Tucked away on the western edge of ‘The Vale’ is a village with a very unusual history, indeed, possibly unique – Yetminster.
Situated about five miles south- west of Sherborne, Yetminster has a fascinating range of grand local stone buildings around the village. In addition, St Andrew’s church, rare ‘Hall’ houses, and clues around the village all provide evidence of a thriving, self-sufficient, agricultural and trading community. Interesting local stories and associations with important historical figures like Benjamin Jesty and Robert Boyles just add further interest.
From Bishop to Raleigh
To understand Yetminster today one has to understand how the Salisbury Diocese managed and controlled the land-holding system from Saxon times – and remained largely unchanged until the 1950’s. From 705 AD Yetminster, with its tithings of Leigh and Chetnole, were owned by the Bishop of Salisbury. In 1089, in order to generate income, Bishop Osmund of Salisbury established four Manors; Yetminster Primary and Upbury, Secunda, Ecclesia and the fourth he kept for himself. After the Reformation in the 1540’s Queen Elizabeth seized that fourth part and gave it to her favourite, Sir Walter Raleigh; eventually part of Sherborne’s Digby Castle Estate.
Pre-Reformation, three ‘prebendary canons’ regulated daily village life. They lived in Salisbury and managed their manors through agents, putting the annual revenue into the cathedral. The Canon’s stalls may still be seen in the Chapter House of Salisbury Cathedral, bearing the name Yetminster. Even after the Reformation, neither Sir Walter
Raleigh, nor Henry Prince of Wales, nor the Digby family interfered in village affairs. Tenants became freeholders in all but name, and the customs for tenancy were generous.
Security meant better housing
Tenants of Yetminster were allowed to collect building materials (wood and stone),
and could improve property. Widows were allowed to remain after their husband’s death. Tenants had the option of passing on their property to a son or another person, retaining a part for their own use. This security meant tenants felt it was worthwhile investing money in maintenance, and many improved their buildings knowing they could pass them to their sons or to whom they wished. Holdings could also be bought and sold – it was only necessary to register the transaction at the next Court Baron of the Manor and pay a small fine. The system lasted until the early C20th as 100-year leases ran their course. Yetminster never suffered from enclosures (rich farmers taking the best land); the area had no great landowners as the Church still controlled the tenancy system.
Clues to this rare legacy can still be seen around
the village. Look out for the late C17th Court House – formerly Church Farm – with its early squint for looking down the road so the owner could keep on eye on the village business! Until the early C20th, young pigs were driven to Court House dairy where cheese makers would fatten them on whey. A tannery still existed into the 1960’s; the last horse-drawn cart in 1971. The barns around the rear were next to the orchards, so cider-making was common; the blacksmith and the water pumps can still be found. And this is only one of many interesting buildings!
Paul offers a popular guided village tour that explains this fascinating history. The next on October 30th is fully subscribed, but contact email@example.com if you would like to join a future walk in the Spring.
by Paul Birbeck