By Andrew Plaster
Published in BAFHS Journal 154 - December 2013
The parish of Burrington in north Somerset lies on the north side of the Mendip Hills and is bounded by the parishes of Wrington in the north, Blagdon in the east, Charterhouse on Mendip in the south, and Churchill in the west. The southern boundary originally included the rounded summit of Blackdown. To the west, the parish is bounded by the brook running through the village of Lower Langford and the hamlet of Upper Langford, while to the east another brook runs through the small village of Rickford. The parish also consists of three other hamlets of Bourne, Langford Green and Link.
Burrington lends its name to the well-known combe. There are various explanations of the name. One is that it means 'the villa and an enclosure' from the Old English 'bur, end, tun'. Other explanations are based on the village's historic links with the parish of Wrington, e.g. 'by Wrington' or Burgh of Wrington' or even 'Buryingtown' because it had an extensive graveyard associated with a chapel. Burrington was a chapelry and a tithing of the manor of Wrington, until it became a parish of its own.
Its history therefore stretches back to Saxon times, when Wrington was granted to Duke Ethelfrith in 904 AD by King Edward, the son of Alfred the Great. In about 926 AD an heir, Duke Athelstan (known as Half-King), became a monk and thus the manor passed within the jurisdiction of the Benedictine Abbots of Glastonbury. For the next 600 years, the Abbot of Glastonbury was the lord of the manor, and then following the dissolution of the abbey in 1539, the manor was granted to the CAPELs, the family destined to become the Earls of Essex. After a succession of lords, the manorial property was sold and disposed of to various owners in 1895, when the fourth Duke of Cleveland died without issue.
Little is known about Burrington’s people in early medieval times. The first known reference occurs in Abbot Henry of Sully’s survey of 1189. This refers to a William of Burrington holding one virgate for 4 shillings and a certificate of Bishop Henry. Elsewhere he is referred to as William, son of Richard and the virgate is believed to have been sited at Rickford. In 1238 William de la Burne is recorded as having paid rent to the Lord of the Manor of Wrington for a Fullers Mill. In 1315, the Rector of Wrington was licensed to lease “one year’s fruit of the Chapel of Burrington”. In 1333 and 1337 Elizabeth de Bourne received special licence for the celebration of Mass in the oratory of her house. The name survives in the hamlet of Bourne. The first vicar mentioned by name is Thomas PECOCK in 1429.
The parish church is dedicated to Holy Trinity. No doubt it has Saxon origins as a so called “field church” – an apt name for its situation today, especially when viewed from the road through the Combe. The 14th century tower houses a peal of six bells, one cast by the BIBLIEs of Chew Stoke and one recast by Roger PURDUE of Redcliffe, Bristol. The tower is the oldest part of the current building and was probably built on the site of an earlier church. Going in through the south porch, which, like many churches, once housed a priest’s room above, you’ll see some well preserved 18th century gravestones which have been re-erected there. They commemorate members of the JONES family and their housekeeper Mrs Dorothy TURNER, who once lived at Langford Court. There are many memorials in the church to the families and benefactors who lived both at the Court and at Mendip Lodge (in the parish of Churchill), the now demolished hillside home of eccentric, thrice married Thomas Sedgwick WHALLEY. The church was completely refurbished in 1883 but many fine features remain. A real treasure of the church is an ancient carved stone – a relief panel – to the right of the altar. Rediscovered a century ago and believed to date back to the medieval times, it shows a man and woman appearing before Christ at the second coming. In the churchyard, you will see two table tombs which are the final resting places of a Rickford man, Samuel DYER and his three wives (1710) and of the INMAN family. George Inman was the vicar from 1744 until 1795. A full description of the church building can be found in the 42-page booklet ‘Burrington Church and Village’ by Christopher Marsden-Smedley, price £3 from the church.
From 1744 until 1901, Burrington had just four perpetual curates (the title given to the incumbent). These were George Inman, Sydenham Teaste WYLDE, John VANE (who was also Rector of Wrington) and William Bishop de MOLYENS. From May 1826 until October 1831 there was an Interregnum. The parish is very unusual in that the parishioners have the right to choose their own incumbent. He is nominated to the Rector of Wrington for presentation to the Bishop of Bath and Wells. When the Rev. Wylde died, there were two candidates, the Rev. ARNOLD, who had been acting curate for some months and the Rev. DAVIES who was curate at Puxton and the preferred candidate of the Rector of Wrington, William LEAVES. When the Rev. Arnold was elected by a very small majority, the Rev. Leaves refused to present him to the bishop, offering Davies instead. The churchwardens issued injunctions and a subsequent court hearing found in their favour. The bishop, rector and the Rev. Davies appealed and the matter went to the Court of Pleas who referred it back for a second hearing, which again went in favour of Arnold. By this time, the Rev. Leaves had died and the Rev. John Vane was rector. The Rev. Arnold was duly licenced but declined to take up the position! At this point, the parishioners unanimously asked John Vane to be their curate, which he remained for 39 years.
A mile to the north-west of the village, among splendid mature trees, is Langford Court which is a large house of Elizabethan origin. It was renovated in the early 19th century and again in 1875. It was originally the hunting seat of the Capel family, Earls of Essex. The estate separated from the manor of Wrington and passed through a series of owners - the families of PAYNE, KENNE, CRESWICK and JONES. An Elizabeth Jones, sole heiress to the estate, secondly married Rev. Dr. Whalley, who spent a large amount of money on building the luxurious Italianate villa called Mendip Lodge high on the hill overlooking the Vale of Wrington. Langford Court was leased to various occupiers while the Whalleys travelled in Europe from 1783 until 1787, when they returned to begin work on Mendip Lodge. Langford Court was sold in 1804 to Colonel John Hiley ADDINGTON, Member of Parliament and Privy Councillor. In 1870, his son’s widow sold the Court to Colonel Evan LLEWELLYN, a Deputy Lieutenant of Somerset, a Justice of the Peace and a Member of Parliament. The Court has been home to members of the WILLS tobacco family since 1914.
