Mark is a rural parish situated on the environmentally sensitive Somerset Levels to the south of the Mendip Hills. It has the distinction of having been included in the Guiness Book of Records as the longest village in the country. It is still a working village, a farming community with a surprising number of other people whose work keeps them in the village, some in local small ‘industries’. However, like elsewhere, in recent years there has been a noticeable increase in villagers commuting to work in surrounding towns and cities. As a thriving community it has a church, two inns, a Primary School, Mark College (an independent special school), Village Hall (with Bowling Green, Football Pitch, Children’s Playground and Multi-Games Play Area), Cricket Green, Church Hall, Village Stores/Post Office, two garages, farms and many small businesses. There are many organisations catering for different interests. The population is about 1,500 and comprises the full age range. In recent years many young couples have moved in with their young children. Mark has been highly successful in integrating ‘old’ and ‘new’ families and visitors always remark on the villagers’ friendliness. The village has easy access to main roads and the M5 motorway, and to the smaller moorland roads of the strange, yet beautiful, countryside of the Somerset Levels.
The core of the village, formerly called East Mark, is clustered round the church. To the west the long Causeway stretches towards the coast. This used to be called West Mark and was a separate manor in the Middle Ages. Originally in belonged to Glastonbury Abbey but later it joined East Mark as part of the estates of Wells Cathedral Deanery. There are a number of roads, lanes and droves leading off from the Causeway into the surrounding moorland where there are small pockets of population. The low-lying village is protected from flooding by a network of drainage ditches, called ‘rhynes’ (pronounced ‘reens’). These abound with wildlife – swans, ducks, moorhens and herons being the most evident, but it is not unusual to come across water voles. Foxes, deer, badgers, rabbits and hares are a common sight in the fields and some 84 species of birds have been noted.
The Mark Yeo runs north at the east end of the Causeway dividing West Mark from East Mark. It contains a variety of freshwater fish as well as eels. It is an artificial canal, dug by hand around 1250 for Glastonbury Abbey to improve the drainage of the moors and provide a navigable route between manors. We know that the Abbot in all his dignity travelled along it by barge accompanied by his cooks, kitchen items, huntsmen, hounds and ‘all that could go by water’, combining business with pleasure and staying at his residences including High Hall at Mark and Brent manorhouse. After the dissolution of the monasteries, High Hall, on a site near to the present White Horse Inn, was divided up into tenements, became ruinous and was finally pulled down in 1668.
The most beautiful part of the village, Jubilee Green alongside the Yeo, is still known as the Abbot’s Causeway. The road from East Mark crosses it by means of Somerset’s oldest cast-iron bridge, built in 1824. The iron arch can be seen if you walk a few yards north down ‘The Wall’, the public bridleway by the White Horse inn, and look back towards the road.
A second public house, the Pack Horse Inn, is more ancient in origin. It stands next to the church with the former market place, called the Square, outside. When it became a coaching inn, luggage could be lifted from the top of a stagecoach through a trapdoor in the ceiling of the archway to the courtyard behind. A plaster medallion in the ceiling of the lounge has a royal coat of arms of the Victorian period which may replace an earlier one commemorating a recorded visit by James II in 1686.
CHURCH AND CHAPEL
The Church of the Holy Cross
Mark’s crowning glory is its large and very splendid church. By 1176 Mark had one of the four chapels of the ‘Isle of Wedmore’, dependent on Wedmore church and it did not become a separate parish until 1816. Mark was a prosperous community in the later Middle Ages, benefitting from Somerset’s wool and cloth trade and its very fertile farmland. So the church was gradually enlarged and beautified by local craftsmen. A chantry chapel was added on the south side by 1425. Especially notable features are the tall, elegant west tower dating from later in the 15th century and the fine panelled ceilings of the nave and north aisle. Detailed guide-books can be found in the church.
The Wesleyan Methodist Church
Before 1768 Methodist itinerant preachers visited Mark and preached in the open air. At a later date they used a room in a house at Southwick for services. In 1796 when the congregation had become too large for this accommodation, a piece of land on Mark Causeway was acquired and a chapel was built. The foundation stone for a much larger building was laid within the same plot on 15th July 1869. Alas, one hundred years later this building was declared unsafe and was demolished in 1973. The earlier chapel had been used meanwhile as a Sunday School and was used again by the congregation for a further 25 years. The site of the demolished chapel became the car park. Sadly, by 1998 the membership had dwindled to only a few, so a Service of Thanksgiving was held on Sunday 5th July 1998 when the chapel was packed to the doors with friends and visitors. It then closed for ever as a place of worship.
The Baptist Chapel
Baptist meetings were held in Mark in 1669 with an estimated congregation of 40. In the 19th century there was a strongly supported Chapel at Highbridge and, probably, it was from there that a decision was taken to build a Baptist Chapel in Mark. In 1866 a stone building was erected in Church Street between Church Farm and The Elms. Later it was closed for many years but re-opened in the 1930s. During the 1980s membership dropped considerably and it was closed. The building is now a private residence.
In 1835 the Church of England started East Mark School on the east side of the churchyard as part of the National Schools movement. It provided an alternative to the Dame School which gave a basic education to some of the village children. After a few years, the farmers were worried because their daughters were mixing with the ‘rough’ boys there and in 1863 a school was started at West Mark for infants and girls. In 1874 it too became a church school with a new building on the present site.
