Industry and Employment for Merriott Families

  • Agriculture and Market Gardening

See also Farms
The majority of 19th century Merriott workers earned their living from the land.   Several farms in the area employed agricultural labourers, with the major farm of 278 acres being held in 1842 by William Rodbard. This farm included the 192 acre Manor Farm and 48 acres of Bow mills.     John Templeman owned 156 acres and Sockety farm of 84 acres was wholly occupied by minor tenants.  Moorlands farm held by William Fitchett Cuff was 88 acres, and Susannah Whitely’s 86 acre Manor House farm were sublet in small units.

In 1851 Manor farm totalled 227 acres and Moorlands 200 acres; by 1867 these were the two major farms in Merriott parish. Because of the rich soil,  market gardening was very important.   In 1833 market gardens and grounds planted with potatoes amounted to 196 acres.     The largest nursery was owned in 1831 by John Webber, and then by his son WW Webber in 1846.   The Webbers were bought out in 1852 by John Scott, who published several editions of his ‘Orchardist’, an extensive catalogue and handbook.   Scotts Nurseries had a few changes of ownership, but it closed down in the early 21st century as retail nursery and garden centre.   The Somerset Record Office holds Documents referring to the estate of John Scott of Merriott, nurseryman, including a copy of his will, dated 1883 and proved 1886.  The reference is:  DDSB/1/5.

For more information, see the Victoria County History of Somerset Vol IV;  details Books

  • Weaving and Textiles

[The following is my understanding of the Weaving industry as it applied to the people of Merriott.  If anyone has a more scholarly version, I would be happy to receive it!] An offshoot of agriculture in Merriott was the weaving trade.  Raw materials such as flax were able to be grown in the area to feed the sailcloth factory at Tail Mill.    In 1851 nearly 80 people were working in the flax and sailcloth industry in the area.  In the days of sailing ships the industry flourished, as it did during the time of the American Civil War, when there was a shortage of cotton.  However, with cotton being cheaper to produce and easier to wear, flax and linen eventually lost their importance.

The process of preparing the flax for the weaving of linen and sailcloth involves several steps.  Some occupations listed in the censuses take their names from some of the steps in the process. 

Firstly, to separate the fibres from the rest of the plant, the woody matter must be decomposed and the flax dried (retting).    It is then ready for a series of processes known as flax dressing.  The dry straw has to be broken and removed (scutching or swingling).  Then the flax is hackled by passing bundles of fibres through a series of combs (hackles)  to remove any remaining straw or short fibres and to align the long fibres.  Some people were called hacklers; others combers.    

The fibre then needed to be spun by spinners.   A reeler then reeled off a full bobbin into a hank.  

Weavers – initially hand-loom weavers; eventually superceded by power loom weavers.  Weaving linen on a power loom proved difficult because of the inflexibility of the fibre, and the industry generally lagged behind the cotton industry in this regard.    Weavers have also been classified as chain web weavers and girth web weavers.            

Other linen- related occupations observed in the censuses include:  card winders,  yarn bleachers, yarn dyers, spreaders, spoolers, warpers, winders of chain for sail cloth  and general factory hands.   As the work became more mechanised, mechanics and engine stokers were needed.

Isaac Ford (1781-1864, West Chinnock),  owned lands including weaving shops and warehouses at Snails Hill, West Chinnock, at Middle Chinnock, and Merriott.  The Somerset Record Office holds Estate Ledgers for Isaac Ford and his daughter Sarah Woodcock.  Ref: DDSB/34/1.  There is also Ref: DDSB/34/3 which includes the Deeds of a house and lands in Merriott – Sale catalogue of farm in Merriott and Crewkerne (1856), Will of Isaac Ford of Snail’s Hill, West Chinnock, sail-cloth Manufacturer (dated 1855).

For more detailed information see:  Books

Later, Crewkerne had some shirt factories, so the occupations of shirt collar maker, shirt ironer, shirt machinist, shirt hand and shirt factory laundress were listed in censuses. 

I have read an article about  Belfast in Ireland, which has a small section on the Weaving Industry, [Family History Monthly Magazine, September 1996] and from which I quote:

“For almost all types of linen spinning and weaving the atmosphere had to be extremely hot and humid.  The floors were always wet …  Clothes became saturated, and children often developed lung diseases at an early age, or caught bronchitis when they left the factory with damp clothes and walked home in the chill night air.

