AXMINSTER is a parish and small market town, upon a pleasant acclivity on the south-eastern side of the river Axe, near the borders of Dorsetshire, 5 miles N.W. of Lyme Regis, 9 miles E. by S. of Honiton, 25 miles E. by N. of Exeter, and 147 miles W.S.W. of London. The ancient parish includes the tithings of Abbey, Beerhall, Shapwick, Smallridge, Axminster Town. Trill, Uphay, West Water, Weycroft, and Wyke, or Week. It gives name to a poor law union, a county court district, a hundred, a petty sessional division, a polling district of East Devon, and is in Exeter archdeaconry and Dunkeswell rural deanery. Axminster has a station on the London and South Western Railway. The ancient parish comprises the Axminster civil parish in this county, and Beerhall tithing in Dorsetshire; the former had 2852 inhabitants (1394 males and 1458 females) in 1871, living in 535 houses, on 6617 acres of land ; and the latter at the same time had 9 inhabitants (4 males and 5 females), living in 2 houses, on 441 acres of land. Beerhall was annexed to Dorset in 1844 (see page 17). In recent times the tithings were kept distinct for highway purposes only, but this has been rendered unnecessary by the adoption of the Highway Act (see page 29). Axminster ancient parish had 2154 inhabitants in 1801; 2387 in 1811, 2742 in 1821; 2719 in 1831; 2860 in 1841; 2769 in 1851 ; 2918 in 1861, and 2861 in 1871. The parish is generally fertile, and is watered by the river Axe, which abounds in Salmon and other fish, and falls into the sea about six miles south of the town. The manor was in dispute for many years prior to 1871, and was administered under the Court of Chancery, but in that year the suits were wound up, and Henry Knight, Esq., of Cloakham House, Axminster, became the sole proprietor of what were called the Axminster manor and estate. Smallridge estate was held in the reign of William the Conqueror by Ralph de Pomeroy, and afterwards passed to the Mohun, Raleigh. Mallock, and Campion families, the latter of whom sold it to several tenants. Wycroft, or Weycroft, long held by the Wigot, Gobodisleigh, and Dennis families, is now held by Edward Liddon, Esq., of Taunton ; and Lodge, a neighbouring portion of the ancient demesne to John Liddon, Esq., of London. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and others, as trustees of the family of Sir Thomas Brooke, had license in 1426 to castellate Wycroft House, and enclose a park of 800 acres. It was sold, in 1611, to Thomas Bennett, Esq., sheriff of London, who destroyed the park, and suffered the house to fall to ruins, of which there are still a few remains. The estate was afterwards sold to various freeholders. Messrs. Sparkes, Sir G. Baker, Lady Tullock, and many others have estates here.
Axminster had formerly a share of the clothing trade, and in 1753 the late Mr. Thomas Whitty established here a manufactory of carpets, which was discontinued in 1835, after having for many years a high celebrity for the beauty and elegance of its productions: its founder received, in 1750, a premium of £30 from the Society of Arts, for having made the largest and handsomest Turkey carpet that had ever been manufactured in this country, being 261/2 feet by 171/2 feet. Another carpet made here for the Grand Sultan, cost more than £1000. The machinery was removed to Wilton, and part of the factory has since been converted into a dwelling house, and part into the County Court House and offices. At the foot of Castle Hill is a flax factory, which was formerly used as a cloth factory. Markets for provisions are held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and the great market on every alternate Thursday for cattle, sheep, and horses; fairs for cattle are held on the Tuesday after April 25, on Tuesday after June 24, and on the Wednesday after October 10. In the cartulary of Newenham Abbey are transcripts of two charters of King John, confirming the Sunday market, and granting that Axminster should be a free borough, and have a fair for eight days.
King Athelstan gave Axminster church to seven priests, who were to pray for the souls of seven knights and many Saxon soldiers, who were slain near the town in a great battle with the Danes. This battle is supposed to be that of Brunenburg. In October, 1644, Sir Richard Cholmondely was stationed here with a party of the King's horse, and received his death wound in a battle with the Parliamentarians, fought near the town. The manor of Axminster was part of the royal demesne until King John gave it to Lord Briwer or Brewer. Sir Reginald de Mohun, in 1246, gave it to Newham, or Newenham Abbey, which he and his brother founded in this parish for monks of the Cistercian order. A farm house, about a mile from the town, occupies part of the site of this once splendid and richly endowed abbey ; but all that now remains of the monastic buildings are a few mouldering walls. At the dissolution the yearly revenue of the abbey was .£227 7s. 8d., and the site and the manor were granted to the Duke of Norfolk, by whose family they were sold to Lord Petre, in the 17th century.
PETTY SESSIONS for Axminster division (see page 27) are held here every fortnight, and the magistrates usually sitting here are J. T. Still, W. T. Hallett, J. E. F. G. Talbot, J. A. Knight, and R. M. Davy, Esqrs. W. Forward, Esq., is their clerk.
