemearie which is boggy, yet pass they through it by the help of a bank which pierceth it. At the lower end of the Mear there is a heap of stones which seemeth to be the corner bound of the North and West. From that heap of stones they turn full eastward till they come to Bristol Road, where was lately a huge stone, and from that they go straight eastward till they come to the way that leadeth to Oakhill. That way is the bound till they come to the foot of the little hill by houses where a small stream of water crosseth the way, then that water becomes the Bound and above it they passed down the closes Northward till they come into a Rocky Bottom and by some other houses come out into the Fosseway. They go directly all the Fosseway to the top of Mendip again by the Beacon. Yet there are many Tenements and closes without these bounds which belong to the Parish where some divers of Parishioners have acres of Dales as they call them i.e., cutting of furze and fern”.
In 1685 occurred the event which has coloured the history ofSomerset — the Monmouth Rebellion. Ashwick and Oakhill do not seem to have suffered in the terrific aftermath of the Bloody Assizes. There is a story of Judge Jefferies having stayed at Ashwick Court and tried cases there, but it has been impossible to verity this. Monmouth certainly did pass through the parish on his way to Bristol, but whether any joined him is again in doubt.
Buildings in Oakhill
Of older houses little now remains except a few Tudor cottages. One, Fosse Cottage on the road, to Stoke St. Michael, at its junction with the Fosseway, was for a time a turnpike house, and also used as a lodge at one of the entrances to Ashwick Grove.
As far as we know, this is a 17th Century house which for many years now has been divided into two houses. It had a large garden on its west frontage, and. the road went past the house and through the present timber yards. Over one of its doors is the inscription “S. Page. Licensed Dealer to sell Coffee, Tobacco and Snuff”. The room behind this door was once used as a schoolroom. In those days a penny a week had to be paid by children attend ing school. No penny, no school. Another house on the Bath Road, a single storied building, was the Dame School for the younger children.
This house was built in the 18th century by Mr. J Billingsley. Here is an extract from Collinson: “Its stands in a very romantick situation in a fine fruitful vale, richly wooded, and patched with immense rocks. In the garden is an old summer house almost covered with ivy in which Dr. James Foster, having embraced the obnoxious tenents of the dissentient dissenters, and retired here out of the way of clamour and confusion, studied and penned many of his works. A small stone placed therein is in scribed to his memory”.
Oakhill House is a Georgian mansion about 200 years old, and was the home of the Davies family.
During the latter half of the 19th century considerable building took place in Oakhill. Mr. F. Spencer owned all the land on one side of the main street, and his brother, Mr. Maitland Spencer, the other. In 1875 Mr. F. Spencer built Pondsmead, the grounds of which have always been generously opened for village activities and good causes. Shortly afterwards Mr. M Spencer built Hillylands. The name, a very old one, was originally that of the farmhouse immediately behind it. This house has passed to other owners, and is known as The Manor. The farmhouse, more familiar to many as “The Hut” has become “The Dower House”.
The Church Room, once a stable, was given to the village by Mr. M. Spencer. The door of the small committee room came from Old Stoke House, It had painted panels with a design of birds and foliage.
The village club, built in 1909 by Mr, P. Spencer had billiard and committee rooms, furnished by Miss Spencer. This is now a private residence.
Mr. Billingsley, who built Ashwick Grove and, founded the Brewery, wrote a book on Agriculture in Somerset in which he gives us an excellent picture of life in his time. The book was published in 1797. The following extracts apply to the whole of N.E. Somerset, and not only to Ashwick and Oakhill.
“Farm Houses and cottages are for the most part commodious and comfortable, but on all dairy farms a shameful inattention prevails in respect to outhouses and sheds for their stock to retire to in winter. Cattle are almost universally served with their provender in the fields and many dairy farmers with 20 cows scarcely make enough manure sufficient for one acre of land.
Farms and Farmers.
