Discovering Neroche

Key archaeological & historic places

Britty Farm

Britty was once a thriving smallholding, comprising a series of small fields cut out of the expanse of unenclosed heath (Staple Common) on Staple Hill.  It was occupied in the 1920s by the Rooke family - Ted Rooke survives and has recently allowed the Neroche Team to record his recollections as part of an oral history archive.

The farm fell into disrepair in the 1960s and was abandoned in 1975.  Soon after it was stripped of useful building materials and left as a ruin. Today only the outer walls and chimney stacks remain - but it retains a strong atmospheric quality which has captivated many people.

Research Work:
Neroche Local History Group have researched the history of the settlement at Britty. Listen to Ted's recollections online here

Location: Between Staple Common and Mount Fancy 
Grid reference: ST 257 160 
Periods of history: Modern (1800 AD - present)

 

Castle Neroche

Castle Neroche is located on the edge of a steep natural escarpment, which forms the northern edge of the Blackdown Hills (some 900ft above sea level). It occupies a strategic location overlooking Central Somerset – the Vale of Taunton, the West Somerset Levels (Sedgemoor) and the Quantock Hills. On a clear day you can see the Mendip Hills and Glastonbury Tor.

The monument has been re-surveyed by English Heritage. This has resulted in a re-interpretation of the earthworks suggesting three principle phases of activity dating to the -Prehistoric (Later Iron Age) period, the Post Conquest (Norman) period and during the mid 12th century in a period known as ‘The Anarchy (1238-1248)’. This slightly differs from Brian Davison’s conclusions drawn during his excavations between 1961-1964.

The Blackdown escarpment creates a natural barrier between Taunton and Chard. Prior to the construction of the motte at Castle Neroche, the topography of the site would have been a long gentle slope leading down onto the pastures below the escarpment.  This route is likely to have been in use from the prehistoric period, later developing into a major trackway.

Castle Neroche is a Scheduled Monument.

Origins of the word 'Neroche'

The name Neroche is thought to be derived from the Old English nierra and rechich or rachich, meaning the ‘camp where hunting dogs were kept’. Rache were a type of hunting dog. The earliest record of the word is from Close Rolls of 1235 when retchirch is substituted for La Newechirch.

In 762 Muchelney Abbey was granted eight hides of land between the Rivers Earn (now the Fivehead River) and the Ile on a hill called Duun Meten near Dommett. Duun Meten may have been the Anglo Saxon or British name for Castle Neroche.

For further information download the Castle Neroche leaflet, interpretation panel and plan.

 

Location: Castle Neroche, near Curland 
Grid reference: ST 272 158 
Periods of history: Iron Age (800 BC - 100 AD), Medieval (1066 AD - 1500 AD) , Norman

 

Culmstock Beacon

This small hut built of chert on the southern end of Blackdown Common was built as part of a warning system to signal the arrival of the spanish Armada in Tudor times.

The building was designed to hold a fire, built in a basket in the hole in the roof of the structure. The fire could be seen from miles around. Similar fire beacons on hilltops running south from here towards the coast.  On sighting an approaching invasion, the watchers on the hill nearest the sea would light their beacon, which would be seen from the next hill, whereupon the next beacon would be lit. The signal could thus be conveyed quickly to the county town of Taunton.

Culmstock Beacon is still used on special occasions by the people of Culmstock, such as on the Millennium and on Trafalgar Day.

 For more information about the beacon, please download the factsheet.

Location: Above Culmstock village 
Grid reference: ST 110 152 
Periods of history: Medieval (1066 AD - 1500 AD) , Post Medieval (1500 AD - 1800 AD)

 

Forest of Neroche

Although the Forest of Neroche is not recorded in the Domesday Book it is thought to have been a royal forest before the conquest, being closely associated with King Ina who had a royal palace at South Petherton. Royal Forests tend to be found near concentrations of Crown Land.

map showing the forest of neroche in the late medieval period

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This map is shown courtesy of Mick Aston and shows the extents of the Forest of Neroche. 

Forests were areas of common land which were subject to Forest Law. Although the crown rarely owned the forest, the King held  exclusive privileges under Forest Law. These include the rights of vert (rights over all the timber and other forest produce as well as rights to pasturage for deer) and rights of venery (the deer themselves). Forest were deeply unpopular with the local inhabitants who struggled to maintain their rights against the kings passion for hunting and their greed for money.

