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History

Welcome to Membury History Society

Membury Local History Society is a non-profit organisation specialising in the local history of the parish of Membury and the surrounding area.  Everyone is welcome, and encouraged, to join the society and with a subscription of only £3 per year it is not prohibitive.
Meetings: No special meeting day, arranged when required.
First point of contact is the Secretary:  Bill Sheppard, Hook Hill Farm, Membury, EX13 7TT
01404 881338     email:  william.sheppard4@btopenworld.com

Chair:  Robbi Robson,  Address: Kinders Cottage, Membury,  EX13 7AF
01404 881587   email: robbi.robson@googlemail.com

Treasurer: Mr. Nick Yool, Forge Farm, Membury, EX13 7AG
01404 881428

Aim of the History Society

The aim of the History Society is:

  • to study the local history of Membury and surrounding area to foster interest.
  • to acquire, collect and store relevant local history material.
  • to assist in the preservation of ancient monuments, buildings and landscapes in the parish.

Forthcoming events:
29 May 2013:        Oak Apple Day procession starts from the Chestnut tree at 7.15 pm – proclaimation in the Churchyard, followed by Morris dancing, drinks and a Bar-b-Q at the Meeting Place

‘The Provider’ & Clear Evidence

Mr Ron Craddock: Provided most of the material that follows.

Address: North House, Membury, Axminster, E. Devon, EX13 7TF

01404 881492

There is clear evidence of habitation in the parish for at least 2,500 years. The hill fort on the east (designated an ancient monument in 1923) dates from about 500 BC. It was one of several on an ancient track, which led from the sea through Axminster to Neroche, a few miles to the north. (About one and a half miles due south of Staple Fitzpaine) Other archaeological findings in the surrounding area tell of earlier settlers thousands of years before in a forested landscape.

Before Doomesday

The Romans were certainly in and around – pottery and coins have been found in the parish at Cleeve Hill/Hill Common to the south; and a corn drying oven kiln beside a hill ridge to the west. The Court, also to the west, is believed to be on the site of a villa. (Known as Membury Court today)

Field names indicate an Anglo-Saxon presence in the parish. (Culver croft -the close with a dove-cot) and Chilpits (where chalk was quarried) for example. Later the Danes came nearby and overcame the local king at Charmouth in 833. In 901, Alfred the Great, who was King of Wessex, held a Witan (Royal Council) in Axminster.

In the tenth century King Athelstan MAY have done battle with the Danes near Axminster (a major battle of some sort certainly occurred at that time), and the Devon historian, Tristram Risdon (c.1640) contends that casualties were transported to Membury Fort.

Glass and Shillings

A very late 14c stained glass window at Winchester College is of Simon de Membury, a significant Membury estate of the time, soon to become that of Frys, who held the property for ten generations.

The Manor of Membury appears in the Doomsday Book, 1086, valued at 10 SHILLINGS (50P). Whilst the boundaries of the manor of the time are still a matter of debate, ownership moved between state and church, at one time having a connection with Bec, an abbey, in Normandy, France. There is evidence of the consecration of Membury church in 1316, but a Norman column at the back of the church MAY indicate a church of an earlier date. It was a time of much church building activity, Newenham Abbey, as big as Exeter Cathedral, was erected in 1246 just south of Axminster; next to nothing remains of the structure, which is in the area of the Axminster carpet warehouse on the Musbury road out of Axminster.

It must have been in the middle ages that the parish began to be settled sheep farming country, but in 1635 Risdon writes of Membury, that was, “Famous for it’s cheese”.
A document of 1550 records Membury Court as the Manor House.

Domesday, Tudors,Raleigh, Drake

Both Raleigh and Drake had close relatives in nearby villages with Raleigh’s at Smallridge and Drake’s at Yarcombe.

