Somerset – Over Stowey, Combe St. Nicholas
by Mary Mettler
All of the counties we have visited have been in Southeastern England; so, for a change of pace, we headed to Somerset, a lovely county in Southwestern England. Somerset is well-known for its spiritual and mythological places—Wells Cathedral and the Tor and Abbey in Glastonbury—all of which we visited, along with Stone Henge and Avebury in Wiltshire. But, as always, our emphasis remains on our ancestral towns.
Our first stop was Over Stowey, home to Humphrey Blake (1494-1558), the progenitor of our Blake line and my 12th great grandfather. Before the Norman Conquest, Over Stowey was part of the hunting estate of a succession of Anglo-Saxon kings. Although the first record of a church was in 1144, St. Peter & St. Paul Church was built at a later date. The oldest surviving part, the tower, was built in the Perpendicular period [the third phase of English Gothic during the 14th-15th centuries.] We were pleased to find William Blake, my 11th great granduncle, and his wife Ann buried in the Church with a distinctive plaque in the floor. He was a clothier of some substance in this wool-producing area. In fact, many of the Blakes were clothiers and some had fulling mills. A clothier worked wool into cloth, most of which was done in fulling mills.
|St. Peter and St. Paul Church|
The English managed to close at least one road each day of our trip! We thought we had survived our one daily detour through a pig farm to get to Over Stowey. That side trip was a bit frightening, as we were close to dragging the bottom of the car on the farm road. But no, today was our “lucky” day, as we had two other closures! The second closure was on our way to Combe St. Nicholas and sent us on a detour on a road so narrow that both sides of the car were brushing the bushes! We have no idea what we would have done had we met a car coming the other direction, as there were no places to pull over.
Combe St. Nicholas was home for six generations of the Torrey family, before my 8th great grandfather James J. Torrey (ca. 1612 – 1665) emigrated to Massachusetts around 1640, along with his brothers, William, Philip, and Joseph. “Combe,” which the town was called until 1239, means valley in Celtic languages. The first church is thought to have been built in 970 AD with only the font surviving. When the Church of St. Nicholas was built in 1239, the town changed its name to Combe St. Nicholas. Yes, this St. Nicholas is our “Santa Claus!”
|Church of St. Nicholas in Combe|
We finished off our Combe St. Nicholas visit with a fun lunch at the Green Dragon Pub. The old style pubs are dying out in England, but the Green Dragon remains, as I remember my favorite pubs from the past – good beer, good food, locals with their dogs, and a patron playing the piano while enjoying his beer with friends. We had a great time with these folks!
Sadly, we return the car to Heathrow tomorrow and make our way home the next day. I will write one more blog next week, which will talk about what we did right and wrong in planning and executing our trip. We might be able to save you from making some of our mistakes. Also, please contact me about any of the surnames, towns, and churches mentioned in these blogs, as I have much more information.