Somerset Urban Archaeological Surveys (EUS) The Somerset EUS

Milborne Port by Miranda Richardson

This is one of a series of reports on the archaeology of the urban (and formerly urban) areas of Somerset commissioned by English Heritage as part of its Extensive Urban Survey (EUS). The reports were prepared by Somerset County Council in 1994-98. There is a brief history of the town extracted from the report or you can download the whole report and maps in Portable Document Format (PDF).

Download Milborne Port report

A brief history of Milborne Port

Milborne Port is situated in the far south-east of the county, it lies in a bend of the stream variously named the Gascoigne, Ivel or Yeo. To the east and west of the town the land rises forming Vartenham Hill and East Hill. The town is in the south of a long rectangular parish, the northern half of which is known as Milborne or Horethorne downs.

Little is known of the prehistory of the area, although some prehistoric features and finds have been located in the north of the parish, most notably the promontory fort on Barrow Hill, above the village of Milborne Wick is thought to date to the Iron Age. Roman occupation of Milborne Port has been suggested by Aston and Leech following Leech's suggestion that burials described by Collinson in 1791 are of Roman date.

The Saxon settlement was part of a large royal estate with a minster church, a market and, in the reigns of Aethelraed II and Cnut, a mint. In the latter part of Aethelraed's troubled reign the mint was moved to Cadbury which suggests the town had inadequate defences. By Domesday it was a well established town with 56 burgesses and the market paying 66 shillings and the church held a small estate worth 30 shillings separate from that of the King. This is the fourth largest number of burgesses and the most profitable market recorded in Somerset suggesting that the town was an important place in the late Saxon landscape.

The town had gained the suffix 'Port' by 1249 suggesting it was a successful trading centre but declined in importance during the medieval period, losing trade to its neighbours Sherborne, Yeovil and Wincanton. By 1327 the Lay Subsidy recorded only thirty taxable inhabitants and rated the borough at £3, a sum which puts it in the bottom half of towns in Somerset. As with many of the small towns of South Somerset, cloth industry augmented a rural, agricultural economy during the medieval and post-medieval period. Again the 1327 Lay Subsidy records fullers, dyers and tailors amongst the thirty taxpayers. By 1781 there were four weaving sheds producing flax- and sail-cloth. During the industrial period the cloth industry was replaced with tanning and glove production with as many as seven glove-making businesses recorded in the town in the first half of the 19th century. However, the town gained notoriety not for the success of its gloving industry but for losing its franchise under the 1832 Reform bill, due to the gerrymandering activities of both parties in the preceding decades.