The village lies just 3 miles outside Taunton the county town. The parish once belonged to the kings of the West Saxons hence its name "The King's settlement". It then became part of the large Manor of Taunton Deane, and the property of the Bishops of Winchester. Aerial photographs and the finding of flint arrowheads and pieces of pottery reveal that this area was settled long before written records existed. In documents the village was sometimes referred to as kingston -juxta-Taunton and it is only since the 1950s that it became officially known as kingston St Mary, the saint being the dedication of its splendid parish church.
For centuries the majority of the population worked in agriculture, now only a few work on the land or in the local nurseries. Many now commute to Taunton and Bridgwater or further afield, a high proportion living in the village today are retired. Public transport is sparse, there are buses to Taunton,and occasional ones to Bagborough and Williton.
St Mary's Church
The church of St Mary's has a splendid west tower of late 15th century with interesting "hunky-punks"perched high on the corners. ( Named possibly because the carvings are squatting on their Hunkers- as in one hunkers i.e. squatting and punch meaning short and thick.) They actually serve no function unlike gargoyles which carry off water, but they show that the masons who built the tower in 1490 had a sense of humour. The tower belongs to a group known as "The Quantock Group" and A K Wickham in his book of Somerset Churches says:
"There is a mastery and beauty of design in the towers of Ile Abbotts, Staple Fitzpaine and kingston,which renders them among the greatest masterpieces of English architecture," He adds that of the three "kingston is the perfected model"
The church is entered through a fan-vaulted porch of much charm and beauty. Many alterations have been made through the centuries but it has essentially a 13th century Early English core which was enlarged and transformed in the Perpendicular style 300 years later. The bench ends are fascinating, one is dated 1522 and the designs include oxen and yokes, a weaver's shuttle, rosaries, as well as flowers, foliage and figures. In the south aisle there is the large table top tomb commemorating the Warres of Hestercombe House, which was in the parish of kingston until quite recently, many of the Warres are buried here. The painted coats of arms records the families into which they married.
There is a well written church guide available within the church, which gives a history of the building.
kingston Street, the main road through the village was turnpiked in the 1750's but generally quiet until comparatively recently. Now it has become particularly busy in the morning rush hour and the evening home run. The oldest house here is Bobbetts which is of medieval origin, others date back nearly as far. In Lodes Lane ,opposite the post office leading up to Broomfield, is the 'Manor House' originally built in the mid 1500s with some alterations made in 1702( the date in the porch.) The building is now divided into flats.
The Grange, opposite the Green was built in the 1860s on the
site of a former farm, now it consists of self contained flats
for the elderly. The grounds adjoin 'The Spinney' which is now Woodland
Trust property,it was planted with many fine trees and
shrubs by the original owner of The Grange.
Tetton House which can be found to the west of the village was rebuilt about 1790 and was the home of the Dyke-Aclands and then the Herberts who were relations of the Earls of Carnarvon. It is a very imposing house with beautiful park like grounds.
There are many old farmhouses in the parish some solds off without farm lands. Even in Victorian times quite large houses were built in the parish by those who considered kingston the best place to live whilst working elsewhere. Cottages housing the agricultural workers were built mainly of cob and thatch and consequently many have disappeared due to collapse or fire, others have been completely transformed with alterations and additions by their new owners. Some council houses were built after the 1st world war, these were modernised in the 1970s. In 1976/7 old people's bungalows were built on Leach's Field.
The Swan is now the only pub in the village and serves good meals. Sadly there is no longer a village shop, this closed recently. The Post Office established in 1860 has moved several times, now it can be found in the main street, it is open every morning, Monday to Friday.
A mill has stood on the same site along the Taunton Road for many centuries, this mill ground corn up until 1952. There used to be at least one other mill in the parish at Yarford, originally a fulling mill associated with the woollen industry which flourished in this area.
There was a brewery on the other side of the road at Mill Cross, quite a thriving business in the late 1800s, the malt house is now the kingston Club. In the village itself a cooper made barrels, the blacksmith's shop is now the garage, and there were carpenters, masons, cabinet maker, baker and at least one butcher. Local quarries were worked for stone for roads and buildings and copper was mined near Lodes Lane.
There were once 2 or 3 Dame schools in the area, the main parish school was for a long time just above the church, it was enlarged and improved over the years until the new school was built in the Greenway in the late 1960s.
The village hall came into existence in 1923, from which date the WI flourished and continues to do so. At one time there was a Reading Room in the main village Street, this was a cob building which unfortunately collapsed. Here as an alternative to the pub, villagers could read papers and magazines and play bagatelle.
The Village Green, now much decreased in size boasts a seat made locally it was put in place to celebrate the Millennium. Its iron work shows aspects of life in kingston: included is the famous kingston Black, a very popular cider apple and grown in most of the local orchards, each farm had at least one orchard until about 60years ago. At one time part of the farm worker's wages could be paid in cider, even when this custom was stopped, there had to be a supply available at hay and harvest time. Sadly cider is no longer made in the parish but there are still a few trees of the kingston Black, as in the spinney next to the Grange, and the variety is grown and still used by Sheppy's of Bradford on Tone.
A Walk round kingston
There are a couple of places to park in the village either outside the village hall or in the church car park. The best place to start your walk is at the church. This is a very beautiful building and the church yard is a lovely peaceful place to wander around. At the back of the church yard there is a short path across a field, this brings you out opposite the Manor house on Lodes lane. From here you turn left then right into the main Street just across from the Post Office. Walk past Bobbetts which is the oldest house in the village and past the The Swan Pub, if you wish for refreshments just the place to stop! Cross the road and walk up the hill ,Green way. The building on the right is undergoing refurbishment after a number of years of neglect and is known as Hill Farm. Continue along the Greenway past the school and Quantock Way and just beyond on the left there is a footpath across a field which leads into Parsonage Lane. The end of this path by the houses is a bit rough. Once onto the Lane turn left again and follow the lane until you get to Parsonage Farm. Before you reach the farm there is a path on the right which if you fancy a longer walk would bring you out at Nailsbourne Farm. At Parsonage Farm, just past the house the footpath is on the left, follow the path through the fields pasted the village playing field out on to the corner opposite the Swan Pub follow the road round and you will come to the Village Green, here you can sit and watch the world go by.
With thanks to Audrey Mead for much of the information in this article.
Audrey has written many articles and books about the history of kingston St Mary. "Window on the Past " Books 1, 2 and 3 contain a good deal about kingston. On Sale at the Post Office at bargan price of £3.00 for the set. Her latest book 'Memories of kingston' with old photographs is now out of print, but your library may have a copy.