Somerset Urban Archaeological Surveys (EUS) The Somerset EUS

Stogumber by Clare Gathercole

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 Stogumber report

A brief history of Stogumber

Stogumber lies in the valley separating the Quantocks and the Brendons, at a stream-crossing and convergence of routes. The date of the first settlement there is not certain. However, several possibly prehistoric enclosures are visible on aerial photographs of the neighbouring area, and a bronze age axe was found in Stogumber itself.

Whilst we do not know of any Roman settlement or activity at Stogumber, there was certainly a pre-Conquest settlement. In fact, the implications of the Domesday entries and of the later pattern of chapelries and dues are that Stogumber was part of a minster estate which lay at the area's ecclesiastical centre. The modern parishes such as Monksilver, Bicknoller and Crowcombe now surrounding Stogumber are relics of estates which once possessed only chapelries probably dependent on the mother church at Stogumber, or Warverdinstoch as it was called at Domesday. The Domesday entries appear to omit much land in the parish, including that around Preston: it is thought that these omissions represent the relics of the minster land. This estate, held by Alfric before the conquest, was afterwards granted to one of the king's clerks, Richer de Andelys, in whose family it was passed down.

The modern name Stogumber, which had appeared by the 13th century, is of uncertain origin and date. However, it was this variant of the name which was perpetuated in the names of the manors which derived from the pre-Conquest estates. The minster estate became divided into two manors - Stogumber Rectory and Stogumber, both held by the same family. Stogumber Rectory was used to support rectors until about 1271, when the estate passed to Wells, which enhanced it and let it out. This continued until the 19th century. The vicarage was the most valuable in the area in 1291.

In this period, there are signs that Stogumber may have acted as a market and distribution centre, though there is no documentary evidence that it had any truly urban status in the medieval period (there are no traces of a borough). Moreover, the first direct references to a formal market are in the post-medieval period. Stogumber was, however, the local wool town, acting as a centre for distribution to the cottage industries in the surrounding hamlets and farmsteads. There are records of fulling mills throughout the parish around Stogumber. These continued to flourish throughout the post-medieval period.

Indeed, Stogumber acquired a new market and fairs, established by Sir John Sydenham, in the 17th century. These continued to flourish in the 18th century, and in 1791 Collinson was able to describe the place as a small market town. The 19th century brought problems: Stogumber was bypassed by both the turnpike movement and the industrial revolution, leading to a significant decrease in traffic through the town, and to the demise of the parish's cottage industries. However, stagnation was averted by the establishment of Stogumber Brewery in about 1840. The national success of Stogumber Ale encouraged the economy, and it was in this period that the tithe map was entitled the Town of Stogumber. The coming of the railway restored the settlement's link to major communications routes - though the station was not close enough to have a major impact on the town fabric. Despite this "boom", Stogumber had a high proportion of people requiring poor relief in the 19th century. It was rough place, and the weekend drinking town of the Brendon miners. The population fell steadily in the later part of the 19th and during the 20th century, and with the demise of the brewery and the market has returned to its village identity.