Thank you!

Darshill, Ham and Bowlish residents at the project launch in August 2018

Community projects rely on the efforts of those willing to donate their time and expertise and the Heritage Project was no different.

For over three years more than forty people volunteered doing all sorts of things, from building surveying and document researching to supervising children as they paddled in a fake mixture of pee and foul-smelling fullers’ earth. There were no casualties.

So what did we find in Darshill, Ham and Bowlish? This website gives full details, but the highlights of what we found were:

  • the remains of a 13th Century mill, carbon-dated and documented
  • a far-greater impact of cloth making on the locality than we could possibly have imagined
  • the importance of family dynasties in shaping the local world and beyond
  • several species of flora and fauna previously unknown in this part of Somerset
  • changes recent renewal has had on what was previously a run-down, ex-industrial, suburb

As more people become aware of our work and pick up our baton, we hope our legacy will become broader and deeper but at the moment it is this website which includes the outputs of all of our efforts. Look out for signs soon to come at Bowlish, Darshill and Middle Darshill identifying key historic properties. Detailed material and lesson plans for primary schools to use to make local history and geography come to life are available now. You can also download the audio App for the History Trails which start from the Market Place, four of which include material uncovered by the Project.

So, our thanks goes to all those teams and individuals who worked so diligently to produce such a superb output. There are too many people to list individually, but mention has to be made of those who gave more than most:

  • the Outreach team led by Sue Dickerson and Jane Nicklin who worked particularly with Vicki Davis of St. Paul’s School to produce materials for and then deliver learning days for schools
  • the Archaeology team led by Alan Marter who discovered the surviving medieval tunnel for the mill at Middle Darshill and laboured mightily without success at Primrose Hill, off Forum Lane, looking for a lost mansion
  • the Biodiversity team led by Jane Williams who sustained a programme of numerous diverse surveys over a period of two years
  • the Architectural team provided by Somerset Vernacular Building Research Group led by John Rickard who completed a marathon programme of surveys and interpretation on around twenty buildings
  • the Historical Document Research team led by Sue Shaw whose work, diligence and product was just exemplary
  • the Fundraising team led by Brian Allen who delivered the contributions needed to complement the funding provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund
  • George Webb who designed and built the website and Amanda Hirst who edited parts of its material
  • and to the three people who managed the project overall, Eddie Oram, Alan Marter and Ian Keys

We fervently hope that the energy and community spirit which has brought this project to a successful conclusion will continue and be passed on to the new families and others who move into this fascinating part of Somerset. We owe nothing less to the numerous past generations who lived, loved and worked here.

Heritage project website launched

The 13th century tunnel under Silk Mill Barn, Darshill

After three years of hard work by more than thirty volunteers since we gained Heritage Lottery approval in 2018, we are nearing completion of our project.

The website has been extended substantially to include the results of our labours and makes impressive reading. Here you will find the story of the houses, mills and public buildings of Darshill, Ham and Bowlish and the families that made the three hamlets what they are today, as well as the results of the biodiversity surveys of the area. We hope you find much to enjoy and marvel at!

There are a few remaining loose-ends to tidy up and some updating to be incorporated following the release of the 1921 census shortly, but projects such as this never really end. Rather, they become the stepping stones for future generations of enquiring minds, and long may that be so.

Cryptachaea blattea spider – discovered here and never previously recorded in Somerset

Guided Tours of Shepton’s Historic Bowlish, Lower Ham and Darshill

The Shepton Mallet hamlets of Bowlish, Ham and Darshill lie on the west side of the town, nestling in the valley of the river Sheppey.

The Sheppey was once the ‘powerhouse’ for the cloth making industries which thrived in Shepton Mallet in the 15th – 19th century (wool) and 19th – 20th century (silk).

Remnants of the buildings used by those industries can still be seen in Bowlish, Ham and Darshill and the tour will guide you around the workshops, dye houses, finishing shops, mills, farms, barns, impressive houses and even a clothier mansion with a 16th century core, providing historical context on the way.

