Somerset Urban Archaeological Surveys (EUS) The Somerset EUS

Stogursey 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 Stogursey report

A brief history of Stogursey

Stogursey lies towards the south-west of its parish between the low-lying coast and river areas and the Quantock uplands, and in contact with both. Whilst the early history of settlement at Stogursey itself is unclear, there is evidence of both prehistoric (especially later prehistoric) and Roman activity in the surrounding area. St Andrew's Well at Stogursey may be an ancient holy well, but there is as yet no sign that it would have been more than an isolated sacred site before the Saxon period.

At Domesday, a small agricultural settlement, Stoche, and its mill, are recorded. This was part of the manor of Stoke, the principal manor of the parish, which in turn formed part of Cannington hundred, in which lay a major royal estate. It has been suggested that there may have been a minster at Stoche, partly because of the size of the later medieval establishment in relation to the status of the Priory, and partly because at least one dependent chapelry is attested, at Lilstock (which was only detached in 1881: Lilstock appears to have been the old port of the Saxon settlement). These factors, together with the proximity of St Andrew's Well (traditionally the site of Saxon baptisms), are accepted indicators of possible minster status, though in Stogursey's case direct evidence is lacking.

The manor of Stoke was held by Beorhtsige before the Conquest. It was then granted to the Norman William de Falaise, and passed down in the line of his daughter, who married into the de Courcy family: it is from this family that the second element of the name Stogursey comes. There followed the foundation of the Castle, probably soon after Domesday in the late 11th century, and of the Priory, very early in the 12th century. It is not absolutely clear how the existing settlement was affected by these developments, which apparently predated the establishment of the medieval borough by some years.

The first reference to a borough is in 1225, when Stogursey had its own jury at the eyre. At this time, or more probably some time before, the settlement was remodelled around the central market place. An annual fair at the end of November and a Saturday market are first recorded in 1301 and in the same year there were 60 burgages in the town. From 1306 Stogursey was taxed as a borough, and in 1340 it was worth more than twice as much as Nether Stowey. In 1361, it was recorded as a Parliamentary borough, though this appears to have been an unacceptable expense to the town. Nevertheless the borough expanded to the north, and there were more than 80 burgages in 1614.

The town's economy was based initially on the retail of agricultural produce, though by the 15th century it was involved in the cloth industry in a small way. Whilst it was a profitable borough, its stability was not assisted by the periodic conflicts which occurred throughout the medieval period. In the early 13th century, not long after the borough's foundation, there was a troubled period when the Castle was held for King John and, only a few years later, involved in a rebellion. The Castle was twice ordered to be slighted, in 1215 and 1228, and whilst these orders do not appear to have been carried out, it was in 1233 refortified on the orders of the King. The rest of the 13th century remained unsettled with the pattern of succession interrupted by forfeitures and rebellion.

In the 14th century, there was continued friction in the town, often caused by the presence of the alien priory belonging to the Norman Abbey of Lonlay. The disproportionate privileges of these enclaves set up soon after the Conquest were looked on with favour by very few people in 14th century England, and they were repeatedly suspended by the monarchy. There was violent conflict between Stogursey Castle and Priory in the 1320s and 1330s, though later that century the Priory estate was temporarily let to Stogursey's MP, courtesy of the King.

The Priory was dissolved in the early 15th century, putting an end to that cause of conflict in the town. The Castle continued active in national politicking, becoming a major Lancastrian power base. Besieged and burnt in 1457, it was rebuilt only to the extent that it could act as an administrative centre for what became a relatively minor estate of the Percys and the Egmonts. The status of Stogursey was much reduced, and its urban role diminished through the post-medieval period. The market lost its importance although it continued to be recorded until the early 18th century and two annual fairs (May and September) continued until the mid 19th century. Collinson in 1791 described a place with no market and consisting of but one long street.

There was a moderate population increase in the 19th century which was not maintained, though there has been a little modern suburban development. The borough was last recorded in 1833 and Stogursey reverted to village status.