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

Your help is needed…

One of the objectives of our project is to shine a light on the lives of people who lived and worked in Shepton’s western hamlets of Bowlish, Ham and Darshill. It’s easier said than done though – the raw materials that help us to understand those lives is hard to come by. There’s some in newspaper reports and some in the court cases, Wills and property records held in archives, but we’d like to uncover more, and this is where you may be able to help.

If your ancestors were involved in woollen or silk cloth-making and have diaries, letters, photographs, postcards, family bible notes, deeds, family-related newspaper articles or anything else that gives us a glimpse into how they lived and worked we’d love to hear from you; and the documents need never leave your sight. If you any of these or other items you think would help us, then please get in touch using the Contact Form on this site. We’ll arrange to visit you and photograph what you have. It’s as simple and painless as that.

If you have an artifact or two, such as a cloth marker (a round object usually with a disc in lead – see the one we found in our garden below) or a shuttle or maybe even the remains of a loom or drop spindle – much of our town’s spinning and weaving took place in people’s homes rather than in factories – then please get in touch. We’ll visit and take notes and photographs and log what you have.

A cloth marker found in Bowlish (face)


Reverse side

Silk jobs and wages

The numerous silk factories in Shepton Mallet employed hundreds, probably thousands of people. Especially in the earlier years, a high proportion (around 30% in the 1830’s) of those were children under 12 years of age and our blog of 13 September looks at this in more detail.

We’re still recearching employment levels in the western Shepton mills, but the Whitchurch Mill in Hampshire using similar machinery employed around 110 people in the 19th century. However, many of the Shepton Mills were much bigger. For example, Whitchurch powered its machinery from a 6ft. water wheel, whereas the Lower Darshill mill had two wheels, 30ft. and 20ft in diameter, likely meaning that it employed several times as many!

There were many different jobs in silk factories including:

  • Twister – spun raw silk
  • Drawer – drew silk from silk waste for spinning
  • Thrower/throwster – twisted silk into thread
  • Piecer – joined the broken threads
  • Dresser – prepared silk for weaving
  • Dyer – dyed the silk
  • Weaver – wove the silk
  • Silker – sewed the ends of the fabric to prevent fraying

However, many weavers were likely employed to work in their own homes, which was typical of the 19th century silk industry and a report to the Poor Law Commissioners in 1837, a Dr. Kay described the methods of home weaving:-

‘A weaver has generally two looms, one for his wife and another for himself, and as his family increases the children are set to work at six or seven years of age to quill silk; at nine or ten years to pick silk; and at the age of twelve or thirteen (according to the size of the child) he is put to the loom to weave. A child very soon learns to weave a plain silk fabric, so as to become a proficient in that branch; a weaver has thus not unfrequently four looms on which members of his own family are employed. On a Jacquard loom a weaver can earn 25s. a week on an average; on a velvet or rich plain silk-loom from 16s. to 20s. per week; and on a plain silk-loom from 12s. to 14s.; excepting when the silk is bad and requires much cleaning, when his earnings are reduced to 10s. per week; and on one or two very inferior fabrics 8s. a week only are sometimes earned, though the earnings are reported to be seldom so low on these coarse fabrics. On the occurrence of a commercial crisis the loss of work occurs first among the least skilful operatives, who are discharged from work.’

SindenGarden, Sweden (note huge number of threads!)

Conclusion

This post marks the end of our series on silk cloth making and we hope you’ve enjoyed it. There will be more silk posts later in the year as more information about the Darshill, Ham and Bowlish industry comes to light.

Sources

We couldn’t have produced this series of blogs without expert help from:

  • The Penny Magazine for the drawings