Chew Stoke is a small village and civil parish in the Chew Valley, in Somerset, England, about south of Bristol. It is at the northern edge of the Mendip Hills, a region designated by the United Kingdom as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and is within the Bristol/Bath green belt. The parish includes the hamlet of Breach Hill, which is approximately southwest of Chew Stoke itself.
Chew Stoke has a long history, as shown by the number and range of its heritage-listed buildings. The village is at the northern end of Chew Valley Lake, which was created in the 1950s, close to a dam, pumping station, sailing club, and fishing lodge. A tributary of the River Chew, which rises in Strode, runs through the village.
The population of 905 is served by one shop, two public houses, a primary school and a bowling club. Together with Chew Magna, it forms the ward of Chew Valley North in the unitary authority of Bath and North East Somerset. Chew Valley School and its associated leisure centre are less than a mile (1.6 km) from Chew Stoke. The village has some areas of light industry but is largely agricultural; many residents commute to nearby cities for employment.
Archaeological excavations carried out between 1953 and 1955 by Philip Rahtz and Ernest Greenfield from the Ministry of Works found evidence of extensive human occupation of the area. Consecutive habitation, spanning thousands of years from the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic periods (Old, Middle, and New Stone Age), to the Bronze and Iron Ages had left numerous artefacts behind. Discoveries have included stone knives, flint blades, and the head of a mace, along with buildings and graves.
Chew Stoke is the site of a Romano-Celtic double-octagonal temple, possibly dedicated to the god Mercury. The temple, on Pagans Hill, was excavated by Philip Rahtz between 1949 and 1951. It consisted of an inner wall, which formed the sanctuary, surrounded by an outer wall forming an ambulatory, or covered walkway across. It was first built in the late 3rd century but was twice rebuilt, finally collapsing in the 5th century. The positioning of the temple on what is now known as Pagans Hill may seem apt, but there is no evidence for any link between the existence of the temple and the naming of the road.
During the Middle Ages, farming was the most important activity in the area, and farming, both arable and dairy, continues today. There were also orchards producing fruits such as apples, pears, and plums. Evidence exists of lime kilns, used in the production of mortar for the construction of local churches.
In the Domesday Book of 1086, Chew Stoke was listed as Chiwestoche, and was recorded as belonging to Gilbert Fitz-Turold. He conspired with the Duke of Normandy against King William Rufus, and subsequently, all his lands were seized. The next recorded owner was Lord Beauchamp of Hache. He became "lord of the manor" when the earls of Gloucester, with hereditary rights to Chew Stoke, surrendered them to him. According to Stephen Robinson, the author of Somerset Place Names, the village was then known as Chew Millitus, suggesting that it may have had some military potential. The name "Stoke", from the old English stoc, meaning a stockade, may support that idea.
Bilbie family of bell and clockmakers
The Bilbie family of bell founders and clockmakers lived and worked in Chew Stoke for more than 200 years, from the late 17th century until the 19th century. They produced more than 1,350 church bells, which were hung in churches all over the West Country. Their oldest surviving bell, cast in 1698, is still giving good service in the local St Andrew's Church. The earliest Bilbie clocks date from 1724 and are highly prized. They are mostly longcase clocks, the cheapest with 30-hour movements in modest oak cases, but some have high quality eight-day movements with additional features, such as showing the high tide at Bristol docks. These latter clocks were fitted into quality cabinet maker cases and command high prices.
In the 20th century, Chew Stoke expanded slightly with the influx of residents from the Chew Valley Lake area. These new residents were moved to Chew Stoke when the lake was created in the 1950s. In World War II, 42 children and three teachers, who had been evacuated from Avenmore school in London, were accommodated in the village. On 10 July 1968, torrential rainfall, with falling in 18 hours on Chew Stoke, double the area's average rainfall for the whole of July, led to widespread flooding in the Chew Valley, and water reached the first floor of many buildings. The damage in Chew Stoke was not as severe as in some of the surrounding villages, such as Pensford; however, fears that the Chew Valley Lake dam would be breached caused considerable anxiety.
During November 2012 a series of floods affected many parts of Britain. On 22 November a man died after his car was washed down a flooded brook in Chew Stoke and trapped against a small bridge.