History Feature: Clicket Revisited
The Historic Environment Record for Exmoor National Park is probably the best place to start when researching Clicket, a settlement with mediaeval origins which has been deserted since the early 1900s, situated between Timberscombe and Luxborough in West Somerset. Clicket was a loose association of settlements in a remote and not easily accessible steep valley which in the end was probably one of the factors leading to its decline and abandonment.
The medieval origin of Clicket farmstead is suggested by the Lay Subsidy of 1327 under Porlock by the entry of Nicholas Clicket. Porlock is five miles away from Clicket and it is reasonable to assume a link. Thorn Farm is also noted in the 1327 listing which does not refer to any other local farm, including Allercott. (1) The Lay Subsidy was a flat rate tax of one twentieth of the value of each person’s moveable goods and as the majority of moveable goods were cattle, sheep and crops, these tax records provide a detailed listing of rural taxation. Clicket is next shown almost 500 years later, on the 1809 OS map as a small settlement as seen below. Thorn Farm and a mill are listed separately on the east side of the tributary River Churnet which flows north into Timberscombe and joins the River Aville; and these buildings fall within the Luxborough parish boundary. Although the Churnet mostly forms a boundary between the two parishes, there is a kink to include what is known as Mill Leat Cottage south of the mill and on the east bank along with outbuildings and another dwelling, most likely used as a chapel at times, on the west side of the bank, which fall within the Timberscombe parish boundary. (2)
Thorn Farm uniquely in this area of settlement was of a superior level of construction on levelled ground, comprising four buildings – a farmhouse, a linhay, a cottage and another of unknown use. The farmhouse can reasonably be dated to the later 1600s with further uncertainty as to whether it was a one or two floor building, but the gable end is roughly six metres high. The ruins here are the most impressive in Clicket. Of lesser construction, the other properties were built into the hillside and earth banked up against the outer walls, then and more so subsequently.
By the time of the Tithe Map of 1844, Clicket is shown as part of Allercott. By around 1840, there had been a decline in the fortunes of Thorn Farm which had ceased to be a viable independent entity and was now rented by John Joyce who also rented and lived at Allercott. (3)
Bickham’s Mill which formed part of the Clicket settlement was in existence in the mid 1500s when it was recorded as being sold. Like Thorn Farm, it later suffered a decline. The mill comprised three buildings, the mill, the mill-house and linhay. Some evidence suggests the northern part of the mill-house may have been used as a bakery which would have been quite usual. This building would have been two storey with millstones on the upper floor and machinery below. The mill leat line runs to the south and is difficult to track, whilst the mill pond was later blocked. Mill Leat Cottage, further upstream, comprised three cottages under one single roof but with no connecting doors. Of these three cottages the one closest to the leat and which has a buttress arching over the leat, is the one reputedly roofed into the mid 1950s.(4)
There are a number of good reasons why Bickham’s Mill was so called. In itself, Bickham is a highly unusual name and there is good reason to link the mill to Bickham Manor, also listed in the Lay Subsidy of 1327. Compelling evidence exists in favour of this. (5) Over the years it has been known by many names including Beckham, Bickham, Hydron, Hything and Bridles. Bridles is also the name of a nearby field to the mill, located between it and Mill Leat Cottage.
The western side of the stream, in Timberscombe parish, is where a single storey cottage stands which likely had a secondary use as a chapel, and this is somewhat set apart from the other dwellings. Richard Sandover writes that there was no mention of a chapel in 1810, which leads him to conclude that very likely it was Non-Conformist.
Clicket was relatively inaccessible and no road leads there. To access the ruins now, as the small settlement in previous times, there are footpaths from Nurcott Farm to the south and from Bougham Farm to the north and via Croydon Hill, from which you will see ‘a network of well-worn, centuries old tracks that would have been used by drovers, lime burners, quarrymen, school children and farmers bringing their corn to and from Clicket Mill.’ (5)
Alfred Vowles, a prolific photographer and chronicler of Exmoor and Somerset life, in a 1944 essay (7) wrote evocatively of how the community might well have existed in the later 1800s with references to contemporary memories of life and living in Clicket. Here is an extract regarding the chapel. The text in full is available here.
Among the inhabitants of Clicket a century or more ago there must have been an urge for religious services, but places of worship were distant, and the ways to them rough and toilsome, particularly in winter. The chapel tradition appears to be based on the fact that this uppermost tenement in Clicket Bottom became a Meeting House where Sunday services were held during a long period, these perhaps being discontinued when the Bible Christian chapel at Luxborough was built. John Chapman, of Will, (a nearby farm) whose reminiscences and vigorous descriptions have so impressed the writer, says that his mother was christened in “the chapel to Cleckett,” Here we have a very reliable reference to the religious significance of the building more than a century ago.