“The most unhealthy places to work were the flax preparing departments, especially in areas known as ‘roughing’ and ‘hackling’.  Here, work was carried out ‘in a continual cloud of dust composed of large and small particles of fibre’……. in 1872, the average working life of an employee was only 16.8 years, and around 30% of the workforce could expect to die from .. lung diseases”.

Does anyone have any further information about the conditions our Merriott folk worked in in the sailcloth factory, and whether they also suffered lung diseases because of the workplace risks?


In the 1891 census for Merriott, the following entries can be found:

1891 12 105 071 Tail Mills, West Crewkerne Philp John H Head M 58 Canvas Sailcloth Manufacturer Employer born Plymouth, Devon
1891 12 105 071 Tail Mills, West Crewkerne Philp Lydia Wife M 63 born St Just, Cornwall
1891 12 105 071 Tail Mills, West Crewkerne Lawrence Lizzie? Serv S 22 General Servant Domestic Employed, born  Merriott

Presumably Mr John Philp was the owner of Tail Mills at that time.

The Tail Mill nowadays houses Merriott Mouldings Pty Ltd, a company offering plastics injection moulding services.

    • Bow Mill

The Somerset Record Office has some documents relating to Bow Mill, including leases (1805, 1819), letters, estimates etc, for repairs, letting and reconstruction, 1862-63, after fire.  Ref:  DDSB/31/1.  Members of the Patch family held the property between 1848 and 1896, according to the Victoria County History.  This is confirmed by the Censuses of Merriott.
Apparently Bow Mill was not used as a commercial mill after 1896. 

1851 Bow Mills PATCH William Head M 40 Miller & Farmer (30 Acres) employing 8, born Norton under Ham.
PATCH Mary, Wife, 45 born West Coker.
PATCH Temperance Niece U 24 born Norton under Ham.
PATCH James Nephew U 18 Apprentice to Miller & Farmer, born Norton under Ham.
1861 Bow PATCH William Head M 50 Corn Miller born Norton sub Hamdon.
PATCH Jane Wife 33 born Norton sub Hamdon.
PATCH William Son 5 born Woolwich, Kent.
PATCH John Son 8m born Merriott
1871 Bow Mills PATCH William Head M 60 Miller, Farmer 43 acres emp 5 labourers, born Norton sub Hamdon.
PATCH Jane Wife 46 born Norton sub Hamdon.
PATCH John Son 10, born Merriott.
PATCH Joan Dau 9 born Merriott.
PATCH Gilbert Son 6 born Merriott.
PATCH Mary Dau 4 born Merriott
PATCH Sarah Jane Dau 1 born Merriott
1881 Bow Cottage PATCH William Head M 70 Miller & Farmer born Norton sub Hamdon.
PATCH Jane Wife M 55 born Norton sub Hamdon.
PATCH William Son 25 Miller born Merriott.
PATCH Gilbert Son 15 Scholar born Merriott.
PATCH Sarah Jane Dau 12 Scholar born Merriott
1891 Bow Mill PATCH John Head M 60 Miller & Farmer born Norton.
PATCH Marianne Wife M 52 born Stinford, Dorset.
PATCH Henry Son 23 Miller’s Son born Haselbury.
PATCH Fanny Dau 21 born Haselbury.
PATCH Rosa Dau 16 born Haselbury.
PATCH Frank Pape Son 13 Scholar born Haselbury.
PATCH Ellen Dau 11 Scholar born Haselbury.

Other documents held by the Somerset Record Office:
Ref:  DDMR/52 of a deed of a Messuage [piece of real estate] and Mill called Bow Mill, with John Merefield a party.  This document is dated 1609.
Ref:  DDSB/29/8 Copy of a Chancery petition dated 1719, by John Pitt of Norton sub Hamdon, concerning Bow Farm and Mill in Merriott, High Farm in Merriott and Crewkerne, and lands in Chiselborough, Martock, Montacute and Tintinhull, sold by Pitt to Thomas Rodbard of London.
Ref:  DDSB/50/14 Leases of Merriott Manor Farm and Bow Mill, 1868-1906 with reference to the Rodbards.
Ref:  DDV/CHR/19/11  Report on Bow Mill, Merriott dated 2007.