MEM24184 - Wootton Courtenay (Place)


The village has been mapped from historic mapping. The settlement was first held by John de Curtenay, who died in 1274. It is possible that one or more medieval open hall houses survive within the village.

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Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

The village core has been mapped from sources available to the HER. Earlier features may extend beyond this area. [1-4] Wootton Courtenay is a spacious village at the foot of a spur of the short range of mainly wooded hills extending from Tivington Common in the west to Grabbist Hill in the east. It is connected to adjoining settlement by several narrow lanes. It has a south facing aspect and dramatic views towards some of the higher moors, and low traffic volumes. A special characteristic is the extent of stone boundary walls and areas paved or cobbled in natural stone, the latter sometimes in sections raised above the carriageway. Wootton Courtenay derives from the Anglo-Saxon wudu (a wood) and tun (a settlement or enclosure) and Courtenay derives from the family of that name who became the Earls of Devon. It was first held by John de Curtenay, who died in 1274. There is also a mention in 1335 of Hugh de Courtenay, then Lord of the Manor. In the 19th Century the chief crops were wheat, barley, turnips and fruit; now farming is more pastoral, though some cereals are grown. The parish population in 1871 was 392. The Conservation Area was designated in December 1994 and includes most of the 19th Century and earlier settlement, forming a loosely scattered linear pattern linked by sandstone walls. The main settlement focus is close to the T junction, with another where the road crosses the River Avill to the south. It is possible that one or more former open hall houses dating from the 15th Century or earlier survive within the village. Most of the cottage groups appear to mainly date from the 17th Century. Most of the stone built agricultural and other outbuildings in the conservation area date to the 19th Century. Stone is one of the main building materials in the village, with much being obtained from local quarries, with some sites still visible. One or two (mainly late 19th Century) outbuildings are stone built with brick dressings. Some houses have also been rendered, traditionally lime-wash slobbered over stone or cob. Natural slate is the most common roofing material, although plain tiles are more widely used on later buildings and some Bridgwater pantiles and thatch is visible in the lower part of the village. Windows are generally a mixture of timber and metal casements, some of which are of iron with rectangular or diamond leaded light panes and set in timber frames. There are relatively few sash windows, nearly all of which are double hung sashes and commonly in use from the mid 19th Century onwards. [5] The significance of Wootton Courtenay is derived from its setting, its historic buildings and their position in the landscape. The village is situated at the foot of the short range of mainly wooded hills extending from Tivington Common in the west to Grabbist Hill in the east. It has a sheltered south-facing aspect and to the north and east views towards the high moors of Exmoor. Wootton Courtenay is broadly ‘T’-shaped. At its centre is the medieval church and the former rectory and from here it spreads east-west with a further lane leading south down to the bridge across the river. Within this pattern the settlement is diverse. The buildings are informally grouped, with no hint of formal planning but are usually built close to the carriageway. In spite of a low density, the informality, and close-knit grouping, linked by stone walls and banks, gives the village a cohesive quality and sense of enclosure. This has the effect of making the outward views to surrounding moorland from the higher parts of the village all the more striking. Although Wootton Courtenay’s cottage groups lack the ‘chocolate box’ aesthetic of some other Exmoor villages, its buildings display some typical local vernacular features which are of great interest. These include the front lateral chimney stack, suggesting that many originate in the 17th century. Also present are farmsteads which were built, or underwent improvement, during the 19th century. Almost all of the stone-built agricultural and other outbuildings associated with the farms date from this period. Wootton Courtenay has a significant number of surfaces that are paved, cobbled and kerbed in natural stone. The best examples are in the higher part of the village, including the churchyard where the centre of the path has been replaced by paving slabs and an exceptional 100 m intact length east of the former village school. Although much consists of small blocks of local hard sandstone randomly laid, there are smaller areas where slate, brick and waterworn cobbles are used. [6] A comprehensive history of the settlement and its environs, including historic photographs and informed by many local people, is given by Dorothy Ball. It was noted that the settlement contained a small community dependent on agriculture until the Second World War, when it gradually changed to an almost entirely residential area. The manor was named "Otone" in Domesday, which Ball states is how "Wootton" would be pronounced in the West Somerset Dialect, and might mean "town in a wood". It was held by Algar but given to William de Falaise, a French knight. "Courtenay" was added after the estate passed to the de Courtenay family in 1274, via Sir Philip Basset. Eventually the land was held by the Barons of Sherborne, including from 1892 the Hon Frederick G Dutton MA, vicar of Bilbury, Gloucester, who was made an Honary Canon of Gloucester Cathedral in 1901. He was remembered as a good landlord who visited the estate and was willing to spend money on improvement, often staying at Riverside Farm (MEM24775) when he visited, often bringing his horses with him. The estate was sold at auction by James Huntly Dutton on Wednesday 14th April 1921 in 53 lots, possibly due to a succession of deaths and the death duties involved. The auctioneers were Messrs Norbury-Smith and Co, of London. The estate had 2,382 acres, "the agricultural lands in the valley comprising some of the best in the country, the district being famed for its barley growing while the higher land provides very useful grazing". On 4th December 1894 the first Wootton Courtenay Parish meeting was held in the School Room, after the Local Government Act of 1894. The first Parish Council was elected on 22nd November 1941, of whom Mr John Ball was Chairman. [7] Wootton Courtenay is described as having "an old manor house; an hotel, much patronised by visitors for riding and walking; riding stables; the kennels of the Minehead Harriers; general stores; and the only water-powered pottery in West Somerset". [8] In 1830, the village is desceribed as "pleasantly situated on the verge of the plain at the foot of Graburst, facing the south; it forms a neat but irregular street, with its pretty neat church, and well kept church-yard". A sheep and cattle fair used to be held on 19th September but had been discontinued for "some years". The living was a rectory in the deanery of Dunster, valued at seven marks, three shillings and four pence in 1292. It was appropriated to the alien priory of Stoke-Courcy, and as parcel of its prossessions was granted to Eton College in 1442. In 1818 there were four small day schools in the parish, where c.40 boys and girls were taught. Books were supplied by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and a few were taught at the Reverend CL Scott's expense. In 1801, there were 345 residents in the parish. The 1821 Population Abstract records 57 habited houses (and no uninhabited ones) and 81 families, of whom 64 were employed in agriculture, 14 in trade and 3 in "all other". There were 411 people, 215 males and 196 females, which was an increase of 66 in twenty years. After the Normal Conquest the manor of Otone (Wootton) was given to William de Faleise. It had been held by Algar in the time of King Edward. The manor was at one time held by Hugh de Courtenay and his name was given to the settlement. There is no manor house here. [9] Further bibliography, providing information on individuals associated with the manor. [10]