There is evidence that in 1851 the Bible Christians held a meeting in the chapel where Pastor S. Crocker recorded attendance of around 70 people, which is not only the local population but must include more of the local farming community. It was written up as a ‘tea meeting on behalf of the Missionary Society.. with a collection amounting to one pound, thirteen shillings and three pence.’ (8)
Bible Christians had entered Somerset from the 1820s and established local fellowships for prayer and preaching. Clicket could have been part of a loose association of hill country and other rural meetings referred to as the Kingsbrompton Circuit. (9) At Croydon Hall, Edward and James Cording who arrived in the area in 1833 and who were themselves preachers, supported passing preachers and were instrumental in setting up the chapel in Timberscombe in the late 1830s. Following the agricultural depression of the later Victorian period, allied with rural depopulation, this Bible Christian chapel later amalgamated with the United Methodist Church in 1907.
Ruins of the likely Chapel cottage
The nearest school to attend was in Timberscombe, a walk of nearly two miles by track. Attendance was often infrequent as the scholars would be called to assist in local activities, whether whortleberry picking or assisting in the harvest. In October 1879 John Webber from Clicket was summonsed to school to account for the poor attendance of two sons, one Jesse, aged 9, out of 140 school days had attended for only 33 sessions. (10)
Like in Timberscombe, there was an annual club walk on Whit Monday with floral staves prominent. Reputedly there was a local juvenile band to perform. There were no shops in Clicket, the nearest would have been in Timberscombe.
A comprehensive review of Clicket in the form of a full survey of all the ruins was written by Richard Sandover, commissioned by Rob Wilson-North from Exmoor National Park and published in 2007 in the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (SANHS). This has been an excellent source of reference for this newsletter. The text in full is available here.
The first Census taken June 1841 up to the April 1881 Census confirms that all the habitations were occupied including the farm, the mill and assorted cottages, then by 1891 all are unoccupied. Only one, a cottage in Clicket is re-occupied at the time of the 1901 Census. It should not be discounted though that there may have been occasional re-habitation of the buildings as, for example, there is thought that the Huxtable family may have lived there at one point. The habitations in the main ceased to be lived in and declined from then onwards and have subsequently been the subject of interest to many nearby villagers and others, curious as to why a small settlement should have been abandoned.
In 1841 Ursula Tarr is listed as the Miller at the corn mill, (known at this time as Hithing Mill,) with her daughter, and newly married daughter Salley to William Langdon. She died in 1843 aged 54 years and the mill appeared to pass to her son in law but he is not recorded as a miller. (11) It does not seem that the mill functioned as a mill after this period and like Thorn Farm, there was an inexorable decline. In the 1861 Census the mill is occupied by James Cole (labourer) and his family. Farmers had sent their corn to the mill to be ground but owing to the steep access and layout, donkeys or horses had to be used as the paths were not sufficiently wide to use farm carts. Legend has it that the miller had two donkeys, Dick and Short, which knew the routes so well that they could be despatched on their own to collect the corn and deliver the ‘middlings’ or flour back to the farmer. (12)
Census information of 1851 records that about 30 persons lived in the area in six dwellings, engaged in work ranging from farm labouring, quarrying and lumber. William Langdon and his family in the mill, the Williams families occupied another two dwellings, Robert Tarr and his family another, James Cole and his family another, and a quarry labourer Peter Lock another. There were lime kilns in the area and a number of quarries which provided a small range of economic activity. By 1861 there were 24 people living in Clicket. 6 families and one occupied by William Taylor, a shepherd. The Williams, Tarr and Cole families remain but the Langdon and Lock families have been replaced by William Webbers family. The mill is occupied by James Hole, probably the son of the James Cole in the 1851 Census, who may have worked the mill on a part-time basis. In the 1871 Census there were 24 persons, or 5 families in Clicket, the two Cole families remained, as do the Williams and the Webbers, and a new family is listed, James and Jesse Hurford with a lodger, from Kings Brompton (now Brompton Regis). The Tarr family has left. In 1881 there 5 families are listed with 29 in total, with William and Mary Webber now registering 6 children, so having had a total of at least 11. The Coles families are still recorded. The Hurford and Williams families have left but two other families are listed, the Webbers from Luccombe and the Hales from Cutcombe. For the 1891 Census no-one is registered.