When: 11 July and 14 August 2019

Time: 1900 hrs

Duration: 1 ½ – 2 hours approx.

Meet: Outside Bowlish House Hotel, BA4 5JD.

Park: on St Peter’s Road

Refreshments: Tea and biscuits

Price: £5 (donation to Darshill & Bowlish Conservation Society Heritage Project)

Outreach at St.Paul’s school

Just in case you missed the front page article in this week’s Shepton Mallet Journal…

Students from Year 3 at St Paul’s school with ‘Farmer Alan’ and ‘Mistress Jane’

Our adventure day at St. Paul’s centred on the way the power of the River Sheppey was used over the centuries and in particular for woollen and silk cloth making.

Linking in with Key Stage geography, the event involved many local volunteers and teachers from the school as we gave the children hands-on experience of dyeing, weaving, fulling and the power of falling water, as well as some idea of how the various processes worked together.

We are planning two further school events and are keen to work with others on similar adventure days linked to the river, cloth-making, the Victorian industrial revolution or local history. Please get in touch if this is of interest…

Bowlish Villa – a multiple enigma

Although the first impression – window hoods and stone mullions – of this building suggests a construction date of the 17th century, some of the other details such as the window and door frames point to a later, 18th century date. This combination of features from different periods is common in the immediate locality and suggests the upgrading of the cores of older buildings in response to waves of prosperity and fashion.

Also, there is the long rain hood over the first-floor front windows and internally there is a third window reveal in the centre, although it is unknown whether this was intended as a cupboard or was filled-in at some stage. There is also evidence of a similar hood at ground-floor level, although some of this was removed when the 19th century bay windows were added. Banks of windows can be an indication that the property was once used for weaving or other cloth-related purpose, although there is no evidence of this here.

By the time of the Tithe Map and Appotionment for Pilton in 1838-41 (the property is actually in Ham and was then just outside the boundary of Shepton Mallet), it was certainly a house, garden and orchard and owned by brothers William, George and Frederick Richmond. William had married
Matilda Strode Penny in 1830 and it is likely that the house was gifted to Matilda out of the Strode Penny estate by her mother Eleanor and held in trust under a marriage agreement. William died at 43 and the census of 1841 records Matilda aged 40 at the house with her children, George, 5 and Eleanor, 3.

About 1849 the house was leased to the Phillips family, William, 21, a silk manufacturer, his two sisters Frances, 26, and Elizabeth, 13 and young brother John, 11. Harriet Appleby, 25, lived in as a general servant. William’s father, Thomas, was part owner of a London silk business who operated the Draycott mill in Shepton and who also acquired the two silk mills at Upper Darshill. The Phillips’ ended their lease of Bowlish Cottage, (now called Bowlish Villa) in 1861 and moved into Shepton.

The house then passed to James Welch, a brewer, around 1866 and after a succession of tenants was sold on his death in 1884 to Thomas Cooper.

Darshill workers’ cottages 1

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30-32 Back Lane, Darshill

The transition from the making of woollen to silk cloth and crape happened following the failed introduction of the steam-powered ‘Spinning Jenny’ and the lethal 1785 riot it precipitated, and took place over the following two decades. For more details of its impact on the town, please see our posts of 5 November and 20 February.

The change of fabric brought a different model of production and involved a substantial move away from the home-working model upon which the production of woollen cloth had depended for many centuries, particularly in spinning and weaving. The silk cloth manufacturing process centralised the spinning of thread and some weaving was also brought into the factory.

Darshill, with its three silk mills – two in upper Darshill and one at lower Darshill (now under the water treatment works) – evolved its habitation to meet the circumstances of the new cloth. In his evidence to the 1833 Factories Inquiry, one of the two owners, William Hardisty, said that there were four or five small cottages attached to each factory occupied by mechnics at both Darshill and Coombe Lane, and six cottages occupied by weavers. Specifically which cottages the mechnics and weavers occupied at Darshill is not known presently.

The terrace of three cottages at 30-32 Back Lane was originally accompanied by a similar group of cottages almost opposite, now mostly demolished.

