National Gazetteer (1868) - Shepton Mallet

"SHEPTON-MALLET, a parish, post and market town in the hundred of Whitstone, county Somerset, 5 miles E. of Wells, and 20 S.E. of Bristol. It is a station on the East Somerset railway. It is mentioned in the Domesday Survey as subordinate to the manor of Pilton, which had been granted by Ini, king of the West Saxons, to the Abbots of Glastonbury, by whom it was retained for above 400 years. After the Norman conquest the estate passed from Roger de Curcelle, a Norman noble, to the Malet or Mallet family, who resided in a strong castle at Curry Mallet, but taking part with the barons in the reign of John, their estates were forfeited to the crown. The property subsequently passed by purchase to. Sir Thomas Gournay, and, after various transitions, reverted to the crown in 1536. It was ultimately annexed to the dukedom of Cornwall, and at the present time is held by the Prince of Wales, who is lord of the manor.

The town, which is comparatively of modern growth, received its first charter for a market in the reign of Edward II. It stands on the southern slope of a valley sheltered by the Mendip hills, and consists of thirteen streets and lanes, the principal of which, traversing the valley from N. to S., is spacious and well built, but the others are mostly narrow and irregular. At the bottom of the valley is a stream turning several mills in its course. The streets are lighted with gas, and the houses supplied with water from the springs at Windsor Hill mill. There is a market cross, erected by Walter and Agnes Buckland in 1500, and restored in 1841, when an additional arch was added to the original structure, which consisted of five arches, with two rows of steps and an hexagonal pillar, supporting a flat roof, surmounted by a pyramidal spire. It was from this spot in 1685 that the Duke of Monmouth proclaimed his intention of marching on Bristol, and thirteen persons of the town having been convicted before Judge Jeffreys, were executed in the market-place for their participation in that enterprise.

The other public buildings are the county bridewell and house of correction, situated in Cornhill; the divisional courthouse and police station, erected in 1857 from designs by Messrs. Wainwright and Heard; and the union workhouse, situate at West Shepton. There are besides a mechanics' institute, with reading-rooms attached, a literary institution and assembly rooms, a large reservoir at Lower Downside, a new bridge, gas-works, savings-bank, Stuckey's commercial bank, being a branch of the Somersetshire company, also a "branch house of the Wilts and Dorset Banking Company, a penny bank, post-office savings-bank, swimming-bath, and several extensive breweries, which have rendered the town celebrated for its ale and porter. The manufacture of woollen goods, particularly fine West of England cloth, was formerly extensively carried on, but declined shortly after the commencement of the present century, and of late years has been partially superseded by the important manufactures of silk, for which about eight factories have been established, chiefly for silk velvet, crape, handkerchiefs, and other superior fabrics.

Many other trades are carried on, as wholesale boot and shoe making, stocking knitting, sail-cloth, hair seating, lace, rope-making, bacon-curing, and brick and tile making. Adjoining the town, and situated within the parish, are the hamlets or suburbs of Bowlish, Cannards, Grave, Charlton, Darshill, Draycot, Kilver-street, Oak-hill, and West Shepton, together containing a population of 5,347, but the town proper in 1861 contained only 4,868 persons. The management of local affairs is vested in a high-constable and subordinate officers, chosen annually at a court-leet held in October. Petty sessions are held fortnightly on Friday, and the meetings of the poor-law guardians also fortnightly on Tuesday. One weekly newspaper, the Shepton Mallet Journal and East Somerset Herald is issued on Friday. The East Somerset Horticultural Society, established in 1860, hold their flower shows here in August, and the Agricultural Club hold their ploughing match and exhibition, annually within two miles of the town.

The tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £788 10s., and the glebe contains 8 acres. The living is a rectory* in the diocese of Bath and Wells, value £533. The church, dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul, is a venerable cruciform structure, with a square tower at the W. end containing a clock and peal of eight bells. It was partially rebuilt and enlarged in 1837, at a cost of £3,100, and in 1851 the chancel and vestry were entirely renovated. The root, which is of solid carved oak, is divided into 350 panels, and adorned with figures of angels bearing shields. It contains a sculptured stone pulpit of the 15th century, two stained windows, monuments of the Strode and Barnard families, two stone effigies of Knights Templars, and several ancient brasses. The register commences in 1635. There is also a church at Oakhill, dedicated to All Saints, erected in 1861, and endowed by the bequest of £5,000 by Mrs. Trelawney Wickham, widow of the late rector, who has also given £1,000 for building National schools, and £800 for almshouses.

The cemetery, which was opened in 1856, in accordance with the extramural interment Act, comprises 5 acres, and contains two mortuary chapels. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians, the last, built in 1692, is well endowed, with burial ground attached, and contains a carved oak pulpit with canopy, and several ancient brasses, one, dated 1732, to the memory of the Rev. Simon Brown, a Nonconformist divine, who once was minister. The Roman Catholic chapel, dedicated to St. Michael, is situated at West Shepton. The nuns of the order of the Visitation had formerly a convent at Draycot, in this parish, and the Society of Friends a meeting-house at Kilver-street, but both these have been removed. The charities, which are numerous, produce above £600 per annum, and include a bequest by John Curtis for the education and apprenticing of four boys, a similar bequest by Mary Gapper for sixteen girls, and a bequest by Edward Strode, made in 1699, and now producing about £400, part of which goes towards the support of the almshouses for eight poor old men situated on the S. side of the churchyard, and the remainder is distributed to the poor in bread.

The Poor-law Union of Shepton-Mallet comprises 25 parishes or places. There are several benefit associations, belonging to the friendly, foresters, freemasons, Rechabites, and other clubs. The free grammar school, situated a little to the N. of the church, was established by Sir George Strode and others in 1639, who endowed it with the rectory and parsonage of Meare and other land, now worth £80 per annum. There are also National schools for boys, girls, and infants, recently erected in the Waterloo-road, besides private and denominational schools. The Roman Fosse Way to Ilchester passed a little to the eastward of the town, and some Roman urns were found in 1840 in a tumulus on Lapwing farm. Market day is Friday, chiefly for corn and agricultural produce, and on the third Friday in each month for cattle. Fairs are held on the 18th June and 8th August, chiefly for horses, cattle, and live stock, and a pleasure fair on Easter Monday."

"CHARLTON, a tything in the parish of Shepton Mallet, in the county of Somerset, 1 mile E. of Shepton Mallet."

"CHARLTON WOODLANDS, a hamlet in the parish of Shepton Mallet, in the county of Somerset, 1 mile E. of the town of Shepton Mallet."

"STREET, a hamlet in the parish of Shepton Mallet, hundred of Whitstone, county Somerset, 2 miles S. of Shepton Mallet, on the river Brue and the ancient Fosse Way."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]