THE LOCAL AREA

Surroundings

Clatworthy Reservoir

Nearby and on the farm boundary is Clatworthy Reservoir, situated near Clatworthy village within the Brendon Hills. It is run by Wessex Water and has a capacity of 5,364,000 cubic metres supplying some 200,000 regional homes. It impounds the head waters of the River Tone which borders the property, and the surrounding area is used for walking and fishing.

Clatworthy Camp is an Iron Age hill fort situated on a promontory above Clatworthy Reservoir.  It is roughly triangular with an area of 5.8 hectares. It has a single bank and ditch, cut through solid rock. There may have been an entrance on the west and two on the east.  The ancient settlement of Syndercombe was flooded on the creation of the reservoir.  In the Domesday Book of 1086 the manor of Syndercombe is recorded as held by Turstin FitzRolf.

Clatworthy Reservoir
Credit: Barbara Cook [CC BY-SA 2.0]

The Old Flooded Syndercombe Village

As indicated, Syndercombe village was mentioned in the Domesday book, but is now no more, being submerged under several meters of water at the bottom of Clatworthy reservoir.   I would like to say that on stormy nights you can still hear the church bells tolling faintly under the uneasy surface of the water, but whilst that would be good for tourism, it would be a fib. 

The Domesday book states that Syndercombe was in the Hundred of Williton, with a total population of 14 households, comprised of seven villagers and seven smallholders.  Arable farming was undertaken, and comprised of 5 ploughlands, with 1 lord’s plough team, and 3 men’s plough teams.  We are not sure whether that means that the Lord had horses and the surfs used leg power, maybe a visitor will enlighten us.  Other resources included 0.25 acres of lord’s lands, 17 acres of meadow, and 50 acres of Woodland.  Some of that woodland probably now belongs to Stolford Farm.  Syndercombe underwent a change of ownership following the Norman conquest, with Ceolric of Bradon replaced by Tenant-in-chief Turstin the Fleming, who besides his Clatworthy holdings was mentioned in the Domesday book as an extensive land holder in Herefordshire and the Marches of Wales.  He played a prominent role in the Norman conquest of England and is regarded as one of the few proven companions of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  So, in the area of Stolford Farm it was definitely a case of ‘out with the Celts’ and ‘in with the Normans’, and the Norman owner was, on the face of it, a bit of a celebrity.

There was a mill in 1086 paying 6d. a year, probably the later manor mill.  The mill was worked by a succession of tenants.  From the 1730s the mill was in bad repair and in 1742 a Huish Champflower miller was given a lease on condition that he built a mill house, grist mill, and malt mill there.   If he did the locals got nearly two centuries of flour from it.

Some of the buildings were then converted to a fulling mill.  The water course was regularly diverted to drive a threshing machine between 1815 and 1826.   The mill continued to grind flour, probably until the 1930s, until the site was obliterated in the construction of Clatworthy reservoir. 

Raleigh’s Cross

Now the site of a popular pub and restaurant, a market or fair for sheep and cattle was held near Raleigh’s Cross inn in August and September each year from the beginning of the 20th century.  In 1960 the site was moved to the field west of the inn.

Raleigh’s Cross however, is probably more noteworthy for its contribution to the Somerset mining industry in the 19th century.  Iron ore and other minerals have been extracted for industrial purposes since Roman times, but in more recent history by the Brendon Hills Iron Ore Company.  The Brendon Hills over the centuries have been mined for minerals, notably ironstone from which iron is extracted for making steel. 

Where lodes of iron ore reached the surface they were worked using bell pits from Roman times.  This is where Stolford Farm briefly enters the story.  The sloping field to the North of the main Stolford farmhouse was still known as Minefield as recently as the period when the Bashford family owned it, and the remains of such a pit still exist, and is thought to be Roman.   

