Milverton, Somerset: When wool was spun and woven in workers’ homes, the cottage industry had made this village prosperous
Our corner of Somerset escaped the effects of storm and flood that have been so destructive elsewhere, and when we ventured cross country, despite a glimpse from the ridge at Langport of miles of the levels towards Muchelney under water, we found our own route clear. We passed the great mill buildings at Tonedale, south-west of Taunton, monuments to an industrial past when the leading local textile firm employed 5,000 workers. Onwards towards the Brendon hills, where the river Tone rises, we wound through narrow valleys between patches of tall, wintry trees.
When we reached the church at the top of the hill at Milverton, the bells were ringing in the red sandstone tower. The streets dip away from the church, curving down, with cobbled, raised pavements. Pevsner, in his Buildings of England, called North Street “in its modest way, an uncommonly pleasant Georgian street”. When wool was spun and woven in workers’ homes, before those mills were built, the cottage industry had made this village prosperous.
A little archway, not far from the parish church, leads across cobbles to a secluded space and the Quaker House. Outside the village, we passed signs to a lane with the name Fry, notable in the Society of Friends, and another pointing across a lawn to “The Quaking House”. Higher up, we paused to admire a sunlit view spread out eastwards, then noticed, by the shadowy yews at the edge of woodland, another sign, saying “Friends burial ground 1862”.
Not far away, we came by chance on what seemed to be an overgrown rocky chasm but turned out to be the ruin of a railway bridge, relic of a long-gone branch of the Great Western Railway running to Barnstaple. It struck me that when I had travelled by train as a schoolboy from Surrey to Bideford, I had probably gone over that bridge.
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