Hawkins Genealogy Site
Somerset County Herald and Taunton Courier Saturday 29 Nov 1941
Page 2 Column 3 & 4
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3731. - HILLCOMMON. - When was the first house built at Hillcommon under the custom recently described in these columns as “drawing smoke”? - EX-CORDUROY.
REPLIES TO QUERIES
3712. - DRAWING SMOKE. - The Rev. J. D. C. WICKHAM, in his book on Holcombe-by-Mendip (of which he was Lord of the Manor), said:- “There is a tradition here of a custom which prevailed, that if a man could put up a house between sunset and sunrise, or vice versa, and boil his pot upon the hearth, no-one could turn him out. This undoubtedly was the custom on the Duchy of Cornwall estate, which closely adjoined Holcombe. It was never recognised in law, and Lords of Manors often protested against it. The houses in Coleford-street seemed to have been originally built by squatting miners in this rough and ready way.” Mr. T. H. SHAW, in the “Antiquary,” 1888, tells us that is a squatter on a common in part of the New Forest could build a house or hut, generally of turf or wood, in one night, without observation and get his fire lit before the morning, he could not be turned out or made to pay any rent. Another part of Somerset in which the custom prevailed until the latter part of the last century was East Harptree. Mrs. KETTLEWELL, in her little book “Trinkum-Trinkums of Fifty Years,” says:- “Houses were more plentiful in the village in 1873 than they are now, and many have fallen into decay and vanished. Nigh houses were the vogue at that time. The men dug up turf at night, generally on pieces of land cribbed from the roadside, piled them up as walls, stuck posts in the four corners, covered over the top with thatch, and made a fire-place inside. If they could get a pot on and boiling before the daylight all was well. They had made good their claim to the house, and could then build proper walls and complete it afterwards.” - E.S.
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3731. - HILLCOMMON. - I doubt whether it is possible to give a definite date for the building of the first house at Hillcommon put up under the custom recently described in these columns, but I believe it was somewhere about 120 years ago. The first of such houses was built by James HAYES, son of William and Grace HAYES, of Oake. His grandson, Mr. W. S. HAYES, of Taunton, gave the following particulars in the Somerset County Herald in November, 1919:- “My grandfather, James HAYES, took in about 1¼ acres of common land. The method they adopted was to peg out what land they required (a man by the name of SAUNDERS took in about the same quantity at the same time), and then erected a mud hut. They they put up in the night, put some kind of roof on, and threw a bucket of water up over it. I never heard they slept in it. They then put up a cob building each, both helping one another. My father was brought from (sic;? to) Hillfarrance when two years old and lived there the whole of his life and died there in 1896 at the age of 74. Of course it would have taken some time from the time they took in the land before the house would be built. The writer bought the old house erected by James SAUNDERS, and pulled it down and put up two modern cottages, leaving the two built by my grandfather standing (he built another after), but those have since collapsed. Several sites were taken up in the same way. I have heard my father say they were threatened with a law suit from the lord of the manor, but nothing came, and they were left in undisturbed possession.” When the people living in the neighbourhood saw what Mr. HAYES and Mr. SAUNDERS had done, others followed their example, and in a short time much of the common land had been enclosed and built upon. One site was secured by the same method and set apart for the building of a chapel, for which sufficient subscriptions to meet the cost were collected by the people of the hamlet and their friends. A stone on the outside wall of the chapel said it was built in 1842.” - P.B.
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