Before its expansion in the 1850s the Raleigh’s Cross operation was referred to as the ‘Tone mine’.  This iron mine was served by a branch off the West Somerset Mineral Railway (WSMR), which was built primarily to carry iron ore from mines to Watchet, from where it crossed the Bristol Channel bound for the steelworks on the Welsh side.  The workings at Raleigh’s Cross were progressively deepened, reaching a vertical depth of 29m in 1858.  Mining in the area before this time had been sufficiently small scale for horse-drawn cartage of ore to be sufficient, but “the mines at Gupworthy and Raleigh’s Cross proved the existence of good ore in workable quantities” making industrial-scale transport necessary, this in turn led to the formation the WSMR company in 1855.  This was in full operation to Raleigh’s Cross by March 1861.

The mine was substantial both above and below ground. In 1857 an extensive and expensive adit was driven from the lower workings to emerge from the hillside below Sea View House. This involved extensive trialling of a tunnel boring machine which proved “greatly underpowered and in danger of knocking itself to pieces”.  This adit drained the mine to a depth of 34m, but considerable machinery was needed to drain the mine’s eventual depth of 211m.  Raleigh’s cross mine was the only one in the orefield to require an engine for each role. The engine which wound ore to the surface pulled the mine’s narrow gauge tramway wagons along the sloping drift out of the ground and onto a platform above a standard gauge siding so the ore could be tipped directly into wagons beneath. The same building also housed a heated room for miners to dry their clothes and a Miners’ Literature Institute. Raleigh’s Cross and the two Carnarvon mines formed the nucleus of the mining community of Brendon Hill.

In the years up to 1867 Raleigh’s Cross and Carnarvon New had produced over 100,000 tons of ore, peaking at an output of 400 tons per week. At Raleigh’s Cross in 1856 two men, both until recently agricultural labourers (I’ll translate that – they weren’t properly trained!) attempted to tamp a black powder explosive charge with an iron instead of wooden rod. A spark ensued, detonating the charge.  One of the men died and the other was badly injured. The coroner’s verdict was “accidental death”. Raleigh’s Cross and its neighbours were wet mines, necessitating extensive works, plant, interconnections and flood countermeasures.

The mine closed abruptly along with its neighbours in 1879 but reopened later the same year. It finally succumbed in 1882, followed by complete closure of the orefield in 1883. The branch to the site was lifted in 1884 and the engines dismantled and sent to Ebbw Vale for reuse. The mine buildings were blown up by the Syndicate to provide ballast to gravity work the incline and, in 1909, hardcore infill for the timber jetty at Watchet.

Only faint traces of the mine remain, visible only to the knowing eye.   When you are sitting in the pub enjoying what is generally considered to be one of the areas best carvery’s, spare a thought to our Victorian countrymen toiling some 200 meters beneath your feet, just over a century ago!

Huish Champflower

When you take photographs from your smartphone in most places on the farm, you will see that according to the technology, you are in Huish Champflower.  The ancient parish of Huish Champflower, its name in part signifying a cultivated area and in part its ownership in the 12th century by the Champflower family, lay in two separate parts on the southern slopes of the Brendons, of which nearly one third was described as hills, woods, and waste in 1839.   The southern portion of the ancient parish, which contains the village of Huish, occupies an irregular area rising to the west of the river Tone, including the valleys of two parallel streams.  The northern part of Huish (where we are) lies on the steep slopes of the Brendons and is divided from the southern by the diamond-shaped portion of Chipstable comprising East Withy and Chitcombe.   The road leading down to the farm is identified by most car Satnavs as Chitcombe Rock lane.  The Northern part of Huish is irregular in shape, its north-east and south-west boundaries marked by streams now running into Clatworthy reservoir.  To the north-west the parish reaches the plateau of Brendon Hill (375 m.) and a ridge beyond at 396 m. The boundaries of the open ground on Brendon Hill are marked by the Bronze Age monolith known as Dun’s Stone (Dinneston in 1187) and by a stone known in the 12th century as Doleston.