Perhaps fitting for two villages that welcome walkers, the name Stowey, comes from the Old English for ‘paved road’. Some say a Roman road ran from the villages into the Quantock Hills, others that there was a Saxon military road passing through them linking the Royal estates of Cannington and Williton.
The Quantock Hills show signs of even earlier habitation dating back to the Bronze Age, the landscape is littered with burial mounds and cairns. Behind the Stoweys lies the Iron Age encampment of Dowsborough Hillfort occupying a prominent position overlooking the Bristol Channel.
A small castle is thought to have been erected by Alfred D’Espaignes at Over Stowey in the 11th century. This was superseded in the 12th century by a more substantial motte and bailey castle at Nether Stowey. Today all that remains on the grassy mound is some original stone foundations with fine views across the Bristol Channel.
The local economy during medieval times was very much dependent upon the wool trade. Over Stowey had six mills where cloth was treated. Nether Stowey had its own pottery, a weekly market and later became an important coaching stop on the Bridgwater to Watchet road.
Nether Stowey has had several associations with stories of insurrection in the past. The manor house of Stowey Court situated next to St Mary’s Church in Nether Stowey, was owned by the Audley family. James Audley began the construction the house in the late 15th century. Progress was interrupted when he was executed for his part in the Perkin Warbeck plot against Henry VII.
Robert Parsons was another notable character associated with Nether Stowey. A Jesuit priest and religious zealot born in the village in 1546, he is thought to have been the inspiration behind the Gunpowder plot in 1605.
Repercussions from the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685 were felt as far as the Stoweys. Several villagers hanged by Judge Jeffreys in the Bloody Assizes for their part in the rebellion.
Nether Stowey Castle Mount
St Peter & St Paul Church, Over Stowey in Springtime. Photo by Kate Ashbrook
Coleridge Cottage, Nether Stowey
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Nether Stowey’s most famous resident was the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Although Coleridge only lived in the village for a few years between 1797 and 1799, it was here that he wrote some of his finest work. He spent many hours in the company of Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, who were living in the the neighbouring village of Holford. The two poets are credited with founding the Romantic Movement, gaining inspiration from their walks in the Quantock Hills and on Exmoor.
The house where Coleridge lived, now known as Coleridge Cottage, is owned by the National Trust. It was found for him by Thomas Poole, a tanner and self-taught scholar who had a passion for books and scientific ideas. As well as becoming a local benefactor, setting up a free school and saving bank, Thomas attracted a circle of literary and scientific minds to the village including Robert Southey, Sir Humphrey Davey and the Wedgwood brothers.