AXMINSTER HIGHWAY BOARD.Herbert Williams, Esq., is treasurer; W. Forward, Esq., clerk; and Mr. J. G. Pinney, surveyor.
The COUNTY COURT is held at the Court House, Axminster, periodically, for a district comprising (in Devon) Axminster, Axmouth, Colyton, Combpyne, Dalwood, Kilmington, Membury, Musbury, Roosdown, Seaton-cum-Beer, Shute, Stockland, and Uplyme; (in Dorset) Catherstone Leweston, Charmouth, Chardstock, Hawkchurch, Lyme Regis, Thorncombe, and Wootton Fitzpaine. Serjeant Petersdorff is judge; W. Forward, Esq., registrar; and J. S. Hellier, high bailiff. The district is within Exeter Bankruptcy Jurisdiction.
AXMINSTER UNION is partly in Dorset, and had 20,059 inhabitants (9538 males and 10,521 females) in 1871, living in 4120 houses, on 61,159 acres of land and water: the parishes whose areas include water are shown in the subjoined table. When the census was taken there were 212 uninhabited houses and 14 building. The total average yearly expenditure of the parishes for the support of their poor during the three years preceding the formation of the union was £10,218; and during the three years ending 1840, £9058. For the year ended Lady-day 1876, it was £13,223. The average weekly cost per head of indoor paupers for food during the year ended Michaelmas 1877, was 2s. 101/2d, and for clothing 6d. The WORKHOUSE at Axminster was built in 1836, at the cost of £7000, but it has been altered and enlarged at the expense of £2500. There were 139 paupers (80 males and 59 females) in April 1871. The Board of Guardians consists of thirty elected members. W. Forward, Esq., is union clerk; the Rev. Jno. Wm. Hanson, chaplain; T. Pickering, master, and Mrs. M. J. Hutchings, matron of the workhouse; Miss M. A. Rockett, nurse; Messrs. S. Griffin, and W. K. Halse, relieving officers. The medical officers are Messrs. Charles Hallett, George Evans, F. A. O'Meara, B. Hodges, H. E. Norris, and R. G. Wollaston. Wm. Forward, Esq., is superintendent registrar, and Mr. John Overmass is his deputy; the registrars are E. Thornton, W. T. Lock, B. Hodges, and G. Evans.
The CHURCH (St. Mary) is a large and venerable structure, displaying several kinds of architecture, with a massive tower rising from the centre. Leland says, this church, once dignified with the name of 'minster,' was famous for the sepultures of many noble Saxons and Danes, slain at Branesdown and Colecroft. Some parts of the edifice have the appearance of great antiquity, particularly a Saxon doorway, that has been removed from the south side to the- eastern end of the south aisle. The east window is enriched with stained glass. The advowson of the vicarage, the appropriation of the rectory, to Which is attached the manor of Prestaller, were given by Edward I. as part of the endowment of the Prebendaries of Warthill and Grindal, in York Cathedral, as they still remain. The church was repaired in 1871, and contains three sedilia and a piscina. In the chancel are two recumbent effigies, one supposed to represent Gervase de Prestaller, first vicar of Axminster in the 12th century, and the other Alice, wife of Reginald de Mohun, Earl of Somerset, lord of Axminster-manor in the 13th century. The living is a vicarage, with the chapelries of Kilmington and Membury annexed, valued in K.B. at £44 6s. 8d., in the alternate patronage of the two Prebendaries, and in the incumbency of the Rev. William Bulmer Bailey. The living is now under sequestration, the curate in charge being the Rev, John William Hanson. The tithes of Axminster are commutedÑ the rectorial of Axminster at £670 10s., of Kilmington for £100, and of Membury for £?4:16s., making a total of .61035 6s.; the vicarial tithes of Axminster are commuted at £608 13.s. 4d. (out of which All Saints' in Chardstock in Dorset has an endowment of £30 2s. 6d.), Kilmington for £240, and Membury £336, making a total of £1184 13s. 4d. The representatives of the Very Rev. W. D. Conybeare, late Dean of Llandaff, are lessees of the latter. The vicarage house is a modem building.
The INDEPENDENT CHAPEL was built in 1828, in lieu of the old Presbyterian meeting house, founded in 1698. The WESLEYAN CHAPEL was built in 1796, and the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHAPEL (St. Mary) was erected in 1830 and rebuilt in 1862. The cost of the erection of the latter, including residence for the priest, was about £3000, chiefly contributed by the Knight family. Three windows are filled with stained glass, and the chapel contains a fine-toned organ,
The CEMETERY, on the Chard Road, is about half a mile from the churchyard, and comprises 11/2 acre of land, nearly an acre of which is consecrated. The cost of the formation of the cemetery was about £1100. William Forward, Esq. is clerk to the Board.