The heritage project’s surveyors say that the wall thicknesses and the stone fireplace surrounds suggest the cottages were constructed between the end of the 18th century and the first two decades of the 19th century, which would likely tie in with the commencement of silk cloth making in Darshill. They were clearly present at the date of the Tithe map (1841) and then owned by the Reverend Charles Henry Morgan and occupied by Isaac Gould.

Darshill: Mill Master’s House

Mill Master’s House looking north-west

The Shepton area is known for its large number of historic mills. Two were recorded in the area in Domesday (1086), though their sites are unknown The largest of the later Darshill mills referred to as ‘Lower Mill’ was sited under the eastern part of today’s water treatmnent works and burnt down in 1843 (see posts of 8, 12 & 20 February).

The mill adjacent to the Mill Master’s House was originally one of two located in ‘Upper Darshill’ and operated as a woollen mill before being adapted to silk production in the early 19C, and later being renamed ‘Lower Silk Mill’. The other, larger, mill was demolished in 1975, its site now occupied by two ‘mill-like’ semi-detached houses adjacent to the surviving mill-race. From the mid 20C Lower Silk Mill was used as an apple mill and the Mill Master’s House was used as a store. From 1978 the site was used as builder’s merchant but fell into disuse in the 1990s.

The 1840/42 tithe map and apportionment indicates that both the Mill Master‘s House and Lower Silk Mill, were owned by Avis Pippette and occupied by George Nalder, who may be the eponymous ‘mill master’.

Photographs taken before 1998 show that the west end of the south roof of the Mill Master’s House featured a small penthouse, probably housing lifting gear for moving heavy loads between floors. The penthouse was later removed, the south wall raised to a similar height to the eaves of the adjacent mill roof, and the whole building re-roofed. At various times in this general period several windows and doors were alternately enlarged, replaced, moved, blocked up, and reopened.

The only dateable period feature remaining is the front door surround, which is of a mid 18C style. This may indicate an 18C build date, but the surround could be a reclaimed feature fitted to a later building or a later feature fitted to an earlier building.

The Cottage, Ham Lane

Likely built in the mid 18th century, this house on the old main route between Shepton Mallet and Croscombe was improved at the beginning of the 19th century and again in the mid 19th century.

Built as part of the Strode land and property centred on what are today called Old Manor and Ham Manor (farm), the 1839 Tithe map shows that The Cottage was owned and occupied by Eleanor Penny (nee Strode), previously of Ham Manor. The slightly later 1841 census shows that she (aged 70 years) shared the house with her son Joseph (30), both of whom were of independent means, Mary Burgess (40) and Matilda Lee (15), Eleanor’s daughter and grand-daughter respectively.

When Eleanor died in 1841, the house remained in the family until about 1885 when it was contracted to be sold to a Mr James Higgins. However, the sale didn’t go through with him, and who did buy it is unknown.

The house had a well in its yard and a separate deep drain onto the hillside, leading to speculation that The Cottage may have had a small abattoir, possibly linked to the nearby Butcher’s Arms public house and Roseland Cottage in the 1840’s (see January 18 post).

Shepton streets – Darshill, Ham and Bowlish people and places

Over the years successive councils and developers have named streets in our town after people associated with the western hamlets of Darshill, Ham and Bowlish.

So, lets start with Barrington Place. Named after Barrington Court, the final home of Colonel William Strode, international woollen merchant, passionate Presbyterian, joint executor to his brother Jeffrey’s Will which bequested the Shepton Mallet Grammar School, committed supporter of the Parliamentarian cause and Member of Parliament for Ilchester until forceably ejected in 1648 as part of Pride’s Purge of moderates. William was born at Darshill.

Hyatt Place, named after a prominent Shepton family also remembered by a stone plaque near the entrance to the church. In particular, two 19th century brothers, William and George lived at Bowlish and William sold the factory there in 1836 including a fulling mill worked by an iron water wheel, a dye house and stove. Later around 1908, Dr James Hyatt and his daughter Dr Annie Hyatt were Shepton’s Medical Officer of Health and Deputy.