In 1644 the Civil War came to the area – in April parliamentary Lyme Regis was attacked – in June parliamentarians passed through Chard followed by Charles himself in September; in November Royalist Axminster was attacked. The following year there were fatalities in Membury, at Forde, to the north, and in October of that year there was a skirmish in which royalists from Honiton attacked parliamentarians based in Membury. The event was recorded in a parliamentary report as, ‘the only affront the enemy put upon us’.

In 1650 the area was once again involved in the parliament versus king history, when Charles 11 tried unsuccessfully, to escape to France from Lyme Regis, and had close encounters with parliamentary soldiers at Charmouth and Bridport. His Restoration commemorated in Membury (as has been the case ‘from time immemorial’), with the suspension of an oak bough from the church tower, a costumed procession, a proclomation, and jollification.

During the following Restoration period religious tolerance was uncertain, and non-conformists in the parish were hounded – Quakers in the south of the parish, in Lea Hill, were persecuted and their Meeting House, at ‘Quakers’, was raided. (George Fox himself the leading Quaker of that period was believed to have visited Membury).

On 11th June 1685, four months after the death of Charles II, Charles’ illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, landed at Lyme Regis, to claim the throne. He marched north to gather the disaffected into a rebel army; the route moved through Membury parish and a few volunteers were collected. By the 15th July 1685 Monmouth had been proclaimed King in Taunton, defeated at Sedgemoor and executed at the Tower. There were hangings of his supporters at Lyme Regis, Axminster and Chard. Membury lost one on the battlefield, a couple to the gibbet and a few transported.

Royal Intrigue

The West Country seemed to continue attracting Royal intrigue, and William of Orange, son-in-law to James II, landed at Brixham on 5th November 1688 at the behest of supporters who rejected the Catholic James II. William (who became Wm. III) struck out for London, via Axminster, where he stayed for several days meeting his field commanders, including John Churchill, (later Duke of Marlborough) who was born just south of Axminster.
All was then quiet for a while …. Until Napoleon, when concern was so great in 1803 that, ‘Proposals for ….People instrumental for the General Defence in case of Invasion’ were issued. All those not assigned to do battle were to meet at Heath Common, east of the main street, with livestock and goods useful to the enemy.

Rebellion & Napoleon (Boney?)

All was then quiet for a while …. Until Napoleon, when concern was so great in 1803 that, ‘Proposals for ….People instrumental for the General Defence in case of Invasion’ were issued. All those not assigned to do battle were to meet at Heath Common, east of the main street, with livestock and goods useful to the enemy.
At about this time Membury’s most ‘famous son’ was probably attending school. He was Thomas Wakely born at Land Farm in 1795. He was a coroner, doctor, a JP, an MP, and went on to be a major reformer in all these areas and was particularly vociferous in protest against the workhouse, army floggings and the treatment of the Tolpuddle Marty’s. He was also the founder of ‘The Lancet’, still the leading medical journal of today.

Population – Cider – Education

In 1841 Membury parish recorded its highest population, 886. From analysis of 1851 figures one can reckon that about 60% were born in Membury and another 30% within 10 miles; about half were dependant on agriculture. The parish had three pubs in the early 19c. the Red Lion (along the main street, sign post evident), the Longbridge (to the north), on the coaching route of the old London to Exeter road, and there was one by the spring in Rock hamlet to the South; There was no shortage of cider orchards in the parish in those days, and cider was widely drunk; it was sometimes used as payment in lieu of wages.

This was the case as recently as the 1920s when the oldest member of Membury (a man with a vast amount of local history in the farming community) states that that certainly was being done lieu of wages, on the odd occasion, when money was not available to pay the workers (s).

There is a house named Cider Barn in the village of Membury with tales of apple orchards in the vicinity it is just as likely that cider was supplied to local ale houses from these apple orchards) The pubs are all closed but there is no shortage of social activity, the village hall (see below) offers, pantos and summer shows, dinners, talks, meetings, private functions and is used by the ‘next door’ village school built in 1876 (and much changed) on the site of a predecessor, opened over 150 years ago in 1726.

