Selworthy is probably the most noteworthy of the villages of Exmoor, and is recognised as one of the more picturesque in Britain, both in terms of its setting and the quality of its buildings. It lies in a sheltered situation in a small hollow on the lower slopes of Selworthy Beacon to the north. From this position there are extensive views across the eastern end of Porlock Vale to high open moorland, including Dunkery Beacon to the south. Although having a sense of seclusion, the village is about 1 km. south of the A39, with Porlock some 3 km. to the west and Minehead about 7 km. to the east.
Selworthy and the countryside surrounding it has been largely owned by the National Trust since 1944. It is part of the Holnicote Estate, which is the Exmoor seat of the historic Acland family, whose ancestors date back to Hugh de Accalen in the 12th century. Like other villages on the Estate, there are good examples of local vernacular detail, especially in cottage groups, and several have been discovered to have medieval origins.
During the 1990’s the National Trust carried out a detailed historic survey of all the buildings in its ownership in Selworthy, which is kept at the Holnicote estate office. As might be expected, the Trust takes great care to maintain the traditional features of its buildings, which adds to their timeless and homogenous character.
In the Domesday Book, the village is Selerude. Later references are Selworh in the Assize Rolls of 1243, and Syleworth in the Taxatio ecclesiastica of 1291. The name indicates a settlement or enclosure with a copse of sallow. The parish of Selworthy is large, containing several hamlets, most prominent of which are Bossington and Allerford (see separate Conservation Area Appraisals). The manor at Holnicote, also within the parish, was awarded to Ralph de Limesi by William the Conqueror (as was East Luccombe). The name is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon Holegn (holly) which suggests it was established prior to the Norman conquest. The Luccombe family are recorded as holding both manors on behalf of the de Limesi dynasty. From 1301, by the authority of Edward I, the manors were transferred to Henry de Pynkeny with the Luccombes still in possession. In 1333 Elizabeth Luccombe married into the St. John family who then acquired manorial rights. There was a further change of ownership by marriage to the
Arundell family of Trerice in Cornwall.
The Arundells are known to have built the north aisle of the parish Church in the 17th century. Another noteworthy local family, also for some time owners of the Manor, although no record could be found of their period of tenure, was the Steynings, who probably built the south aisle, in the early 16th century, since there is a date of 1538 high up in the west-end. On the wall, there are good 16th and 17th century brasses to various members of this family. The Acland family became linked by an Arundell marriage to the Holnicote estate from 1745, and the estate eventually transferred entirely to the Aclands in 1802.