THE HISTORY OF MARK

 

 

 

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 Guinness Book of Records as the longest village in the country. It is still very much a working village, although in recent years there has been a noticeable increase in villagers commuting to work in the surrounding towns and cities.  Mark is still very much a farming community, but there are a surprising number of people whose work keeps them in the Village, some of whom are employed in local small “industries”.  The population of Mark 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 friendliness of our Villagers.

 

The main part of the Village is the ancient Causeway, whose foundation is said to be made of tree trunks, but there are several lanes, roads and droves leading off across the Moors with only small pockets of population.  The highest density of population is to the south and west of the Church, where the past 35 years has seen considerable housing development.  The low-lying Village is protected from flooding by a network of drainage ditches, called “rhynes” (pronounced “reens”), which 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 “river” (Mark Yeo), running through the Village, now less polluted than it was, contains a variety of freshwater fish as well as eels.

 

The most beautiful part of the Village, Jubilee Green, is still known as the Abbot`s Causeway. It was down the rhyne-like Mark Yeo River cut by the monks of Glastonbury in the 15th. Century that the Abbot in all his dignity used to travel, accompanied by his cook, huntsmen and dogs, in his “state” barge for the purpose of visiting his estates, collecting his dues and, combining business with pleasure, staying at his residences in Mark and East Brent.  The river in those days gave easier passage than overland to the Bristol Channel and the City of Bristol. Unfortunately, not a stone is left standing of either Mark`s High Hall or the Manor at East Brent, the buildings having been pulled down and the stones used for other purposes, probably following the Dissolution of the monasteries.

 

The road through the Village crosses the river by means of Somerset`s oldest iron bridge, some 17 years ago strengthened and restored.  The old iron arch can still be seen if you walk a few yards down “The Wall” public bridleway (by the White Horse Inn) and look back towards the road.

 

Mark`s crowning glory – when the Village was a prosperous centre of the wool trade – is the large and very splendid Parish Church of the Holy Cross, whose Lady Chapel dates back to the 12th. Century and Tower to the 15th. Century.  During these centuries it soared in size and splendour, being enlarged and beautified by craftsmen directed by the Glastonbury Abbots.  Over successive centuries it has been much embellished by the Parishioners and, in particular, by the gift of a previous Incumbent in the late 1800s of the 16th. Century wooden carvings in the Chancel of the Four Evangelists, made in 1524 by a Belgian wood carver, named André, and originally installed in Bruges Cathedral, Belgium.  Worth noting also are the 14th. century carved bosses, the Charles II cipher and the Tudor ceilings in the North Aisle and Porch. Detailed guide-books can be found in the Church.  Legend has it that there is a tunnel linking the Church with the Pack Horse Inn and Mark House (now Mark College), but investigations into the likelihood of the existence of this tunnel – and a “Priest`s Hole” in the Pack Horse – have been inconclusive! 

The Pack Horse Inn, itself an ancient building, although nowadays much altered and added to, was important to the wool merchants of the Mendips who transported their wool through Mark on their way to the ports of Highbridge and of the Bristol Channel.  It is here that they would stop to take refreshment, change horses and pick up more wool.  The Inn was later a Coaching Inn.  In the ceiling of the archway into the courtyard a trapdoor can be seen through which luggage would have been lifted from the stagecoach.  In the ceiling of the Lounge there exists the Seal of James II. Scholars say that maybe the Pack Horse was used as one of the many “Bloody Assizes” by the notorious Judge Jeffries, following the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685.

 

The Village contains a thriving community of Church, two Inns, Primary School, College, Village Hall (with Bowling Green, Football Pitch, Children`s Playground, Multi-Games Play Area), Cricket Green, Church Hall, Village Stores/Post Office, 2 Garages, Farms and many small businesses.   It is a Village with 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.

 

 

 

 

SOME OF THE BUSINESSES THAT SHAPED MARK

 

 

WOODWORK AND WHEELS

 

In the 1800s Mark had two wheelwrights, one at the site of Foundry garage, owned by Albert Day where metal working was carried out alongside wagon making, and a pattern room where all the wooden patterns for wheels and other parts were kept.

 

The second wheelwright was James Wensley at east Mark.  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”.

 

 

WROUGHT IRON

 

In the 19th century, Day’s Foundry (situated on the Causeway and now replaced by KI Foundation of Great Britain) and Wensley’s Works (once situated opposite the Church) had an enormous influence on the population and status of the village.  Owing to the improvements in agriculture and the railway at Highbridge, the two firms prospered and rapidly expanded providing vehicles and equipment for village farms and beyond.

 

In fact, 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.  Products were sold far and wide and some good examples are currently held by the Somerset Rural Life Museum at Glastonbury.

 

 

BUTCHER, BAKER AND CANDLESTICK MAKERS

 

Butcher:          Records show there was a butcher in Mark in 1659, this was recorded as information showed he was in the habit of stealing sheep from the moor!  There were many butchers in Mark and many seemed to carry on their business from a shop at Four Oaks, opposite The City. 

