The Moors of the Village
The village of Stoke St Gregory lies on a sandstone ridge aligned NE to SW, and falling down to the River Parrett at Stathe. Either side of this ridge the land is barely above sea level. To the SE is West Sedgemoor. To the NW, on one side of the River Tone, lie Stanmoor, Cames Meads and Haymoor, and on the other side, Cuts, Old Mead and Hook Moor. Drainage work started in mediaeval times, but it was not until the 19th century that the present fields, droves and rhynes were laid out.
Haymoor, the first moor to be drained, from Windmill Hill
Although flint flakes and some other prehistoric finds have emerged from Holly Moor, NW of West Sedgemoor Main Drain, before any drainage had taken place, the moors themselves would have been extremely inhospitable places, and the swamps and marshes would have been avoided. There is certainly no evidence of any Iron Age lake villages similar to those discovered at Glastonbury and Meare. There may well have been Brythonic settlements on the ridge, but the earliest known farmsteads and hamlets are Saxon.
Athelney Abbey was founded in 878 in what William of Malmesbury called “The fastness of the fens.” According to him it was “not an island of the sea, but so inaccessible on account of bogs and inundation of lakes that it cannot be approached but by a boat.” From his ‘island’ refuge, did King Alfred ever come to Stoke to drum up local support for his assault on Guthrum, the Danish King?
A Flooded West Sedgemoor
In his book ‘The Draining of the Somerset Levels’, however, Michael Williams challenges the view that the area was an impassable wasteland, and suggests that there was a ‘hierarchy’ of usefulness depending on the different conditions found in the various parts. The water covered moors and the rivers Parrett and Tone (sometimes with many channels) provided fish and water birds - all the property of the ecclesiastical landlords. Those only liable to seasonable flooding provided some summer pasturing, and wood for building and fuel. These were regulated and appear in various charters for the different manors. In neighbouring Knapp, for example, it was recorded that were ‘10 acres of land, 10 acres of meadow, 80 acres of wood and 100 acres of moor.’ In Aller, just the other side of the Parrett from Stoke, there were 12 acres of land, 60 acres of meadow and 100 acres of moor.
The embanked River Tone which has run down from Taunton. Before the banks were raised the river had several channels snaking across the flood plain.
Fisheries were extremely important and were divided between the big church landowners. One fishery, near Stathe on the Parrett yielded 1000 eels in one year. Athelney Abbey had its own fisheries on the Tone, called Estwere, Merewere and Ianswine, and another elsewhere called Hengestwere, which produced 5000 eels per annum. They were formed with artificial weirs which held the water back and caused more flooding on the surrounding land. There are various records of complaint about this process, as the value of grazing land increased.
Read more about West Sedgemoor HERE