The SCHOOL BOARD was formed in March 1874, and the present Board consists of Capt. E. C. Forward (chairman), Mr. William Pulman (vice), and Messrs. C. H. Ewens, C. H. Parrett, and Reuben Swain. William Forward, Esq. is clerk. A School for boys, girls, and infants was built in 1876 at a cost of about £3600, to accommodate 425 children. The SOUTH AXMINSTER NATIONAL SCHOOL was built in 1875, and opened in January 1876, the cost of its erection being defrayed by subscription, aided by a grant from the National Society. Accommodation is provided for 70 mixed scholars, who are under Government inspection. A Sunday School is held here in the afternoon, except on the second Sunday in the month when divine service is held. The ROMAN CATHOLICS have a day school here.
Axminster was the birthplace of John Prince, author of ' The Worthies,' who was born in 1643 at the farm-house occupying a part of the site of Newenham Abbey, and now called ' Prince's Abbey.' He was educated at Brazenose College, Oxford, and his first curacy was that of Bideford. He was afterwards elected minister of St. Martin's Church, Exeter; about 1675 he became vicar of Totnes; and in 1681 vicar of Berry Pomeroy, where he remained until his death in 1723. Bean Buckland, a noted geologist in his day, was born here in 1784.
Pulman's Weekly News and Advertiser newspaper was established in 1857, and is issued on Tuesdays at Axminster and Crewkerne. The 'Book of the Axe,' by G. P. R. Pulman, contains a history of all the parishes and noteworthy objects along the banks of the river that meanders through this charming valley.
AXMINSTER PARISH CHARITIES. Some of these are vested in feoffees for the use of the poor, by deeds dated the 19th James I., and February 10, 1679, and comprise by modern admeasurement 19A. 1R. 1p., of which 2A. 0R. 8p. have lately been sold to Mr. Spottiswoode, under the sanction of the Charity Commissioners; the purchase money being invested in £514 11s. 8d. Consols. The remainder of these lands is now let for .£34 per annum. There are further under the feoffee management two principal sums invested in the purchase of £489 and £240 Stock, realised, it is believed, from the sale of some of the feoffee charity property, situated at Honiton and at Axminster, and producing dividends of £21 17s. 4d. per annum; ,1 building in Chard Street, Axminster, let for £5 a year; and two tenements, also in Chard Street, occupied by poor persons, from whom no rent is obtained; the realised income of all which is now distributed to the poor in clothing, about Christmas annually, by the feoffees, now ten in number. The house, formerly used as the parish workhouse, was given by Walter Younge in 1612. The churchwardens administer the other charities, namely, a yearly rent-charge of £5 out of Hamclose, left by John Younge in 1612, distributed in shirts and shifts among poor old men and women. For a similar distribution annually among 20 poor parishioners, Leonard Peream left £100 in 1711. Of this legacy £60 was laid out in the purchase of 11/2 acre, called the Brickfield, or Stagmoor, and now let for £10 a year. The remaining £40, with £5 left by Ann Seriven, is secured at interest on the tolls of the Bridport Turnpike, and 4s. of the interest is laid out in bread, and distributed to 8 widows annually on St. Luke's Day, the remainder in clothing for general distribution. The poor have also the interest of £100 left by John Ellard in 1815, and a rent-charge of 20s. a year, left by Thomas Whittv in 1713. Ann Palmer's Charity, which was a rent-charge of £5 a year, out of 12A. of land at Week, has not been realised for some years, nor has 20s. a year given by John Sampson in 1618 out of lands in Membury, called Bathcote. Till the formation of the Board Schools in 1874, and the erection of the extensive elementary school buildings, the free school for 12 poor boys and girls of Axminster, and 2 of Kilmington, which was endowed with about 71/2 acres of land (then estimated 6A.) at Kilmington, (purchased in 1746 with £100 given by Penelope Saffin and other donors), and with 2 acres given by the parishioners of Kilmington, has been closed, and, under the direction of the Charity Commissioners, the income of the charity is now applied as follows:the rent of 2 acres in payment of school fees of deserving poor children of Kilmington at any public elementary school there ; £15, being the present rent of the residue of the real estate of the charity containing about 7A. 2R. 30p. in the payment of the school fees of like children of Axminster at any public elementary school there; and the surplus rent, if any, of the last-mentioned property, towards the support of the Church of England Sunday School at Axminster.
POST, MONEY ORDER, and TELEGRAPH, and GOVERNMENT ANNUITY and INSURANCE OFFICE, and SAVINGS' BANK at Mrs. Mary E. Tapscott's, Victoria place. Letters from London are delivered at 7 a.m, and 2.5 p.m., and despatched to London and the North at 10.55; to London, 2.30; London and all parts, 6.25p.m.; to Exeter at 2.30 p.m., and Lyme Regis and Bridport at 12.55 a.m. and. 10 p.m. Sunday delivery at 7 a.m. Money orders are granted and paid from 9.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., and on Saturdays also from 7 to 8 p.m. Telegraph business from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. week days and Sundays from 8 to 10 a.m. There is a WALL LETTER Box in Lyme road, cleared at 6 p.m. week days only.