Nether Stowey is a busy, thriving village, designated a Rural Centre, just off the A39. It is the starting point of the Coleridge Way, (for more information on The Coleridge Way click here. The village by-pass was built in 1968, it is just outside the ANOB area that covers most of the Quantock Hills. The older part of the village is in a conservation area. Here there are a good selection of shops and small businesses. There is a small Library and information centre in what was the original school just off Castle Street. Here there is also a free car park. The village still has three public houses, The Rose and Crown, The George and The Ancient Mariner (originally called The First and the Last). There is also a collection of shops including a butchers and a small restaurant; a friendly primary school and the remains of a Norman castle. The village is famous for its links with the Romantic Poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth.
The village itself was first referred to in Anglo-Saxon times as being an agricultural settlement on the military road linking the royal Saxon estates of Cannington and Williton, and mention is made in the Doomsday Book as being one of four separate manors. It has a very long and interesting history. At the very top of the village is the remains of the 11th century Motte and Bailey castle, from here you can get a fantastic view of the village and surrounding area. It is on the Castle remains that a beacon was lit to celebrate national events most recently the Queen’s Jubilee. Every Easter the local parishioners of St Mary’s church, erects a wooden cross and they hold a church service on the Mount as it is known locally. Just to the Left of the castle there was a small Chapel known as St Michael’s Church but today no evidence remains of it exact location.
Castle Mount from which is a magnificent view across Bridgwater Bay to the Welsh coast. The castle was destroyed in the 15th century, possibly as a penalty for the local lord's involvement in the Perkin Warbeck rebellion against the crown. Lord Audley the lord of the manor lost his head, he had joined thousands of west country rebels and marched to Wells then on to London where the rebellion was crushed. He was executed after being paraded round London dressed in a paper coat with his arms painted in reverse. The castle was originally a fortress of considerable size, excavations have revealed foundations of a rectangular Norman keep with walls over 6 feet in thickness, a stone cannonball was also unearthed on the mound.
The castle has had some interesting usage in the last few centuries, in the eighteenth and nineteenth the site was used for bear-baiting and for local bouts of boxing and shin-kicking as well as “hen-squalling” (cock fighting). Local legend has that a giant lived in a cavern under the mount who uttered blood curdling moans and groans at travellers as they passed - especially on dark and stormy nights. Listen carefully the next time you walk pass the mount especially if walking down Butchers lane. At the bottom of the mount there was at one time a mill and also a pottery kiln.
Castle Street, St. Mary Street and Lime Street make up the centre of the village and are part of the conservation area, encompass a wide range of architecture. The oldest buildings are believed to be No's. 30-34 Castle Street, which are of early medieval origin, these buildings were very nearly destroyed by fire in 1988 they have been very carefully restored. Although recent research has dated the cottages lower down Castle Street as being originally built in the 11th century with later additions in the 16th, 18th and 20th centuries. The largest house in Castle St known as Poole House dates from the Georgian period, but it was originally two smaller cottages which were updated by The Poole family in the later part of the 18th century This house has also been a shop and in the 1990 the large bay shop window was removed and the building restored to its former elegancy. The house is privately own. The stream that runs down Castle Street was referred to by Coleridge as Stowey’s beloved gutter. Nearer the cross are the estate agents and a small Tea rooms as well as the Parish council office.
At the junction of the three streets there was once a market cross with bell tower where weekly markets were held and the village stock and lock-up stood. John de Columbers was granted permission to hold markets and an annual fair in 1302, the local economy being based on textiles and pottery. The building was very similar to the yarn market building in Dunster but due to poor upkeep the building had to be demolished and was replaced in 1862 with the present Clock Tower, using the bell from the former market cross, the tower was erected to commemorate Queen Victoria's Silver Jubilee, with faces installed to mark her Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and the centenary of Parish Councils in 1997. The Cross is very much the centre of the village with many events starting from here, the Women's Walk, Christmas eve carol service, and on Boxing day the place where the Local Hunt met until the abolition of hunting in 2005.
