The History of Clayhill Farm

When we first arrived at Clayhill Farm we wanted to know a little about its history. The buildings had clearly been here for a long time and we wanted to restore them with its history in mind. The previous owner, John Irish, told us stories of his time here and our neighbours all had something to add. However, there was lots of gaps in its history so we set out to find what we could in local archives, historical literature and online to put together a complete history of the farm and its people.

Clayhill Farm in the Domesday Book, 1066

The first mention of Clayhill dates back to the Domesday book, William the Conquerors great survey of England and parts of Wales. It details that in 1066 Clayhill was owned by Ordgar, a great landowner in the West Country, owning land as far away as Frome and Exeter. He was thought to be a close advisor to his son-in-law Edgar the peaceful, King of England[1]. Ownership passed by the time of the completion of the Domesday book in 1086 to Roger de Courcelles who became tenant in chief. Courcelles installed Ansketil as Lord at Clayhill by 1086[2].  During this time Clayhill occupied 200 acres of mixed meadow, pasture and woodland. It was served by two villagers and seven small holders who maintained 4 cattle, seven pigs and twelve sheep for the lordship[3].

William Testard and the Michel Family, 1200-1600

By 1208 Clayhill’s land boundaries had changed and became part of the manor of Stogursey. By 1285 the estate was in the ownership of William Testard, lord of Wembdon Manor, a close ancestor of the Michel’s of Gurney Manor. After his death, ownership passed to his son and heir Robert Testard[4] who shared the lordship with Richard Le Hare by 1303[5].  Both of Robert’s daughters married into the Michell family. His daughter and heir, Joan married Matthew Michell who became owner of Clayhill by 1346 and his other daughter married Thomas Michell. The Michell’s were of Norman origin taking their name from Michell in France[6] and are thought to have come across with William the Conqueror[7]. In 1820 an old parchment was found in the roof at Clayhill Farm concerning land in Cheslade near Wembdon owned by Simon Michel. The document dated from the 1300s[8] and reveals the complex history of ownership.  By this point Clayhill Farm was part of the manor of Wembdon and later passed into the ownership of Thomas Michell sometime before 1428[9]. Thomas held the manors of Clayhill (Cleyhull), Chelton (Chilton Poldon), Steccholt (Strectholt) and Aysshcote (Ashcote)[10]. Thomas Michell held the manor but by 1487 ownership of the estate was shared between the Michell’s, William Stapleton and Isabel Hare (Hone)[11].

Walter Michell bought one third of the manor from Joan, wife of Adam Hamlyn in 1470. On his passing in 1486 the estate fell to his wife Agnes. Walter died in possession of 9 manors in or near Bridgwater with a collective value of £56.6s.8d[12]. By 1542 Clayhill became part of Chilton Trivet manor, a farm is still there to this day over the hill to the north of Clayhill[13]. Ownership of the estate then passed though the family line until 1616 when the last details of ownership was recorded[14].  At this point the estate was part of East Chilton manor in Durleigh and in the early part of the 17th century was said to comprise of land in Wembdon, Cannington, Durleigh and Stogursey.[15]

Reverend John Poole and the Nation Family, 1700-1900

Up till this point Clayhill was one large estate but was split into Clayhill and Little Clayhill in the early 18th Century[16]. In 1709 Clayhill was held by William Ruscombe who was later succeeded by his son Joseph in 1733. Joseph’s daughter Elizabeth married and by 1826 their son, the Reverend John Poole would be in possession[17]. It was John Poole in 1794 who famously introduced the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Nether Stowey and to Thomas Poole who was to become the poet’s benefactor[18]. Thomas had made his money as a tanner but by now was a famous essayist and radical philanthropist who used his wealth to improve the lives of the poor in Nether Stowey. Rev John Poole would later found the first free elementary school in the country known as Enmore National School in 1810[19]. He had been the rector of Enmore for 61 years.

Ownership later passed to John Poole’s nephew Gabriel (George) Poole. A census transcript of 1871 describes a farm of some 157 acres. He lived with his wife Mary Poole and their 2 sons Thomas and Ernest. The farm passed to his son Ernest by 1901 who later sold it to William Gooding of Durleigh and was later sold it onto Harry and Elizabeth Nation before 1911.

