The historic town of Langport, on the banks of the River Parrett, claims to be the smallest town in England. Langport and all the villages around are part of the picturesque Somerset Levels.
Langport lies at a crossing point on the River Parrett, so the Romans built a causeway here, having recognised the use of this waterway to the sea. The town was a prosperous settlement throughout the period of the Roman occupation, as barges transported goods to the sea from here. However its use as a port declined during the Saxon period, as the river had a tendency to silt up. The hill above the river was in a strategically defensive position from which the river crossing could be controlled, so the Saxons found this an ideal spot for a fortress.
The town is described in the Domesday Book as “Lanporth” which is believed to mean the long port from the Old English words “lang” and “port”. The final battle of the English Civil War took place on nearby Sedgemoor in 1645. Langport continued to be a port until the late 18th century, when the river was no longer navigable for larger vessels.
The ancient market town has several interesting and distinctive houses on Bow Street, the main street of the town. Apparently the name of this street is believed to have been derived from the Roman villa which once stood there. It is believed that the fronts of the buildings along this street are built on the foundations of the original Roman causeway - which is why they lean slightly backwards, not having the same support at the rear! The “Hanging Chapel” gatehouse of the original town walls has a chapel above.
Today Langport is a pleasant town and its riverbank is a prime attraction. People visit for the fishing and canoeing, or just to walk or picnic along the riverside. There is a visitor centre in town, and it is possible to hire bicycles to ride the cycle way along the river.
One of the sites within easy reach of Langport is Muchelney Abbey, only two miles to the south. This Benedictine Abbey is the second largest in Somerset and was founded on the island of Muchelney in the Somerset Levels in the 8th century. The 16th century abbot’s house has some interesting carved stone doorways and superb fireplaces. The Abbot’s Lodging was just completed before the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.