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Chard (St. Mary)

CHARD (St. Mary), a borough, market-town, and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Kingsbury-East, W. division of Somerset, 12 miles (S. E. by S.) from Taunton, and 139 (W. S. W.) from London; comprising the tythings of Forton and Tatworth; and containing 5788 inhabitants, of whom 2877 are in the borough, 1331 in the tything of Old Chard, 517 in Crim-Chard, and 471 in South Chard. This was a place of considerable importance during the heptarchy, and was by the Saxons called Cerdre (subsequently Cherde or Cerde), a name supposed to be derived from Cerdic, the founder of the kingdom of Wessex. In the 14th of Edward I. it was incorporated by Bishop Joslin, who set apart fifty-two acres out of his manor of Cherde, which he constituted the borough, giving leave for any person to settle here except Turk or Jew. It made eight returns of members to parliament, the franchise being exercised until the 2nd of Edward III., when the privilege was discontinued. In the civil war of the seventeenth century a battle took place, in which a party of royalists, under the command of Colonel Penruddock, was defeated.

The town is situated at the southern extremity of the county, and upon the highest ground between the Bristol and English Channels, both of which are visible from Windwhistle Hill, about three miles to the east. It is in a flourishing state, and consists principally of two streets, intersecting each other, and lighted with gas; the houses are in general well built, and the inhabitants are supplied with water conveyed by leaden pipes into four conduits, from a spring at its western extremity, which furnishes a clear stream of water running through it. A handsome and commodious hotel, called the Chard Arms, has been erected in the Fore-street, at an expense of £5000. The clothing-trade was formerly the staple trade of the town, but it has been almost superseded by the manufacture of lace, for which several large works have been built within a few years, and which at one time employed 1500 of the inhabitants; this also is now on the decrease. Two attempts to find coal have been made in the vicinity, one in 1793, the other in 1827, when, after boring to the depth of 378 feet, without penetrating through the lias formation, the operations were discontinued: the stone found is chiefly flint, which is used for building. A branch canal to the town from the Taunton and Bridgwater canal, near Creech St. Michael, was lately completed at a cost of about £70,000: in 1846, however, an act was passed for converting a large portion of the bed of the canal into a railway. The market is on Monday, and is noted for the sale of corn, potatoes, and various other commodities: the fairs are on the first Wednesdays in May, August, and November; and there are four great cattle-markets, namely, on the first Monday in December, the second Mondays in January and February, and the third Monday in March. The ancient assize hall, used as a market-house, the shambles, and the town-hall (originally a chapel dedicated to St. Stephen), which stood in the centre of the Forestreet, have been removed; and an elegant structure comprising a town-hall, market-house, and butchery, has been erected on the south side of the same street, at an expense of more than £3000, from a design by Mr. R. Carver, architect, of Taunton. The town was formerly governed by a portreeve and twelve burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk, two bailiffs, and a constable; but by the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the corporation now consists of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors; the mayor and late mayor are justices of the peace. The powers of the county debtcourt of Chard, established in 1847, extend over part of the registration-district of Chard. A petty-session is held monthly at the hotel.

The parish comprises about 5400 acres, nearly equally divided between arable and pasture land. The Living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £36. 18. 9.; patron, the Bishop of Bath and Wells: the vicarial tithes have been commuted for £520, and those of the impropriator for £322; there are four acres of glebe, of which one belongs to the vicar, who has also a house in good repair. The church is a handsome cruciform structure, with a low tower at the west end. In the north-east corner of the south transept is a splendid monument having the effigies of William Brewer, M.D., and his wife, kneeling before an altar, with their family of eleven children behind them; and in the south corner of the same transept, and various parts of the church, are other handsome monuments. The edifice was repaired and enlarged in 1830. A second church has been erected at Tatworth. There are places of worship for Particular Baptists, Independents. and Wesleyans; also a school established by the portreeve and burgesses, to whom a house and field were devised by William Symes, of Pounsford, in 1671. An almshouse for poor people, which has been rebuilt, was founded in 1668, by Richard Harvey, who endowed it with estates producing about £300 per annum. The union of Chard comprises thirtyfour parishes or places, of which thirty-two are in Somerset, and one in each of the counties of Devon and Dorset; and contains a population of 26,609: the union-house forms a striking object at the eastern entrance into the town, on the London road. A few years since, a beautiful tessellated pavement was discovered on the road to Taunton, leading to a Roman encampment called the Castle of Neroche, about six miles from the town; and, in 1831, the gardener of Henry Host Henley, Esq., of Leigh House, in the vicinity, dug up in the garden a Roman urn, containing a number of gold coins of the Emperor Claudius.

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