situated; indeed the Sweet Track, of Neolithic date, is situated within the parish of Shapwick. Half the parish lies on the southern edge of the Somerset Levels, the other half on the slightly higher ground of the Poldens.
The village has a number of advantages. The main point of interest is that it is a planned village - as had been pointed out by Nicholas Corcos in a pioneering MA thesis. It is in fact a highly unusual plan, forming a ladder pattern. There are two main streets running parallel to each other, on either side of a small stream, now mostly dry. There are a number of short cross roads, forming as it were the rungs of the ladder, and most of the early houses seem to be laid out on these cross roads, often facing south, with their plots behind them. But if the village was laid out to a plan, it is clearly pertinent to ask, when.
A second advantage is that it is a very ordinary village, nothing glamourous about it - and hopefully therefore 'typical'. In the
Middle Ages it was owned by Glastonbury
Abbey and even today it is owned by a single landlord, Lord Vestey, and thanks to the goodwill of his land agent, Bill Robbins, it has been possible to carry out surveys needing only the permission of the tenants.
A third advantage is that in 1515,
Glastonbury Abbey, under its last dynamic abbot, Abbot Bere, carried out a detailed survey in which all the field and furlong names were recorded. A number of these
were 'habitative' names, that is they ended in words such as 'wick' or 'worthy' or 'croft', all of which suggest that there was once a habitation there, and that these might therefore be the places to look for traces of the dispersed settlement pattern before the village was be.
- whenever that might
An early idea was to map the village using what is called 'regressive map analysis'. This means starting from the modern map and then going back and producing a corrected version to a common scale of all the earlier maps. They began with the 19th and 20th century Ordnance Survey maps, then the tithe map of 1839 but since then they have collected nearly a dozen maps of the 18th century as well. The village has two manors and fortunately for us, in the
In 1988 however Mick realised that there
Aerial view of was an obvious way of getting valuable outside help. The Somerset Vernacular
Building Research Group had for many years been doing historical and building surveys of
Shapwick village. The main eastern road runs down the centre. The western road curves round the left hand various parishes in Somerset. Six volumes of edge. Shapwick Hall lies at the top surveys had already been published: why not invite them to turn their attention to surrounded by its
Shapwick? They readily agreed, and Jane and John Penoyre and John Dallimore have park. Note that most of the houses are still aligned on the cross produced immaculate plans of all the older streets that form the buildings in the village and farms in the rungs of the ladder.
parish. The results have already been
17th and 18th century, they were at each other's throats, and the consequent litigation published as The Vernacular Buildings of produced a steady flow of maps and surveys
Shapwick (available from J J Penoyre, Lenny and as a result, the village can be planned back to the mid 18th century.
Barn, Over Stratton, South Petherton TA13 5LQ
£7.50 + £1.20 postage).
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