Ed Lorch, Presence of the Past, landscape, settlement, society, Tintinhall, Somerset, England (Tintinhall Local History Group, 2010)
Tintinhall lies close to Ham Hill, the largest hill fort in Britain, and roughly half way between Yeovil and Martock. It has already been given the VCH treatment, and this booklet happily acknowledges that they are using (with permission) the VCH entry as the ‘spine‘ of their work, while adding new content, recent discoveries and interpretations to produce ‘an illustrated description of the evolution of the settlement, built environment and social structures of the hundred, manor and parish up to the eighteenth century’ (p. 2). What follows is an impressively scholarly discussion of settlement, the built environment, the manor and the church, fully illustrated in a way that the VCH could never hope to manage.
The manor of Tintinhall was part of Glastonbury Abbey before 1066, and the village was close to a number of settlements which were well established by the 12th century with open arable field systems. From the 12th century until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538 manor and parish were co-terminous and belonged to Montacute Priory. The priory had established a prescriptive fair by 1197. By the end of the 16th century there were 5 open fields but as three were worked together this was a standard three course rotation. Various areas were enclosed over time, hence the extensive surviving ridge and furrow. Bylaws regulated use of available pasture carefully. Villagers were allowed only a fixed number of animals on the open fields, and the by laws set the times for pasturing.
The book takes all these issues into account and also discusses the village roadways and its built form, as well as surviving (stone built) houses, including Tintinhull House, part of which dates from the 1630s. The parish church avoided the fate of many similar parishes in Somerset. It was not rebuilt in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, and so it retains substantial evidence of each of the Gothic building styles. The manor is discussed in some detail, including the Domesday Book entries, and population estimates are attempted suggesting c.150 in 1086, perhaps 160-200 by 1613 and probably not many more by the time of a survey in 1777.
After the Dissolution, the manor was acquired by Sir William Petre and from a survey carried out by his successor in 1566 it is possible to reconstruct the land ownership and occupation structure of the village at the time. Thereafter not a great deal changed except for piecemeal enclosure, until the 1790s when parliamentary enclosure took place covering just over one-fifth of the acreage, divided between eighteen allottees. By 1839 several consolidated holdings had been created, of which Manor Farm (456 acres) was the largest.
The churchwardens’ accounts survive unbroken for 245 years 1432-1678, and provide a flavour of village life. From these we learn of the importance of church ale festivals, fund raising for building projects; even a Robin Hood Ale in 1512, although it was not repeated after it seemingly ended in a brawl. After the Reformation the old calendar with its ceremonies and traditions was abandoned and the accounts are notably less interesting! The church is also discussed, and the light thrown on its development from the wardens’ accounts, and finally the manorial courts and court rolls.
The book is described as work in progress by the local history group and it certainly feels like a set of mini chapters rather than a rounded account of the village’s history, and the juxtaposition of documentary transcriptions with assessment of change in the village can be confusing to the reader, but the overall impression is of a group of people who have worked through the sources gradually expanding the VCH entry into a full study of their small but vibrant community. In many respects this is precisely what the VCH hopes will happen, and assuming this is, as they say, an interim statement of progress, we can look forward to the next instalment with enthusiasm!
University of London Director of the Victoria County History