Plane Explodes over Clayhill Farm, 1941

The history of Clayhill could have been changed forever if the events of the night of 28th October in 1941 went differently. A German plane en-route to a minelaying mission in the River Severn dropped 2 parachute mines on Clayhill Farm. The plane was shot down by a Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter of 604 Squadron. The plane eventually exploded killing planes bomber. Three other crew survived and became POWs[20].

J.H.Irish & Sons, 1943-2015

The Irish family (William Thomas and Margary May) bought Clayhill Farm from the Nation’s in 1943 and ran it as an arable farm. It was passed on to John and Alison Irish in 1989. The family put Clayhill up for sale in 2014.

Clayhill Arts, 2015 – present

Deborah and Michael Parkes took ownership in February 2015 to renovate the farm buildings, into Clayhill Arts.

The Nation Family at Clayhill Farm 

During September 2017, as we opened for Somerset Art Weeks Festival as Clayhill Arts for the very first time, we were paid a visit by Cathy Dewan and Margret Hutchings who were relatives of the Nation family. They shared with us a number of family photographs with us, namely of their mother Nancy and their uncle, Harry Nation.

  

Charles George Nation and Dapper; Harry James Nation [1926-2015]; Mr Bennet, George Nation, Harry Nation; Cathy Dewar and Margret Hutchings [2017]

An anecdote that they shared with us was this:

Our uncle, Harry (the little boy in the doorway, 6 years younger than our mother) said the following in his obituary at Mum’s funeral:

“After completing her degree Nancy did some teacher training…. but she also found time to help on the farm with the harvest work. It was at this time that I noticed the regular visits to the farm of Leslie, a friend from university days [from Bridgwater]. Naturally I was curious about him but I was subject to some strict rules. He used to park his bicycle in the Cider House and I supposed that fond farewells took place there. I was forbidden to be within half a mile of the Cider House at these times on pain of something terrible!”

Also, while at Cathy’s I started rereading “Paupers and Pig Killers“, extracts from the diaries of the Revd. William Holland, rector of Over Stowey from 1799 to 1818. He met a lot of the Pooles living in the Stoweys at the time and was quite friendly with the Revd. John Poole, rector of Enmore, who, we know, inherited Clayhill from his mother Elizabeth Poole, née Ruscombe (which I imagine gave rise to the ‘legend’ passed on by our grandmother, Winifred, that we were somehow descendants of the Stowey Pooles – our grandfather’s mother was a Poole, born and bred in Durleigh).

Mr Holland writes:

“Wednesday [November 22 1809] Mr John Poole and I walked out and over a Farm of his Mother’s which is to be his, a very pretty farm and yields a considerable rent.”

I should think this is certainly Clayhill! And I’m sure our mother would be delighted at the use you are making of her beloved home…especially all the environmentally-friendly and ecological aspects. She was into “healthy living”, “organic gardening”, “recycling” and so on, way before many folk had heard of “carbon footprints” or “climate change”.

Sheep at Clayhill before building and Dutch Barn; Clayhill before Dutch Barn; Clayhill before Dutch Barn

 

References

[1] Lewis, C.P. “Ordgar (d. 971), magnate”Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 13 January 2011.

[2] https://opendomesday.org/place/ST2637/clayhill/

[3]Moss A. Moss on Somerset The Cannington Press 1990 p.10

[4] https://frh3.org.uk/content/calendar/roll_029.html

[5] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol6/pp76-85

[6] Moss p.42

[7] http://www.devon-mitchells.co.uk/histories/history.php

[8]Moss p.42

[9] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol6/pp325-330

[10] https://sanhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/08BatesHarbin-1.pdf

[11] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol6/pp76-85

[12] http://www.devon-mitchells.co.uk/getperson.php?personID=I93&tree=CanningtonMichells

[13] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol6/pp76-85

[14] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol6/pp76-85

[15] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol6/pp325-330

[16] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol6/pp76-85

[17] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol6/pp76-85

[18] https://terencesackett.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/coleridge-and-wordsworth-in-the-quantocks.pdf

[19] http://www.visitoruk.com/Bridgwater/enmore-C592-V5735.html

[20] https://sites.google.com/site/holfordhistorysociety/home/wartime-holford

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