Broad Street 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.