What were the Quantocks like in Medieval times?

The population went on growing, but there more than enough land for the people living in farms and hamlets on the hills. People used hilly, wooded parts of the Quantocks for keeping sheep and cattle. There were plenty of enclosed pasture fields and twice as much common land as today. In some places, people had the right to use the common for grazing, collecting turf, furze and stones.

  • Deer running through Holford Combe, an unchanged sight for centuries.

The woodland could be used for grazing too. People made rabbit warrens (conygers) on the lower slopes of the hills. Deer still lived on the Quantocks in medieval times and were hunted for sport. They were kept in parks with deep banks and fences to stop them escaping or being stolen.

The countryside was divided into manor estates, which were run from the manor house where the lord and his household lived.

Archaeologists have studied the remains of the manor buildings at Kilve which belonged to the de Furneaux family. This is what they think it looked like.

  • Reconstruction picture of Kilve Manor.

The manor enclosure was next to the church. The main building is the hall where people met to eat and where the family had their private rooms. Joining it on the right is the family’s private chapel. They also had a chapel in the church. The building near the hall is the kitchen, kept separate because of the fire risk. The other round building is a dove cote. There would have been a brewhouse, bakehouse, stables, cowsheds, pigsties and storage barns. Beyond the wooden fence was the manor orchard and garden for vegetables, herbs, flowers, apples, pears and nut trees like chestnuts and hazels.

You can see the manor fishponds just outside the walls of the enclosure. As well as meat, people ate a lot of fish and owning a fishpond was a sign of prosperity. The manor was the hub of the estate, and people had to come past it to get to the sea, the deer park, the warrens and even the church.

Around the villages were large unfenced fields. These open fields were divided into strips owned by different people. People who didn’t have their own land depended on being able to use the common land.

The villagers all had to work together to farm these fields. They rotated the crops to get the best from the land and grew wheat, beans and peas, and barley. They also kept cattle, oxen, pigs, hens, ducks and geese.

Gradually people started putting hedges round some of the strips to make small fields where they could put sheep.

  • These irregular-shaped fields round Bicknoller show the shape of the old strips.

In the 14th century, the population of the Quantocks fell. People stopped bothering to cultivate the most awkward fields, and the trees soon grew back. But, for the first time they started farming on the very top of the hill. They ploughed the land and grew rye. Today, nobody grows crops on the high ground, it is left as heathland.

East Quantoxhead manor estate was very large and had a deer park, fish ponds and rabbit warrens. Although the field shapes and sizes have altered slightly, the boundaries of the estate are the same as they were in Medieval times.

  • The boundaries of the Medieval deer park at East Quantoxhead is shown in yellow, and the purple spots show where there used to be rabbit warrens
  • East Quantoxhead Manor Estate Map. The green area is the deer park and the purple spots show the rabbit warrens on the lower slopes of the hill.  The circles are farms and hamlets.
  • This old map of East Quantoxhead Manor shows four connected fishponds where fish were grown.