I came to live in North Curry in 1994 and being new to Somerset sought to learn about the village, the county and my new surroundings from the local history books that were then available. The books written about North Curry by Hugh Olivey in 1901, Daniel Pring in 1930 and Albion Kirke in 1932 had been concerned mainly with the Parish Church and the influence it had on the village. Important as that is, I saw a need for a detailed and more up‑to‑date look at the evolution of the parish and set about indulging my passion for local history. The plan for a new North Curry history book was born. The pages that follow are the result of many pleasurable hours spent reading, transcribing, listening to and absorbing absolutely anything that offered an insight into the North Curry of the past.
North Curry is a large village with an extensive parish encompassing the hamlets of Wrantage, Knapp, Lillesdon, Newport and Helland. The parish is situated seven miles east of Taunton, the county town of Somerset, and lies on an elevated spur of land between West Sedgemoor and Curry Moor at the southwest edge of the area known as the Somerset Levels.
A settlement in the location of North Curry definitely existed in Saxon times, when it gave its name to the Hundred, and probably for centuries before. We know that it was a royal manor and belonged to the Crown at the time of King Harold, thus falling into the hands of William the Conqueror in 1066. It was administered by the Crown until it became the property of the Bishop of Bath in 1189. It was later settled on the Canons of Wells Cathedral and administered by the Dean and Chapter of Wells until the 19th century. This led to the Church having a great influence on the lives of the inhabitants of the parish. North Curry boasts a magnificent Parish Church which possibly began as a Saxon Minster and was enlarged into a prominent Christian site as time went by. The community evolved within the framework of English customs, law and order. Life in North Curry reflected a pattern that existed in parishes throughout the land.
This book comprises three parts. Part 1 documents the history of North Curry alongside a broad outline of English history from pre–history to the 20th century with an emphasis on the Wessex side of the country and on historic events which have had an impact on the parish of North Curry. This should provide some context for the reader who is less familiar with national history. Inevitably there are some periods of history where little is known about specific events in North Curry, and in including these periods to provide continuity and completeness I seek my readers’ tolerance if they sometimes read several pages without a mention of the parish.
Part 2 looks at the life and traditions of the parish. It explores the origins of the place‑names and describes the customs and administration of an evolving community together with details of buildings, families, institutions and infrastructure, drawing on many years of detailed research.
Part 3 examines the parish documents, national censuses and maps that have recorded the lives of North Curry inhabitants, and shows how these sources have evolved over the centuries. This material has proved invaluable throughout my research of this book, and I hope awareness of these records, as well as of more modern sources such as the Internet, will encourage others to share my endless journey of discovery.
During the writing of this book many individuals from both within the village and elsewhere have given me a tremendous amount of invaluable assistance and I have recorded my thanks to them in the Acknowledgements section at the back of this book. I would like particularly to thank Tom Mayberry, County Archivist and County Heritage Officer, Somerset County Council, who has not only written the Foreword, but has also supported my efforts over many years with advice and encouragement.
I have been fortunate to secure the services of Julian Comrie who has spent many hours producing most of the photographic work in this book. Through the viewfinder he has skilfully captured a panoply of buildings, scenes and activities in and around North Curry today, as well as sensitively recording many items from the archives. Antonia Keith‑Welsh has created the sketches that so aptly set the scene at the commencement of each chapter. I extend my sincerest thanks to both of them for all of their hard work and dedication.
Finally I would like to thank my daughter Virginia for her expert editing skills and my husband Brian who has provided vital encouragement at times when I thought this work would never be completed. Brian has also helped with the intricate business of editing, formatting, typesetting and moulding the text and graphics into their final shape. His patience and support have ensured that after ten years I have been able to realise my aspirations for this book.