Wedmore is beautifully situated, perched high on rocky ground above the surrounding marshland, overlooking the Somerset Levels. Lying halfway between Wells and Burnham-on-Sea, it is one of the largest villages in the county of Somerset. It is close to the Mendip Hills and to the lovely Cheddar Gorge. Wedmore lies between the Rivers Axe and Brue.
In Saxon English, Wedmore means “hunting moor”, so there must have been plenty of game here in olden days. Iron Age remains have been found in the area along with a number of Roman sites from the 1st century. In the 7th century, King Alfred the Great had a royal estate in the area. The site of the manor house, next to the church, is thought to be the site of his house.
After winning a battle against the invading Danes in 878, Alfred brought the Danish leader, Guthrum, and some of his followers to his house at Wedmore for celebrations. The Danish leader was baptised into the Christian religion and the Treaty of Wedmore was signed, in which there was the demarcation of a frontier along the Roman Watling Street. Northern and eastern England came under the jurisdiction of the Danes, in an area known as “Danelaw”, following Scandinavian laws and customs. Alfred gained control of areas of West Mercia and Kent which had previously been beyond the boundaries of Wessex. In these areas, English custom and law ruled. The medieval stone church of St Mary is thought to be on the site where the historic treaty was signed.
During the 19th century, a pot excavated in the churchyard was found to contain over 200 silver coins from the reigns of Kings Ethelred, Canute and Harold I. It was believed to have been buried around the middle of the 11th century.
According to the Domesday book, Wedmore was one of 19 holdings of the Bishop of Wells and was even then a sizable settlement with 18 cottages, woodlands, pasture, a couple of fisheries. In medieval times the Bishop of Bath and Wells oversaw Wedmore parish, which consisted of the three villages of Blackford, Theale and Wedmore itself, plus fourteen hamlets.
In the 17th century, Dr John Westover lived in Wedmore. In the grounds of his house, he built a strange stone outhouse to which he brought patients from all over the West Country. These patients were suffering from mental illness and Westover’s outhouse is believed to have been England’s first private lunatic asylum. Apparently, the doctor treated his patients compassionately, even ensuring that they had such little luxuries as playing cards and tobacco. He also kept a fascinating record of all the ailments from which people in the village suffered over a period of 15 years. This included methods of treatment and his charges, which were quite often goods rather than money.
The village of Wedmore grew up around a Saxon square. The stone cottages still face outwards, with their backs to the green. In the 12th century this was the market centre for the surrounding agricultural area. Weekly markets were held and there was also an annual. The market cross dates from the 14th century stands as a testimony to the times.
St Mary’s church was built in the late 15th century, although there are traces of an early 13th century church and some decoration is possibly from the 14th century. One of the most notable features is a wall painting of St Christopher, dating from around 1500.
Most of the architecture seen today dates from Georgian times, such as the Post Office, and much earlier. The Old Vicarage was built at the end of the 15th century and the George Hotel was a 16th century coaching inn. The chemist shop on Church Street was formerly the Victorian equivalent of a department store, for inhabitants of a wide area.
The area is popular with birdwatchers, as the local peat moors are a rich source of food for birds. There are several nature reserves in the area and lots of lovely walks. Wedmore, and the surrounding area, has plenty of holiday accommodation and there are several places to eat and drink, in addition to shops and other places of interest.