CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Somerset Life today CLICK HERE

Somerton: The archetypal Somerset town?

PUBLISHED: 10:40 11 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:40 11 September 2018

This ancient symbol of a market town dates from 1673 (c) Martyn Smith

This ancient symbol of a market town dates from 1673 (c) Martyn Smith

submitted

A wander through Somerton’s streets reveals a perfectly preserved rural Somerset town, discovers Laurence McJannet

Conjure up an image of an archetypal Somerset town, and it would be built from local stone, with terracotta roof tiles, a patchwork of houses from different centuries, and lingering traces of bygone industry. Perhaps a river meandering through it, and narrow lanes with high hedgerows, or a local cider maker staying true to traditional methods.

That is a perfect description of Somerton. This ancient royal town of wessex built on the banks of the River Cary has hardly changed in a century. A walk through town feels like stepping back in time, to a simple, pastoral place unyielding to modernity. It is no surprise that Somerton is the embodiment of an old Somerset town as it supposedly gave the county its name. Everywhere you look are reminders of its illustrious past – Coronation Fountain on Cow Square, erected in 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII and overlooked by splendid houses from the 17th and 18th centuries; or nearby Donisthorpe House, with high railings to prevent livestock being sold in the market from destroying the garden.

This was built to at the turn of the 20th century allow the Castle Cary to Taunton railway line to go through Somerton, therefore reducing the length of the route from Paddington to Plymouth by 21 miles (c) Martyn SmithThis was built to at the turn of the 20th century allow the Castle Cary to Taunton railway line to go through Somerton, therefore reducing the length of the route from Paddington to Plymouth by 21 miles (c) Martyn Smith

There is the Old Town Hall which dates back to 1278, when Edward I came to the town on his way to Glastonbury. Then it served as the County Hall and the Court of Assizes. Now it has been sympathetically converted into a gallery and workshop venue managed by ACEArts. Close Care Homes, the company behind ACEArts, is at the forefront of efforts to preserve and enhance the town and as well as converting the old town hall and sponsoring the exhibitions there, it is also transforming the old Courthouse Gallery into luxury retirement properties and artisan shops.

The Market Square is the historic heart of Somerton, and it is here you will find the Church of St Michael and All Angels, with its rare octagonal tower and wonderful carved nave ceiling dating from 1450. Nearby is the lovely Buttercross dating from 1673, the typical symbol of an old English market town.

The Old Town Hall now converted by ACEArts into a wonderful gallery space (c) Martyn SmithThe Old Town Hall now converted by ACEArts into a wonderful gallery space (c) Martyn Smith

The main thoroughfare, Broad Street, is lined with finely proportioned houses and buildings with bow windows that once were shopfronts. The street is aptly named; it was made this wide so livestock could be kept in pens on either side on market day. Trees were planted in their place in 1863 to commemorate the wedding of Edward VII to Alexandra, and many of the original ones remain.

On Broad Street is Collar Cottage, evidence of the old shirt and collar factory, Welsh and Clark’s, that stood next door and was an important industry for the town. The Red Lion Inn was another mainstay of Somerton, and although now redeveloped, its facia and the arms of Lord Ilchester remain. Built in 1768 to replace Lord Ilchester’s original building, this was one of the most popular coaching inns in the town. The Red Lion shut down in the 1990s, and only two inns remain, The White Hart and The Globe – both typically friendly Somerset pubs with inviting garden and patio areas for al fresco summer dining. In the 18th century, when Somerton was a thriving coaching centre on the route to London, Exeter, Bath and Dorchester, it had some 16 inns, mostly surrounding the market place. Both The White Hart and The Globe were among them.

THe White Hart remains from Somertons days as an 18th century coaching stationTHe White Hart remains from Somertons days as an 18th century coaching station

Other handsome buildings to look out for include the 15th century Leaver’s Court and the 17th century Hext Almshouses where North Street meets Behind Berry. From here there is a beautiful view of the valley. The century-old viaduct crosses the river in spectacular fashion, with five 50ft arches. In its shadow is the Viaduct Fishery, with six well-stocked lakes luring anglers from far and wide to fish for trout, eel, perch and tench. It is a peaceful and beautiful spot and a haven for wildlife, most notably kingfishers.

With traditional cider manufacturer Harry’s just down the road on a family farm in Long Sutton, Somerton is indeed the distillation of all that makes a wonderful rural Somerset town.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Somerset Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Somerset Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Somerset Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Yesterday, 11:12

Simone Stanbrook-Byrne explores two villages on the Mendip Hills and the tranquil paths that link them

Read more
Thursday, October 4, 2018

Whatever the season, we love exploring Portishead!

Read more
Monday, October 1, 2018

Given to the people of Bath as a gift from a local benefactor 80 years ago, the tranquil Alice Park is thriving, as Chrissy Harris discovers

Read more
Friday, September 28, 2018

When a town can boast having three community orchards offering free fruit for all, you know you’ve arrived somewhere special. Laurence McJannet marches to Wellington for some culinary surprises

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

As the colder months draw in, and golden and red hues fill the trees, there’s nothing quite like gathering the family for a stroll through the countryside. Embrace the fresh air, wrap up warm and soak in the beauty of Somerset on these 10 autumn walks

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Steve Roberts traces the trials and tribulations behind the construction of a famous Bristol landmark

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

This month Andrea Cowan visits Withypool

Read more
Thursday, September 13, 2018

Crunchy leaves under foot, bracing walks in beautiful countryside and along the coast, cream teas in cosy tea rooms and charming pubs with roaring fireplaces – what’s not to love about autumn in the Somerset?

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A wander through Somerton’s streets reveals a perfectly preserved rural Somerset town, discovers Laurence McJannet

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Take a family walk in Watchet, exploring both town and countryside, with Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

From beautiful gardens to iconic attractions, fascinating museums to family-friendly theme parks, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to a family day out in Somerset

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

There’s nothing more appealing than a row of picture-perfect properties in some of Somerset’s most beautiful locations. Which street is your favourite in the county?

Read more
Monday, August 20, 2018

Steve Roberts steps back in time to see how the Monmouth Rebellion impacted on our county

Read more
Thursday, August 16, 2018

Stephen Roberts explores a Somerset manor house packed with centuries of history

Read more
 
A+ South & South West

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

subscription ad


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search