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In the beginning

By Ken Wakeling

It may come as some surprise to learn that millions of years ago the area we now know as Clayhidon was as deep below sea level as it now, high above sea level - some 200 metres. Shell fossils are still found and are very collectable.


Moving the time machine into fast forward we come next to archaeological evidence of early habitation within the parish. Listed monuments are: 10 barrows, in the north of the parish at Heazle, Garlandhayes, Woodgate, Wiltown, Rosemary Lane, Biscombe and in the south at Knowle (2), Burcombe and Smeatharpe. Three earthworks at Middleton Barton (2) and Wiltown. Three field systems are known at Higher Hill, Barr Park Corner and Bolham Hill and an open settlement was recorded west of the Parish Hall.


We can only assume that the first settlers in Clayhidon were forest dwellers attracted to the high plateaux of the Blackdown Hills. From being hunters and food gatherers they became farmers and herdsmen and were able to settle in one place. They would farm in small communities for protection and regard the land around the settlement as their own. Life would have been rough and primitive but gradually the people would learn new crafts such as making baskets, tools, pottery and weaving cloth. Dwellings would have been crude structures built of materials from the woods and quarries.


In the 1st century most of England became part of the Roman Empire and a fine network of roads was built and the quality of building  improved, though there is little evidence of the Roman presence being felt in this area. The Roman Army withdrew in the 400's leaving behind a mixed Roman and British population. They fell victims to the Saxon invaders who took control as far as the Cornish border. The Britons were killed or enslaved. The Saxons made homes for themselves and settled well away from the Roman villas and roads and from now on village life really began. Prior to the Norman conquest in 1066, Clayhidon was part of the earldom of Wessex held by Godwin, whose son Harold became King Harold II and was killed at the Battle of Hastings. Henceforth William the Conqueror was in charge and the Saxon freemen farming their ‘hides’ of land were in for a shock when William introduced a feudal system. All the land belonged to the king and in return for service he was able to grant rights and land. The first to benefit from this system were those who fought alongside William at Hastings. He made large gifts of land to his supporters and the people who lived on and worked the land became vassals or serfs.


In Domesday, Clayhidon is referred to as Hidone. The name of Clayhidon has changed many times in its history. It is possibly derived from the Saxon hieg-dun meaning ‘hay hill’. The clayey soil which the inhabitants know so well is no doubt responsible for the later prefix. In 1214 it becomes Hydun and in the Book of Fees of 1242 Hidune. It appears in the Court of Rolls of 1485 as Cleyhidon and in the 16t century as Cley Hidon. On the first Ordnance Survey map of 1809 it was shown as Clehydon. By 1850 we have at long last arrived  with the spelling as we now know it. Even now strangers have difficulty pronouncing the name and invariably refer to it as ‘Clayhidden’, and during a photographic survey in the late 1980s by the history group a signpost was recorded pointing the way to Clayhiddon!



William the Conqueror appointed earls to rule the larger sections of his kingdom called shires; the shires were split up into manors which were granted to the barons. The lord of the manor received his manor from either the baron, earl or the king and could be lord of several manors. He would have to swear allegiance to the overlord who made the grant and in addition promise to fight for him and supply fighting men, The land belonging to each manor was divided between the lord and the peasants living on it, who had to pay service to the lord and sometimes pay rent as well. How did this affect Clayhidon? The Earl of Devon was all powerful and ruled the county on behalf of the king. The manors in the parish came into the hands of the de Hidon family who built Hemyock Castle. Ralph de Hidon was the east known rector of St. Andrews, Clayhidon's parish church. The last male of that family died in about 1300. The heiress Margaret de Hidon married Josce de Dynham. The Dynham family had vast estates here and in north Devon particularly around Hartland. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the last Dynham died. The manor of Clayhidon was included in the sale to Lord Chief Justice Popham as an extension to his Somerset estate. He maintained a great house in Wellington. Clayhidon remained in the Popham family until well into the 18th century.


The feudal system still lingered on. The lord still owned the land but by now the practice was to lease the land and the tenants were able to achieve greater independence. The affairs of Clayhidon were looked after by a court leet under the chairmanship of the lord’s steward. The Jurymen decided on various matters and they could be pretty tough with people who did not toe the line. When the court leet became a dying institution the lords of the manor lost their power to Justices of the Peace. The Vestry, under the chairmanship of the parson, came to deal with matters not only connected with the church but chose the people's churchwarden and overseers of the poor.


In 1812, the Clayhidon Enclosure Act passed through parliament and nine years later the Enclosure Award was signed sealed and delivered. From 1839 we have the tithe map, a most historic and important document measuring some ten feet long. Every field and plot in the parish was given a number and listed in the tithe apportionment showing the acreage and the use to which it was being put. All the buildings were shown with the owners’ and occupiers’ names and the amount of tithe paid. The parish copy of the tithe map had deteriorated through inadequate storage. One of the just tasks undertaken by the Clayhidon Local History Group was to have the tithe map and apportionment restored. This was done with great care by specialists working at the Somerset Record once, the cost being met by the parish council. The map and copy of the Enclosure Act are held by the history group on behalf of the parish.