Langport Town Defences

Has been described as a Certain Urban Defence

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameLangport Town Defences
Alternative Names
Historic CountrySomerset
Modern AuthoritySomerset
1974 AuthoritySomerset
Civil ParishLangport

Earthworks survive in two main areas but presumably the defences surrounded the town (i) ST42122695-ST42322677. About 50m NW of the Hanging Chapel a steep artificial scarp first appears in the garden of the Convent. This runs WNW for about 122m and then N, where it is less evident and has been modified on its E side by the creation of a C19 carriage drive. The earthworks appear strongly again at the SE corner and run W in an arc for about 120m, ending at the top of a steep slope down to North Street. This section is well preserved, standing 4m high. There are slight indications of a ditch (ii) ST42142665-ST42012668. Further defences around Whatley Hill The general historical and topographical arguments suggest that these earthworks are the town defences, stated to be 2400ft in length in the Burghal Hideage. Seems likely that the S slopes facing the Parrett valley were not artificially defended. The parish boundary between Langport and Huish Episcopi runs along the base of the earthworks. The boundary must therefore be either contemporary or later. Documentary evidence suggests that the parish boundaries may have been fixed as early as 1065 when adjacent areas were granted to the Bishopric of Wells. (Somerset HER)

A medieval chapel situated over an arched medieval gateway The gateway spans the road on the crest of The Hill, a steep incline leading from Langport towards Huish Episcopi 1km to the east. The chapel, known as the Hanging Chapel, dates from the 14th century and is built of sqaured cut local lias stone with a clay tiled pitched roof between coped gables with ball finials. It is surrounded on its north, east and west sides by a walkway which has a stone coped parapet and is reached by an external flight of steps located in the corner of the south west facing wall of the gateway. A 19th century stone extension with a flat roof has been attached to the south side of the chapel at a lower level

The chapel sits above a barrel-roofed archway which is constructed from local lias stone with plain end walls which have chamfered arches at each end through which traffic still passes. The arched gateway was built on the site of what may have been an original break in the defensive bank of Saxon date which has been demonstrated by excavation to have existied on this side of the town. The chapel is first mentioned in 1344, as the Guild Chapel of St Mary to whom it is still dedicated. It has had a variety of uses, becoming the Town Hall in 1570, a grammar school in the 18th century, then an arms store, a Sunday school and various private uses until it became a Masonic Lodge from 1891. (PastScape)

The town is first mentioned in the Burghal Hidage and thus was one of the fortified burhs in the defensive network of the south and west in the early 10th century. It possessed a mint by c. 930. By 1066 it was evidently the dependent commercial settlement of the large agricultural estate of Somerton. Physically, however, the settlement had already been separated from Somerton through the grant of Huish, Combe, and Pibsbury to the bishop of Wells by 1065. Langport's ecclesiastical status as a dependent chapelry of Huish presumably dates from the grant to the bishop, though it does not exclude the possibility of an earlier church in the town. The name Langport suggests the use of Bow Street causeway as a trading area by the early 10th century. Possibly quays lay along its southern side which the Back river was cut to serve. The site of the original settlement is indicated by the course of an embankment which surrounds Langport hill, forming a roughly triangular enclosure. To the west of the hill a bank with external ditch ran along the lower slope and its remains may be seen in the gardens of the present Hill House and around Whatley hill. Langport hill is defended on the south by a steep slope and the line of defences probably ran along the southern limit of the churchyard, turning north-west just short of the eastern parish boundary in the area of the Hanging Chapel. It then ran through the grounds of St. Gildas Convent enclosing Dolemans close, now tennis courts. The bank and ditch are again visible at the northernmost point where they form the parish boundary. The regular entrenchment north-east of the early fortifications, which forms the boundary of the present recreation ground, is almost certainly later in date, possibly 17th century. It was within this enclosed area that the initial settlement of the borough took place and the church was built. (VCH)

The Hanging Chapel stands at the eastern end of the borough above a gateway with a pointed barrel roof, both of lias stone, and the present building probably dates from the 15th century. There is a small niche in the north wall of the tunnel and a blocked pointed window in the south wall. An external western stair gives access to the chapel by a west door. The chapel itself is a plain rectangular structure with tiled roof, lit by a three-light east window and two north and one south windows of two lights each, all moulded with traceried heads. The east window appears to have been given a debased round arch at a later date. A central southern doorway gives access to a room on the south side of the chapel at a lower level, added later, probably when the grammar school was housed there. A third doorway at the south-western corner of the chapel has been blocked. There is a simple niche at floor level towards the east end of the south wall. (VCH)

Gatehouse Comments

Saxon earth ramparts with C14 stone gates. Only East gate survives; it is a simple gate passage surmounted by the Hanging Chapel.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceST423267
Latitude51.0371894836426
Longitude-2.82386994361877
Eastings342320
Northings126770
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink

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Books

  • Salter, Mike, 2013, Medieval Walled Towns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 84
  • Creighton, O.H. and Higham, R.A., 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Stroud: Tempus) p. 64, 176, 255, 279
  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of Wessex (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 78
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 222
  • Dunning, Robert, 1995, Somerset Castles (Somerset Books) p. 26
  • Bond, C.J., 1987, 'Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Defences' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 92-116 online copy
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 447
  • Dunning, R.W. (ed), 1974, VCH Somerset Vol. 3 p. 12, 16-7, 20, 22, 29, 31-3, 35, 37 online transcription
  • Pevsner, N., 1958, Buildings of England: South and west Somerset (London, Penguin) p. 218
  • Burrow, Edward J., 1924, Ancient Earthworks and Camps of Somerset (Cheltenham and London) p. 136
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co) p. 219
  • Bothamley, 1911, in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Somerset Vol. 2 p. 524
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1853, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 2 p. 342 online copy

Journals

  • Creighton, Oliver, 2006, ''Castles of Communities': Medieval Town Defences in England; Wales and Gascony' Ch√Ęteau Gaillard Vol. 22 p. 75-86
  • Leech, R., 1977, 'Somerset Archaeology 1976' Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Vol. 121 p. 114
  • 1964, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 8 p. 237-8 download copy
  • Charrott Lodwidge, W., 1925, Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Vol. 71 p. xxiv-xxv
  • Warren, F., 1861, 'Earthworks at Langport' Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Vol. 11 p. 194-196

Other

  • Richardson, M., 2003, An Archaeological Assessment of Langport and Frog Lane (English Heritage Extensive Urban Survey) p. 7-8, 10 online copy