In 1930, the Education Authority decided that both schools at Mark were below the standard set for elementary schools and it was decided to enlarge West Mark School and close East Mark. In 1932 a new Infants’ Room, cloakrooms and toilets were built which meant the school had accommodation for 126 boys and girls from 5-11 years. A school kitchen was added in the 1950s and, for many years, excellent school meals were provided at a very reasonable price. In 1967 and 1976 hutted classrooms were added, followed by a new classroom for the Reception Class. In 2001 an extension built of brick was added to the original West Mark School which includes a classroom and various facilities.
With the re-organisation of Somerset schools in 1976, Mark V.C. Primary School became Mark V.C. First School for children up to 9 years. In 1998 as a result of a Lottery Grant, Mark Pre-School and Toddlers were able to buy and erect a Portacabin which stands in the school grounds.
SOME OF THE BUSINESSES THAT SHAPED MARK –
BUTCHERS AND BAKERS AND ALMOST CANDLESTICK MAKERS!
Carpentry and Metalwork
In the 1800s Mark had two wheelwrights, one at the Foundry (later Foundry Garage, now Kl Foundation) on the Causeway, owned by Albert Day where metal working was carried out alongside wagon making. Wooden patterns for wheels and other parts were kept in a pattern room. Their cheese presses and apple mills were in great demand.
The second wheelwright was James Wensley at East Mark, opposite the church. At one time some twelve blacksmiths and twenty wheelwrights were employed here; they were described as ‘all clever wheelwrights and general carpenters able to make anything from a coffin to a kitchen table, a car to a wheelbarrow’. They specialised in carts and wagons and won medals from agricultural societies.
Both firms prospered and had an enormous influence on the population and status of the village. Owing to improvements in agriculture and the railway at Highbridge, they expanded, providing vehicles and equipment for village farms and far beyond. Examples of their work are currently held by the Somerset Rural life Museum at Glastonbury. The gates of Mark Church are labelled ‘Day Maker Mark 1848’ and iron railings surround graves of the Day family at the old Methodist Chapel.
There were other skilled carpenters and joiners in the village. There is still a joinery manufacturer in Littlemoor Road. The clockmaker Joseph Thristle set up at Mark in 1822 to be followed by Robert Hart.
Records show there was a butcher in Mark in 1659 who was in the habit of stealing sheep from the moor! By the 19th century there were a number of butchers in the village, reflecting the high quality of the grazing land of the area. The Fisher family were particularly involved. At what is now Four Oaks a butcher’s shop was in use for at least 100 years, starting with Joseph West in 1851 and finishing with Fred Porter.
The first recorded baker was William Trick in the early 1800s and there were many bakers after that date. Two well-remembered names are Drake and Sheppard. Thomas Sheppard had a bakery at Portland House in the late 1800s and his nephew Ernest learnt from him and in about 1900 set up near West Mark School. He was followed by his son John, in business until 1961. Richard Drake took over the bakery at Portland House from about 1889 and, in about 1927, his son Percy set up at Yardwall House. He retired in 1953 when he was still delivering by horse and cart. In 1937 Bill Puddy had a bakery at London House and Ron Watts worked there when he left school. Later on Ron started his own business on the Causeway which was taken over by his son Kevin, and which closed in 2014.
Leatherwork: Saddlery and Shoemaking
The sheep and cattle reared on the moors provided hides for leather as well as meat. In about 1650, Walter Beemer was apprenticed to John Castle of Mark to be instructed in the trade of a tanner. Various shoemakers lived and worked in Mark in the 18th and 19th centuries. William Palmer was a shoemaker at the City in the mid-19th century. William Sheppard learnt the trade from him and set up his own boot-making business which eventually employed eight men. Shoemaking continued in the village until the late 1930s. Records show that from 1851 at least two saddlers lived and worked at Mark until about 1910.
It was written of Mark in 1791 –‘The lands are rich and in general valuable, and there are many small dairy and grazing farms". The people described as farmers in the village in the 19th century ranged from smallholders with a few acres to farmers of large acreages, either owning or tenanting their land. In 1831 73 families were involved in agriculture compared with 40 in trade. In the early years of the 20th century, a local farmer would usually have two large wagons, one putt, a light cart for milking, a mowing machine, a tedder and a hay rake.
The area has always been well known for its production of cheese, which the farmers’ wives would take as well-earned refreshment to the farmers in the fields along with bread and cider. Two types of cheese were made from raw milk on the farms in the late 19th and 20th centuries – Caerphilly and Cheddar. Caerphilly took only two to three weeks to mature and was mainly sold for the miners in South Wales. Cheddar, more popular locally, was made into large, heavy truckles which took five to six months to store and turn before it was mature. The main local market in the 19th century was at Highbridge from where it was sent off by train.
Cheese-making on farms largely finished when the Milk Marketing Board was set up in 1933. However, Edward Tucker at Locksbroad took it up when others had finished, also buying milk from other farmers, and packing the cheese for distribution. Cheese-making in Mark ended several years ago.
The rich clay soil is ideal for apple growing. Farms usually had one or two orchards and generally made cider for their own and workers’ use. It was still made in the traditional way by Chris Coombes until the mid-2000s.
The book ‘Mark: A Somerset Moorland Village’ has been used in compiling the above information by kind permission of the author, Pamela M. Slocombe. It is usually available from Mark Village Shop and Post Office or contact firstname.lastname@example.org