Charles I abolished the Forest in 1633 in an attempt to raise funds. It was a deal which enriched both the crown and local private landowners at the expense of the commoners who lost the majority of the their common law rights.

 

Location: Between Curland, Bickenhall, Dommett & Ashill 
Grid reference: centred on ST 283 174  
Periods of history: Medieval (1066 AD - 1500 AD) , Norman

 

Hemyock Castle

The castle plan is typical of small late medieval castles: a rectangular site with high round corner towers and central interval towers, connected by a high curtain wall; all topped with crenellations. Most buildings were of chert, a local flint stone. The exterior was rendered and painted white.

The castle was in use from 1380 until the 1660s. According to local tradition, Hemyock Castle was slighted — ie. partly demolished — soon after the restoration of King Charles II, because during the civil war, it had been held for Parliament against King Charles I.

Today, substantial fragments remain of the massive gate house, several towers, walls, and part of the moat. The manor house is a private house. Several of the historic surrounding buildings have been converted into holiday cottages.

Please note that this site is private land. It can be visited only on public open days or by pre-arranged group visits.  For more information, visit the Hemyock Castle Website

Location: Within the village of Hemyock, close to the Parish Church 
Grid reference: ST 135 134 
Periods of history: Medieval (1066 AD - 1500 AD)

 

Leigh Hill Encampment

Have you ever driven east from Forches Corner towards Burnworthy, and noticed the forlorn chimney stack standing alone in a field to the north of the road?

If you have known this area for long enough, you may remember that some thirty years ago this chimney stack formed part of a timber-clad building - which was all that remained of a Victorian military encampment, used for training by the Somersetshire Militia. 

Most of the original encampment comprised temporary structures - tents and cabins used by officers and troops stationed on the site during the summer months.

Local artist and amateur historian Tim Staples has been researching the encampment, and has unearthed a wealth of fascinating photographic and documentary evidence of a brief period when this windswept crest of the Blackdown Hills ridge was a hive of idiosyncratic activity, laced with white linen tablecloths and silver candelabras, awkwardly posed pictures of officer parties, and sternly worded indictments about bad behaviour amongst the rank and file.

Tim was awarded funding through the Neroche Community History Fund to restore the chimney stack, and fill in the story of the eccentric life of this evocative site.

Please note this site is on private land and is not accessible to the general public

Location: Near Forches Corner, Pitminster 
Grid reference: ST 188 170 
Periods of history: Victorian

 

Orchard Portman and the Portmans

It was by marriage in the 15th century to the heiress of the de Orchard family that the Portmans acquired gentry status. They had long been established in Taunton as prosperous merchants, but now, through ability and the practice of the law, they began to emerge as one of Somerset’s leading families.

The first Sir William Portman was Lord Chief Justice in the reign of Queen Mary, and in about 1550 he replaced the medieval hall of his ancestors with a fine Tudor mansion: Orchard House.

The house stood at the centre of the family’s growing estate until the end of the 17th century, when their newly acquired mansion at Bryanston in Dorset gradually drew them away from home territory. But until 1944, when the local estates were sold to the Crown, the Portmans link remained strong, even though the 1st Viscount Portman had demolished Orchard House during the 19th century, together with the Portman aisle of the parish church and many houses in the village.

For further information, download the pdf's: Orchard Portman and the Portmans (1.2mb), Portman Timeline,  Orchard House , Sir William Portman , Edward Berkley Portman

Location: Orchard Portman, behind Taunton Racecourse 
Grid reference: ST 243 217 
Periods of history: Medieval (1066 AD - 1500 AD) , Modern (1800 AD - present), Post Medieval (1500 AD - 1800 AD)

 

Orchard Wood Hillfort

Orchard Wood is an Iron Age (800BC-50AD) hillfort located at the northern end of a hilltop that offers commanding views across the Vale of Taunton towards the Brendon Hills, the Quantock Hills and the Somerset Levels. Remarkably the site remained undiscovered until 1986.