 

Baker:              The first recorded baker was William Trick in early 1800’s and there have been many bakers since that date.  Two well remembered names are Drake and Sheppard.  Richard Drake had a bakery at Portland House from about 1889 and about 1927 his son Percy set up in his own bakery at Yardwall House.  He retired in 1953 when he was still delivering bread by horse and cart.  Thomas Sheppard had a bakery at Vole Road in the 19th century.  In about 1900 his nephew Ernest set up his own business on the Causeway and in 1923 his son John started work with him.  John had to retire at the age of 56 because of ill health and the business closed in 1961.  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, which was taken over by his son, Kevin, and which closed in 2014.

 

Candlestick Maker:                 There are no definite records of actual candlestick makers, but there were many carpenters and joiners; amongst them were the members of the Sheppard and Burrows families who were skilled craftsmen and would make any object in wood.  There is still a joinery manufacturer in Littlemoor Road.

 

 

CHURCH AND CHAPEL

 

The Church of the Holy Cross:           There is mention of a chapel here in Mark in 1143AD but no name given.  There is a possibility that it was dedicated by William of Bath in April 1268.  Parts of that building may be found in the present Lady Chapel.  The name of the Church has changed over the centuries and, even today, there is nothing certain.  The dedication name may have been St. Mark or St. Mary.  However, the strongest evidence seems to be “The Church of the Holy Cross”.  For further information, please click on the page “History of the Church”.

 

The Wesleyan Methodist Church:      Prior to 1768 Methodist itinerant preachers visited Mark and preached in the open air.  At a later date, Methodists had the use of a room in a house at Southwick, but in 1796when the congregation became too large for this accommodation, a piece of land on Mark Causeway was acquired on which a Chapel was built.   After a while, this was replaced by a larger building the foundation stone being laid on 15 July 1869.  Alas, one hundred years later this building was declared unsafe and was demolished in 1973.  For the next twenty-five the congregation, once again, used the earlier Chapel which, meanwhile, had been used for a Sunday School and the site of the demolished chapel became a 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 and then closed for ever as a place of worship.

 

The Baptist Chapel:    There are not many Baptist Chapels in Somerset but records show that 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 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.

 

MARK SCHOOLS

 

In 1835 the Church of England started East Mark School as an alternative to the Dame School which had educated some of the village children.  After a few years, the farmers were worried because their daughters were mixing with the “rough” boys in East Mark School so in 1863 a school was started at West Mark for infants and girls.  In 1874 this became West Mark National School when it was taken over by the Church of England which meant it was a “Church School”.

 

In 1930, the Education Authority decided both East and West Mark Schools were below the standard set for elementary Schools so 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.

 

LEATHERWORK, SADDLERY AND SHOEMAKING

 

In September 1651, Walter Beemer was apprenticed to John Castle of Mark to be instructed in the trade of a tanner.  In the 18th and early 19th centuries the names of a few shoemakers lived and worked in Mark and this trade was carried on until the late 1930s.  From 1851 records show at least two saddlers lived and worked in Mark until about 1910.

 

CIDER AND CHEESEMAKING

 

Cider Making:             probably became more widespread as a result of Norman interest and monastic farming.  The first written records of cider appear in ecclesiastical accounts.  In 1230 Jocelin, Bishop of Bath, received a grant which referred to cider presses and later, in 1242-3 cider and apples appear as sources of profit to the Bishopric.  Cider was made in the traditional way by Chris Coombes until the mid 2000’s.

 

Cheesemaking:            The area has always been well known for its production of cheese and cider which farmer’s wives would take down to the farmers as a well earned refreshment.  There were two types of cheese made in the late 19th and 20th centuries – Caerphilly and Cheddar.  They were made from raw milk on the farms.  Caerphilly took two to three weeks to mature and Cheddar five to six months.  The main local market for cheese in the 19th century was Highbridge where the railway took it to the miners in Wales.  Cheese making on farms largely finished when the Milk Marketing Board was set up in 1933.  Edward Tucker of Mark took up cheese making when others had finished.  Local farmers sent their milk to Tuckers.  The cheese was made and packed ready for distribution.  Cheese making in Mark ended several years ago.

 

FARMING

 

It was written of Mark in 1791 – “The lands are rich and in general valuable, and there are many small dairy and grazing farms”.

 

In the 19th century the people described as farmers in the village ranged from small holders with a few acres to farmers of large acreages, either owning or tenanting their land, and, at that time, censuses give respectively up to 73 families involved in agriculture.

 

In the early years of the 20th century, a local farmer would usually have two waggons, one putt and a light car for milking, also a mowing machine, a tedder and a hay rake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The information about the businesses that shaped Mark is taken from the book, “Mark: A Somerset Moorland Village”, by kind permission of the author, Pamela M. Slocombe.  sloco@btinternet.com

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