Village History

History – Village Green

The earliest evidence of a settlement dates from before AD 940: remains of a Saxon preaching cross. The parish of West Camel later became part of the Hundred of Somerton.

The earliest written reference to West Camel dates from 995CE, in the form of a grant of the village by Aethelred II to the monks of Muchelney Abbey. Produce exacted for the abbey grange was held in a surviving 15th-century tithe barn.

Earthworks 100 and 250 metres north of Downhead Manor Farm show the early site of houses, possibly including a manor house, tracks and a fish pond. Though it had existed since before the Norman conquest, this settlement had been abandoned by the late 18th century.

From the 10th century annals of Muchelney Abbey we learn that West Camel gets it name from the narrow hill to the north, by slurring ‘cantmeel’ – cant-ridge and mael-bare. The remnant of a Saxon preaching cross dated before 940 AD shows that a settlement existed at West Camel by the 10th century. The manor passed into the hands of Muchelney Abbey c.995, and around that time a timber church was built.

Nothing remains of this Saxon structure, which was replaced by a stone building c.1100. The nave and north chapel were added c.1200, this small Norman Church becoming the chancel of the enlarged building — now All Saints Church.

The field to the north of the Church was the site of the abbot’s Manor Farm. The successor Manor House was destroyed by fire in 1929, and remains of this can still be seen. A painting of the house can be seen on the south wall of the nave.

The population of West Camel today is not much higher today than it was in the mid-19th century, although there have been fluctuations, as revealed by the following census returns:
1801: 224
1851: 376
1911: 224
1961: 378

One of the village’s oldest properties is Slow Court Farm.  This photo  was taken around the 1890s

Until quite recently, West Camel was very much an agricultural community. Most of the village belonged to the Digby Estate prior to 1921, when individual farms and parcels of land were sold off. Less than 40 years ago there were four livestock farms in the centre of the village. Cows regularly wended their way along the roads at milking time, and shiny milk-churns were seen on roadside stands awaiting collection by the daily milk lorry. Now, new housing has replaced the barns and farmyards, and farm animals are rarely seen within the village itself.

Comprehensive article about West Camel from British History Online

In 1818 the village school was established. It closed in 1948, and primary and junior children now attend Countess Gytha School at nearby Queen Camel. The old school was purchased by the Parochial Church Council for £100 from the Digby Estate, and was used for many church and village activities until the new Davis Hall opened in 2001.

History – Fete 1926

Traditional Village Fetes have been a regular feature of West Camel life. These events raise much needed funds for the upkeep of the Parish Church, as well as providing an enjoyable afternoon for people of all ages, with various side-shows, competitions and refreshments.

The Old Rectory (now a private house) has traces of 15th century work. In its grounds are an old c.15th century tythe-barn and a circular dovecote.

One of the highlights of the village year were Church and Sunday School outings. The forerunner of the modern coach was the ‘charabanc’, which was open-topped, except when it rained. Then a hood was erected.

This Methodist Church “charabanc” was on outing to Weymouth in 1924.

Recently, the old Village Pond in Church Path, which had been filled in some 40–50 years ago, was restored.

Original village pond

The restored village pond

History – c1930

West Camel village centre has not changed a great deal over the years. The photo (1930s?) shows the former Village Stores on the left, and the Globe Inn (now the Walnut Tree Hotel) over the bridge.  The building to the left of the Inn is the Old Bakery, long since demolished. 

There were once two working water-mills in West Camel.  The Higher Mill was near the Village Centre

Notable residents of West Camel include:
Richard Amerike (c. 1445–1503) was a wealthy English born merchant, Royal customs officer and Sheriff of Welsh descent. He was principal owner of John Cabot‘s ship Matthew during a voyage of exploration to North America in 1497.
Elizabeth Benger (1775–1827), poet, novelist, and biographer of Anne Boleyn, was baptised here on 15 June 1775.

With acknowledgement to Wikipedia