The latest volume of the Victoria County History (VCH) has been published. Entitled, Queen Camel and the Cadburys, this is the 11th volume of the Victoria County History of Somerset and is edited by Mary Siraut. The volume promises a comprehensive account of the ten parishes comprising the southern half of the Catsash hundred, an area rich in its archaeology and history.
This volume draws together the latest research on the history, archaeology, buildings and landscape of ten parishes in an area either side of the A303 in south Somerset. It is the story of the communities, their institutions and buildings and of individuals like the wealthy medieval carpenter who became a crown tenant, the Catholic Keynes family who struggled to keep their faith and estates in the face of huge fines from the late 16th century or the eccentric Revd Henry Bennett, a real-life Dr Vesey Stanhope.
The area is rich in archaeology, notably Cadbury Castle in South Cadbury, an Iron-Age hill fort on a site in use from the Bronze Age and in the late Anglo-Saxon period. The whole area around the hill was extensively settled in prehistory and produced such treasures as a Bronze-Age shield. Substantial traces of abandoned homesteads from different periods are visible at Sparkford, Weston Bampfylde, Sutton Montis and Maperton.
The area has many buildings that are worth turning aside to see including the large medieval churches at Queen Camel and North Cadbury, the former with many grotesque carvings and the latter with probably the best set of early 16th-century benchends in the county. North Cadbury’s medieval manor house has an impressive Elizabethan north front added for Sir Francis Hastings. Some of Queen Camel’s houses conceal medieval work despite a fire that destroyed much of the north of the village in 1639. After the fire several fine houses were built in local blue lias but by the late 19th century subdivision, overcrowding and bad sewers caused outbreaks of diphtheria. At Compton Pauncefoot Compton Castle is a fantasy house created in 1821 with a contemporary landscape containing large grottos, ponds and falls along the stream. Sparkford is best known as the home of Haynes Motor Museum and its former milk factory was the birthplace of the Haynes manual.
It is an area always well-connected with the wider world with an ancient and important highway to London, and later two railways. Local men served at Trafalgar and a Sutton Montis man was third officer on RMS Titanic. So many men volunteered in 1914 that only two men of military age were said to have been left in Queen Camel village. Everywhere there were casualties: two men from the tiny parish of Sutton Montis were killed and a third of the 15 men from South Cadbury who served were lost. Today, although many residents commute to work, there is a wide variety of successful and unusual businesses.
The book opens up a wealth of information, resources and ideas for further study. It completes research on the Catsash hundred area of South Somerset which began with the volume on Castle Cary published in 2010. Future volumes will look at west Somerset and the Taunton area and draft histories can be found on the Somerset section of the Victoria County History website. More resources are available at VCH Explore including material for topics covered in this and other volumes.
Mary Siraut, county editor of Victoria County History, Somerset, is a historian and archivist and has worked on the Victoria History of Somerset since 1978 as assistant editor and later as county editor. She has contributed in research and writing to seven published volumes of the history and has produced a further volume awaiting publication and other books on Somerset including an edition of the Trevelyan family letters and abstracts of Somerset wills. She has also been involved in adult education and in the cataloguing of many important archives in Cambridgeshire and Somerset. She has written Exmoor; the Making of an English Upland for the England’s Past for Everyone project, launched on 3 June 2009.