Farms are not large, seldom exceeding 200/- per year. Dairy farms are so small as not to exceed 60/- or 70/- per year. Many instances can be produced of such little farmers breeding up a large family in a very respectable way. Usually the wife undertakes the management of the cows and the husband goes to daily labour. As to the general character of farmers, truth compels me to say (and I mention it with regret) that there is a great want of candour, justice and liberality in their conduct to their landlords, and in general their system of management; if not closely watched they will impoverish their estates by selling all their straw to the adjacent towns, and though dung of the best kind may be bought ‘both In Bristol and Bath for 3/- or 4/- a waggonload, they scarcely ever take any back to their farms. They are also much bigotted to old customs and to telling lies at fairs. It must be acknowledged that there are many exceptions to this observation. The wages paid for labour are Men 7/- with small beer or cider. At hay or corn harvest 9/- per week with dinner and beer. Women 6d, a day for weeding, Hay-making 8d. per day. Beer for men at harvest 2 gallons per acre, for wheat; l.5 gallons for barley.
Time of labour 6—6 in summer. Winter from daylight to dusk,
Prices of food.
1793 Beef 4 ½ d per lb. Butter 91/2d per lb.
1797 Beef 6d per lb. Butter 1/- per lb.
Fowls 2/- Geese 3/- Mutton 5.5d per lb.
Cheese 40/- per cwt. Ducks 2/6d per couple.
Port 7d. lb. Wheat 6/- per bushell
Coal at Pithead 3.5d per bushel.
Cottages in general.
Many now in use are on too small a scale. Few of them have more than one room upstairs. This is not only uncomfortable, but inconsistant with decency and modesty, with the importance of which children cannot be too early or too thoroughly impressed. The average rent was 30/- to 50/- per year, including garden ground. A note adds ‘no use in giving garden ground unless manure is supplied as well’.
Certain pits are introducing machinery worked by steam engines for the raising of coal. The number of men and boys engaged at coal mining was 500-600, and the quantity raised 8 - 10 tons a week.
Mrs. Billingsley mentions the general rise in the demands for poor relief which occurred at that time, and suggests that a better method than the poor rate doled out by the parish officers would be some form of contribution to a friendly benefit society on which, in times of distress, those in need might claim support, rather than to the scanty bounty of the parish officers.
Oakhill was partly in the parish of Ashwick, partly in Stoke St. Michael, and partly in Shepton Mallet in the Whitstone Hundred. Until the Church was built and Oakhill became a parish of its own, those living within the Whitstone Hundred had to make the three mile journey to Shepton Mallet for marriage or burial.
The modern Church of All Saints was built in 1861 at a cost of £1,600 and consecrated the following year. The land for the church and churchyard was given by Mr. Richard Charles Strachey of Ashwick Grove. The building is of Mendip Lias in Early English style, with chancel, organ, nave, a south porch, and turret with one bell. Mr. Strachey also gave the reredos of Bathstone, carved with a representation of the Last Supper, and the stained glass windows In the chancel. Mr. Maitland Spencer met the cost of decorating the chancel and gave the chancel steps.
The Church Charities, under the control of a Committee, were all bequeathed by members of the Gillard family, Captain William Vernon Gillard giving £100 for the poor of Oakhill, Robert Haskel Gillard £100 for the Schools and Henry P Gillard £100 for the poor.
The Wesleyan Chapel
This was built in 1825, supposedly on the site where Wesley preached. John Wesley visited Oakhill four times. He lodged at Coombe House twice during his visits here. The following are extracts from Wesley’s journal:
Monday, February 10, 1746
I preached at Paulton, on Thursday noon at Shepton Mallet and at Oakhill in the evening. The next morning I walked (it being scarce possible to ride because of the frost) to Coleford.
Wednesday August 6th 1746
I preached at Oakhill. How is this? I have not known so many persons earnestly mourning after God of any society of their size in England, and so unblameable in their behaviour; and yet not one person has found a sense of the pardoning love of God from the first preaching here to this day. When I mentioned this to the Society, there was such a mourning as one would believe should pierce the clouds. My voice was quickly drowned. We continued crying to God, with many loud, and bitter cries, till I was constrained to break a way between 4 and 5 and take horse for Shepton.
Monday September 22nd 1746
At eleven I preached at Paulton, about two at Oakhill and in the evening at Coleford.
