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Market Towns in South Somerset
This ancient market town lies at the heart of the Somerset Levels, strategically placed at a crossing point over the River Parrett.
Its central location makes Langport both a thriving hub for the neighbouring villages, and an ideal base to explore, by car, on foot or by bike, the surrounding nearby towns such as Yeovil, Taunton, Bridgwater, Street and Glastonbury, and the flora and fauna of the Somerset Levels, one of England's most unchanged landscapes.
Langport boasts a fine range of modern facilities, including a post office, library, pharmacy and medical centre; retail outlets ranging from supermarkets to a wide variety of independent shops and craft workshops, and many good places to eat and drink. There are pleasant walks around the town, with attractive picnic areas beside the river and in the Walter Bagehot Town Garden, overlooking the moors.
The Hill, the oldest part of town, provides unrivalled views of the surrounding countryside, as well as an eclectic mix of fine old buildings.
River and moor walks
A network of mainly level footpaths can take you along beside the River Parrett (part of the River Parrett Trail), through Northmoor or around the town. Most paths are suitable for disabled access, though in severe wet weather some may become unusable. There are seats and picnic tables on Cocklemoor and in the Walter Bagehot Town Garden for you to rest and enjoy the beautiful tranquil views. A footpath map is available in the Langport Information Centre.
Langport and its neighbouring parish of Huish Episcopi boast many fine historic buildings. Especially notable are the distinctive Hanging Chapel in the old town wall on The Hill; the two parish churches of All Saints’, Langport, and St Mary’s, Huish Episcopi; and the houses on Bow Street which lean gently backwards, possibly because their fronts had the benefit of the foundation of the Roman causeway.
The Hanging Chapel, The Hill
The Grade 1 listed Hanging Chapel is the jewel in Langport’s crown. It is a 15th century structure with 12th century origins. Contrary to popular myth, its name comes from its construction over the road, not because anyone was hanged there by the infamous Judge Jeffreys (they weren’t). Over time it has been the town hall, a Sunday School, an armoury, museum, grammar school and, since 1891, a masonic lodge.
All Saints’ Church, The Hill
All Saints’ Church has dominated the skyline since the 15th century. The Tower’s portcullis emblems pay tribute to Lady Margaret Beaufort (mother of King Henry VII), who, as Lady of the Manor, paid for much of its construction. The famous crowned portcullis used by the Houses of Parliament came from this Beaufort coat of arms. The east window has a fine collection of medieval stained glass, and the west window was installed in memory of Walter Bagehot. A fine collection of unusual stone carved ‘hunky punks’ decorate the outside.
The Town Hall, Cheapside
Langport Town Council still meets in the Town Hall, which was built in 1733. At various times the building has housed the town’s horse-drawn fire engine, the cells and the county court. It has a fine octagonal clock, originally installed in 1802. In the 19th century Langport had several clockmakers. William Preddy, who worked here in the 1820s-1830s, has over 20 signed clocks that are still in existence. Despite this, the present clock was made in London!
Great Bow Wharf, Bow Street
River-based trade was vital to Langport’s commercial prosperity until the coming of the railway. This restored warehouse, next to Great Bow Bridge, was once operated by the important trading company, Stuckey & Bagehot. The warehouse is now a multi-purpose community facility, with an attractive and popular riverside café.
St Mary’s Church, Huish Episcopi
The Norman doorway with its distinctive dogtooth design is the earliest part of the mainly 15th century building, dating back to the 12th century. The ornate west tower is said to be one of the finest in Somerset. The stained glass window in the south aisle was designed by Burne-Jones and made in the workshops of William Morris. It is dedicated to James Kelway, founder of the world-famous Kelways Nurseries.
Langport is the home of the famous Victorian constitutional and financial writer and long-time editor of The Economist, Walter Bagehot (1826-77). He was born in Bank Chambers in Cheapside, lived at Hurds Hill, and is buried in All Saints’ Churchyard on The Hill. The Town Garden has been renamed in his honour, and has a splendid interpretation board celebrating his life and achievements.
His family were not only commercially important to Langport through the 19th century Stuckey & Bagehot trading company, but also, with their relatives, the Stuckeys, through the regionally important Stuckey’s Bank (which at one time could boast a banknote circulation second only to the Bank of England itself!), which began in Langport and which eventually, through mergers, became part of the National Westminster Bank.
Battle of Langport
An important English Civil War battle took place to the east of Langport on 10th July 1645. The Parliamentarian Army, under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, defeated the Royalist troops, led by General Goring. As the Royalists fled westwards over Bow Bridge they set fire to some of the houses in Bow Street, but the locals doused the flames as fast as they arose.
Oliver Cromwell himself was present, and wrote a detailed account of this ‘happy victory’ near ‘a very strong place of the enemy’s called Langport’. This triumph at Langport, gained with few casualties, enabled Cromwell to consolidate his position in the South West.
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