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Shepton-Mallet (St. Peter and St. Paul)

SHEPTON-MALLET (St. Peter and St. Paul), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Whitestone, E. division of Somerset, 14 miles (N. E.) from Somerton, and 125 (W. by S.) from London; containing, with the hamlet of Charlton-Woodlands, and part of that of Oakhill, 5265 inhabitants. The origin of this town is traceable to the early part of the 14th century, the charter for its market having been granted by Edward II. in the 11th year of his reign. The manor, at the time of the Norman survey, was subordinate to that of Pilton, which had been conferred by King Ina upon the abbot of Glaston; and its sheep pastures, from which it is supposed to derive its name, are noticed in that record: the additional appellation, Mallet, was received from the barons Mallet, lords of Shepton in the reigns of Henry I., Stephen, and Henry II. The consequences of the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion were severely felt in this part; and thirteen persons of the town, having been convicted at the "bloody western assizes," suffered here for their participation in that enterprise.

The town is situated chiefly on the southern bank of a deep valley, and consists of a number of streets and lanes, the principal of which, crossing the valley from north to south, is spacious and well built; the others are mostly narrow and irregular. The erection of a bridge, and the opening of a new road, have materially improved the place. It is adequately supplied with water, and a stream runs through the bottom of the valley, turning several mills in its course; the manufacture of woollen-goods, silk, lace, stockings, sailcloth, and hair-seating, is carried on to a considerable extent. The parish comprises a portion of the Mendip range of hills, prior to the inclosure of which lead-ore was obtained. The market-days are Tuesday and Friday, the latter for all kinds of agricultural produce. The marketcross, a fine old structure erected by Walter and Agnes Buckland in 1500, originally consisted of only five arches; but it has lately undergone a thorough renovation, funds having been left by the founders to keep it in repair, and a sixth arch has been added: elevated above two rows of steps is an hexagonal pillar, ornamented with niches, and supporting a flat roof surmounted by a pyramidal spire. The fairs are on Easter-Monday, the 18th of June, and 8th of August. The management of the local affairs is vested in a high constable and subordinate officers, who are chosen at a court leet in October, by the householders generally; and a court for the recovery of debts under £2 has been held from time immemorial. The county bridewell or house of correction, capable of receiving from 200 to 300 prisoners, is in the town.

The living is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £33. 12. 1., and in the alternate patronage of the Queen in right of the duchy of Cornwall, and the Rev. Provis Wickham; net income, £533. The church is a venerable cruciform pile, with two small chapels attached; the roof of the nave is curiously wrought, and the pulpit and font, which are of stone, are much admired. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Wesleyans, and Roman Catholics; and the nuns of the order of the Visitation have a convent here with about 30 inmates. The free school, established by Sir George Strode and others, in 1639, is endowed with property producing about £75 per annum. Four boys are educated, and an apprentice-fee of £7 given with each from a charity founded by Mr. John Curtis in 1730, now yielding about £20 per annum; and sixteen girls are clothed and educated from the produce of a bequest made by Mrs. Mary Gapper in 1783. Almshouses for four men were endowed in 1699, by Edward Strode, with property now worth about £360 a year, of which £80 are appropriated to the inmates, and about £200 to the purchase of bread for general distribution among the indigent. The union of Shepton-Mallet comprises 24 parishes or places, containing a population of 17,805. The Roman fosse-way to Ilchester ran through the parish, eastward of the town; and in 1840 some Roman urns were discovered in digging on Lapwing Farm, by Mr. Rugg, who, in prosecuting the search, found several others, in all about fourteen. Shepton-Mallet is the birth-place of Hugh Inge, chancellor of Ireland, who died in 1528; and of Walter Charlton, an eminent physician, author of a work on Stonehenge, and other productions.


Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.