The hillfort is oval in shape, comprising a single bank, ditch and in places a scarp slope. It encloses an area of c. 1.9ha. The original entrance is likely to be on the eastern side of the fort where there seems to be a break in the ramparts. Within the interior there are many small oval pits, which are thought to represent the remains of ironstone prospection pits. 

This LiDAR image (Light, Detection and Ranging) comissionned by the Neroche Project shows an ariel view of the hillfort (tree cover has been removed).

Orchard Hill lies some 3 miles to the north of Castle Neroche. It is thought to be related to phase of hillfort building from 400BC onwards when many simple hillforts were constructed wherever a suitable site was available. It was probably abandoned in preference for the site at Castle Neroche.

The hillfort lies within territory, which belonged to the Iron Age tribe known as the Dumnonii but it was also very close to lands held by the Durotriges.

 To find out more about LIDAR please visit the Neroche Projects webpage.

Location: Netherclay, near Orchard Portman 
Grid reference: ST 250 204 
Periods of history: Iron Age (800 BC - 100 AD)

 

Playstreet, Bickenhall

Playstreet was a medieval settlement, which was deserted and left to ruin. Air photographs taken in 1977 showed extensive remains of the site. The settlement consisted of a street marked by a shallow holloway, with crofts and building plots on both sides, which was surrounded a triangular shaped green. The name Playstreet is probably Saxon in origin, meaning quite literally the street where people played.

Playstreet was mentioned in 1658 by Thomas Coleman of Bickenhall. He describes how all the stray stock from the common land in the Forest of Neroche were driven to Plaistreet Green for collection. The remaining stock were kept for one hour before being driven to Bickenhall Pound.  The site is now ploughed, and littered with medieval and later potsherds and roof tiles. Slight earthworks associated with a former trackway survive in the field to west.

Prior to the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1540) it was owned by Taunton Priory before falling into private ownership. In 1602 Rachel Portman (daughter of Sir Henry Portman) obtained the property and made it her residence. The house is described as having two chambers and a little orchard outside the kitchen door. On her death Playstreet became part of the Portman estate. Rachel Portman (1554-1631) was buried in Bickenhall churchyard, which has since been demolished. It is said that her ghost riding a white horse roams the area from the old churchyard at Bickenhall, through Park Farm to Playstreet.
 
Between June – November 2008 the Neroche Community History Project undertook a excavation of  Playstreet. An exhibition of the findings from the excavation took place in Neroche Parish Hall in March 2009.
For further information, download
Playstreet leaflet
Playstreet Report

Location: Field opposite Neroche Parish Hall 
Grid reference: ST 283 187 
Periods of history: Medieval (1066 AD - 1500 AD) , Post Medieval (1500 AD - 1800 AD)

 

Priors Park

Pillow mounds are stone mounds, which were once covered with earth and used as artificial rabbit warrens. Strangely enough (or not!) rabbits were regarded in the middle ages as valuable animals; they were looked after and cosseted. Rabbits were introduced by the Normans. They are originally from southern Europe, and it took them a long time to adjust to our cold, wet climate. But they were such useful animals: their meat was delicate and well-flavoured, their soft fur made fine leather and warm linings for winter clothes, and their stomachs could be used to rennet cheese.

 

Fieldwork at Prior’s Park by Hazel Riley (English Heritage) has identified the previously unrecorded remains of pillow mounds which could well be medieval in date, possibly belonging to the Prior at Taunton Priory.

Location: Prior's Park 
Grid reference:  
Periods of history: Medieval (1066 AD - 1500 AD)

 

Quants

Quants, which forms part of Buckland Wood, has a fascinating history.  It contains the remains of Farm Wood Bungalow, a smallholding abandoned early in the C20th (farmstead walls, old field banks etc), and the remains of an unfinished reservoir. Planning for the reservoir began during the late 1930s, but construction ground to a halt in 1942. The site was abandoned before completion.

Photograph shows the Butterfly Meadow at Quants

 The site was used for a short time during the Second World War as a military training area, and in 1944 four local children from Lowton were tragically killed when allegedly playing with an unexploded shell on the site. 

Roy Coombs (local historian) has undertaken considerable research into the reservoir and its construction. He is keen to make contact with anyone who has any information about the site or memories about its construction.  

