The Old Vicarage, St Mary Street

Bridgwater was founded as a town in the year 1200. It was presumably then that most of the old streets were laid out, and the land in between divided into long narrow strips, each being called a ‘Burgage’. Houses would be built on the street front, while long gardens stretched out behind. The modern Old Vicarage, on the south side of St Mary Street, is made up of five medieval burgages. Given the location of the Old Vicarage, these plots on prime town land will probably have been in use since 1200, if not before.

A reconstruction overlay of the original Burgage plot boundaries, presumably dating to c.1200
The Old Vicarage outlined here in red.

The earliest mention of the building is to the eastern-most part (1 above), which has the attractive shop frontage. On 5 February 1296 the owner, Jordan Parminter, gave the rental income of this house to the ‘wardens of the Mass and Light of the Great Cross’ in the parish church. The property to the east of this (now the one next to the Baptist church) was owned by a William Pocok, while the property to the west (2 above, now the part of the Old Vicarage that has a gable on the street front with the huge chimney) was owned by Hugh Godwyn. By ‘wardens’ this means chantry priests, men who said Mass in chapels within the church (basically, churches within the church). These priests were not the vicar though. It’s not clear where he lived in the medieval period.

The portion of the modern Old Vicarge with the little car park (3) seems to be mentioned on 2 February 1299 when David Mangerson gave it to Richard Stoke: Hugh Godwin’s property (2) is mentioned again on the east, while another belonging to Sir Hugh of Popham is on the west (4). Just 14 days later Richard granted the same property to William Hosebonde of Weston.

Almost 50 years later the eastern-most part of the Old Vicarage (1) is mentioned again. On 8 September 1346 John of Chedzoy gave it to the ‘Wardens of the Light of the Blessed Virgin Mary’, to sustain them in saying prayer for his soul and that of his dead wife Alice. It is described as opposite the south porch of the parish church, between the tenements of John Godwyn (2) and Sir John of Popham. John Godwyn presumably inherited the property from Hugh Godwyn, while Popham seems to have acquired Pockock’s old house.

By 9 November 1349 the part of the Old Vicarage with the little car park to the front (3) had been given to St John’s Hospital in Eastover. The brethren of the hospital would have rented it out to tenants, and the income would have supported their work. We learn this when Thomas Goldsmyth granted to David Keling, a chaplain, the little gabled/chimney part of the Old Vicarage (2). On the other side of that was the dwelling place of the wardens of the chapel of Blessed Mary (1).

This little part of the building (2) changed hands many times. On 1 May 1367 Richard Cheselade and his wife Christine leased it to Nicholas Marler, his wife Denyse, and their daughter Isabel. On 9 May 1372 Richard Cheselade of Dunwear and Christine granted it to Richard Hyntilsham. On 30 April 1387 Joan Foxhanger widow of Richard Hyntilsham granted it to Richard Furnor and John Wynd. These two men were thought by the historian Thomas Bruce Dilks to have been chaplains in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary (who lived next door – 1 on the map). Subsequent owners of the property seem to have continued leasing the property to chaplains of the chantry and their successors. Presumably this was soon made permanent and the two properties joined together.

After Henry VIII broke with the church of Rome, in 1547, chantries within parish churches were suppressed, along with Bridgwater’s hospital in Eastover. All their properties were confiscated by the King. As the hospital had been responsible for paying the vicar of St Mary’s, this was now the king’s job, so it is likely the St Mary Street properties (1-3) were granted to the vicar. So, this is probably when this group of three houses actually became the Vicarage house. As such first recorded mention to the location of the Vicarage House comes in 1613, when it is located, vaguely, on the south side of St Mary Street. This is almost certainly the Old Vicarage though, as the location is more firmly identified throughout the next two centuries. In 1815, however the Vicar of St Mary’s considered the vicarage house to be ‘small, mean and uncomfortable’, so by 1822 was living in Castle Street. The vicars still owned the property but appear to have leased it out.

On 5 Oct 1852 the Reverend Thomas George James of Bridgwater, sold the former Vicarage, together with the little court in front of part of it and the garden behind, to Edward Sealy of Bridgwater. It then passed to Edward Urch Vidal of Cornborough, Devon, through his mother, Elizabeth Urch Sealy. Edward purchased the property adjoining the vicarage on the west (4 and 5 on the map), which had 3 cottages behind then a garden behind that. In June 1877 Edward conveyed all of these properties to Thomas Lowden Parminter. In April 1925, after the death of Thomas’ widow, Mary Ann Parminter, the property described as the Old Vicarage House with garden (no. 47 St Mary Street), with two dwelling houses known as 49 and 51 St Mary Street, and a block of buildings at the rear of 49 and 51 St Mary Street known as Holmes Buildings, comprising a dwelling house with garden at the rear and three cottages with yard, washhouse and other buildings) was sold to Dorothy Ethel Shaw of Steyning Manor, Stogursey. This is when Steyning’s Tea Rooms was founded. Which is how the property passed from being the home of clergymen to a restaurant and hotel.

A 1930s postcard of the Steyning Farm Tea Shop. This picture is in section (2) of the building, looking at the wall that fronts Little St Mary Street. The sea-shell niche on the left, which probably dates to the eighteenth century, blocked in a window, which can be seen in the street front.

Compiled from mentions in Dilks’ Bridgwater Borough Archives; Dunning’s History of Somerset, vol.6 and documents located in the Somerset Heritage Centre.

Miles Kerr-Peterson, February 2019.