The name of Spaxton originates from a Dane who settled in the area in about the 9th century. Spakr settled on the knoll to the north of the church. Today the village still seems spread out and made up of many different hamlets. The main part of the village surrounds the church of St Margaret's. There is manor farm, a lovely Georgian House called Peart Hall, the old alms houses, the old rectory rooms and just down a little lane there is the old mill house, which must be now owned by someone with very green fingers as the gardens have been beautifully landscaped.
Along the main road through the village there are a number of old cottages mixed with new developments. On one side there is the old village school, which is still in use, and just down the road there is the village hall which is being extended through the kind donation of a past resident who left the village some money to use in this way.
The village also has a shop, garage and a public house,unusual in this day and age, many Quantock villages have lost many of these amenities. Past the village hall and playing field there are green fields then just before the Cross roads there is another part of the village known as Four forks. Separate from the main part of Spaxton village, but it’s here that the Post office - shop, garage as well the village Inn, (The Lamb Inn) is situated. It was here that the Rev H J Prince made his ‘Abode of Love’ which caused a scandal within the Church of England in the middle of the 19th century. Today the only recognizable remains of this strange religious establishment is the chapel building next to the pub, the house itself has been divided into flats.
Abode of Love
The Rev H J Prince was born in Bath, he trained first as an a apothecary but then he decided he had a calling to be a minister in the Church of England. He first came to the Quantock area in 1840 and was curate to the parish of Charlynch. The rector of the parish was the reverend Samuel Starky who had neglected his parish for many years, he lived on the Isle of Wight. Starky returned to Charlynch and fell under the spell of Prince, who had now decided that he was God:
“In me you see Christ in the flesh, Christ in my flesh”
As soon as Prince’s wife died Starky’s sister, Julia, became the second Mrs. Prince. Prince’s effect on the ladies of the parish seems to have upset a number of the male parishioners and it wasn’t long before the bishop was hearing complaints. As a result the Bishop revoked Prince’s license to preach within the diocese of Bath and Wells and, because of this, he had a small chapel built so that he could continue to spread the word of the Holy Ghost.
Prince was visited by the Holy Ghost, who advised him to seek a larger congregation, so he moved to Suffolk to the parish of Stoke where again he had a powerful effect on the women of the parish and battles raged. Once again the Local Bishop became involved and Prince was given his marching orders. Prince was incensed and denounced the Church of England.
“Prince was the visible manifestation of God on earth, the Holy Ghost, how could he toil in the same vineyard as these sinful mortals?”
(The Reverend Prince and his Abode of Love, C Mander p73)
He then decided that he was going to go his own way. Prince and his followers moved firstly to Weymouth but this was not big enough, he wanted a large house in the country, secluded from ungodly eyes. He decided that the best place to build his paradise was in Spaxton, that lovely valley set in the beautiful Quantock Hills, where he had his little chapel.
In 1846 Prince returned to the village and built his Agapemone or Abode of Love, his home and the home of his religious sect which contain more women than men. The women were either rich or beautiful. It was a very secretive sect and the buildings were surrounded by very high walls. Inside guard dogs prowled and an air of mystery surrounded the site. This led to many stories and the Victorian establishment was horrified by the scandalous nature of the gossip that made it to the public domain.
The case of the five Nottidge Sisters is a good example of Prince's rather underhanded dealings when money was concerned. The sisters had all been left six thousand pounds each on their father’s death. Prince arranged marriages for the three who had accompanied him from Weymouth and their money helped to secure the completion of the buildings in Spaxton. Agnes, the most spirited of the sisters, tired to rebel but failed and was eventually expelled without any of her inheritance when she was discovered to be pregnant. The youngest sister, Louisa, was kidnapped by her own brothers from The Agapemone and incarcerated in a lunatic asylum. Brother Prince was not happy and not prepared to give up her six thousand pounds without a struggle. It was through her brother in law that her release was made possible, an inquiry into her sanity was launched and Louisa was declared sane. Once released she was accompanied to Prince’s broker in London and she made over to Prince her inheritance. She then went back to Somerset and spent the rest of her life in the Agapemone worshiping her beloved Prince. Her family was not happy and when she died they contested her will and this time they were successful and won back the money from Prince as well as costs of the suit.
Prince ruled over his disciples for 53 years until he surprisingly died in1899, as he was supposed to be God and immortal. All was not lost for standing in the wings another manifestation of The Almighty was waiting, The Reverend John Hugh Smyth-Pigott. He took up the reins and the sect continued. Unfortunately he also died in 1927, the community continued to exist but without it’s god-head The sect did gain a certain respectability under the leadership of Douglas Hamiliton who was a secret but respectable man with puritanical leanings. He, together with Sister Eve (the result of the biggest scandal involving the rape of her mother in the chapel by the Rev Prince in the 1860’s), ran the sect and it actually became a private reformatory for delinquent girls!
The sect died out on Sister Eve's death and the buildings were auction off in 1958. (“The Reverend Prince and his abode of Love” by Charles Mander tells Princes’s story if more information about this extraordinary character is required.)
St Margaret’s Parish church
The church buildings were substantially rebuilt in the 15th century, so nothing much remains of its Norman history except for some early Norman herringbone stonework on the north wall. The tower was built in 1434 thanks to Sir John Hylle who left money for this purpose. A century later the first pews were added to the church, the date of 1536 is carved on one which can be seen on the south side of the church today, behind the main door. The chancel of the church houses an interesting tomb, most likely that of Sir John Hylle and his wife Cecily.
The church is a beautiful building and since the closure of Charlynch’s Church in 1988 now also houses the altar from there in the south chapel. The churchyard, which is well maintained and a place well suited to contemplate the finer aspects of life, contains the remains of the medieval cross.
To enjoy a look round the village a good place to start is at the church where it is possible to leave the car. Turn left from the church gate towards the manor house, cross the road and turn right passed the restored Alms Houses. At the end of the road turn left and follow the road to the crossroads at Four Forks, on the way you will pass the village Hall and playing fields on your left.
At the cross roads turn right signposted Enmore, on the right you will pass the infamous chapel of the Abode of Love and the house which is now divided into three houses. Then there is the Lamb the village Inn, a good place to stop for light refreshments.
Follow the lane for about 1 mile. On the right you have the lovely house Barford Park, just the right age of building for the setting of a Jane Austin novel. There is a footpath that runs behind the house which cuts off the corner and will bring you out by Pightley covert. If the weather has been wet then just follow the lane to the end of the drive and turn right down the lane.
At the bottom of the hill there is a cottage opposite the woods. This could be the cottage that the Reverend William Holland 's son was so carefully cared for after his horse bolted, in the early years of the 19th century. (see 'Paupers and pigkillers', a diary of Reverend Holland of Over Stowey Parish from 1799 to 1819).The Lady of the house met an unfortunate end a couple of years later when she was murdered by one her servants. The man-servant was found guilty and hanged.
Continue on and follow the lane which will bring you back to the centre of Spaxton village. When you reach the main street turn right and follow the road back to the church, which is about 1/2 a mile from the junction, the first turning on the left.