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Aisholt is certainly situated in beautiful surroundings and you can understand why the poet Coleridge wanted to live there. His wife Sara was not so keen. As Coleridge wrote to Thomas Poole of Nether Stowey,

"The situation is delicious; all I could wish, but Sara being Sara, and I being I, we must live in a town or else close to one, so that she may have neighbours and acquaintances. For my friends form not that society which is of itself sufficient to a woman."

Aisholt was also a favourite place for another poet, Sir Henry Newbolt. He often stayed here, at the bottom of the lane, in a cottage which had been inherited by his wife. This fine thatched cottage, which has been lovingly restored, remains a building of great charm, it is also known as the 'Old Schoolhouse' and possibly the site of the chantry priest's house in an earlier age. Newbolt called the village "that beloved valley", you can certainly understand why he wished the village would remain unspoiled, and to a great extent it is.

The name Aisholt itself is believed to refer to the ash woods that surround the village. Both Aish and Ash are used in the parish records. The village retains an unspoiled atmosphere and you can often see deer grazing either on the common or in the fields above the church. On my last visit, before writing this piece, I was lucky enough to see a herd of about 20 deer in the field just above the small church. It was around this village that some filming was done for the film Pandaemonium, as it appears unchanged since the days that Coleridge and Wordsworth wandered its steep valleys.

The Church Of All Saints

In the steep graveyard you look down onto the church of All Saints and out onto a breathtaking view. The church, in Coleridge's "green romantic chasm" of Aisholt, is a small and simple building in a peaceful setting. From its position on the high rising hillside above the Canning brook it typifies a church with an ancient past and it is thought that it was probably founded by a hermit priest before the Norman Conquest. The lonely site, together with the shape and size of the nave of the church is similar to Cornish and Welsh churches built between the 5th and 8th centuries.

The Building has been altered over time, the chancel arch and the tower were probably rebuilt during the 15th century, and the battlements may have been added a little later. The roof of the nave and aisle are also 15th century and have fine examples of timbering and windbraces. In the church there is a large chest " the Dug-out Chest". Its simplicity, as well as the iron work, suggests that it was made in the Norman time, it is an oak log chipped out with a slice cut to use for its lid. Chests like this were left in churches, to house church plate, deeds and the wills of the parishioners in a safe location. This has proved very useful for local historians since, once installed in the chest, documents would often remain undisturbed for centuries and because of this many gems of local history have been discovered. As with other church chests three locks are required, held by the vicar and churchwardens, all three having to be present before the chest could be opened.

On the west wall is a Tithe Map that shows how parishes were divided. Another famous family, that of Admiral Blake's, are buried under the nave and most of his family lived in nearby Plainsfield, where they owned a lot of land. The church organ is one of only 3 known organs, made in 1820 by Samuel Parsons of Bloomsbury London. The organ attracts expert organists, as it is a difficult one to play and can challenge even the best.

Of the many vicars that looked after the parish of Aisholt, the name of William Holland lives on, largely because he wrote about his life. He was the rector of Over Stowey during the time of Coleridge, and his diaries have been published under the interesting title "Paupers and Pig Killers"(Alan Sutton 1984 edited by Jack Ayres). From reading his diaries you get a flavour of what life was like at the beginning of the 19th century in this beautiful but remote location. Holland mentions one of the rectors of Aisholt, Reeks (Rix),

"Mr Reeks died last night in the horrors…he killed himself by drinking…"

Holland looked after the church at Aisholt when Reeks was unwell! He was a very diligent parson and would struggle through snow and floods to serve the people of the parish of Aisholt. One other rector that must be recalled is that of the Reverend Arthur Moss, vicar from 1969 to 1989, who sadly died in 1995 at the age of 80years. In the church there is a booklet written by him about the history of the church, full of interesting information.

Aisholt Wood

This ancient oak woodland is now owned by the Somerset Wildlife Trust. It is one of three Nature reserves that they manage on the Quantock hills. It is of about 41 acres and it has open access. The entrance to the reserve is via a bridleway that runs behind the thatched old schoolhouse. It is recommended that one sticks to the path so as not to disturb the wildlife. The Trust's intention is to lay down a circular path/ visitor's trail in the lower part of the reserve for visitors to enjoy the beauty of this broad-leaved woodland in its steep sided Quantock combe.

There are many varieties of trees and they vary considerably in age. The canopy is dominated by sessile oaks characteristic of wooded Quantock combes, but here there is a greater variation than in most. There is a lot of evidence showing how man has exploited the wood in the past, hedgebanks run round part of the perimeter so that livestock would be kept out, especially after coppicing. There are also many charcoal hearths suggesting that the wood was heavily coppiced for charcoal and the tracks that can be seen were probably laid down by the charcoal burners, or colliers as they were known. From the correspondence of the Quantock estate it is known that the ripping of oak bark for the tanning industry was still taking place during the 1890's in Aisholt woods. The other industry that made use of the woods was that of brush making and up until the early 1900's there were a number of 'broomsquires', or brush-makers, living in the area. Since then, due to the poor access, little exploitation of this area has taken place.

The Somerset Trust hopes to enhance both the conservation and landscape value of this beautiful ancient woodland. Visitors please note, this is an environmentally sensitive landscape - I am sure that you will follow the country code.

External Sites about Aisholt

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