Portrait of a Parish - Page 3

General Description

To reach the southernmost boundary one turns down between the westerly end of the school and the village pub, the Wheelwrights Arms, past the stone lock-up that once provided temporary accommodation for local delinquents; mostly drunks. Two small rows of charming and, in season, flowery cottages lead past the former mill house to the Midford Brook. The mill is now a rambling complex of old buildings that form a mini-enterprise zone. Where cloth was once produced, furniture and carpets are now stored and sold, fireplaces made from local stone, and 'classic' Morris Minor cars lovingly repaired and renovated. A model of evolutionary progress, they have changed hands and use, many times since the land's inclusion in the Domesday survey, but still fulfil a role. The parish boundary follows the brook east to the imposing eleven-arch viaduct carrying the main road from Bath to Warminster and the coast; and west to Tucking  Mill, which is the southwest parish boundary. Its name is all that remains of another small rural enterprise: here there was once a thriving fuller's earth works, but it is now a wholly peaceful scene. A lake, beneath a towering railway viaduct now unused, is reserved for the sole use of disabled fishermen, and only birdsong supplements its peace.

But back to the village. The church at the western end of the village street was once surrounded by a farm. The farmhouse itself is now Monks' Retreat, a retirement home, and next to it, at the foot of Summer Lane, a barn and other former farm buildings have recently been converted to make more dwelling houses. On the southerly side of the church a row of still simple and attractive cottages adjoins a block of apartments built on the site of yet more one-time farm buildings, and the village brewery, long since gone. All look outwards across the Midford Valley. To the north, two rows of former council houses, South View, with their terraced gardens, overlook the village car park and children's playground at the side of a substantial village hall. The associated gardens are cared for by village volunteers. The oldest-established inhabitants of the village live in South View, and all the evidence suggests that they are also the best gardeners. Summer Lane is the western road leading up from the village to Combe Down, and part of it falls within the parish boundary. There are only two more houses on this side and both of them have ecclesiastical connections. The last vicar, Percy Warrington, lived at Westfield House, and was also said to be instrumental in the building of neighbouring Monkton Court, intended originally as a seminary. This entire area is rich in souvenirs of the past. Over the viaduct and beyond the brook ran the Somerset and Dorset railway - known locally as the Slow and Dirty - which superseded the Somerset Coal Canal. Both are now no more than nostalgic gleams in the eye of the industrial archaeologist.

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