Parish Shop Location (s)

The first parish shop was opened in the late Victorian period in the hamlet of Rock, to the south; it later became more centrally placed when it transferred to a site just north of the church. It moved again, to its present site, in 1927. A second shop operated between the wars in the hamlet of Furley to the northwest, indeed in World War II it became a useful supply base for a searchlight unit, which operated in the field opposite.

There was also a bakery and a shoe repair business in the same area. Just beyond, was a curragated iron chapel but to date no information can be found on it but it is generally thought that it was last used in the 1920′s(?) however the quest for information is ongoing so watch for updates)

Twentieth Century

The twentieth century brought in WW1, Membury lost nine in action.

WWII & Secret Toilet

Early intrusion of WWII was the appearance of evacuees from London in the village, but matters became deadly when the German invasion was planned, having a second landing devised for Lyme Bay.

Literally hundreds of pillboxes and gun emplacements were erected in the area in readiness for that event. (One pillbox in particular can be seen just outside Axminster on the old Honiton Road).

As part of a network of defence communications, a secret radio communications Auxiliary Unit Post was built on the parish boundary to the north, in the garden of a house, underground, beneath the outside toilet. It was always manned. In cases of capture, operators had their cyanide pills.

With the RAF at Exeter, and Dunkeswell just ten miles away to the northwest, Membury could see and hear the war. Enemy action was evident too with the raids on Honiton, Seaton, Chard, Axminster, and a bomb falling on the edge of the parish at Quarryfields, to the south, killing two. Activity was especially evident in June 1944 with increased troop movements and more aircraft flying from new aerodromes; on the coast from Falmouth to Portsmouth, every port was busy preparing for the Normandy landings.

The Red Lion in Membury became quiet and reflected on the fate of some of the erstwhile customers, many from other parts of the world. There was an American unit in Axminster. Membury itself lost five more to war.

Cold War & Nuclear Threat

What followed? First the Cold War and the nuclear threat, then consumerism, globalisation and concern for the environment.

Old dangers didn’t go away.

Disaster struck in April 2001 when foot and mouth disease was confirmed on the morning of 12th on a local farm. It was devastation for the farmers, and the community, and lead to many sad months. Uniformed soldiers were back on Membury soil tending to the destruction and burning of the carcases.

The days go by, and life goes on, the sheep and cattle are back and graze the fields once more, the medieval mill is now a trout farm, and the award winning shop and Post Office thrives on more than local support; it also offers tea, coffee, chocolate, and quality cakes in a relaxed village setting.

Miscellany

  • Membury in 1086 was known as Manberia, possibly Maaberia, (meaning fortified place) Earlier as Maenborg (Strong Fort)
  • Membury Hill Fort: built by the Dumnonii (People of the land) for the defence against the people of Dorset.
  • Chestnut tree: Protected by a tree preservation order this over a hundred year old tree stands on what was the village green. There is still a playing field beyond this. The tree stands opposite the village shop.
  • Drinking troughs: Some ninety years ago the cattle from many small village farms were driven to these troughs to drink. The water comes from unfailing springs in the fields above.
  • The Street: Membury’s most notable characteristic is its long ancient street, lined by aged cottages and farmhouses, with fields climbing the steep valley sides, many once being cider orchards. Until 1982 a picturesque stream meandered down ‘the street’. It now flows beneath the road. The Street was tarrmaced in 1928.
  • The church: Mostly 15c. and 16c. structure containing much of Membury’s history in its monument. Royalists from Honiton attacked parliamentarians on the night of 13/14th October 1645 near the church during the Civil War.
  • Rock Mill: being one of two mills in the Manor. In an early survey it is described as ‘one griste mill consisting of two lowe roomes, two upper roomes, one Bakehouse, one garden’. There was once a watercress bed here. The mill is now a trout farm, which is open to the public.
  • The village school once had as many as 142 pupils early in the 20c. Renovated at the turn of the century, it now thrives as an educational centre for children and adults.

And So It Goes On

And so it goes on………please visit this site often and watch this space and don’t forget the web site address is:

http://membury.org.uk/history/

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