By Bob Ford
Published in BAFHS Journal 152 - June 2013
Kingston Seymour is a low lying coastal parish and village in North Somerset. The parish is bounded by ancient parishes of Clevedon in the north, Kenn in the north-east, Yatton in the south-east and Wick St Lawrence in the south. The earliest sea banks were constructed by the Romans. Without them the land would be flooded by the high equinoctial tides. A prominent feature of the parish is rhynes or drainage canals which thread through the area and eventually feed into the sea. The water table is still only a few feet below the surface. The 2,500 acres of pasture, mainly permanent grassland, are said to be as productive as any in Somerset.
It seems likely that there has been a settlement in this area since Saxon times or even earlier. The Domesday Book of 1086 refers to the church at “Chinge-stone” but nothing remains of the Norman building except the font. In the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) one part was held by Eldred and a smaller portion by four thanes, one of whom, Alvric, was a priest. After the Conquest, both portions were granted to William de Monceaux. ‘On the Wednesday before the Feast of St. Erkenwaldus in the ninth year of the reign of Richard I’ (1198) the manor was granted to Milo de Sancto Mauro. Milo is said to have been at Runnymede when the Magna Carta was signed. Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII, was descended from Milo’s youngest son. It is reputed that the village took its name from a lord of the manor, a member of the Seymour family. One of the tombs in the church-yard, allegedly belonging to the BULBECK family is almost certainly that of John KEN. It is mentioned in his will proved in 1404. The oldest surviving houses are farmhouses of up to 500 years old.
The Parish Church dedicated to All Saints, almost completely surrounded by rhynes, has in its porch a reminder of the exposure of the parish to sea flooding; a plaque which records the great flood of 1606. The main structure of nave and chancel were built circa 1300. The south aisle was added in the 15th century. The tower and spire date from the late 14th century. The tower parapet was added late in the 15th century. The church is thought to be unique in having a broach spire with parapet built on its lower courses. The only relic of an earlier one is the base of the font which is early Norman. There was until at least 1739 a rood screen across the chancel arch but this no longer exists, though the doorway that gave access to it still remains in the north-east corner of the nave. On the other side of the arch is a ‘squint’ enabling parishioners in the side aisles to see the altar. The nave roof is of the ‘Wagon Roof’ variety and though the present roof was repaired in 1906 it still incorporates much timber and many bosses of the 15th and 16th centuries. Much restoration work was done in 1865. The chancel was almost entirely rebuilt in 1865-6 retaining the 13th/14th century piscina, except for the south wall, the vestry added, an organ installed, and a new pulpit built. Further changes were made in 1980 when the low stone chancel screen was removed and the pulpit shifted to expose more of the chancel arch.
On 20th January 1606, the parish and many other areas on both sides of the Bristol Channel were flooded when there was a tsunami. There were five feet of water in the church and much of the parish was flooded for ten days. In 1703, a hurricane did immense damage across the whole of England. The parish was once again flooded taking its toll by destroying cattle, sheep and corn but fortunately no one was drowned. After flooding, the land was considered unsuitable for dairy cattle for some time and the resulting bad air was said to cause ‘attacks of the ague’ in local people.
All the early parish records were destroyed by the flood. The earliest available were written in 1705. The names NEADS and JONES occur very early in the baptismal registers. Others appear a little later; SWEET, WYATT, COOK and PRICE are some examples. They are still found in nearby parishes but no longer in Kingston. The families of STUCKEY, GRIFFIN and WALLIS arrived late in the 18th century and are still present. Down the years there have been many marriages linking them. Between 1887 and 1901 three Wallis sisters married two Griffin brothers and a cousin. The sisters had a brother John who married Frances Stuckey!
The early Churchwardens’ Accounts ob-viously detail church running expenses but warden’s obligations were diverse. They paid James SPEAR for killing ‘polecats’ and ‘wonts’ (moles). In 1706, unusually for those days Kingston had a lady warden Sarah EDGHILL. A new whipping post was purchased and the stocks were repaired. In the same year ‘Crayes Coffen’ cost ten shillings. The following year a doctor was paid when Charity CRAY had a bad neck. ‘7 ells of Flaxen Cloath for Crays two maidens cost 6/1d’. Making the cloth into four shifts cost 1/4d. Liquor, ale, brandy and rum were purchased many times, sometimes for craftsmen working in or on the church but more often for the sick.
In the time of the 1881 census, Miss Elizabeth BATEMAN (from Putney, Surrey) was a teacher of the school which had 51 pupils. Thomas PLATT was the curate in charge. James DATE was a gamekeeper and there were four washwomen: Sarah HEAL, Sarah and Louise TILLEY and Anne PAYNE. Twenty four farmers and 63 labourers worked on the farms.
Right in the centre of the village is the Triangle. Here where four roads meet (Ham Lane, Middle Lane, Back Lane and Lampley Road) are the bus stop and War Memorial which was built in 1919. It incorporates the socket stone of an ancient village cross. There is a remarkably fine medieval cross in the churchyard. The Victorian school and school house, both built in 1858, lie close to the west end of the churchyard, in Ham Lane. When the school closed in 1968 there were ten pupils. The chapel on Lampley Road was built during the 19th century. Earlier chapel people are said to have used the old Quaker Meeting House in Back Lane. The chapel closed for worship in 2004. The school, chapel and meeting house have all been converted to residential accommodation.
The Weston, Clevedon & Portishead Light Railway built its line with three halts (Ham Lane, Broadstone and Kingston Road – all of them about one mile away from the village) through the west side of the parish in 1897, and the line closed 43 years later in 1940.
For centuries, the mainstay of the parish economy was agriculture. Until the end of the 19th century most of the land was held by a few large landowners, including the Church. By the 1920s, however, these large landholdings had been broken up and sold to individual farmers. The arrival of the M5 motorway, built through the east side of the parish, in the early 1970s eased commuting as well as long-distance travel and in this decade several groups of new houses were constructed on former farmland. However the village school had already closed and despite the new housing, the shop and original Post Office was soon to follow, although the Community Post Office opened a few years later. The 1990s saw further house building on former farmland, as two more farms ceased business and it was at this time that most of the remaining land within the settlement boundary was developed. At the end of the decade the Village Hall, by then more than 25 years old, underwent major refurbishment, fitting it for the new Millennium. Kingston never had a public house. The Village Hall has a licensed bar open on skittle evenings and at many other times. During the last forty years the population has almost doubled to about 400. Most commute to work outside the parish.
Holdings at Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton for the parish of Kingston Seymour show the parish register dating from 1727 (though the Bishop’s Transcripts begin in 1622), Church-wardens and Overseers Accounts (1705-1897), Vestry Minute Books (1799-1881) and School Managers Minutes (1903-1968), admissions registers and log books. The Overseers Accounts and Vestry Minutes refer to Removals, Settlements, Bastardy cases and Apprenticeships etc. The school records contain much social history. There is a 200-page book on the history of Kingston Seymour School, written by Marion Pudner and Sue Thomas.