The village of Kilve lies withing the Quantock Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the first A.O.N.B. to be established, in 1957. The main part of the village, with a 17th century coaching inn, and a busy and well-stocked Post Office and stores lies along the A 39 almost exactly equidistant from Bridgwater to the East and Minehead to the West. This part of the village, formerly known as Putsham, also contains the village hall, which was extended to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and, just to the South, Kilve Court Residential Youth Centre, which runs a wide range of courses for young people. The main part of the building was built in the reign of Queen Anne. Somerset County Council acquired the house in 1964 and it was opened in 1965 with residential places for 26 children and four members of staff. Since that date there have been a number of extensions and the house, together with a hutted camp site on the hill above, can now accommodate a total of 166 Kilve. Kilve Court is a major employer in the village.
The village actually consists of three settlements. One of these is up Pardlestone Lane, which meanders steeply southwards through mossy cottages, and a few more modern bungalows nestle into the hillside. Berta Lawrence, in her book "Quantock Country", suggests that the name Pardlestone derives from the old alternative 'Parleston' - where a tiny settlement here belonged to a Saxon called Parlo. "But," she writes, "there are local inhabitants who tell of a mythical Frenchman called Pardel and an equally mythical Pardel's Stone stuck somewhere up this lane."
A further settlement lies along the ridge to the East of the village, with a steep and narrow lane running down to join Sea Lane at Meadow House, which was once the Rectory. From half way down this lane there is a panoramic view of the coastline as far as North Hill in Minehead and across the channel to South Wales and the Brecon Beacons. In the foreground lie the Church of St Mary, the ruins of a medieval Chantry and one old barn still standing, though dilapidated, with traditional round stone pillars. Alongside the Chantry are two houses and a charming tea-garden (open all year).
St Mary's Church
The Church of St Mary dates back to the 14th century. In the vestry is one remaining and very beautiful carved arch of the ancient screen. The tower has very recently had a considerable amount of restorative work done on it, and it is now rendered and painted a shade of off-white, as the whole church was until the early years of the 20th century.
The chantry was founded in 1329, when a brotherhood of five monks was employed to say Mass for their founder, Simon de Furneaux. The Roll of Incumbents shows that several successive chantry priests were incumbents of Kilve parish. The chantry seems to have fallen into a ruin long before the dissolution of the monasteries, and for centuries it served as a barn for the adjacent farm.
Kilve's Delightful Shore
A paths leads down from the Chantry through fields now used as a car-park to the beach which Wordsworth the poet, who lived for a brief period with his sister Dorothy at Alfoxden House, described as "Kilve's delightful shore." At the far end of the car park are the remains of a brick retort, built in the nineteen twenties, when it was discovered that the shale found in the cliffs was rich in oil. Thankfully the scheme was abandoned before the whole area could be laid waste.
Near the oil retort Kilve Cricket Club has a field and pavilion within sound of the sea. Kilve' cricket teams have achieved some notable victories over the years.
Kilve Pill, where the stream from Holford runs into the sea, was once a tiny port, used for importing culm, an inferior type of coal which was used in the limeburning process. It is just possible to make out the remains of a stone jetty and the ruins of a lime kiln nearby. Here the limestone was burnt to provide farmers with the lime to spread on their fields. The Pill was long associated with smuggling and legend has it that barrels of spirits hidden in the Chantry were deliberately set fire to as the revenue men appeared on the scene. Legend also has it that the smugglers' ponies were taught to respond to the commands "whoa" and "gee up" in the reverse sense of the words.
The beach is an area of Special Scientific Interest. Along this coast the cliffs are layered with compressed strata of oil-bearing shale and blue, yellow and brown lias embedded with fossils. The sea is steadily wearing away the coastline and the cliffs are crumbling and dangerous, but it is possible to walk along the cliff to East Quantoxhead. At this point turn left towards Court House, and just past the stone seat which was put in place to mark the Millennium, turn left again across the fields under East Wood, and back towards the church. From here Sea Lane will take you back to the main road and the village car park.
It seems that along the whole length of the stream from Holford to the shore at Kilve there were a number of working mills. Farmers appear to have used water-power in the same way as modern ones use the power from engines. The old mill in the village, now a private house, still retains its overshot wheel, but the others have long since vanished.
Every month a newsletter is compiled, printed, assembled and delivered free of charge to every household in the village. It lists a varied programme of activities and entertainment, and it says much for the community spirit of the village that they are all well supported.
With grateful thanks to Sheila Sharp for this article.