West Quantoxhead lies on the A39, with the church, manor house (now a centre for weddings), old village school (now a private dwelling) and the village hall on the right. The Windmill Inn, garage and Post Office, as well as the main residential houses, are just off the main road on the left. The village is also known as St Audries, which is the church's dedication. Another old name for the village is Cantocheve Minor, which translates from the celtic word Cantoche: cuan = hill, toche = country and the old English word Hafod meaning head. East Quantoxhead was known as Cantocheve Major as it is a bigger parish (2,338 acres).
The Doomsday Book of 1085 records that Cantocheve Minor was previously held by a Elnod the reeve he paid
“ geld for three and a half hides with enough land for eight ploughs. It is now held by William De Mohun and has in demesne two hides and one virgate, three ploughs, and seven serfs, ten villains, four borders with six ploughs and one hide and one virgate. There are two riding horses, six beasts, eight swine and 200 sheep. There are 16 acres of meadow, 50 acres of woodland and a square league of pasture. It was worth £3 pound but now worth £4.”
There would have been a small population, of about 40 to 60 living and working on the land. In 1261 the manor passed to the Malet family of Enmore. They held the manor for 500years but had to sell in the late 1700’s.
In 1267 a Philip de Cauntelo was in residence and he was granted the right to start a warren, on Stowborough Hill, which was from, then known as Conygar Hill, his own memorial that is still flourishing even after the outbreak of myxomatosis in 1954. So when you see a rabbit on the hills just remember Philip de Cauntelo - that rabbit is quite probably one of descendents of his original conies released in 1267!
The oldest written record relating to West Quantoxhead is dated 7th January 1316 and is an agreement about ‘La Lanschoir of Westcantokeshefde’. Another manuscript dated 1399 is interesting when you read the names “Nicholas Forrester, Robert Luccombe and Thomas and Christiana Bryghtlegh of Westcantokkyshed.”!!
Heroes and Villains
The village has had its share of heroes and villains, one of them was Thomas Shornie who was married to Joane Badger on 8th October 1575, in 1589 he was found guilt of her murder, she was buried on 8th March and he was hanged on the 16th March 1589. Another villager called Christian Thresher, was burnt at the stake on 27th March 1604 for:
“complicity in the murder of her second husband”.
The rector of the parish in 1642, Gawen Evans, was replaced by the roundheads for his sympathies to the Loyalist cause by Silvester Harford. Gawen was a local boy, the parish records record his baptism in 1581 and his marriage to Elizabeth Goodin in 1608. He became rector in 1617 and was buried on the 23rd November 1660. A record of his close involvement with the parish.
The Mallet Family had to sell the estate due to the double dealings of Richard Veale who they appointed to take care of their tax revenue before passing to the crown. Veale received a large sum of money from the Mallet family and then he declared himself bankrupt and disappeared off to the West Indies with the Mallet’s tax money. The Mallet’s were left owing the Crown £1,614/9/5d. William Mallet tried to catch Veale by sailing to the West Indies but his ship is believed to have caught fire, and William died at sea in 1722. The estate was sold in 1736.
James Smyth and his wife Grace brought the Estate for £8,300 and started to improve and expand the park. His family sold the estate in 1763 to Robert Balch of Bridgwater for £13,662. Robert died in 1779 and the estate passed to his son Robert Everard who died in 1799. It then passed to George, his brother, who also died unmarried in 1814 and the estate was inherited by one of his sisters, Christiana. In the diary of Rev William Holland parson of Over Stowey church (1799-1819) George Balch's funeral is recorded:
“Friday January 14th 1814 Snow threatened and it was freezing beyond measure! Mr Balch was carried from St Audries to Bridgwater to be buried… buried he has been all his life. Narrow in intellect, bad in health, rarely left the house he shared with his surviving sister. A poor creature who did no more than live and die”
The owner of the manor who left the biggest impression was Sir Peregrine Acland, of Fairfield near Stogursey, who purchased the manor and the patronage of the living of St Audries in 1836. He altered the existing Tudor manor house with the help of John Norton. He also had the school built, as well as a new church. Sir Peregrine bought the Manor as a dowager property for his wife expecting to die before her.
St Audries Manor
During the course of the 19th century most of the village houses disappeared. Collinson’s History of Somerset records that the main part of the village was along the drive after the manor and before the church. Many of the cottages then were thatched and built mainly of cobb. The village today is further up the hill on the other side of the main Bridgwater to Minehead road. The church and the converted old school buildings, together with the village hall, are now the only buildings in the village’s original location. The reasons for this lie in part with Landlords of the 18th and 19th century who developed the estate as park land and re-routed the main road (A39) in order to improve their outlook and privacy .
A map of the estate dated 1761 shows the position of the village as lying along what is now the driveway to the Manor house, with a smaller settlement around Staple Farm — where the main part of the village is today. Also shown on this map are two ancient tracks running through the parish. In 1770 the alterations to these roads was begun, which in turn led to the disappearance of the cottages along what was the original High street to the village. In 1761 there were over 10 dwellings but, by 1860, they had all gone the last ones being demolished when the church was rebuilt in 1853.