The Old School
Nether Stowey had the second free school in the country; Thomas Poole was a cousin of the Rev Edward Poole who built the first School at Enmore. The first teachers at the school were trained at Enmore. The land was given by the Poole family on what was originally part of the village tanyards. The school building was extended over time but in 1979 as a result of the closure of Over Stowey School a new purpose built school was opened. The old school then became the Local Library and a small Museum. The Quantock Ranger had an office in the building until March 2008 when they moved to larger accommodation in Fyne Court Broomfield. Today the library is well used with a number of computers which are available free to any library user and visitors to the area.
The Toll House in St. Mary Street and the Terminus stone set in the wall, date from the period when Nether Stowey was on the main turnpike road from Bridgwater to the port of Watchet. The building became the local Doctors surgery and is now a holiday cottage.
Lime Street has a mixture of building styles and has had some famous inhabitants. It was to the then last house in the village that the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge brought his family to live the simple life, in 1797. He came to the village because of his friendship with Tom Poole. This resulted in William Wordsworth with his sister moving into the area, they leased Alfoxden House in Holford.
The cottage where he lived with his wife and son from 1797 - 1800 and composed some of his most evocative poems is now owned by the National Trust and open to the public. In the time since Coleridge lived there it has been a Inn and a boarding house and the building has under gone a number of changes, the roof raised and more rooms added. Since 1909 when the property was acquired by the Trust, the house has been turned into a small Museum dedicated to Coleridge and his works. The building is open to the public from April until the end of September, on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as well as Bank Holidays.
Also in Lime Street there was The Quantock Savings Bank which was started in 1817, Thomas Poole was one of the founders, the bank moved to 12 Lime Street in 1848 but was taken over by another banking company during the 20th century. All that now remains is the sign over the front door.
Lime Street was often the homes of the industrialists, many of the houses had outbuildings where all sorts of businesses were conducted, Bakers, candle makers, saddlers and during the early part of the 19th century clockmakers (The Cole family are thought to have lived at no 29. the village was and still is a thriving centre.
Stowey Court and St. Mary's Church form the lowest part of Nether Stowey, isolated from the rest of the village by the A39 by-pass, built in 1968.
The building of the Court was begun by Lord James Audley, into whose hands the manor passed in 1343, and completed by his great grandson in 1588. The famous traveler William Leland visited Nether Stowey in 1540 and wrote “ At Stowey a goodly manor-house of Lord Dudley’s standing exceeding pleasantly for goodly pastures, having a park of red deer and another of fallow and a fair brook.” An imposing 18th century gazebo stands on the forecourt walls.
St Mary's Church
The local church stands upon a medieval site and has a 15th century tower with rebuilding and enlargement taking place in 1851. In the church yard there is an imposing monument to Thomas Poole Stowey’s most loved son!
Nether Stowey has been home to some interesting people some became quite famous.
In the 16th century Robert Parsons was born to the village blacksmith but village gossip thought he was the son of the local Parson. The evidence being that the parson paid for his education first at a school in Stogursey then in Taunton. By the age of 18 Robert was a Fellow of Balliol, from there he went to Padua to study Medicine. In 1578 he became a priest and was accepted into the Society of Jesus, a Jesuit priest who was reputed to be involved in many treasonable plots, to take the country back to the Roman Catholic faith. He returned to England in Disguise and together with Father Campion roamed the Island hatching plots and being smuggled from one catholic house to another. Unlike Campion, Parsons was not captured he died in exile in Rome in the early part of the 17th century, whereas Campion died a martyrs death. Parsons was rumoured to have been one of the brains behind the Guy Fawkes plot to blow up Parliament!
Coles, Ferguson Clock Makers.
James Coles was also born in the village. A clock maker of talent, he lived in Lime Street and was a follower of decimalisation. One of his clocks that remains in the village strikes every 10minutes. His name has recently been given to one of the streets in the new housing development on Stogursey Lane.