The full Census Records for Clicket are available on the Timberscombe village website (13) There are statistics to show the proportions of children living in Clicket at these Census points by John Robins and available at Allerford Museum.
The Census records the names of families still familiar to this area – Hole, Cole(s), Williams, Webber, Sweetlands and Tarr. From a population of about 30 in 1851 to a population of 4 in 1901 and from then on, erratic and irregular occupation of the structures, this lead to inexorable decay from neglect and the intrusion of the elements, with vegetation reclaiming the ground.
The later 1800s saw a decline in agriculture for a combination of reasons including the belated effects of the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and the rapid increase in grain imports from the United States of America. Enabled by cheap mass transport to the UK, this undercut dramatically the price of domestically produced grain and the price of bread fell by half. Unable to make a living in traditional rural enterprises, agricultural workers and their families were forced to move to urban areas or emigrate to secure a living. Excessively wet weather 1879-82 made the problems even worse. There are suggestions that labour migration from this area would most likely have been to the USA, the colonies and South Wales to work in the coalfields. (14)
Clicket did not have any additional resources to enable it to weather this depression and given the inaccessible access other than by tracks, the precarious nature of life in the valley made it simply too difficult to continue. Those that remained or later found their way to Clicket were vulnerable and more likely seeking shelter and refuge than hoping to create a sustainable way of life.
In Alfred Vowles evocative description of Clicket – A Deserted Village – he referred to ‘an aged couple had to vacate their cottage, and there was no alternative accommodation. Rather than go to the workhouse they occupied the mill, which was without doors or windows and with roof and ceilings decaying over their heads. The old man died there, and later his widow was given a home elsewhere. Poor old souls – they were the last occupants of Clicket Mill.’
Local stories of Clicket also refer to a lady who, as late as the 1950s, would walk to work from there to Porlock daily, a trudge of more than seven miles each way, via Timberscombe, Wootton Courtenay, Huntscott, Luccombe and Horner. The return trip also being rather more of an uphill walk. (15) Peter Hesp also refers to her in his publication Secret Exmoor published in 1985, as being remembered by local people from twenty years previously. Read the full article here (16).
And a reference to rabbit pies must be included in this report! An obituary printed in the West Somerset Free Press at the end of 1977 records for Mrs Lily E. Bryant ‘the older generation, especially those connected with the Methodist Church, will remember one of her specialities – rabbit pie suppers.’ Lily Elizabeth Bryant (nee Burge) had been born in 1889 ‘in the now vanished little village of Clicket…. the last surviving child of George and Rachel Burge.’ (17)
There was a television documentary about Clicket for the BBC programme Inside Out West, written by Henry Buckton and presented by archaeologist Mark Horton about 12 years ago. Henry Buckton kindly tried to locate a DVD copy of the programme for me to donate to St Petrock’s History Group but was unsuccessful. I note there is still a helpful commentary thread about this programme online.
A review of Clicket needs to include the last known photograph (or possibly the only photograph) of Clicket residents which can be provisionally dated to 1880. This image is widely known and available from a variety of sources, but the names of the various villagers shown have not been confirmed.
Although not very clear, it is a reasonable assumption that the man second from the right and wearing an apron is possibly a miller, whilst in the foreground the man holding a dog has tools at his feet suggesting he is possibly a quarryman. Any help to identify who these people are would be very welcome!
Quite a lot has been written about the village of Clicket and the sadness of the demise of a small community which had forged a living in this valley for hundreds of years, ranging from Peter Hesp, Alfred Vowles, Henry Buckton, Richard Sandover and Hilary Binding to name but a few of the better known names.
Visiting Clicket in 2021 can be challenging and slightly disorientating as Hilary Binding noted in 2001 ‘Clicket is a strangely elusive place and although I have visited it several times over the years, I always find it hard to get my bearings and parts that I remember well from earlier days just seem to vanish in the thick undergrowth and festoons of creepers that adorn the trees overhanging the Chernet river.’ (18) Now the site comprises ruined buildings, a hollow way, and a variety of ruined buildings, some being more evident depending on the prevailing undergrowth and the time of year. Walk to Clicket and savour the surroundings before what is left finally returns to nature. There is an Exmoor Society guided walk planned for 22nd May. Why not book it and see what you can find? https://www.exmoorsociety.com/events/event/guided-walk-the-lost-village-of-clicket-2
And finally, a haunting poem about Clicket was written and published in 1987 by Berta Lawrence (19).
