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A History of the Parish of Evercreech

The early form of the village name and its derivation is unclear; so it is safest to begin with its name in the Doomsday Book where it is called Evrecriz. In later documents it became Evercriche.

The village lies on rocky ground with numerous springs which probably account for its foundation since none of the various local streams run through the village centre. The village lies between Shepton Mallet and Bruton.

There are four outlying hamlets: Chesterblade two miles north-east where some of the earliest evidence for occupation was found when a Bronze age camp on Smalldown was excavated in 1908.

Stoney Stratton lies east of the village and includes the ancient Broad Street said to run from the Roman lead mines on Mendip to the coast. This road is overlooked by the Romano British temple on Creech Hill.

Bagborough to the west is bounded by a short section of the Fosse Way; which connected the parish to the Roman world.

Pecking Mill and Southwood are south of the village; the latter had a very large common.

Evidence for early occupation in Evercreech comes from a Saxon skeleton found by workmen digging in Mead’s quarry in 1934. A knife of Saxon type and pot sherds were close to the scattered bones. Archaeological excavation near the junction of Oxford Street and Weymouth Road in 2003 found some evidence of a Saxon building, possibly a small farmstead.

In the Norman Doomsday book Saxon Evrecriz had been held by the Bishop of Wells. Churches were not mentioned in the Doomsday book as they were not taxed but Evrecriz had a priest who possibly served a small church of Saxon origin. Bishops of Wells continued to own the village until Bishop Jocelin gave the living of Evercreech to the Priors of St John in Wells who provided a priest for the village. The Priory in Wells had only ten brothers so their house in Evercreech was probably even smaller. The brothers cared for travellers and pilgrims. Eventually they withdrew to Wells using some of the tithe money to build a vicarage and pay a vicar to serve Evercreech. A steward to collect the tithes due to the brothers probably lived in the large rectorial House which appears on maps, next to The Bell, as The Parsonage. Names such as Priors Hill and Priory Cottage testify to the history of the Priors in this part of the village. Their connection with the village came to an end when all monastic property was seized by Henry VIII at the Dissolution of the monasteries.

Another lost building is the Bishop’s House. There were ten such houses in Somerset well known from the documents signed when the Bishop visited various parts of the diocese. All of the sites have been identified except that of the Bishop’s house at Evercreech. One unproven possibility is that its foundations are under Evercreech House which was built by 1750.

In St Peter’s Church the earliest part is the chancel which dates from about 1300 and has original Early English window tracery. The main body of the church dates from the 15th century and has a Somerset style tower said by Pevsner to be the finest in Somerset. A peal of ten bells hang in the tower.

The ornate roof of the nave has angel carvings re-painted in medieval colours in the 1960s.The north aisle was constructed at about the same time as the nave but the south aisle added in 1843 to replace a south porch and smaller south aisle. The church has retained its north and south galleries with box pews added when the population was increased by the silk mill workers. The west, or music gallery now holds the organ.

Education in Evercreech began with the building of a Sunday School on the edge of the church yard which became a National School in 1841. A new, larger school, built opposite the church in 1854, served the children of the village until it was replaced by a modern school on the outskirts of the village in 1993.

The small original Wesleyan Chapel built in 1826 adjoins the later, much larger chapel built in 1872. The chapel closed in 2003 and is now a private house.

St Mary’s Chapel at Chesterblade was built in the 12th century of Doulting stone. It is technically a Chapel of Ease, the church for a small community at a distance from the parish church. St Mary’s has a beautiful east window depicting the nativity and outside interesting stone carvings of ancient origin.

Dairy and sheep farming with some arable provided employment in the parish. Cheese was produced on most local farms until the twentieth century. There were a number of mills; Pecking Mill, Lovely Mill (demolished) Cuttern Mill, Albions and Mill House Chesterblade. Most were corn or grist mills.

In 1792 the first Silk Mill was built in Shapway Lane (re-named Queen’s Road after Victoria’s Jubilee). This small factory employed mostly young girls spinning, not weaving silk. A later mill, Kemp’s Mill opposite opened in 1860.

Silk velvet was woven there, and census returns show the many occupations of silk workers.

Evercreech Junction station was built at Southwood when the Somerset Central Railway arrived in 1862; by linking with the Dorset Central Railway this became the Somerset and Dorset line in 1874 when the village got its own station, Evercreech New Station. The railway allowed industrial development to flourish in the village. In 1891 a creamery was built on the land belonging to Batt’s Farm. In 1900 Messrs Prideaux of Motcombe bought and expanded the factory which was to provide employment for Evercreech people until the closure of the factory in 2018. Other industries included the brick and lime works at Southwood, Enfield Works where agricultural metal work were made. There was a Mineral Water factory E.J.Allen & son providing soft drinks for pubs. The village had numerous inns, pubs and beer houses the main two being The Bell Inn and The Shapway, now renamed The Pickled Inn, both of which are still in operation at the time of writing. Names and dates can be found in a book listed in the bibliography.

Blacksmiths, wheelwrights, builders, shops and a wide variety of other businesses show that Evercreech was a self -sufficient place until recent times.

Both World wars had a huge impact on Evercreech. In the First World War over two hundred men from the village enlisted: forty-two did not return. Their names are on the village war memorial at the cemetery, on the role of honour and the Memorial Book in the parish church. The Evercreech VAD provided nurses, cleaners, drivers, seamstresses and much more for the Auxiliary Military Hospital in Shepton Mallet.

In the second world war one hundred and four men volunteered or were conscripted six did not return. Their names are also on the village memorial and in the Memorial book in the parish church. There was a large group of the Home Guard which met at the school.

The greatest impact of the second war on the village was the arrival of evacuees in 1939 and American soldiers from 1942. In September 1939 the school received 215 children, 18 teachers and 6 helpers from two schools in East London. In May 1941 50 children from Bristol and their teachers were evacuated to Evercreech. All these children and adults were billeted in village homes. The school coped by using a rota of classes morning and afternoon and by using extra space in the vicarage and the old village hall in Oxford Street (demolished). The numbers of evacuees fluctuated; in October 1944 there were 103 being taught with 92 local children.

American soldiers arrived in 1942. Officers were billeted in Evercreech House and Rockleaze, where a large Nissen hut was built for other ranks. Some of the US soldiers had been oil men and were training for the eventual construction of a pipeline to aid the war in North Africa; others were cooks and support staff. Their jazz band and dances in the village hall are still fondly remembered.

Post war Evercreech expanded with the building of new estates. Gas was piped to the village in 1991 and a new school built in 1993.
Although Evercreech has lost its railway link and many traditional industries have closed there is new growth. The former railway sidings at Evercreech Junction now house a business park of over thirty companies, including new ‘green technology’ industries. Evercreech is a large and expanding village with many organisations contributing to a vibrant community life.


Bibliography:
A Short History of Evercreech by Jim Doble.
The Silk Industry In Evercreech by Evercreech & District Local History Society.
Education In Evercreech Jim Doble and Gill Lindsay
Evercreech 1891-1991 St Ivel Limited Edition (Creamery Centenery)
Evercreech Wesleyan Chapels by Gill Lindsay
A History of Evercreech and Stoney Stratton Alehouses by Jane Burgess.