Wrington

By Andrew Plaster

Published in B&AFHS Journal 126 December 2006


The large parish of Wrington in north Somerset is situated in country watered by the river Yeo, and sheltered by the Mendip Hills. In the west from the large village of Wrington is the hamlet of Udley. On the east side of the parish is the main A38 road with hamlets of Havyat Green, Cowslip Green, Lye Cross and the small village of Redhill and beside the road between the latter two is the hamlet of Lye Hole. In the extreme north-east of the parish, behind Lulsgate Down (now the site of Bristol International Airport), are the hamlets of Downside and Lulsgate Bottom, latterly on the A38 road. The parish formerly consisted of three tithings, those of Wrington, Broadfield (in the north) and Burrington (in the south), the latter of which became a parish of its own and is not featured in this article.

The written history of the manor of Wrington begins in 904 AD, when King Edward, the son of Alfred the Great, re-confirmed a grant of Wrington to Duke Ethelfrith. In about 926 AD an heir Duke Athelstan 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, then followed the Dissolution of the monasteries, and the grant of Wrington to Sir Henry CAPEL, 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 CLEVELAND family became extinct.

The parish church is dedicated to All Saints. There are no records of the building, but the interior, as we see it today consists of the chancel, the oldest part of the present building. This dates from the 14th century. The 15th century tower, built on to the original nave, is the outstanding feature of the church and was used as a model for the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament. The nave was then rebuilt, with aisles and clerestory, later in that century. At the same time the chancel was altered at the western end to accommodate the greater width of the new nave. The south aisle contains an effigy of a Priest of circa 1340, and it was discovered that this was built upright in the wall of an outbuilding of Wrington House, since demolished. The Victorian restoration of 1859 saw many changes made to the interior of the church, with all the monuments removed and placed in the south porch. Unfortunately in 1960 they were once again removed from this position owing to insecure plaster and fixings, including those to the LEEVES family (William LEEVES was a rector); the HARFORDS of Barley Wood; Alexander MAINE and his wife who lived at Haydens and provided the derivation of Maines Batch; the COCKBURN family and the PURNELL family, both of Havyat Lodge; and the PLAISTER family who probably rebuilt Wrington House. Two busts in the south porch are of two celebrated “Wringtonians” - John LOCKE and Hannah MORE. The parish register (from 1538) and associated records are on deposit at Somerset Record Office.

The village was formerly a market town under the Charter of King Edward II (1307-27), and consists chiefly of three streets – Broad Street, High Street and Silver Street – intersecting obliquely. A map of 1738 (Bristol Record Office ref: 22160) shows Broad Street, the main street, which is a further concentration of buildings around a much wider road than exists at present, the markets and fairs that were held here in 1738 are now discontinued. At the east end of Broad Street’s junction with High Street and Silver Street, there is a circle on which is placed the Village Cross, and here is quite an assembly of property. In the centre of Broad Street stood the market cross. It was removed in the 19th century because, it is said, it inconvenienced the Lord’s none-too-sober coachman and some of its stones are said to be incorporated into the Silver Street bridge. At the western end of Broad Street, there is an area known as The Triangle, which was near to the church and the Manor House. Although the Manor is clearly shown on older maps, it had disappeared by 1754. The Old Barn by The Triangle, on the lane leading to Court Farm, was originally village school. The deed of the sale of the “Parish School Room”, survives. It is dated 1860 and records how a group of Wrington clergy and gentry (probably the trustees of the school) sold it to brothers William and Zephaniah ORGAN, wool dealers of Wrington, for the sum of £19. They used it as a storeroom. The present school was built in School Road. At the top of that road at the junction with Roper’s Lane is a tree in the middle of the road, known as the hanging tree, commemorating the spot where, on a much older tree, three men of the village were hanged. Apparently, they had fought in the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685 before falling foul of the notorious “hanging judge”.

John LOCKE (1632-1704), one of the foremost thinkers of the 17th century, helped to start a philosophical movement (which became the Enlightenment of the 18th century), and was the inspiration to the American founding fathers. Although he was born in the village, in a cottage (demolished in 1891) next to the churchyard, he never lived there. Earlier, Alice CARPENTER, who was baptised in Wrington in 1590, sailed to the New World on “The Anne” in 1623, three years after the Mayflower, as the widow of Edward SOUTHWORTH, and soon thereafter married William BRADFORD, the Governor of Massachusetts. Her wedding was a major event – attended by the local Indian chief and his queen – who took along several bucks and a turkey for the festivities.

