MOBILE PHONE USERS WILL OBTAIN A BETTER EXPERIENCE IF ROTATED TO HORIZONTAL
Mere in 1810
The 'old castle' shown on Whitesheet Hill is the Iron-age hillfort.
The old road from Salisbury to Wincanton can be seen crossing East-West on Mere Down. Several of the milestones shown still exist. The relatively new turnpike road which replaced it can be seen passing through Mere village. It approached Mere via Hazzards Hill not following the old road into the Old Hollow and Steep Street.
A road which now only exists as a track, but was apparently as important as the road to the Deverills, goes from Manor Farm northwards.
Three mills are shown on the Shreen.
Mapledore Hill Common (now Mapperton, bottom left) appears to be a large area of common but the common lands around White Marsh (now Southbrook) are largely restricted to roadside waste ground.
There appears to be a centre of population which no longer exists at 'White Marsh' .
At this time the parish of Mere still included the whole of Zeals; the overall population of the two now is not much different from that of 1851. Zeals was a separate little community, almost entirely agricultural, but with its own small shops and an inn which brewed its own beer; but linen weaving was a mainstay of its life.
This period of relative prosperity also saw initiatives
addressing education, alcohol abuse and poverty. The Congregationalists and the
Church of England both established schools. The temperance movement, encouraged
by the Quakers and other non-conformists, established a coffee shop and a
lecture hall to provide an alternative to the pubs. The Poor Law Amendment Act
of 1834 had been passed and in that year the old workhouse at Castle Street was
replaced. The often dismal conditions of working families also led to the
formation of an active board of local Chartists by 1841, who attended meetings
in Salisbury, Westbury and Trowbridge and also held meetings locally.
The Groves and the nearby Faugoins seem to have been the only families in the parish to qualify for the status of gentry. It is their names which one encounters as the benefactors of all the local good causes, but Mere, as distinct from Zeals, does not seem to live in their shadow. The Zeals estate is a large one but does not include the Manor of Mere, owned since Norman times by the Duchy of Cornwall, or by the Bath or Somerset estates.
For most of this period the vicar was not resident in Mere and the Duchy rented the Manor to the Schutz family, who played no part in the life of Mere, leaving the management of their investment to stewards. As a result, there was no local involvement by those who elsewhere would have been regarded as the squirearchy, so local political and social power lay with the farmers and those in commerce.
Mere and Zeals were little communities where most of the inhabitants wear tough serviceable clothes made locally - the men in fustian trousers or breeches and often in the traditional smock, made of the coarse local linen. The town had a plethora of shoe and clothes makers.
95% of the population had been born in the
West Country, most of them within 10 miles of Mere, and few would have been
exposed to any form of standard English. As a result nearly all would have
spoken the Wessex
dialect of which we still hear shadows to-day, but far broader and with a
plethora of expressions and usages which have disappeared. Indeed, the
local dialect would have been more akin to that of
At the end of this period, a quarter of the population were employed in work paying bare subsistence wages. There were also 48 inmates in the new Union Workhouse and a considerable number of paupers outside receiving support.
By the middle of the 19th Century, British agriculture was
enjoying great prosperity. Because this area was so far from an industrial town, population growth
outstripped the demand for labour, so that rural wage
The farms themselves varied immensely in size; those on or near the chalk - Zeals, Chadenwick, Manor and Mere Down, were around 1,000 acres each. By contrast, in the flat "cheese" country south of the town they ranged between 100 & 300 acres. The "chalk" farms were mainly arable and sheep, with dairying prevailing on the "cheese" land.
Farms came right into the centre of Mere, for instance in Church Street immediately opposite the church was a working dairy farm of 30 acres, The farm buildings include an enormous mediaeval barn fronting Castle Street.
The enclosure of common land in the 19th century had a great influence on the landscape we see in and around Mere today and on its inhabitants. Nearly half of the total 7,400 acres (which then included Zeals) was the subject of enclosure and there was much discontent shown by the poorer people - those who benefited most from the common land.
By the early 19th century, in the parish, there were more people engaged in trade and manufacturing than in agriculture. Mere and Zeals main industry, after farming, continued to be textiles.
From the late 17th Century flax became an important crop
locally and was spun and woven into linen in cottages in Mere, Zeals and the
surrounding area. In the 18th century Mere became the centre of the local linen
industry, which also involved the weaving of dowlas, a coarse form of bed linen.
Some spinning of wool and cloth weaving continued alongside the new industry.
Towards the end of this period, despite the linen industry now being in decline
it was reckoned that most houses had a loom and produced linen. Tick (bed sacks) and
cheesecloth continued to be made at Lords Mead Mill until the mid 19th
From 1830 a new industry came to the town when Charles Jupe turned Hinks Mill into a silk mill and many people, including boys of 9 or 10, were engaged in silk throwing. Later another factory opened in Water Street and the Lords Mead Mill changed to silk production in 1868.At the beginning of the 19th century a silk industry employing more than a hundred people (nearly all female) was established in North Row and Hinks Mill. Although the numbers employed were high, the wages were only about a quarter of those commonly paid to male agricultural workers so the industry provided pin money rather than bringing any prosperity to Mere.
Gas was being produced in 1837 and the town was lit by gaslight by 1839. The gasworks were eventually sited on the Island at Edge Bridge.
Mere was, as now, a grey stone town, houses abutting directly on to the street, and almost no brick in evidence. At the end of this period there were two builders in the town, but not one bricklayer working for them; rather there were still 20 masons, a reflection of Mere's isolation from the rail network. The important buildings in the town centre had slate roofs but almost everywhere else there was still much thatch, despite all the fires which had occurred, and the town had 6 thatchers still working. Other roofs were of stone or tile; at Knowl, near Barrow Street there were 5 tile makers. As well as these trades, there were 6 sawyers, 31 carpenters, 5 glaziers and 2 plumbers.