Axbridge (St. John the Baptist)

AXBRIDGE (St. John the Baptist), a market-town and parish, having separate jurisdiction, and the head of a union, locally in the hundred of Winterstoke, E. division of Somerset, 18 miles (S. by W.) from Bristol, and 130 (W. by S.) from London; containing 1045 inhabitants. This place, which derives its name from a bridge over the river Axe, was formerly the residence of some of the West Saxon monarchs, by whom it was invested with many privileges. The town is of mean appearance, and indifferently paved, but amply supplied with water. The chief occupation of the poorer class of inhabitants was the knitting of stockings, but that trade was destroyed by the introduction of machinery, and the prosperity of the town declined until a fresh impulse was given to it by the drainage of the adjacent levels, which so much increased the value of the property in the neighbourhood, that land which previously was reckoned worth only 2s. 6d., is now let for £5 and £6 per acre. The navigation of the river Axe also has been greatly improved by an act obtained in 1802, and is now toll-free. The market is on Saturday; fairs for cattle are held on February 3rd, and March 25th, and day following.

Axbridge received its first charter of incorporation from Philip and Mary in 1556, but this was superseded by one granted by Elizabeth in 1598, the defects of which were supplied by a charter of James I., and these two last have been the governing charters. The corporate body consists of a mayor, recorder, alderman, eight capital burgesses or councillors, and an indefinite number of free burgesses; and a bailiff, townclerk and prothonotary, chamberlain, and several other officers, are also appointed. The corporation hold a court of quarter-sessions, a court of pie-poudre during the fairs, and, as lords of the manor, a court baron once a year, generally in October. A new guildhall and market-house has been erected by the corporation, at a cost, including the improvements connected with it, of about £1800. Axbridge sent members to parliament in the 23rd of Edward I., but discontinued in the 17th of Edward III., on petition of the burgesses. The parish comprises 541a. 2r. 30p., of which 73 acres are estimated to be covered with buildings and water, and 212 are waste and unproductive except as sheep pasture: the Mendip hill, close to the town, abounds with limestone of excellent quality for building and for burning into lime. The living is a discharged rectory, valued in the king's books at £11. 4. 4., and in the patronage of the Bishop of Bath and Wells: the tithes have been commuted for £62. 3., and the glebe comprises 36 acres. The church is a very ancient structure, occupying an elevated situation on the north-eastern side of the town, and supposed to have been erected by one of the West Saxon monarchs, two of whose statues formerly ornamented the tower. There is a place of worship for Wesleyans. About £100 per annum, arising from lands bequeathed by different individuals, are applied to the relief of the poor. The union of Axbridge comprises 38 parishes and places, and contains a population of 32,206. Near the town is a mineral spring, which has been found efficacious in chronic diseases.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.