A delightfully rural parish

A short history of Brewham

brewham image

Evidence has been unearthed of Stone Age and Bronze Age activity in the vicinity. The underlying geology certainly determined the location of this early settlement. A broad band of wet, inhospitable Oxford Clay, running north to south, underlies most of the eastern part of the parish, although the wooded escarpment that forms the eastern boundary is Kimmeridge Clay and, at the top, Greensand (sandstone). The area from South Brewham to the western boundary is first on a narrow band of Cornbrash and then on a band of Forest Marble, both being types of limestone and both also running north to south.

It was on the Cornbrash that Brewham was first settled. Domesday Book tells us that at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 it was held by Robert, son of Wimarc, but the Norman King William granted it to William de Mohun. Domesday records ‘Briweham’ as having two mills, 17 cattle, 60 pigs, 300 sheep, three riding horses and 22 wild mares in 1086. The population was a little less than one hundred. Before he died in 1176, de Mohun’s grandson gave all his land north of the Brue, together with his estate at Horseley south of the river, to the canons of Bruton.

At the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 both passed to the Crown and were subsequently sold to the Berkeleys of Bruton. The change from clay to limestone marked the edge of the Royal Forest of Selwood. The bridge across the Brue in South Brewham was the first public crossing of the river where it emerged from the forest, and its existence is recorded in the first perambulation of the forest bounds in 1219, although it may not have been on precisely the same spot as the present bridge.

One of the mills mentioned in Domesday was probably located close to the bridge, on the site where later mills were built. Some 12th century stonework in the south doorway of Brewham’s church suggests that since Norman times a church has stood on the site half way up Charcroft Hill, high above the waters of the Brue but sheltered from the winds that blow across the top of the valley. So it seems almost certain that the first areas to be enclosed for farming were the flatter Cornbrash lands above both sides of the valley.

Although the origins of Brewham probably lie deep in the valley in South Brewham, the principal routes through the parish have always run along the higher land on both sides of the valley, roughly from east to west. There is only one road running roughly north to south and linking the principal routes. In the 17th century Bruton was on the main road from London to Barnstaple and the south-west and the route plotted by 17th century map-maker John Ogilby shows that after reaching the junction with the road from Salisbury at Willoughby Hedge, the major road ran straight across the downs below Whitesheet Hill to Kilmington. It continued down Kingsettle Hill to the Bruham brook, close to where the Bull Inn stands, and the hamlet of Hardway. Between the Bull and Redlynch, in the vicinity of the track to Horseley Farm, the road veered right towards Dropping Lane and Bruton.

The formation of turnpike trusts to improve and maintain the roads changed the face of the map and effectively removed Bruton from main routes from London to the west and from Weymouth to Bath and Bristol.
The Bruton Turnpike Trust started in 1756 and by the time it finished in 1876 it looked after some 66 miles of road. Kingsettle Hill and its continuation past the Bull Inn up to Redlynch crossroads (the road now known as Hardway) was turnpiked in 1756, but the old route across to Dropping Lane was not and it was declared closed in 1790 even though it still appeared on a later map. The road through North Brewham from Yarnfield Gate and Druley Hill to Bruton was turnpiked by the Bruton Trust in 1793. A third route from east to west was created in 1745/46, the private Coach Road from the Selwood Ridge near Stourhead to Redlynch House. It exists today as a public footpath and forms part of the Leland Trail from Alfred’s Tower to Ham Hill and the long-distance Macmillan Way.

On 1st September 1856 an extension of the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway was opened from Frome to Yeovil, cutting across the landscape of North Brewham into the Brue valley and running alongside the river into Bruton. Although nominally-independent, the line was in reality a brainchild of the Great Western Railway which wanted to link its main line at Chippenham with the Dorset seaport.