In the meanwhile the former inhabitants of the nearby Farm Wood Bungalow have allowed the Neroche Team to record their recollections as part of an oral history archive

Location: Near Forches Corner 
Grid reference: ST 186 176 
Periods of history: Twentieth Century

 

RAF Culmhead (Trickey Warren)

RAF Culmhead (formerly known as Church Stanton) was a typical three-runway fighter airfield when it opened on 1st August 1941. Originally intended as an emergency landing ground and dispersal airfield, it was also used as a base for the testing of barrage-balloon wire cutters. The airfield was occupied by No 2 Polish Fighter Wing and later by Czech units. On 22nd December 1943 the airbase was renamed RAF Culmhead to avoid confusion with RAF Church Fenton in Yorkshire.

Following D-Day Culmhead was used for training the first jet-engined aircraft in RAF service, two Meteors which arrived in July 1944. The site saw little significant activity until it was closed in August 1946. The fighter station survived until the end of the twentieth century when much of the technical area was destroyed.

Some of the surviving structures include fighter pens, aircraft control towers and two groups of pillboxes. All lie within the Scheduled Area.

For further information please contact the South West Airfield Trust www.southwestairfields.com

Grid reference: ST 208 151 
Periods of history: Modern (1800 AD - present)

 

Ringdown Barn

The old barn at Ringdown, within Ringdown Nature Reserve, is a typical example of a vernacular farm building from the C19th.  However this one has added significance, having been used as a subject by a group of landscape painters who spent time at nearby Applehayes in the early twentieth century.  The artists, known as the Camden Group, included Spencer Gore and Robert Bevan.

The Neroche Scheme funded the restoration of this barn. 

Location: Ringdown, Garlandhayes 
Grid reference: ST 180 153 
Periods of history: Twentieth Century

 

Robin Hood's Butts

Nine burial mounds located in two discrete groups on Brown Down, near Bishopswood. The northern group is linear in arrangement while the southern group is more dispersed in plan.

The name Robin Hood's Butt's seems to be derived from local folklore which suggests that the barrows were used by Robin Hood and Little John to play quoits. Another tradition is that these mounds were created by giants throwing heaps of earth at each other. The barrows are also said to be the burial places of hundreds of Cromwell's soldiers.

All but one are Scheduled Monuments.

Location: Between Bishopswood and Otterford 
Grid reference: ST 237 128 
Periods of history: Bronze Age (2150 - 800 BC)

 

Staple Deer Park

During the C13th there were two deer parks in Staple Fitzpaine; Staple Park and a smaller one at Park Farm. 

By 1583 the smaller park had vanished leaving Staple Park which was sold to Hugh Portman in 1595. The Portman's were keen huntsmen - they added a pale to the park boundary (wooden fence) and in 1690 a lodge and kennels were built.

Royal permission was needed to enclose a deer park as deer were the property of the king - this was particularly important if a park lay in or near a royal forest like Neroche. Parks are normaly located on marginal land on the edge of estates and tended to have circular boundaries to maximise the grazing area yet minimise the boundary length.

The remains of the park survive on the ground today as a sinuous, curving boundary which is represented in places by a substantial double bank. Ancient (pollarded) oaks in Piddle Wood and the neighbouring fields around Staple Lawns indicate the former areas of wood pasture which lay adjacent to the deer park.

Ian Clark has undertaken research into all of the deer parks in the Neroche Scheme area. He has investigated all aspects of these parks - not only their biodiversity but also the history and morphology of the parks.

Location: Wych Lodge and Staple Lawns 
Grid reference: ST 247 187 
Periods of history: Medieval (1066 AD - 1500 AD)

 

Thurlbear Church

The Church of St Thomas at Thurlbear is a building chiefly of the 11th-14th centuries. It is renown for the quality and extent of its early Norman features, and is one of the earliest surviving aisled churches in Somerset. Thurlbear Church is Grade 1 Listed Building.

Why such an ambitious church was constructed in Thurlbear remains unknown. It may be that Thurlbear Manor held a special significance for its medieval lords the de Montacutes or their Domesday overlord, the Count of Mortain. It is also possible that the church originated as a minster or mother church although later documentary evidence for such status is lacking.