Dead now, old people who remembered
Grandparents from Clicket.
Clicket too is dead, like a corner of Roman Gaul
Buried in a valley cupped by Brendon Hills.
You can excavate it, find stones of a linhay-wall
Or a fragment of byre-pillar from a farm
Called Thorn or Combe;
Find a mill-stone cast under dead branches
Near the leat choked with many years’ leaves.
Or a bit of leaded window from a cottage.
Discover Clicket among gorse-thickets and broom,
Among wilding fruit trees, Combe’s orchard once,
Under rich layers of leaf-mould
Beneath walnut -trees rifled by boys
Long after Clicket grew silent.
Silent, except for the note of the stream
(They say there are trout there still)
Birdsong from a copse tangled with flowers,
Rustle of rabbit or stoat in the bracken,
Bark of the fox after dark
And moan of the wind through a roofless mill.
(1) Richard Sandover Clicket, A Co-Location of Habitation. Published SANHS , 2007 pp159-164
(5) Henry Buckton ‘The Lost Villages’ I.B.Taurus 2008, p31
(7) Alfred Vowles, ‘A Deserted Village’ Published in the West Somerset Free Press on 12 August 1944
(8) Henry Buckton ‘The Lost Villages’ p34
(9) John Robins 2002, Clicket – Lost Hamlet in Somerset, Allerford Museum
(10) Hilary Binding ‘All tracks lead to Clicket Mill’ February 2001, West Somerset Free Press
(12) Buckton p32
(13) Lesley Webb https://timberscombevillage.com/clicket/
(14) Richard Sandover p164
(15) Henry Buckton p36
(16) Peter Hesp Secret Exmoor ENPA 1985, pp4-5
(17) Henry Buckton p36
(18) Hilary Binding ‘All tracks lead to Clicket Mill’
(19) Berta Lawrence ‘Deserted Village’ in an anthology of ‘Exmoor Writers’ by Victor Bonham-Carter Dulverton 1987 Vol 1 pp34-35
Photographs of Clicket by Marion Jeffrey
Marion Jeffrey 18 April 2021
Newsletters published by the St Petrock’s History Group
- Mar 2021: Heber Vale and the Lost Allers
- Feb 2021: The First Three Women Head Teachers at Timberscombe School
- Jan 2021: Communist and the Vicar
- Dec 2020: Christmas Day 1952
- Nov 2020: Timberscombe Friendly Society
- Oct 2020: Huxtable Family
- Sep 2020: 250th Anniversary of Timberscombe School
Newsletter 1 September 2020
POSTPONED – with regret owing to coronavirus concerns.
THIS LECTURE WILL BE REARRANGED WHEN CIRCUMSTANCES PERMIT
|LECTURE TOPIC||SPEAKER||DATE OF MEETING|
|Our History – Through the Lens||Tom Sperling||20 January 2020|
|Soldier Jack||Patrick Hoyte||18 November 2019|
|Lorna Doone||Christopher Chanter||27 September 2019|
|Archaeology of St Petrock’s Church||Dr Jerry Sampson||16 September 2019|
|Rev JP Martin – Minister and Author||James Currey||15 July 2019|
|Somerset Archaeology||Stuart Blaylock||10 June 2019|
|Timberscombe Iron Age Hill Fort walk||Rob Wilson-North||5 June 2019|
|Farming and Estate on Exmoor||Sir Antony Acland||20 May 2019|
|English Church Bells and Bellringing||Sara Coward||18 March 2019|
|Life below Stairs – Servants in Dunster||Patrick Hoyte||21 January 2019|
|Timberscombe’s Fallen of WW1||Harvey Grenville||4 January 2019|
|Timberscombe Iron Age Hill Fort||Rob Wilson-North||19 November 2018|
|Archiving Images – Quantocks||Keith Edwards||17 September 2018|
|Stained Glass – our Heritage||Clare Maryon-Green||17 September 2018|
|A Blacksmith’s Life on Exmoor||Jim Horrobin||16 July 2018|
|Inaugural Meeting of History Group||Marion Jeffrey||4 June 2018|
Our History Through the Lens
On 8th November the St Petrock’ s History Group hosted a mesmerising event when Patrick Hoyte, assisted by two readers – one of them was his wife, who stepped in at the last minute – gave us an account of one ordinary man’s experience of the Second World War. That was not all, though, as Mr Hoyte skilfully wove into his narrative, tellingly illustrated with correspondence read by his fellow presenters, the account of how he had pieced together the story. What we were presented was as full of shocks, surprise turns and dramas as an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” all delivered with a pace and energy which earned a well-deserved round of applause from the audience after the surprise ending.
