Tatworth & Forton

The Parish Past & Present


THE MODERN PARISH

The main centre of population in the parish lies two miles south of Chard although Forton is actually closer to Chard. The parish is roughly triangular in shape measuring 3.5 miles west to east and 4 miles north to south. It is the most south-westerly parish in Somerset bordered on the east by the River Axe and Dorset and on the south and west by Devon. There are about 1100 households in the parish and a resident population of over 2500.

Despite much new house building between the hamlets of South Chard, Perry Street and Tatworth the area retains its rural character. The parish is a dispersed one with Forton being almost two miles away and there are also a number of outlying dwellings and farms. The parish lacks a village centre and few can say with confidence whether they live in Tatworth, Perry Street or South Chard or indeed where one ends and the other begins. Three churches serve the local community: St John the Evangelist in Tatworth, South Chard Church and the Strict Baptist Chapel in South Chard. There is a Post Office and Stores combined,  a newsagent and two pubs, each one in different parts of the parish. This makes it difficult to create a sense of community particularly as the people in Forton have no church or other amenities in their part of the parish. There are three major employers in the parish and many small businesses. There is a sheltered housing development in South Chard.

The Residents' Action Group (RAG) with active members from all areas of the parish helps to create a strong sense of community. RAG produces a free bi-monthly parish newsletter called The Drift (after the track connecting Tatworth, Perry Street and South Chard with Forton) which gives lots of information on local news and events. The Drift is funded by grants and donations. Other RAG projects include an Active Living programme, Community Speedwatch, CEMenT (an emergency management initiative), a Health and Wellbeing Centre, Public Transport, care of the local Environment and also local Walks. This website is a RAG project.

Tatworth Memorial Hall acts as an effective centre for the residents. Meetings of RAG, the Parish Council and other organisations are held there and it also hosts many other activities. The Memorial Hall organises Tatworth and Forton Movies which is very popular showing entertaining films each month, a really good social event.

The Parish Path Liaison Officer regularly surveys local rights of way in the parish and submits reports to the Somerset Rights of Way team and local parish meetings. Problems are reported and repairs to stiles etc. carried out. Feedback from the public is greatly appreciated helping to ensure that the footpaths in the parish are in a satisfactory condition. Contact: Sandra Beattie, 22 Staples Meadow, Tatworth. Tel: 01460 221807

Tatworth and Forton Parish Council.  There are twelve elected Councillors assisted by a Parish Clerk. The Council meets in the Memorial Hall at least twelve time each year, usually on the first Thursday of the month. Contact: The Parish Office: Tel: 01460 221066

The community is forward thinking and there are number of initiatives which are designed to address issues of our times

Managing Emergencies
The Community Emergency Management Team ( CEMenT) is current initiative. All parishes have been asked by Government to form a team of local parish residents who, in the event of a serious emergency such as a local train or air crash, an epidemic or flooding, can help to sustain their community until such time as the emergency services can arrive. In Tatworth and Forton there is a team who have identified and organised resources and have access to temporary accommodation and some storage facilities for equipment.

Chard and Tatworth First Responders
Residents of our community are fortunate to have a "First Responders" team.This is a group of well trained volunteers who respond to specific 999 call emergencies within their local community. They can provide basic life support and defibrillation until an ambulance arrives.

Living in the community they can reach a patient quickly, particularly in rural areas. A patient who suffers a cardiac arrest has an 85% chance of survival if they are defibrillated immediately; these odds decrease by 10% with every minute that passes without treatment. The team attend a wide variety of illness, epilepsy, falls, strokes, breathing problems as well as heart attacks and cardiac arrest.  Each call out is followed by an ambulance which is despatched at the same time. The volunteers re-train every three months and are lucky enough to have a dedicated responder vehicle, paid for by a grant via the Parish Council and donations from local people. Unfortunately, there are not enough volunteers at present to give cover 24/7. 