This local self educated tanner was born in Nether Stowey on 14th November 1765. He wanted to go on to university but his father refused, but he read widely and enjoyed the company of many educated and famous people who lived at the time, people like the Wedgwood brothers, Sir Humphry Davy, Charles Lamb, Hazlitt, DeQuincey and of course the poets Coleridge and Wordsworth. Mr De Quincey wrote in in his Autobiographical Sketches of 1863:
“ Poole was almost a an ideal model for a useful Member of Parliament. I found him a stout, plain-looking farmer, leading a bachelor life in a rustic, old fashioned house, a house however upon further acquaintance, proving to be amply furnished with modern luxuries, and especially with a good library, superbly mounted in all departments bearing at all on political philosophy; and the farmer turning out a polished and liberal Englishman, who had travelled extensively and so entirely dedicated himself to the service of his humble fellow countrymen, the hewers of wood and drawers of water in this southern part of Somersetshire – that for many miles around he was the general arbiter of their disputes, the guide and councilor of their difficulties; beside being appointed executer and guardian to his children by every third man who died, in or about the town of Nether Stowey…”
( Thomas Poole and Friends by Elizabeth Sandford P 254 Copy Published 1988)
He built a considerable library and was involved in the building of the local school which was opened in 1813. He was very kind and became very much the local benefactor. He it was who helped start the Friendly societies, these organisations were the forerunner of the National Health service and provided a very much needed important lifeline to the inhabitants of the village and surrounding area. The Women’s Walk is a reminder of the Women’s Benefit society, which was begun in the early years of the 19th Century (Possibly 1806) and will shortly be celebrating its 200th birthday. The Society survived until 1975. The Women’s walk always takes place now on the Saturday nearest to Whitsunday.
Thomas Poole is remembered for his interest in books, attitudes to reform and friendliness; he enjoyed the respect and friendship of many people of the time, both famous and local. Thomas lived firstly in Poole House which had a large garden which connected with the back of Coleridge’s rented cottage, it was here under a Lime tree that one of his famous poems was written, Lime Tree Bower, his Bookroom was also accessed from the garden and it was here that Tom Poole entertained some of his famous guests. He moved from Poole House to St Mary Street to the house that is now known as the Old House, here he also had another bookroom made for he really did love his books. Thomas Poole died of pleurisy on 8th September 1837, he was 72 years old and was sorely missed, “It seemed as if the very life of the place was gone” ( Thomas Poole and friends P 307)
John Walford’s name is remembered because of his unhappy end. He was a local charcoal burner and lived at Bincombe. He was born in 1762 and was hanged in 1789. The place of his execution is now known as Walford’s gibbet
His crime that of murdering his wife. He was born in Over Stowey and worked as a charcoal burner and sometimes as a farm labourer. He was married to Jane Shorney after he had got her with child. Jane was described by Tom Poole as:
“a poor stupid creature, almost an idiot; yet possessing a little kind of craftiness…an ordinary squat person, disgustingly dirty, and slovenly in her dress.”
She had already had a child by Walford in 1785 but John’s mother had agreed to give security on his behalf so John was released and allowed to go. Jane also had a illegitimate child by his brother William in 1786. John very nearly married Ann Rice the youngest of 4 daughters of George and Mary Rice of Adscombe Mill, in 1786, but for unknown reasons the married did not take place. In 1788 Jane began to visit John again and became pregnant this time there was no escape for John and he was again arrested and this time had to agree to marry her. They were married on 10th June 1789 and three weeks later on a visit to the Castle of Comfort John ended up beating his wife of 3 weeks and cutting her throat! He was arrested and imprisoned. The coroner’s inquest took place the day after the murder and his verdict was “Wilful murder, perpetrated by John Walford” and he was committed for trial at the County Assizes which were to be held at Bridgwater on the 18th August. He was taken from Nether Stowey to Ilchester Jail to await the assizes. The Judge was Lord Kenyon, the prosecution counsel was Jekel and Lens, Walford was defended by Mr Franklin. The court was packed and many witnesses were called, the verdict of the jury was Guilty. He was sentenced to be hanged and his body left in chains above the scene of the murder as a deterrent. On the 20th August he was taken from Bridgwater Jail to Nether Stowey and then on to the place where the temporary Gibbet had been erected; on the highest point above Bincombe. Here he was hung and his body was left for a year and a day, when it was then cut down and buried 10 feet under the gibbet. You can visit the place of execution still referred to as Walford’s Gibbet.