A History of Montacute

By Tim Lambert

The village of Montacute gets its name from the Latin words Mons Acutis, which means pointed hill. (In the Middle Ages all educated people spoke Latin and the names of places were often given in Latin in documents).

In the 11th century, according to an old legend Tostig, a lieutenant of King Canute found a miracle-working cross at the site. The Normans built a motte and bailey castle on the hill. A motte and bailey castle consisted of a wooden stockade around a hill with living quarters on the top.

Later the land was given to the French abbey at Cluny. The French monks founded a priory (a daughter abbey) at Montacute in 1102. It was called the Priory of St Peter and St Paul and in the Middle Ages, it dominated the area.

In the Middle Ages, the settlement at Montacute grew into a busy little town. The people of Montacute were allowed weekly markets. (In those days there were very few shops and if you wished to buy or sell anything you had to go to a market).

Like many Somerset towns, Montacute became a centre of the wool trade. By our standards, it was a tiny place with a population of only a few hundred. Nevertheless, Montacute grew a little larger, and in 1240 a new borough (like a suburb) was added to the little town.

However, in 1539 Henry VII closed the priory and most of its buildings were demolished. However, a fishpond remains. So does a dovecote, where doves were kept for food.

Montacute House was built in 1601 for the Phelips family, Lords of the Manor. In 1760 the Montacutes built a folly tower on the hill. The Kings Arms dates from the 17th century. The Phelips Arms dates from the 18th century.

Today Montacute is known for its TV, radio, and toy museum, which opened in 1991. Today the population of Montacute is about 700.