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North Petherton is a small town in Somerset, England, situated on the edge of the eastern foothills of the Quantocks, and close to the edge of the Somerset Levels. The town has a population of 5,190 (2002 estimate). Dating from at least the 10th century and an important settlement in Saxon times, North Pertherton only became a town in the late 20th century, until then claiming to be the largest village in England.
The town is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Nortperet. The name derives from the area's location to the north side of the River Parrett. A former market and administrative centre, North Petheron is now largely a dormitory town for workers in Bridgwater (3 miles to the north east) and Taunton (8 miles to the south west). The centre of the town is designated an Area of High Archaeological Potential (AHAP), and a number of buildings have been given listed building status.
North Petherton is situated on one of the historic communication routes through Somerset, and a turnpike through the town was opened between Bridgwater and Taunton in the 1730s. The opening of the nearby M5 motorway in the 1970s which relieved major traffic jams on the A38 through the town, also added to the attraction of the town for commuters and has consequently lead to the construction of several new housing estates. In 1984 the town was provided with a small public library. As a result of a revitalised fund-raising campaign (originally begun decades earlier), this was followed a few years later by the construction of a Community Centre which has since been extended.
The town boasts the minster church of St Mary the Virgin, with a highly decorated tower which, at 120 feet / 36m high, is claimed to be one of the tallest towers in the West Country. The building is mainly dated from the 15th century, with a minstrel gallery from 1623, a peel of six bells, and a clock built in Bridgwater in 1807.
The Walnut Tree (rebranded in the 1970s from the Clarence Hotel, and before that as the New Inn) which now provides the only hotel accommodation in the town, was formerly in competition with the George Hotel (now the George Inn), where monthly petty sessions (court hearings) were formerly held.
Trade and Industry
North Petherton was the first town in England (and one of the only ones) to be lit by acetylene gas lighting, supplied by the North Petherton Rosco Acetylene Company (dating from at least 1898), operating from a plant in Mill Lane which has since been demolished to form a carpark for the local doctor's surgery. The adjacent church was the first building supplied, no doubt acting as a useful advert. Street lights were provided in 1906. Acetylene was replaced in 1931 by coal gas produced in Bridgwater, as well as by the provision of an electricity supply.
In the past the town hosted a Starkey Knight and Ford brewery on Fore Street (demolished in the late 1960s), several maltings, a light engineering works (Trig Engineering, since moved to Bridgwater), and in earlier times at least 7 watermills.
Basket making and the manufacture of associated products including wicker furniture, was also a significant industry, at one time employing over 100 people in small factories and homes, until its decline in the second half of the 20th century. The products were distributed nationally via the railway station at Bridgwater. Nearby King's Cliff formerly provided a source of building stone for the town dating from at least Medieval times. The production of cloth and leather goods also used to take place in the town, the former being commemorated in the name of the road known as Dyer's Green.
Local employment is now largely restricted to service businesses and farming. The extensive cider orchards that used to surround much of the town in the 19th century had largely dissapeared by the end of the 20th.
Parish of North Petherton
The Civil parish of North Petherton includes the villages of North Newton (on the route of the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal) and Northmoor Green (also known as Moorland) in the Somerset Levels, as well as a number of other smaller settlements. Despite several reductions in size, with land redesignated to neighbouring parishes, North Petherton remains one of the largest parishes in Somerset at 43 square km (16 square miles), and the largest in Sedgemoor.
Royal Forest of North Petherton
The former Royal Forest (hunting ground) of North Petherton dated from long before the Norman Conquest until the 17th century, and was expanded by Henry II. Geoffrey Chaucer (~1343-1400), author of The Canterbury Tales was appointed Deputy Forester of the Royal Forest of North Petherton towards the end of his life.
Hundred of North Petherton
The Royal Forest was probably similar in area to the Saxon Hundred of North Petherton. At the time of the Norman invasion the Hundred covered a large area corresponding, today, roughly to a north-south corridor along the M5 motorway from Junction 25 near Taunton, to north of Junction 23 at Stretcholt , and east-west from Athelney to Goathurst .
The Alfred Jewel
The Alfred jewel, an object about 2-1/2" long, made of filigreed gold, cloisonne-enameled and with a rock crystal covering, was found at Petherton Park, North Petherton. Believed to have been owned by Alfred the Great it is thought to have been the handle for a pointer that would have fit into the hole at its base and been used while reading a book. It is inscribed, "AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN," ("Alfred had me made"). It may be one of the "aestels" Alfred had sent to each bishopric with a copy of his translation of Pope Gregory the Great's book Pastoral Care. A replica of the jewel can be found in the church of St Mary.
- South Petherton
- Forests in the United Kingdom
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