Sources/Archives (10)

  • <1> Map: 1844. Wootton Courtenay Tithe Map and Apportionment.
  • <2> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1854-1901. County Series; 1st Edition 25 Inch Map. 1:2500.
  • <3> Map: Ordnance Survey. County Series; 2nd Edition (1st Revision) 25 Inch Map. 1:2500.
  • <4> Map: Ordnance Survey. 2013. MasterMap.
  • <5> Report: Fisher, J.. 2003. Wootton Courtenay: Conservation Area Character Appraisal. 4-5, 6-7, 8.
  • <6> Report: Pratt, N.. 2018. Wootton Courtenay Conservation Area: appraisal document.
  • <7> Monograph: Ball, D.. 2007. Wootton Courtenay. Peter Ball. 7, 10-11, 15, 24, 26.
  • <8> Monograph: Lawrence, B.. 1984. Exmoor Villages. The Exmoor Press. 115-116.
  • <9> Monograph: Savage, J.. 1830. A History of the Hundred of Carhampton. 334-376.
  • <10> Monograph: Stoate, G.L.. 1996. Lord of the Manor: an investigation into the ownership of the manor of Wootton Courtenay 1066-1920. H. Galloway.



Grid reference Centred SS 9380 4324 (406m by 453m)
Map sheet SS94SW

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Other Statuses/References

  • Local Plan - Historic Core

Record last edited

May 10 2022 8:38AM


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