Friday February 12th 1748
After preaching at Oakhlll about noon, I rode to Shepton, (then follows an account of being attacked by a mob at Shepton) …so we went over the grounds to the further end of the town, where Abraham Jenkins waited, and undertook to guide us to Oakhill. I was riding on in Shepston Lane, it being now quite dark, when he cried out, “come down, come down from the bank”. I did as I was bid, but the bank being high and the side very near perpendicular, I came down all at once, my horse and I tumbling one over another. But we both rose unhurt. In less than an hour we came to Oakhill, and the next morning to Bristol.
Monday March 27th 1749
I rode to Shepton where all is quiet now. In the evening I preached at Coleford.
Tuesday, April 28th At Oakhill, where was also a great peace, and a people loving one another.
The first chapel was built in 1837 on the site of the present cemetery, and regularly used until a rapidly expanding congregation made a larger building necessary. The present chapel was built by Mr. John P. Spencer and his son, Mr. Frederick Spencer. It was opened on June 10th 1873. A house for a resident Minister, Holly Lodge, was also erected by Mr. Spencer.
Village Trades and Industries
This Brewery was founded in 1769 by Mr. John Billingsley of Ashwick Grove and a Mr. Jordan. It was this event which turned Oakhill from a hamlet of 54 houses into a village of about 500 inhabitants. Water, an important factor in Brewing, from springs In the hillside, proved of excellent quality for the making of beer and the famous Oakhill Stout. Mr. Billingsley died in 1811, and Mr. W. P. Gillard and Mr. John Spencer continued the business, until it eventually became the Oakhill Brewery Co. In January 1925 the brewery building was partly destroyed by fire, which starting in the offices was not discovered until the flames had obtained a good hold. Just above the offices were the sugar and hop stores, and once the names reached these, it was obvious that the larger part of the building was doomed. Unfortunately the fire also destroyed all the early records. Many will remember the Brewery with its great vats of burnished copper, the cellars with the huge casks, the smell of hops, and the ringing of the bell at6am,8am,9am,1pm. 2pm and 5pm. For those engaged on the actual business of brewing, work began early. Mashing started at 4am. A small railway was built, linking the Brewery with the nearest main line at Binegar. Many have memories of that railway. The long low trucks carrying the barrels, pulled by a rather fussy little engine, making a slow and noisy journey through the fields. The railway crossed three roads by two level crossings and a bridge. To the traveller approaching Shepton Mallet fromBristol, it must have been an astonishing sight to see the engine and waggons waiting for the fireman to close the white painted gates from one field and open the other. It was one of the supreme joys of Oakhill children to be allowed to ride in the waggons. There was no protection from smuts and smoke and so they would return grubby in the extreme. While the Malt Houses are still working, since the fire the brewing has been done inBristol.
Thanks to Oakhill Brewery large numbers of houses, the Church, Chapel and public buildings had the advantage of piped water, sewage and gas long before the turn of the century. Gas also lighted the streets until the blackout of 1914-1918, and the drive for metal at that time caused the distruction of the lamp standards. The gas works, now replaced by electricity, functioned until 1950. When we remember that London had no sewage scheme until 1862, the foresight shown in providing the village with so much is surely remarkable.
Woolcombing and Dying
The Wool Trade of the West of England was from the Middle Ages largely a cottage industry. Coombe House and the adjacent cottages were the centre of this trade in Ashwick. Another branch of the wool trade carried out at Oakhill was dyeing, of which Dye Lane is a perpetual reminder.
Ashwick has had three clockmakers. The earliest of these, Richard Hardwicke, had his shop at the top of Zion Hill, now Edwards Stores. There are several of his clocks in the parish, and one dated 1700 inAmerica. Of those in the parish, two not only tell the time, but also the date, month and the phases of the moon. In the tower of Ashwick Church are two unusual memorial brasses made by Hardwicke. A volume of John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament belonging to Hardwick is a treasured possession of a descendant.
