Portrait of a Parish - Page 1

General Description

The rolling hills of Somerset present continual surprises. Neither high nor dramatic, they are folds created by the streams that twist and turn to feed into the River Avon. The main roads carrying heavy traffic north and south across the county bypass, and even at the turn of the 20th century there are pockets of tranquillity; secret valleys which shelter many small hamlets and villages.

To the casual eye, Monkton Combe is just such a hamlet, in just such a valley. No road of significance leads to it; only three narrow and winding lanes run down from Combe Down, the highest and most southerly outpost of Bath. At times no more than one car's-width, they are still more suited to horse and cart than the automobile. Pedestrians have to hug the hedge when a car comes along, and cyclists need to be brave. An oddly shaped parish, as the plan shows.

map showing village boundaries

Monkton Combe is about two miles from east to west and one mile from north to south. The main concentration of houses, such as it is, runs, like the Midford Brook, along the bottom of the valley. The hamlet itself has no claim to glamour or distinction; it is not a 'postcard village'. It is simply a concentration of cottages, houses and a large independent school, its scatter of outlying houses and farmland intermingled with pastures that graze sheep and dairy cattle.

The best place to gain a reasonably comprehensive view of the original village is a seat placed by the parish council to commemorate the first one hundred years of the existence of the parish. Thoughtfully sited at the top of one of the steep footpaths, known locally as drungs or drongs, it gives welcome relief to those hardy enough to tackle the one-in-five climb from the village church to a point on Shaft Road, roughly midway between the village proper and Combe Down. From this seat you look over green pastureland and the one through road, to the far side of the Midford brook and the southerly boundary, with a brick smokestack that stands sentry over what was once a small flock mill, and the sluice that originally powered the mill-race. From left to right - or east to west - runs the main street of the village, and from this height it seems to be just that; a curving and continuous row of houses and cottages leading to the church and graveyard. A closer look gives the game away: to the east the 'cottages' metamorphose into the more substantial premises of Monkton Combe School. The 'village' is, in large part, not village at all, but school. The houses are mainly school houses or houses owned or occupied by members of the school's staff. This hodgepodge of buildings, acquired, adapted, or purpose-built over a hundred years, intrudes less on a village scene than if they had been planned as a whole initially. The parish, stretching some considerable distance farther than can be seen from the welcome seat with its delightful views, also includes feats of engineering - an aqueduct and two viaducts - hotels, small businesses, numerous sports facilities, woods, fields and watercourses. No century has seen more changes than the twentieth century, but 'history' is the summation of a myriad of individual lives and minor local incidents.

General Description: page 1 - page 2 - page 3

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)

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