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Somerton is a small town in South Somersetmarker, England. It is situated on the River Cary, near Yeovilmarker, Streetmarker and Glastonburymarker. Somerton has a wide market square surrounded by old stone houses and an octagonal, roofed Market Cross as a focal point at the centre.

Somerton was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Sumertone, meaning 'The sea-lake enclosure' from the Old English sae, mere and tun. An alternative suggested origin is from the Anglo-Saxon Sumer-tūn, meaning summer farmstead.

It was reputedly the capital of the Kingdom of Wessexmarker from 871 to 901 AD, although this is not supported by modern research. The county of Somerset derives its name from the town.

History

The earliest historical reference to the town is in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which records in 733 that the King of Wessex lost control of Somerton to Ethelbald, King of Merciamarker. The town returned to West Saxon royal control in the ninth century. The town's name was subsequently extended to the people in the area it controlled and the area became known as Somerset, although Somerton soon ceased to be the most important settlement and never grew into a large town. It was, briefly, the county town of Somerset from the late thirteenth century.

A tithe barn was built to house the tithes of crops and produce paid to the Rector of the parish church, who was the Abbot of Muchelney Abbeymarker in the Middle Ages. After the Reformation, in which Muchelney Abbey was closed in 1539, the tithes were paid to Bristol Cathedral. In the 20th century it was turned into private houses.

Glove making was a major industry in the town, which also produced ropes and twine. There was also a brewery in the town.

Before the days of National Insurance and the Health Service, Somerton Men's Club acted as Provident Society.

Many historical tales have grown up about Somerton, notably that it once possessed a castle, however nothing of this remains and may have stemed from a confusion with Somerton Castlemarker in Lincolnshiremarker.

The Hurcott mine was used from the Victorian era until 1953 to extract gypsum.

In 1906, a railway station opened on the Castle Cary Cut-Off which was built by the Great Western Railway. Whilst the line remains in use, the station was closed in 1962.

Somerton radio station
When the Marconi Company built the radio stations known as the Imperial Wireless Chain for the Post Office during 1925-26, they also established their own transmitting station at Dorchestermarker with a receiving station away at Somerton.

Somerton was hit by a (misdirected) bomb during World War II, resulting in the loss of lives at the Cow and Gate Dairy. A memorial at the dairy site (later to become a district council depot, and recently bought by the Town Council for possible use as the site of a new hall) commemorates those killed.

Governance

The parish council has responsibility for local issues, including setting an annual precept (local rate) to cover the council’s operating costs and producing annual accounts for public scrutiny. The parish council evaluates local planning applications and works with the local police, district council officers, and neighbourhood watch groups on matters of crime, security, and traffic. The parish council's role also includes initiating projects for the maintenance and repair of parish facilities, as well as consulting with the district council on the maintenance, repair, and improvement of highways, drainage, footpaths, public transport, and street cleaning. Conservation matters (including trees and listed buildings) and environmental issues are also the responsibility of the council.

The town falls within the Non-metropolitan district of South Somerset, which was formed on April 1, 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972, having previously been part of Langport Rural District. The district council is responsible for local planning and building control, local roads, council housing, environmental health, markets and fairs, refuse collection and recycling, cemeteries and crematoria, leisure services, parks, and tourism.

Somerset County Council is responsible for running the largest and most expensive local services such as education, social services, libraries, main roads, public transport, policing and fire services, trading standards, waste disposal and strategic planning.

It is also part of the Somerton and Frome county constituency represented in the House of Commonsmarker of the Parliament of the United Kingdommarker. It elects one Member of Parliament by the first past the post system of election, and part of the South West England constituency of the European Parliamentmarker which elects seven MEPs using the d'Hondt method of party-list proportional representation.

The town council hit the national headlines in October 2009 when 11 of the local councillors resigned en-mass, citing excessive criticism from local residents and in particular criticism from a hostile local weblog, which was reported to have the backing of a significant number of residents of the town.

Landmarks

Butter Cross
The town's most noted feature is its roofed market cross (the Butter Cross) in the Square which was rebuilt in 1673. It belonged to the Earl of Ilchester until they found they could not afford to repair it during World War I, when it was given to the town.

The Square has many buildings of interest, including the so-called "Town Hall" or "Market Hall", next to the Butter Cross, although the building has never fulfilled the function. Also on the square are the church and the Lady Smith Memorial Hall, also known as the "Parish Rooms", which was built in 1902, and 17th century Market House, which is now a restaurant, The Red Lion was opened by the Earl of Ilchester in 1768 as a model coaching inn. It closed in 1995 and, after a period of neglect, it has been redeveloped as town houses.

Church

The Anglican Church, St Michael's and All Angelsmarker, has origins in the 13th century, with a major reshaping in the mid 15th century, and further restoration in 1889. It is built of local lias stone cut and squared, with Hamstone dressing. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building.

It is notable for a carved roof, with lions and a small cider barrel purportedly carved by the monks of Muchelney Abbeymarker. Sir John Betjeman was also inspired by an inscription on the candelabra. The church is quite plain on the outside but inside is one of the finest wooden carved roofs in the county. It is shallow pitched with massive, richly decorated tie beams and short king posts. The whole area of the roof is divided into square carved panels set in the framework of the structural timbers which are decorated with carved bosses where they intersect. There are 640 panels each carved with the same quatrefoil design. In the triangular spaces above each beam are twenty-two dragons facing each other in pairs. It is said there are bullet holes in the timbers, caused by soldiers who camped in the church in 1646 before the Battle of Langportmarker. The 17th century pulpit and altar table are Jacobean woodwork.

Somerton Court

Somerton court has 12th century origins. It has had various owners including Edward IV's brother, the Duke of Clarence. Later Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland, sold the estate in 1530 and was in 1597 by James Fisher. His son rebuilt it, and it remained in the family until 1808 when it was sold, renamed "Somerton Court", and updated with Gothic battlements and turrets in place of the former gabled dormers. It was enlarged in the 19th century by the Hall-Stephenson family and was sold in 1927 and 1970. The house is set in of parkland and gardens.

Lady Smith Hall

The Lady Smith Hall in the square serves Somertons as a village hall and community centre. It provides a home for the town's inestimable pantomime. The panto- produced by the towns Drama Society dates back to 1947 in the modern era and has roots in the pre wwII period. Sadly 2009 will have no show- the first break for 27 years due to a lack of willing stage hands.

It is hoped that a production will emerge next year- it is a way, said a local, of keeping the drug takers and drinkers away from the car parks (see above articles).

Education

Somerton has two schools - the County Infants' school on Etsome Terrace and the Monteclefe CEVA Junior School on Kirkham Street.

Culture

Somerton fire station
Somerton has almost doubled in size during the last 35 years but it has not lost its community spirit and still retains a village atmosphere.

In the past few years, projects aiming to improve Somerton have been undertaken. The Square was heavily revamped, creating a central parking area with easy access to the local amenities.

BBC drama The Monocled Mutineer was filmed in Somerton in 1985/6

Somerton is also the name of the mansion in which the orgy takes place in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Edgar Wright (director of Shaun Of The Dead) is a particular supporter of Somerton, hailing, as he does, from the area.

References

  1. Survey of Somerton (Somerset County Council)
  2. A Vision of Britain Through Time : Langport Rural District
  • Victoria History of the County of Somerset: Vol 3: Somerton, R.W.Dunning (1974)


External links




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