Acknowledgement:  Our thanks to the authors of the Parish Plan for allowing us to use some of the content of their description of the modern parish.

 A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PARISH 

The current civil Parish was created in 1986 from several hamlets which were once separate: Tatworth, South Chard, Perry Street, Chard Junction and Forton. The first three merged during the 18th century. Chard Junction dates from the coming of the railway in the Victorian era.

However the history of this pretty part of South Somerset goes back much further than this, to Roman Britain. A Roman villa was situated in South Chard. Both Tatworth and Forton were farming settlements in Saxon times. Their names are probably derived from the Saxon "Tata's worth" ( the enclosure of Tata, probably a local tribal leader) and "Ford tun" ( the homestead by the crossing place).

During the Norman era, a Chapel of Ease dedicated to St Margaret was built in St Margaret's Lane, South Chard. This chapel was the earliest place of worship in the village and may have been associated with pilgrims on their way to Lyme bound for Santiago de Compostela.

Medieval agricultural prosperity led to the construction of some of the buildings that still survive throughout the parish, cob and thatch long houses, some being "manors" and others being farms or "bartons".


By Tudor times small-scale industry had appeared including milling, glove making and especially woollen cloth weaving. In due course these activities developed into lace and net manufacture and mills appeared at Forton, Blacklands and Perry Street. The Industrial Revolution and railway age established more factories and village expansion thus giving the area the character we see today. The 20th century saw consolidation of development and, despite the closure of the Chard branch railway line from Chard Junction in 1962, new housing estates filled in many of the remaining open spaces.

Some ancient routes pass through the parish which are of continuing interest to archaeologists. The oldest is the Fosse Way built by the Romans soon after their invasion of Britain in the first century AD. The Fosse Way stretched from Lyme Bay to the Humber and divided "Romanised" lowland Britain from the upland regions still to be tamed by incoming legions. The name "Fosse" or "Foss" comes from the Saxon for "ditch" or " defensive embankment". In the parish this road is now followed by the B3167 through Perry Street and South Chard.


Another ancient road dating from mediaeval times was the old pack-horse way once called the "Cloth Road" ( now the B3162) through Forton. Along this way wool traders carried their goods to Bridport and then on to West Bay harbour. A third very straight track known as The Drift was created at the time of the "enclosures" in the 19th century to give local farmers access to their newly-created fields.

An even more recent route through the parish runs along the line of the old railway from Chard to Chard Junction. This is the "Stop Line" , a defensive barrier created during the Second World War from Seaton to the Severn estuary at Burnham effectively cutting off the South West peninsula in the event of a German invasion on the Devon coast. The route is marked by lines of pill boxes and "dragons' teeth" concrete bollards. Many of these still survive and their preservation is of keen interest.

In recent times people made a living from farming anything from 20 to 80 acres, keeping a herd of 50 cows or less. The milk was either collected in 10 gallon churns or taken to the dairy at Chard by horse and "putt". Cows and calves once walked to market in Chard or Axminster. Another source of income came from fattening free range hens and poultry for Christmas. Seasonal work such as haymaking was rewarded by a few pints of cider and a bread and cheese supper.

There are many springs in the area, one of which rises in the ancient water meadow called Stowell Meadow, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Following the commons enclosure in the early part of the 19th century Stowell Meadow in Tatworth remained common land. The farmers with grazing rights agreed to let this watercress meadow annually. Every year an unusual custom called "Stowell Court" is still held at The Poppe Inn, one of the oldest inns in the county. Certain properties in the parish retain the right to Stowell Meadow and their owners attend an annual auction at The Poppe Inn. One inch of candle is lit in a securely locked room and the bidding begins. Bidding ends when the flame expires and the last bidder has the meadow for one year. This possibly unique custom has become a symbol of the parish and is represented on the Tatworth and Forton Jubilee Parish Plan logo.

Acknowledgement:  Our thanks to the authors of the Parish Plan for allowing us to draw on the content of their history section.

Tatworth & Forton