The church consists of a west tower, a nave with north and south aisles, south porch and chancel. It is constructed from local blue lias limestone with dressings in Beer Stone (from East Devon) and Ham stone (from Ham Hill). 

In 1988 the church was declared redundant and became invested in the Churches Conservation Trust.

For more detailed information download our information sheet, or see St Thomas's Church, Thurlbear, Somerset by Tom Mayberry

Location: In the village of Thurlbear 
Grid reference: ST 266 211 
Periods of history: Medieval (1066 AD - 1500 AD)

 

Thurlbear Wood

An Inquisition Post Mortem of William de Monte Acuto in 1320 gives the extent of the Manor of Thurlbear and includes 40 acres of woodland and a farm with adjoining land. Mrs Sixsmith in her “A History of Thurlbear” states that this almost certainly refers to Church Farm (previously Simon’s Court – perhaps named after Simon de Monte Acuto) and the woodland is therefore likely to be Thurlbear Wood.

In 1556 Sir William Portman bought the Manor of Thurlbear and other property for £ 80.

Both 19th Century Portman Estate maps show Thurlbear Wood as comprising a separate eastern and western section, the boundary between them being marked on the ground by a clear bank with old coppiced wych elm and hazel.

Various factors indicate that both areas are very ancient woodland sites: the irregular shape of the wood along the parish boundary between Thurlbear and West Hatch, the presence of ancient woodland banks, large pollarded boles and coppice stools (some estimated at 200+ years old).  Other ancient woodland indicators such as wild service tree and small-leaved lime are also present.

Thurlbear remained in this family until 1942 when the final parts of the Portman Estate were sold to the Crown to pay death duties.

The Forestry Commission (FC) rented the woods from the Crown Commissioners in 1947.  In 1976 Thurlbear wood became a Nature Reserve.

For more information on Thurlbear Woods, download our information sheet

Location: Near Thurlbear village 
Grid reference: ST 270 210 
Periods of history: Medieval (1066 AD - 1500 AD) , Post Medieval (1500 AD - 1800 AD)

 

Warren Cottage at Hawks Moor

 

A group of brave souls – Daniel James, Tony Smedley, Jenny Parsons & Pat Bayley braved the elements, to record ruins in the woods at Hawk’s Moor. 

Results suggest the former presence of at least 6 cottages including that of the Warren Cottage. The group have also researched the archives to find out more about the people who once lived here.

Pictured here is Daniel Salter in the doorway of Warren Cottage. Daniel’s great great grandparents lived here in the 1890’s.

Location: Hawk's Moor 
Grid reference:  
Periods of history: Modern (1800 AD - present)

 

Wellington Monument

Wellington Monument, built to commemorate the ‘Iron Duke’, is currently undergoing an assessment to determine the extent of the structural damage. It survives as the fifth tallest freestanding obelisk in the world at a height of 175 feet (53 metres).

Wellington Monument is believed to be the most visited countryside site within the Neroche Project boundary. The Monument, built in 1854 in tribute to the Duke of Wellington’s (also known as the 'Iron Duke') military achievements at the Battle of Waterloo, is an iconic landmark of the Blackdown Hills clearly visible for many miles and to drivers on the M5 motorway.

Inside the monument a dark stairwell leads visitors up 235 steps to the summit, where there is standing room for just three people. Peering through the three round windows offers magnificent views over Exmoor, the Quantock Hills and over the Bristol Channel as far as the Welsh mountains. Today the National Trust manages the site.

 

Location: Between Hemyock and Wellington 
Grid reference: ST 137 173 
Periods of history: Victorian

 

Wychwood Lake

Wychwood Lake was built as a decoy pond for duck shooting by Lord Portman around 1910.  It proved unsuccessful for that purpose, and was subsequently turned into an ornamental lake until the demise of the Portman estate. 

Later the lake became a coarse fishing lake used by Taunton Angling Association, but it gradually became overgrown and reduced in size.  As part of the Neroche Scheme the lake was restored to something closer to its original size, while retaining its value for wildlife.  To find out more visit Taunton Angling Association website.

Location: Wych Lodge 
Grid reference: ST 248 196 
Periods of history: Twentieth Century

 

Tel: 01823 680846 Email: info@nerochescheme.org

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