Witham Friary is a small village and civil parish located between the Somerset towns of Frome and Bruton. It is in the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and in the ancient Forest of Selwood.
The parish was part of the hundred of Frome and the Frome Rural District (1894-1974). According to the UK census of 2011, the parish had a population of 399. It contains the hamlets of Gaer Hill, Bellerica, Holt, Rouse, Stubbs, and Drewley.
The village takes its name from the Witham charterhouse, a Carthusian Priory founded in 1182 by Henry II, which had peripheral settlements including one at Charterhouse on Mendip and possibly another at Green Oare. It is reputed to be the first Carthusian house in England. One of only nine Carthusian Houses, the priory did not survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1538). At the dissolution it was worth £227; the equivalent of £52,000 in 2006.
1822 - Somersetshire delineated by Christopher & John Greenwood
A parish forming of itself an extra-episcopal liberty, locally situated in the hundred of Bath-Forum, 6 miles S. S. W. from Frome, and containing, with the hamlet of Charterhouse-on-Mendip (which belongs to this parish,) 107 inhabited houses,and 114 families, 108 of whom are employed in agriculture. Henry the Second founded a monastery here, in 1181, for Carthusian Monks, (being the first house of that order in England) and endowed it with the manor of Witham-Friary and other valuable possessions. The ruins of this monastery were pulled down in 1764, except a small part connected with the east end of the church, and.a farm-house and other buildings have been erected on its site. The church (which formerly belonged to the monastery) is a small structure, consisting of a nave and chancel, the ceiling of which is supported by stone arches. The living is a curacy and a peculiar, in the deanery of Frome ; Rev. N. Mitchell, incumbent. Population, 1801, 485 — 1811, 531 — 1821, 589.
1831 - A Topographical Dictionary of England by Samuel Lewis
A parish (formerly an extra-episcopal liberty), comprising Charter-house on Mendip, in the hundred of FROME, county of SOMERSET, 5½ miles (S. S. W.) from Frome, containing, exclusively of Charter-house on Mendip, which is in the hundred of Winterstoke, 589 inhabitants. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry of Wells, and diocese of Bath and Wells, and in the patronage of the Duke of Somerset. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, which belonged to the ancient friary, has lately received an addition of one hundred and thirty sittings, of which one hundred are free, the Incorporated Society for the enlargement of churches and chapels having granted £100 towards defraying the expense. Here was anciently a nunnery; and subsequently, in 1181, a monastery, said to be the first establishment of Carthusians in England, was founded by Henry II., in honour of the Blessed Virgin, St. John the Baptist, and All Saints, which at the dissolution had a revenue of £227.1.8.: the ruins were taken down in 1764, and a farmhouse now stands upon its site. Notwithstanding that this parish was known to be of peculiar and exempt jurisdiction, there are no records showing that any privileges were exercised prior to the year 1785, when an official was appointed : the manor having come into the possession of the Duke of Somerset, his Grace, in 1826, signified his intention of relinquishing his peculiar rights, provided the Governors of Queen Anne's bounty would contribute to the augmentation of the living; and having charged his estate in the parish with a permanent stipend for the minister, the usual license to the incumbent was issued by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, in 1827, and no peculiar rights whatever are now exercised.
1868 - National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland
A parish in the E. division of the hundred of Frome, county Somerset, 5½ miles S.W. of Frome, its post town, 4 E. of Axbridge, and 14 from Wells. It is a station on the Wilts and Somerset section of the Great Western railway, where the East Somerset line turns off. The parish is situated on the river Frome, and contains the hamlets of Gaer Hill, Bellerica, Holt, Rouse, Stubbs, and Drewley, besides the extra parochial liberty of Charterhouse-on-Mendip, which last is in the hundred of Wintersoke. The soil is clayey, upon a substratum of soft limestone, which is burnt into lime, and in some places are found layers of hard stone with shells imbedded in it. There are remains of the mansion built about the middle of the 18th century by the Earl of Egremont; but destroyed by Mr. Beckford; and traces of a monastery founded by Henry II. in 1181, and said to be the first establishment of Carthusians in England. Its revenue at the time of the Reformation was returned at £227 Is. 8d., and the ruins were taken down in 1764. There is a kiln for brick and tile burning.
1891 - Kelly's County Topographies (Somerset)
WITHAM FRIARY is a village and parish, with a station on the Wilts and Somerset branch of the Great Western railway, 125½ miles from London, and is the point of junction of the line for Shepton Mallet and Wells, being 9 miles from Shepton Mallet, 14 from Wells, and 6 south from Frome (which is its market town), in the Eastern division of the hundred of Frome, East Somerset, Frome union, county court district and rural deanery, Wells archdeaconry, diocese of Bath and Wells, and Canterbury province.
The church of Mary the Virgin, St. John the Baptist, and All Saints, is the sole remaining building of the Priory established here by the Carthusians about the year 1181: it was erected by Bishop Hugh, celebrated as the restorer of Lincoln Cathedral: it is in the Early English style, and has a stone vaulted roof, but has been disfigured by a modern square tower, and slated exterior roof with parapet: it has only a nave with circular apse for chancel, and contains an organ, purchased by subscription in 1859. The register dates from the year 1615. The living is a vicarage, yearly value £104, with residence, in the gift of the Duke of Somerset, and held by the Rev. Alexander D’Arblay Burney, M.A., of Trinity College, Cambridge. Here is a National school for boys and girls, supported by subscription, in which a Sunday school is also held.
The Duke of Somerset, who is lord of the manor, A. P. E. Powell, and J. Balch, esqrs., are the chief landowners. The soil and subsoil, are clay and stone brash. The land is used solely for dairy farms. The acreage is 5,497; gross estimated rental, £8,568; rateable value, £6,316; the population in 1871 was 547.
1929 - Somerset by George Woosung Wade & Joseph Henry Wade
Witham, or Witham Friary a small village 6 m. S. from Frome, with a station (G.W.R.). Its only present-day interest is its church. Its popular designation preserves its early ecclesiastical associations, though with some degree of "terminological inexactitude." It was a settlement not of Friars but of Monks. Here was established the first of the few Carthusian houses in England, which only number nine in all. It was Henry II.'s gift to the church, in part payment for the murder of Becket. Witham had as one of its earliest priors the celebrated Burgundian, Hugh of Avalon, who afterwards became Bishop of Lincoln. The existing church is perhaps a surviving portion of his work. It is a plain vaulted building of severe simplicity with an apsidal E. end, containing a good E.E. triplet. Opinions differ as to whether the present structure was the monks' church, the choir of the monks' church, or the church of the lay brothers (for in Carthusian houses the clergy and the laymen worshipped in separate buildings). In recent years the church has been extended one bay westward, and a belfry added. Note (1) the curious recess in exterior S. wall of apse; (2) double square piscina in chancel; (3) rood-loft stair; (4) Norm. font, which was once built into the tower erected in 1832. There is also a modern font, which was used before the former one was recovered. The buttresses are copies of those constructed by St Hugh for the chapter-house at Lincoln. The domestic buildings have disappeared; they are supposed to have stood N. of the church. One curious relic of the "common life" of the monks has escaped the hand of the destroyer. This is the dovecot, on the other side of the road, now converted into a village reading-room. The building is of unusual size; but the existence of some of the pigeon-holes puts its original purpose beyond doubt (cp. Hinton Charter-house).
General Somerset Tips