Our second clockmaker, Nickolas Roper, made two kinds of Grandfather clocks. Those with brass faces, the most expensive, bore his full name. The cheaper variety simply had Nick Roper on them. Roper removed his premises from Zion Hill to Fosse Road, to the house now used by the District Nurse, where his successor, Green, continued the business
Oakhill had three strawbonnet makers, all women, the earliest being mentioned in 1814. The work was carried out at home.
Formerly in Little London on the site of the stables and yard at Sunnyside, these gave seasonal employment. During the summer the men would work at the quarries, and in winter at Malting.
Stocking Factory (Urch’s)
This was a family concern in Nettlebridge from about 1838 - 1850. Some outside labour was employed.
Clay Pipes (tobacco)
The long stemmed variety was made on Zion Hill, and judging from the numbers found in recent ploughing, also in Green Field Lane. The Cottages originally there have long since disappeared.
The parish also had a lime kiln, a Tannery, Timber yard and Wheelwright (James) and a Blacksmith, closed early this year. (1953). There was also a carrier, who beside carrying goods was responsible for fetching the newspapers and. periodicals from Shepton Mallet,
Village life duringVictoria’s reign was very different from that of today. Family discipline was strict. One the children returned home from school they remained there, finding their own amusement in house or garden. A chapter from the Bible was read every night. Sunday was strictly observed with full Churches and Chapels, Children running in the roads on Sundays committed a punishable offence.
They had their special holidays, of which Club Day was one. Oakhlll Club, known as “The Rational” had a brass emblem of Oak-leaves surrounding an acorn. (now in the Wells Museum). Club Day was celebrated on Whit Monday. All the Children wore royal blue sashes, the girls had new hats, and perhaps a new dress. After a church service in the morning, a procession was formed, and headed by the emblem and Ashwick Band, visits were paid to all the large houses in the parish. The afternoon celebrations took the form of a Fair. Booths and stalls were set up along the Fosse andBathroads; Gypsies, with their gaily painted caravans did good business with fairings and ‘Gingerbread Men’. A wooden platform was erected in front of the Oakhill Inn from which the Band entertained the crowd. At a later date the fair was held in a field. The children saved any money they might get from Christmas until Club Day, and lucky was the child who had as much as 3d. to spend.
November 5th was another great evening for Oakhill. The Guy was carried in procession to a field on the Bath Road, and burnt with great ceremony.
Large families were raised on comparatively low wages, 18/- per week being about the average. All vegetables needed for the family were home grown. Pig keeping was common, and it was possible to buy rabbits from 5d to 10d each. Eggs, 6d to 1/- a dozen, boiling fowls 1/3 each, 3 lbs of jam 11d, milk 3d. per quart and matches 2.5 per doz.
One resident remembers snails being eaten by an elderly employee. In 1865 coal could be purchased at 3d, 4d, 5d or 6d. per cwt according to quality. Other charges in that year include glazing 7 office windows 14/-, and hauling a boiler from Bristol by road, £2.5.0d
Another memory is of the muddy condition of Oakhill’s main street during the winter months. The heavy waggons and a traction engine used by the Brewery churned the untarred surface into great ruts some 2 feet in depth. Crossing the road without being mired to the knees was quite a problem, especially for the women in their long skirts.
A belief in the power of witches seems to have existed in the more remote parts of the parish as the following accounts show.
A Woman living In the vicinity of Moons Brook seems to have been regarded as a “wise woman”. She sold potions to the women who consulted her, and would also give them leaves (either hazel or elder) over which she muttered a special incantation as a protection from a witch.
We hear within living memory of a mother and son. The son was a carter owning his own horses. These animals died frequently, which convinced the couple that their horses were bewitched. In an endeavour to break this spell they lighted fires of thorn and hazel wood, trusting that the smoke would so bewilder and blind the witch on her nocturnal flights that she would pass by and not see their horses. The real cause of the deaths of the unfortunate animals was improper feeding.
In the Nettlebridge valley is a spring known locally as Zellars Shute (Selways Shute). This spring rises in the west and was regarded as having miraculous powers. The water from it was considered to be of great benefit to the eyes. The old people especially visited this spring, either to bathe their eyes, or take some of the water to do so.
