Stoke St Gregory History Pages
The Village Commons
We know where Meare Green is, but in the 18th century there was also a Woodhill Green and a Curlwood Green. These were the last few remaining acres of common agricultural land within the village, apart from what was known as the Waste - the undrained parts of West Sedgemoor and Curry Moor. Their origin lay in the communal farming arrangements of the feudal system. Before good land drainage, there were always areas of farmland that were less productive, and difficult to improve. These often provided the essentials of life – food, water and fuel. All land belonged to the Crown, but was held by the lord of the manor, in our case the Dean & Chapter of Wells Cathedral. In turn the common land was accessible to the Lord’s tenants, usually to provide grazing in addition to what was available through the common field system.
Before the introduction of fodder crops, the main difficulty facing any farmer was how to provide food for livestock during the unproductive months of winter and early spring, and the common provided trees to be pollarded for early young leaf growth for livestock, and an early ‘first bite’ on flooded or ‘water’ meadows.
Figure 1 shows the remains of the common of Meare Green as it was in 1787, before a road was put through in the early 1800s. The roadway from Stoke to North Curry would have been via Huntham and Broad Lane. The dotted areas would once have been part of the common before 'encroachment took place. 'A' covers the Old Stores, Briar House, Willow Barn & Orchard Cottage. 'B' covers Canneray, Reeds Barn & Poplar Farm. 'C' is from Huntham Lane to The Laurels. Dares & Cuppins Farms would originally have been at the edge of the common.
Figure 2 shows the remains of the common at the hamlet of Curload in 1787. Again, some encroachment had already taken place and by this time the squatters had been accepted and were paying rent to the Lord of the Manor (Bishop of Wells). 'A' is the site of Willow House, 'B' is from Chatsworth House to Withy Grove, and 'C', 'D' & 'E' follow the line of what is now Stanmoor Mead Drove. The names Curlwood, Curload, and Curry Load all appear in the records. The second and third names suggest (from the Saxon 'load', meaning road or way) 'The way to Curry. Stoke was then still known as East Curry.
The same pattern is seen in our final Common in Figure 3, but we cannot know the original extent of Woodhill Green. The straight line down the eastern side would suggest that part of it had already been enclosed, the fields to the East of what is now Pincombe Drove being laid out in rectangular form and bounded by ditches. 'A' is the area from Restlands to Windy Ridge. 'B' is the right hand side going down Windmill, from Willowdene to The Paddocks. 'C' is the other side of Windmill from Windmill Cottage to Little Deer Leaps. 'D' is the site of Woodhill Farm and the surrounding properties.
Figure 4 shows the division of Woodhill Green Common into enclosed fields following the Act of 1800. The road still finished at the present entrance to Windmill, although Woodhill Green Drove and Windmill Drove were later adopted as roads by the highway authority. Woodhill Green Bridge was over the drain that now forms the end of the sewer at the pumping station opposite ‘The Mardy’.