Non-conformity started in Wrington following the Civil War and the Protector’s Commonwealth. In 1662, Richard ALLEINE, who was an ejected clergyman from his parish of Batcombe some 24 miles away, found the ground well prepared, and it is quite possible that an assembly of dissenting protestants met from time to time in private houses. There are however no records whatsoever relating to the presence of any kind of dissenting chapel until 1714, when a Meeting House (now the Meeting House Farm) was erected on the Wrington Hill, a mile north-east from the village. John WHITING, a Quaker from Wrington, was imprisoned in Ilchester Goal for preaching in the 1680s, and wrote a book entitled “Prosecution Exposed” published in 1715 describing his experience. Methodism emerged in 1809 and this was the forerunner of the present Methodist Chapel. The present Congregational Chapel in Roper’s Lane was built in 1815 replacing the meeting house on Wrington Hill. Wrington also had a Female Friendly Society from 1797 and a Male Friendly Society from 1822.

The people in the village of Wrington have to thank a clergyman, back in the 18th century, for not having what is now the A38 road passing through their village. The row blew up after the Bristol to Bridgwater Turnpike Trust wanted to charge tolls for using the main road, which would have gone through the village. The Revd. Henry WATERLAND (Rector from 1728-1779) protested that such a turnpike could mean that “his parishioners would be demoralised or the quiet of the ‘town’ destroyed by the stress of the traffic.” The turnpike was moved to the line of the old roman road from Lulsgate Bottom to Havyat Green and onto Churchill and with only a few minor adjustments later became the A38. Thanks to the rector’s intervention Wrington streets are today comparatively quiet.

Hannah MORE (1745-1833) became the most influential female member of the ‘Society for Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave Trade’. She was born on the outskirts of Bristol, spent 32 years of her life living in Cowslip Green and later Barley Wood and is buried in the churchyard, along with her four sisters. The day of her funeral was one that thousands of folk, both upper and working classes, would remember for the rest of their lives, when this poet, playwright and founder of village schools in the Mendips was finally laid to rest. The bells tolled in Bristol, the city close to where she was born in the then rural Fishponds, after she died at her Clifton home. Six days later, a long line of black-draped carriages wended their way from Clifton Down, past her beloved Barley Wood on the east outskirts of the village, where she had once lived, a journey of 12 or more miles that must have taken many hours. Villagers lined the route for miles, and children lined the streets of the village right to the church door. So was laid to rest the little lady, who, because of her deep Christian beliefs and convictions, was called the “bishop in petticoats” by some.

The growing population in the Redhill area led to the provision of a new church and Christ Church was built in 1844. Revd. John VANE, who was the rector of Wrington from 1828 until 1871, was the first Priest in Charge of the church, having contributed to a large part of the construction costs of the church. He was also responsible for the building of the mixed National School at Lulsgate Bottom, and in 1861 it was recorded that the school was largely supported by him, aided by a few small subscriptions and the children’s pence. Another church, St Katharine’s in Felton was built in 1873 in the parish of Winford, very close to the Wrington boundary, when an ecclesiastical parish was formed out of parishes of Backwell, Winford and Wrington including the hamlets of Downside and Lulsgate Bottom.

I am distantly related to a branch of each aforementioned PLAISTER and ORGAN families. John PLAISTER died in 1840 and his affluent family memorial was removed from the south porch of Wrington church as mentioned earlier. There is a brass tablet, which was placed immediately below the memorial and is now unfixed on the porch seat by the wall, stating: “The above named John PLAISTER left in the hands of the Rector of Wrington £200, the interest to be given in suitable clothing to the aged and necessitous on St Thomas Day yearly”. Reuben and Martha ORGAN came to Wrington in 1805 from North Nibley, Gloucestershire, and he ran a mill puff manufacturing business based in Beam Mill by the river Yeo on the south outskirts of the village. Their two sons, William and Zephaniah ORGAN continued the business, and bought the old schoolroom for their storeroom. William’s son Walter George ORGAN founded a printing business in Church Walk in the village, and the business continued for two further generations of the family. There is a group of six ORGAN gravestones in the churchyard.

Today the parish is changing more rapidly than at any time in our history. This is due to a variety of causes, which include ease of travel and an ever-expanding population. Change is inevitably linked with the loss of things remembered, and here in Wrington village we have lost over the years, a number of buildings and structures, which could today be of inestimable interest. Gone are such buildings as the Church House, the so-called Priory, the Market House and the birthplace of John LOCKE. Gone also are the village cross, the stocks, the churchyard cross and even in later years, the railway line with its station, built in 1901 and closed thirty years later in 1931. Today the village is a thriving and spirited community, and has its own community website at www.wringtonsomerset.org.uk. It has an excellent history section.

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