"The village of West Quantoxhead thus lay between roughly parallel through routes, the manor house standing at the northern end of the village street. The extension of the park south and west of the house inform the 1820s had a profound effect on the parish, and particular on its road system. The first stage was to straighten the road between Staple and the village in 1770. The second was to divert the coast road to run further north from the manor house in 1815. More significant was the replacement of that coast road by a route cut into the rising ground east of the house which then followed the contour south and west in a gentle curve, cutting the village street between the church and the rectory house and joining the Great Road below Staple. The new route was formed by Act of parliament of 1828 for adoption by the Minehead turnpike trust. The village street thereafter gave access only to the manor house, and its houses and cottages were gradually removed as tenants transferred to new homes at Staple”
( History of Somerset by Collinson)
Sir Peregrine, who bought the estate in 1836, built four lodges at the entrances to the park, Church Lodge, Fairfield (Also known as Stowey Lodge), Williton Lodge and Rydon Lodge. He also had the old home farm demolished and re sited the farm buildings nearer to the coast together with a purpose built Dovecote (Still to be seen today at what is now Home Farm camping and caravan site.). Cottages for the estate workers were also built further up the hill, away from his house. In 1857 he had a school built on the edge of the park. At the back of the school, on a piece of ground known as "Robbers Roast" there were the remains of the foundations of old cottages. This was thought to be where the village smugglers had lived.
The Manor house has had a number of owners since Sir Alexander sold the building; in 1925 the House was sold to a Mr Bruguieres a French Canadian, it has been a private girls school (St Audries from 1906 till 1989), a Buddhist Centre and is now a Country House Hotel specialising in weddings.
St Audries church
The present church building was built in 1854 to replace a much dilapidated mediaeval building. John Norton, who was also responsible for Stogursey School, designed it. The building was considered to be a fine piece of architecture for the period. It was dedicated on 17th October 1856 to the virgin St Etheldreda, more commonly known as St Audrey. St Audrey was a Queen of Northumbria who became the first abbess of Ely where she died in 679 from a tumour of the throat. She believed her illness to be a punishment for her youthful fondness for necklaces; as a result she gave her name to necklaces of fine silk that were called Taudrey (tawdry).
The old medieval church was quite a small one consisting of tower, nave, south porch transept and chancel. The church accounts prior to 1800 show that large quantities of thatching reed were used for roof repairs, so the building was most likely thatched but in 1800 the church wardens brought 10,500 tiles which cost 4 guineas. This was possibly too much for the roof timbers and walls which buckled under the weight, and resulted in its demolition in 1853. The timbers from the church were used for a variety of purposes one of which was an alter rail for the temporary church.
The Rood screen was also saved and has a very interesting history. It was originally made and installed in the church about 1583 by Alexander Harrison, quite probably it was built in Dunster. The screen had a four-foot wide walkway along the top and was access was by a narrow flight of steps, which had been cut into the north wall. It was taken from the church and stored in an outhouse of the manor where it was forgotten, until a fire caused it to be rediscovered, Lord St Audries offered the screen to St Peter’s church Williton where it was taken and again stored in sections in another outhouse. Unfortunately due to the 1st World War efforts to repair and install the screen in St Peter’s came to a stop and the screen lay in sections until 1923. At this time the Diocesan advisory Board for Bath and Wells made the decision to sent it to the Victoria and Albert Museum for re-assembly and repair and it was then to be exhibited in the Museum. Due to the cost of repairs it became too much for the church in Williton and was offered to St Mary Magdalene church, Exford. Here it was restored to its former glories and installed, 70 years after it’s removal from the old church at St Audries. It was re-dedicated in 1929 following its repair by the skilled craftsmen of the London museums; luckily much of the original carving was well preserved. The Rood screen can still be admired today, in Exford.
Whilst the new church was being built the Acland-Hoods provided a small wooden church, this building was then given to the parish of Stolford ten miles to the east of West Quantoxhead. Although planned as a temporary structure it remains their today, nearly 150 years later. It has been carefully renovated but still retains a lot of charm, especially when you consider it was built in 1853 and then transported 10 miles in 1866. St Peter’s at Stolford is definitely worth a visit.
In the 19th century the building cost £16,000 this was given by Sir Peregrine Acland and his son in law Sir Alexander Fuller Acland-Hood. The church is built of red sandstone from the neighbouring quarries of Sampford Brett. The arches are of Doulting stone (from near Shepton Mallett), and the arcade of the nave is supported on clustered columns of Babbacombe marble. There is a crypt under the whole church, which helps to protect the building from damp. In the crypt is a Saxon or early Norman font as well as a stone coffin and part of a Tabular monument which has a latin inscription referring to G Malet, who died in December MCCCIII. The roof of English oak came from Sir Peregrine's Fairfield estate. The gargoyles around the outside of the church are also very interesting
St Audries Beach
The beach at St Audries, of which tantalizing glimpse are gained above on the A39, is one which has an equal amount of sandy and rocky areas. The beach also has a lovely cool waterfall, which is great to wash off the muddy deposits gained from swimming in the Severn Sea. The best access to the beach is from one of the local caravan parks. Just past the garage on the A39 is a turning on the right signposted Watchet and Doniford, about 1/4 mile on the right just by one of the original Lodges (Rydon) is the drive for Home Farm camping and caravan park. Follow this down the hill and at the bottom you will find a car park, make sure you buy your parking ticket which is very reasonably priced. Opposite the car park there is a tree lined shady path to the beach - but be aware that there are a lot of steps to reach it! There are toilets at the car park as well as a shop which sells a great variety of merchandise. The bay is the sandiest around here and has something for everyone, rock pools, sand, a waterfall and a lovely location.
With thanks to Duncan Stafford, resident of West Quantoxhead and local historian, for much of the information in this article