THE BISHOP'S DEER PARK
The area enclosed with white lines in this aerial photo represents the probable extent of the Bishop’s Deer Park as set out in a map dated 1645 (but based on an earlier map of 1575).
It was recorded that Bishop Beckington (1443-1465) constructed the Deer Park in Banwell.
In the year 1493, there was a grant by the Bishop of the office of Keeper of Banwell Park, with ancient fees, and of the manor of Banwell, with a fee of 28s. 6d, to William Hill.
During the reign of Henry VIII in 1523, a certain William St. Loe (picture right) broke into the park with 16 others, armed with swords, crossbows and bows and arrows. They killed 4 bucks and other deer. They raided the park again in August of that year and killed over 20 deer, planting their heads on palings along the boundary of the park. As a result, they were commanded to appear before a magistrate, but there is no record of the sentences imposed.
In 1552, the Manor reverted from the Protector to the Crown and the same William St. Loe (now a Knight) obtained a 21 year lease for land in Banwell and the office of Park Keeper, also the right of herbage and pannage (right of pasture) of the park for life.
St. Loe died 4 years later and the Manor, on the accession of Queen Mary I (1553-1558) (who reversed the Protestant reforms), then reverted to Bishop BOURNE in 1556, who appointed John Hillacer and his son William as Keepers of the Park and Mansion House.
In 1574 Bishop BERKELEY, at, the request of Queen Elizabeth, reluctantly leased the Episcopal Mansion and the Manor & Park of Banwell to Lord Henry Seymour for 21 years or less (in so outrageous a nature that the Dean and Chapter refused to confirm it).
In 1584 Bishop GODWYN was appointed and he built Towerhead House in the Deer Park. Sir Walter Raleigh schemed to obtain the Manor and Godwyn was forced to give up his Manor of Wiveliscombe to keep Banwell. On his death, the Crown pocketed the revenues from the Manor for 3 years.
In 1775 the Park estate was granted to William Blackburrow, but in 1825 John Blackburrow surrendered the woods of about 125 acres to Bishop Law (picture left).
In 1825 the historian George Bennett reported:
“The park lies eastward from the village and is still partly covered with wood, and most sadly reduced in extent from what it is said to have been at the time of making the Domesday survey, and even within a few years its nakedness has been so much exposed that some of the young people of Banwell will live to see the time when venerable Mother Wood will not produce foliage sufficient to protect one solitary rabbit. This prophesy is likely to be defeated as the present Bishop has this year planted many thousands of young trees in lieu of those taken down.”
George Bennett also stated that there were no longer any deer in the park, but there were fine sheep and oxen that supplied good beef and mutton.
A document dated 1830, written by George Emery (Reeve of the Manor for the Bishop), set out the extent and nature of the Park. It comprised around 125 acres and the fences and gates bounding the park measured some 2 miles and were maintained by Bishop Law. 20 acres were allotted to the poor to grow potatoes. Dry weather in 1826 and 1828 destroyed the greater part of the trees in the park. He wrote “there is no public right of way through or over any part of the said wood, but by courtesy the inhabitants have always enjoyed the claim of walking peaceably over the property. Foxes were introduced to the wood by Mr Herman Tiarks (Picture right - Master of Foxhounds at that time) who lived at Webbington in the house now known as the Webbington Country Club.” Mr Tiarks had an artificial earth built for the foxes on the south side of the wood; consisting of earthenware pipes, with several entrances.
In 1911 the woods were rented from the Church Commissioners to Captain Murray (pictured left, with his family), who lived at the Abbey Charles Hunt, his gamekeeper, lived with his wife and children in a cottage in the woods and was there until 1921.
The woods were bought by Mr Gadd of Towerhead (pictured right) in 1921, who later sold the woods to Mr Calvert at the Castle. From 1923 to 1932, Mr Calvert employed Captain Statter as his agent. Captain Statter was responsible for the management of the timber in the wood and for replanting the trees, also for the herd of over 100 large black pigs which roamed the wood. Mr Harry Stevens who was employed as Farm Bailiff at the farm stated that ochre mining started in the woods in 1934.
Dexters, a small breed of cattle, were kept on the farm, which were a favourite of Mrs Calvert, who kept them to show at agricultural shows in the area. They also produced enough milk for use at the Castle. Guernsey cows were kept during the 1939-45 war until Mr Calvert ceased farming.
Currently, the woods are home to a small colony of Roe deer; one of Britain’s native deer species and have become the most widespread. They became largely extinct in the 1700s and were only later reintroduced. Unlike other deer, they do not live in herds, but are most often seen as solitary individuals, or as a family group. This family group were snapped in a garden in Dark Lane.
(Acknowledgement to extracts from articles on the Deer Park in Banwell Archaeological Society
Searches 15 & 16 by Susan Harris.)