I shall say no more as I do not want to be accused of leaking a spoiler, given that the whole story is published as a book, copies of which Mr Hoyte made available at the meeting.
Jerry Sampson has kindly made available the text of his research which is available in full on https://timberscombevillagehall.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/somerset-churches-project.pdf
- The diagram on the upper left indicates the probable position of the three altars, in red, with the Chapel of the Five Wounds on the bottom centre.
- Bartenders of the evening, Tom Sperling and Alan Hines.
- Slides of the Five Wounds boss and the altar positions were supplied by Dr. Sampson. All other photographs are by Marion Moncrieff.
The full Lecture notes of the presentation given at St. Petrock’s, are available through this link on the Timberscombe website, with the kind permission of James Currey. https://timberscombevillage.com/timberscombe-methodist-chapel/
Stuart R. Blaylock, B.A., Ph.D., F.S.A., Independent Scholar and Archaeologist from Cullompton, Devon, came to Timberscombe on the 10th of June 2019. He spent two hours in the afternoon discussing specifics of St. Petrock’s Church and in the evening gave a presentation on the art and science of how to “read” and explore the history of a West Country building.
In 1955, when the Tudor south doorway of St. Petrock’s was uncovered, a medieval wall painting of King David playing his harp (seen above to the right) was rediscovered along with accompanying fragments of English text-that have not been able to be deciphered. The climax of Mr. Blaylock’s talk was his belief that there were two texts here. He proposes that the lower text, from the Book Of Common Prayer read “Take the psalm, bring hither the tabret (a tambourine), the merry harp with the lute” and more chillingly, the upper text states (from Ps 112 v 10) “The wicked shall see it, and be grieved, he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away, the desire of the wicked shall perish“.
Photographs by Richard Jeffrey
TIMBERSCOMBE HILL FORT
Rob Wilson-North, Head of Conservation & Access for ENPA was the History Group’s third speaker on the 19th of November 2018, with a talk about Timberscombe’s local iron age fort, first reported as an archaeological site in 1992. On the 5th of June 2019, Mr. Wilson-North returned for a walk to the site, entitled “AN EXPLORATION OF THE TIMBERSCOMBE HILL FORT”.
Sir Antony Acland, the President of the Exmoor Society, was educated at Eton and earned his BA in Philosophy , Politics and Economics at Christ Church, Oxford. Entering the Foreign Office, he has served as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Luxembourg, Spain and the USA. The Acland family has been associated with Exmoor since 1155. In 1745, Sir Thomas Acland, the 7th Baronet, married Elizabeth Dyke, altering his family name and gaining control of the Holnicote Estate. In 1944, Sir Richard Thomas Dyke Acland , the 15th Baronet, presented the estate to the National Trust.
Sir Antony, accompanied by his wife, Jennifer, spoke to the History Group about his life, his family and his Exmoor.
June 4th meeting agreed that Marion Jeffrey would co-ordinate the History Group for the first year, Carl Farmer would be Treasurer, Tom Sperling would be Photo Archivist and Paul Sheldon would assist with Archiving of objects and images. Gabrielle Horrobin would provide creative input to the production of posters to advertise the meetings, and take photographs of the meetings, along with Richard Jeffrey, to add to the archive. Meetings would be held in St Petrock’s Church on the the third Monday of alternate months and annual membership should be £10, with £1 additional per meeting and £4 per visitor to encourage membership. In view of the support extended by other villages it was decided to name the group Local History Group for Timberscombe, Wootton Courtenay and Neighbours.
Mary Siraut, County Editor of Somerset Victoria County History, kindly gave a Lecture titled Timberscombe and its Neighbours in June 2017 at the invitation of the St Petrock’s Timberscombe Parochial Church Council (PCC), as part of a weekend of celebration of the patronal feast which historically has been celebrated at the beginning of June.
Packed attendance at her Lecture in the Village Hall clearly demonstrated the level of interest in matters historical and so in July 2018 a new local group was formed : St Petrock’s History Group for Timberscombe and its Neighbours.
There are a number of interesting websites and history societies which cover our area of Exmoor and some of them are listed here:
Somerset Archives https://swheritage.org.uk/somerset-archives/
Friends of Somerset Archives : https://www.friendsofsomersetarchives.org.uk/