From about 1880 to 1914 maypole dancing was always an event at any fete. This year saw a revival for the Coronation Celebrations.
The names of some of our fields are worth recording. A study of the 1840 tythe maps revealed endless numbers of tynings and acres of which Blackberry Tyning, Further 2 acres, and Yonder 4 acres are distinctive. Amongst other names are the following - Three Corner Close, Dirty Close, Welch Womens Close, Pitty Close, Grummetts, Smees Mead, Fatten Leaze, Horse Leaze, Upper Maiden Hayes, Shelving, The String, String & Ham, Galley Batch, and Little Champion.
The giving of nicknames such as Pinwire, Lightening and Butty is a very old habit on Mendip, and is still practiced in the parish. Many of our families have had long associations with Ashwick and Oakhill. The following names are found in our earliest records, and representatives of these are still living here - Burr, Huish, Emery, James and Hill.
Amongst old sayings we find “new potatoes should be planted on Good Friday” and “runner beans should be planted on Norton Fair Day” (April 25th) “Shaftesbury Rain” is rain from the south east which is continuous for any multiple of six hours, “Rafty Bacon” is the last of the previous season’s curing. It frequently had a rancid taste. To make it palatable, vinegar or pickles were taken with it. (Rafty-long hanging on the rafters). The word “boughten” is still used for goods not made at home and a swallet hole is known locally as a Slougher (pronounced slocker).
Our climate does not seem to have changed since Mr Billingsley wrote of wet summers, and described a visit to Mendip by those accustomed to theTauntonarea as “like a journey from the tropics to Lapland”. Remembering the winter of 1947 we are not surprised at Parsons Skinner’s entry in his journal “Jan, 1830. It had Snowed so much during the night that I considered it as sufficient apology for my putting off our visit to Mr. Strachey at Ashwick. Heal, who delivered the letter told u that some of the lanes were impossible for a horse or carriage to pass, so that even if we wished to have fulfilled the engagement, we could not.”
The first Great War took its toll amongst the inhabitants of Ashwlck and Oakhill, and in 1922 a war memorial was dedicated, and tablets placed in both churches engraved with the names of the fallen, to which those of World War II have been added.
During the middle twenties we suffered. a series of fire - in 1921 a Kiln Roof at the Malthouse, 1925 the Brewery, and within the next two years Hay House on the Bath Roadwas completely destroyed, and later the upper story of Park Farm on theFosse Roadwas burnt out.
World War II
The fighting forces, Civil Defence, Nursing Services, the Home Guard all received their recruits from the Parish. The evacuees, received with mixed feelings by most of us, soon settled down or departed. Some have become welcome friends, returning for annual visits. Amongst these strangers in our midst was the famous tenor, Ben Davies, ‘who remained here until his death.
We had a taste of “things that go bump in the night” but no damage was done, and we could, if we wished, watch a false dawn over Bristol during the heavy raids on that city. We gave generously to War Charities, a thousand pounds being raised in a single year by the school children.
Eight trees were planted in the recreation field as a permanent memorial of the occasion. The public rejoicing and amusements in which we all wholeheartedly joined were only marred by the unkindness of the weather,
In 1921 the recreation field was presented to the Parish by Mrs. Sherston. Football and cricket have been played here for a very considerable number of years, and have always received excellent support. Early photos of the cricket teams show the referees wearing smocks instead of the traditional white coats. We also claim the distinction of having a nine hole Golf links within the parish boundary — The Mendip Golf Club near Masbury Camp.
Social and other activities
The Choral Society is the oldest of our Social activities. Apart from the war years it has functioned since the beginning of the Century. A strong Branch of the British Legion and Women’s Section exist in the village, and between them organise our highly successful Annual Flower Show and Fete. The Women’s Institute was founded in 1925 by the Dowager Lady Hobhouse, who was President for 25 years, and we have also a Youth Club. All these do much to add interest and zest to village life.
Changes there have been and will be, but the sturdy independance, humour and steadfastness of people ofNorth Mendipremains the same. We look back on our past not without pride, and to the future with confidence.