West Shepton, is a road as well as a locality which historically comprised the area around Kent Lane as can be seen from the remaining late medieval/17th century buildings. Once there was a mill pond and fulling mill here powered by the stream which flows from the higher ground, through Kent Lane and thence down Coombe Lane to join the River Sheppey. Church records from 1633 show one of the investors in this industrial complex was Henry Slade of Ham, who lived at what is now known as Old Manor on Ham Lane.

Strode Way, named after the family who from the turn of the 13th century until the turn of the 18th were major industrialists and merchants in the town, making vast fortunes and building their own chapel as a wing in the church, regrettably demolished in the 19th century.

Cazenove Close, named after the family which lived at Ham Manor on Ham Lane. The father, Brigadier Arnold de Lérisson Cazenove and his wife Elizabeth had four children, all brought up whilst they lived there. The most well-known was Christopher, an actor who appeared in numerous stage show, films and TV shows from the seventies into the naughties. Perhaps his most famous role was as Ben Carrington in the long-running American TV saga, Dynasty.

From top left: Christopher Cazenove, John Forsyth, Joan Collins and Kate O’Mara, on the 1980s ABC show “Dynasty.”
Credit: ABC, via Photofest

Whiting Close, named after Abbot Richard Whiting who was hung, drawn and quartered on the summit of Glastonbury Tor for refusing to hand over the Abbey to the Crown in 1539. Alice, his neice, married Darshill-born Edward Strode around 1530 and she had seven children with him. They likely lived in a now-demolished mansion adjacent to what is today called the Lower Silk Mill.

Allen Drive, named after the local farming and real estate family who owned the land upon which the St Peter’s estate was built. The senior member of the family at the time, Ernest George, lived at Coombe Lane and other members at Darshill.

Spring in Shepton…

One of the delights of research is coming across littleknown or unknown items. Like jewells, they not only shine a light on the past, but they also provide a spur to further work of discovery.

In 1913, author Edward Thomas, rode his bicycle from London to the Quantocks describing what he saw in the language and imagery of the time. Its atmosphere evokes a lost period of gentility and beautifully crafted observations of nature and gives no hint of the conflict so shortly to follow with the outbreak of the First World War.

On his way he visited our town and this is what he says about Bowlish and Darshill:

“I rode from it (the Anglo-Bavarian Brewery) in whirls of dust down to Bowlish and into the valley of the Sheppey. To within a mile of Wells I was to have this little river always with me and several times under me. Telegraph posts also accompanied the road. It was a delightful exit, the brewery was behind me, a rookery before me in the beech trees of the outskirts. On both hands grassy banks rose up steeply. The left one, when the rookery was passed, was topped with single thorn trees, and pigs and chickens did their duty and their pleasure among the pollarded ashes below. Most of the cottages of Bowlish are on the other side, their gardens reaching down in front of them to the stream, their straggling orchards of crooked apple trees behind within walls of ivy-covered stone. Where Bowlish becomes Darshill, the cottages are concentrated round a big square silk-mill and its mill pond beside the road. Up in the high windows could be seen the backs or faces of girls at work. All this is on the right, at the foot of the slope. The left bank being steeper, is either clothed in a wood or ivied oaks, or its ridgy turf and scattering of elms and ash trees are seldom interrupted by houses. A sewage farm and a farmhouse ruined by it take up part of the lower slope for some way past the silk-mill: a wood of oak and pine invades them irregularly from above. Then on both hands the valley does without houses. The left is a low, steep thicket rising from the stream, which spreads out here into a sedgy pool before a weir, and was at this moment bordered by sheaves of silver-catkined sallow, fresh-cut. But the right side became high and precipitous, mostly bare at first, then hanging before me a rocky barrier thinly populated by oaks. This compelled the road to twist round it in a shadowy trough. In fact, so much has the road to twist that the traveller coming from the other direction would prepare himsilf for scaling a barrier, not dreaming that he could slink in comfort round that wild obstacle.”

In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas

Bowlish looking east c.1910