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Wrington Village Records
Studies of the history of a Somerset Village

The early deeds of Wrington - pages 1-2


Source: The Glastonbury Chartulary (Somerset Records Society) 1185 passim.

These are a group of documents from the book of title deeds kept by Glastonbury Abbey. The whole group relates to Wrington, which was the property of the Abbey from the 1Oth century. Although the printed version presented no difficulties of handwriting, all but two of the deeds were in early medieval Latin - and these other two were, respectively, in Saxon and highly phonetic French, so that translation formed a major part of their study. The deeds form a miscellaneous but varied group, ranging in date from 904 A.D. to the 13th century. Many are undated, but can be grouped together by the recur-ring appearance of the same witnesses. In subject matter they range from a royal charter to the brief letter in French, which requests permission to pasture
animals ;

"To his very dear lord and friend the Abbot of Glastonbury, while it pleases the Lord, Humfrey de Scouvile (sends) greetings in God.

Dear Sir, I pray you that the favour which my people of Brockley have had for their cattle in your pasture of Wrington by their procurement, you will permit; and it is well known that I (have) no right nor claim except by (your) favour. In witness of this I send you my letters patent so that you will know that I and my friends will be held in obligation to you. I commend you to God".

Many local place names are mentioned, besides Wrington and Glastonbury: Butcombe, Moreton (near West Harptree), Emborough, Brent, Chewton, Legh (Lye Hole), Bourne (near Rickford), Woolavington, Hunt spill and Winscombe. Nearer Wrington, individual fields and properties are sometimes described.

Witnesses tend to have surnames in later deeds, whereas in earlier ones they only have Christian names, plus the name of their village, e.g., Walter of But-combe, Robert of Brent, Philip of Chewton. Sometimes, the occupation of the witness is given; a knight, a doctor ("medico"), bailiff, rector.

The only name found that still has local connections is Richard Whyther; there is a Wither family still, at Butcombe, who can trace their descent in north Somerset for over 400 years. Richard Whyther was bailiff of Wrington in 1257.

The first and earliest of the deeds is dated 904 A.D., the royal charter by which King Edward (son of Alfred the Great) re-confirmed a grant of Wrington to Duke Ethelfrith. Not long afterwards (it is thought in about 946) an heir, Duke Athelstan, became a monk and took "this aforesaid inheritance. ..with him to the monastery of Glastonbury". This is noted in a later postscript added to the deed, and explains how Glastonbury came to own Wrington. This first deed, therefore, is the foundation of much of the later history of the village and manor, and is worth quoting at length.

It is a fascinating and vivid document, all the more appealing for its stiff, slightly clumsy formality which suggests an age when writing was unfamiliar. It recounts how '.all the books of inheritance of duke Ethelfrith perished in the burning devastation of a fire". Ethelfrith, who owned much land in Mercia as well as the southwest, asked the King and is nobles and "also all the elders of the Mercians that they should consent and give licence to him for rewriting of the books".

A title deed in Saxon times was called a 'land-book'. But obviously they could not remember them accurately, and the king had to issue a confirmatory copy, because :

"Then they all unanimously with faithful mind granted that other books might be written for him in the same way that the former writings were, inasmuch as he could record them from memory. But if he was able to record scarcely anything, then this little charter should be a help and affirmation so that no one might prevail over him with a damaging dispute with other books; and neither relative nor stranger nor any other man whatsoever should produce anything from the old books which he might furtively have abstracted previously by fraud, or on the day of the fire, or at any other time. For we know that every-thing which comes to pass in this world decays, and sooner or later will disappear from mortal memory unless it is noted in written records (lit. : "in charactered schedules of writings"). Wherefore we draw up in this charter, to be made known, a sufficient and fitting ratification and grant of that land at Wryngton of which the extent is 20 hides, and this aforesaid bestowal I Edward the king and the whole witan of England release to our devoted friend Ethelfrith the duke in perpetual inheritance, so that noone seeing (it) after us shall make it invalid without the wrath of God almighty.

I Athelred have consented and confirmed

I Edward the king have consented and subscribed".

The Wrington estate was only one, rather isolated, part of Ethelfrith's lands, and the charter is the confirmatory copy covering this one part. It proceeds to describe the boundaries of this Wrington estate, circling the boundary from one landmark to the next in a clockwise direction - in Saxon! The English translation, keeping the Saxon place-names, is here given :

"First to Preosteselwe; from Preostselwyn to Wrythwey; from Wryth-weye to Wryoheme (or Wryobeme). From Wryoheme to Egelescombe; from Egelescombe to Ethecombe. From Ethecombe to Wulfcombe. Along the middle of Wulfcombe then to Styficleye on its north side. From the Lea to the east side of the Winter Acres. Then to Swynhage. Then through at the Lea to Farnhamme. From Farnhamme to the west side of Histlyngdene. Then to the Barrow. From the Barrow to Likelan. From Likelan to CredelinghaIes.

From Credelinghale to the Suwardinglegh on its east side. To Wethelegh Brook; and along the brook to the Merewollen. From the Merewollen to the East Meadow. From East Meadow to Wulbikan Hill. From Wulbican Hill to the Hedgerow by South Suddon. From the Hedgerow to the Mererigge. From the Mererigge to the Hagenmedewe. From the Hagenmedewe to the Wring along the stream to Wringforde (or Wyndford). From Wringforde to the Hedgerow east to the Large Spring of Schirebourne. From the Large Spring to Carstie, to the Hedgerow. Again, along the Hedgerow to Wythescombe. From the Combe to Brokenanbrugge. From the "brugge" to Stanbrugge. From Stanbrugge to Wetmeadow. From Wet Meadow to Watercombe. From Watercombe to Ethecombe. From Ethecombe to Elkanlegh. From Elkanlegh to Hylisbrook to the Great Spring. Then along the Brook once more to the Wring. Then along the Wring once more to the west side of the Mead. Then to Preostewe".

