Wincanton, in South Somerset, is uniquely twinned with a fictional town: Ankh-Morpork, a city state in Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” novels. At least someone on the local council had a sense of humour – but I don’t know whether anyone has been on exchange trips! A shop in the High Street is called “The Cunning Artificer”, after a street in Ankh-Morpork, and sells Discworld souvenirs.
The town has a long history and witnessed various confrontations between the Ancient Britons, Vikings and Saxons. The Britons were totally defeated by the West Saxons near this town and, in the time of Edmund Ironside, the English defeated the Danes here, forcing them to abandon Britain. In the Domesday Book, Wincanton is described as “Wincaletone”.
Some of the earliest skirmishes of the English Civil War are known to have taken place in the immediate vicinity of the town. In addition, in his “History of his Own Time”, Burnet states that the first blood shed in the Prince of Orange’s revolution of 1688 by was spilt here, although other sources say this happened at Cirencester.
The town was once an important coaching stop. Much of Wincanton was destroyed by fire in the mid 18th century, but was later elegantly rebuilt by the cloth makers, who were then the main industry. Many of these Georgian houses may still be seen today as may the coaching inns.
The church of St Peter and St Paul is worth a quick look. It is mainly a Victorian construction and the tower is all that remains of an earlier 14th century church. At the latter end of the 19th century, this was the largest church built in Somerset since the Reformation. There is a ring of eight bells used weekly for services and the small statue in the porch, of St Eligius, is worth seeing.
There are two interesting old wells in Wincanton. Shad Well is easy to see on the left side of the road from Wincanton to Bruton, on the edge of town. It consists of two arches and a pillar, with a large alcove behind, and contains stone benches, a strange, rather font like structure on one side with the well on the other. 1859 is carved above the pillar beneath a gargoyle. The water drips into a small mossy basin.
Physic Well is in private hands, lying beneath the floor of the living room of Physicwell House, on the Cucklington road. The water apparently contains a combination of mineral salts similar to Vichy water. A room still exists where people used to descend to a pool down some steps to bathe in the waters. People used to come here over considerable distances as the well was used to cure general disorders and scurvy. Beneath the floor boards is a circular shaft with brick walls. Crystallised salts cover the green water.
The small town of Wincanton is on the A303, the main London to Penzance trunk road, but it no longer has a railway link since the station was closed in the 1960s. There is a well known race track, providing seventeen fixtures during the season and a venue for various other events. This is believed to be the first place that steeple-chasing took place. There is also a golf course in the area. Every October, a carnival is held in town. Wincanton Museum is in a cottage in the High Street and has some interesting displays on local history.
There are several eating places in the town and a number of shops. In addition, there is plenty of tourist accommodation in the area. Wincanton is well placed for exploring Somerset and the neighbouring counties of Devon, Dorset and Wiltshire. There are several nice villages in the area, such as Templecombe, which still boasts its own stocks.