In old times, and probably for many hundred years, the chief occupation of the inhabitants of the parish was mining, of which this was one of the busiest centres. Traces of the long-vanished industry, in the shape of pits and heaps of rubbish, are conspicuous in many places, especially on the high ground at the top of the rocky steep above the Combe, known as Burrington Ham, which is all broken up with old shafts and mine-workings. As long ago as the close of the 18th century, however, calamine digging, which succeeding lead-mining, had almost entirely ceased and the main employment apart from mining was in agriculture on the local farms. There were other businesses; some mills, numerous lime kilns, slaughterhouses, smithies, the bakery and shops including the butchers and at least four inns (two in Lower Langford, one in Rickford, and other one in the bottom of the Combe). Burrington village probably never had a public house. In Lower Langford, shoemaking was important and there were at least two tanneries.
Burrington, like most villages, possessed a Church House. The site was between the school and the vicarage (now Burrington House). It was built in 1707 and was approached from a flight of steps on the roadside. It also served as a bakery, brewhouse and laundry. The Church House was the equivalent of a village hall. In the early 19th century, it was used as a school. It was demolished and the churchyard was enlarged up to the road edge in 1838. The present school was built on the site of the Parish Poor House in 1854. The parish had two railway stations – ‘Langford’ on the eastern outskirts of Lower Langford and ‘Burrington’ near to the hamlet of Bourne. The railway was built in 1901, the chief reason was for transport of coal to the new Blagdon Pumping Station. Both stations were important for the collection of milk churns and the distribution of coal. The passenger services were discontinued in 1931 due to competition with motor buses and the railway line was completely closed down in 1949, when the pumping station converted to electricity.
The chief feature of the parish is the wild and beautiful glen called Burrington Combe. The carboniferous limestone gorge contains the entrance to many caves including Aveline's Hole, Fox Hole Swallet and Goatchurch Cavern. The Combe has provided evidence of human occupation from the Upper Palaeolithic period, the Bronze Age and Roman period. It also has the 'Rock of Ages' named after the hymn by Augustus Montague TOPLADY, Curate of Blagdon between 1762 and 1764, although there is some debate about whether he actually drew his inspiration from sheltering in the cleft.
Rickford is situated about half a mile east of Burrington at the foot of Blagdon Coombe (on the Wills estate) from which the Rickford Spring, known as the Rising, issues from the hillside to feed the Mill Pond. It is an attractive setting, nestling at the northern foot of the Mendip Hills. The attractive old public house “The Plume of Feathers” is popular with visitors and walkers. A mill pond has existed here for many centuries with a leat to the site of the mill, which was a flourishing flour mill and later a paper mill. The flour mill appears to have been destroyed by fire. The paper mill built in the late 18th century produced good quality paper and later artists’ papers. Paper was still made by hand there until 1895. A small boathouse built over the leat, can still be seen. A charming Swiss chalet-like building was erected in 1888 to serve as a Baptist chapel, but closed in the 1960s. The building has since been taken over as a Masonic Lodge. The old Mill House, probably built in the early 17th century, is close by and visible behind the lodge. The area surrounding the pond was landscaped by W.H. Wills in the late 19th century and the pond stocked with trout. The Rickford Rising emerges from a chasm in the rocks in the wood, flows under the road and into the far end of this pond. A short distance from the Mill Pond is the Gauge House, built in 1895 by the Bristol Waterworks Company, beneath which are the regulating weirs controlling the flow of water into the brook and the underground pipe to Blagdon Lake. Historically the brook formed the boundary between the parishes of Burrington and Blagdon but local residents often found that this caused divisions when local issues were being considered. After a referendum in which residents voted to become part of Burrington parish, the boundary of the civil parish was officially changed. In times past the village had many local industries using the ready supply of fresh water from the spring. An excellent book “'Rickford, A History of a North Somerset Village” by Mary Coward, containing many old photographs and a wealth of information, was published by the Rickford History Group to commemorate the Millennium. Copies are available from the Plume of Feathers or on request at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Langford History Group provides a wealth of information on local history through its publications, meetings and website - http://langfordhistory.com/lhg/. Burrington Parish Council is supporting the group in its efforts to conserve important historical maps of the area including the John Rocque survey of 1739 and the 1838 Burrington Tithe Map. The group's website also provides access to the 1885 Ordnance Survey map of Langford. The western half of Lower and Upper Langford including Langford House, Mendip Lodge Woods, Over Langford Court and the mission-church of St Mary’s (built in 1900) are in the parish of Churchill.
Today, Burrington village, some of whose houses are extremely picturesque, still has its old pump and the school, which is now thriving. The village shop closed in the early 1970s and the village cricket field reverted to pasture at about the same time. Burrington Combe is still a tourist attraction.
Holdings at Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton for the parish of Burrington include the parish register dating from 1687, five accounts books of Overseers of the Poor (1603-1835), Vestry Minute Books (1813-37, 1887-1935), and Apprenticeship Indentures (1697-1834).
My thanks go to John Gowar of Langford History Group for providing some additional information.
Other source and further reading:
“The Heart of Mendip”, Francis A. Knight, 1915