Lastly comes the note describing how Glastonbury came to own the estate - all over a century before the Norman Conquest. So Duke Ethelfrith's unfortunate fire, and Athelstan's religious feelings, have preserved for the 20th century the earliest, and one
of the most detailed, descriptions of Wrington. For its interpretation, see the paper The Boundaries of the Manor of Wrington.

Of the other deeds, some give information about agriculture in the early middle ages-mostly about the 13th century. William Baldwin gives "1 acre of meadow in AI Leurimede under Wodefolde on the north side of the water course which I hold of them in the village of Wrington", to the Abbey of Glastonbury, with the agreement clause that "the aforesaid abbot and his convent can enclose the aforesaid acre and improve it together with the whole wood of Wodefold; and can hold it enclosed and fenced without any contra-diction from me or my lawful heirs." William Baldwin reappears as a witness in another deed describing fields: Robert, son of Hugh Faber (the smith) of Wrington,
grants to Hugh de Middilton :

"five acres of arable land and 2 acres of meadow in Suthderlond with appurtenances; which five acres of arable land lie between the land of Robert de Brent on one side and the land of Emma daughter of Adam reeve of Glastonbury on the other, and extend themselves from Tissi-mede, towards the north, up to the land of the said Robert de Brent ; but the two acres of meadow lie in Tisismede on the south end of the aforementioned five acres of land. (Hugh is to render Robert 18d. yearly and 20 silver shillings entry fine. Ends 🙂

These (being) witnesses: Robert Pyk of Kyngeston, John Culvertail of Sunderlond, William Baldewyn of Wrington and others."

In another deed Robert de Brent (mentioned by Hugh Smith above) guarantees the rights of the Abbot of Glastonbury to have pasture in "la Wode-fold in the manor of Wrington next the abbey court there" (see the paper The Manor and the Manor House). Humfrey de Scouvile's letter, in fashionable French, to ask for pasturing rights on Broadfield has already been quoted. Broadfield was a noted grazing ground: the monks of St. John the Baptist Hospital in Redcliffe, Bristol - one of the biggest medieval hospitals on the then outskirts of the town and sited where Redcliffe roundabout now is - also secured pasturage rights as a favour from the Abbot: a long way from town, in those days.

Other documents reflect the status of their makers. John Tusard makes a public acknowledgment of his social standing and tenurial rights as a villein of Wrington :

"Know that I have acknowledged in full court of Wrington in presence of freemen and villeins of that same town, that I do not hold the property called Tussardes mill except at the will of any abbot of Glastonbury; since I acknowledge myself to hold of my lord Roger the then abbot and his church of Glastonbury rendering services, customs and everything pertaining to the same holding, and paying geld-tax in a tithing, as the other villeins. I render also each year for the said holding to the abbot and church of Glastonbury 30 shillings. And this acknowledgment 1 made on the Sunday next before the feast of the birth of St. John the Baptist at Wrington in the 41st year of the reign of King Henry, son of King John, and on the same day I have entered into the tithing of Wrington, making the oath and giving the penny as is correct, and duly paying geld-tax with the tithing, renouncing for me and my family that I can demand or claim no liberties hereafter in the said property.

These (being) witnesses: Lord Thomas Trevet, then seneschal of Glastonbury, Richard Whyther then bailiff of Wrington, Philip of Chewton, doctor, Richard of Bruges, cleric, being present on the aforesaid day and hearing the aforesaid acknowledgement, and many others."

Other references to the Tusard family (millers and clergy in Wrington) appear in the paper Customs of the Manor 1238. Henry son of James of Glastonbury made a grant of land to his future nephew-in-Iaw Thomas son of Roger de Bourne, of

"1 virgate (i.e., 40 acres) with all its appertenances in Wrington of my own inheritance in free marriage (i.e., as a marriage portion) with Christine my niece, the daughter of my sister Clarice, to have and to hold, of me and my heirs to him and his heirs which of the same Christine shall be legitimately born, freely and quit (i.e., of any claims), entirely and peaceably in perpetuity; saving to the service of the church of Glastonbury, 4s. a year, namely at the four quarters of the year: at Christmas 12d., at Easter 12d., at the feast of John the Baptist 12d., at the feast of St. Michael 12d., and 18d. to the lardarium, for all services and secular demands appertaining to me or to my heirs. So, nonetheless, that if my sister Hawysia returns from pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the middle part of this virgate of land with its appurtenances is given back to my aforesaid sister Hawysia to possess; and if the said Hawysia should die (lit. : 'shall by fate give her life') on the aforesaid journey, the aforesaid Thomas and Christine shall possess the aforesaid virgate of land with its appurtenances in perpetuity. These (being) witnesses: Walter of Butcombe, William of Mourton, Thomas of Winton and many others."

Henry does not sound unduly surprised at Hawysia's long and dangerous journey, despite all the difficulties of 13th century travel; although he seems pessimistic about her safe return, the marriage settlement comes first. The partitioning of the land suggests that it is part of an open field divided into strips in the usual medieval fashion.