Markets and Coaches

In the 16th to 18th centuries, Somerton was an important coaching town with a lively market and contacts with distant places, particularly among buyers of fat cattle for the London markets. There was no road from Wells to Taunton across the Somerset levels at that time, so all traffic came from Wells through Glastonbury and on to Taunton through Somerton and Langport. Coaches from London also used Somerton, before the road from Podimore to Long Sutton was opened.

Somerton had many inns during this period. The Red Lion was rebuilt in 1768 as the post house, and a coach arriving there could have its four horses changed within five minutes, leaving the traveller barely time to get down and stretch his legs.

The market was held in Cow Square, Broad Street (then known as Rother Beast Street), Pig Lane (North Street) and in the Market Place, which also housed the Shambles (on the site of the present Parish Rooms). In 1596 the Town Hall was built to provide a market hall for wool, cloth and corn, and in 1673 the Market Cross was added to create a sheltered area for the sale of dairy produce. Both were provided by the Hext family of Low Ham who were Lords of the Manor during the 17th century.

Many of the buildings in the old town belong to this period, basically 17th century in construction, although many had new shop fronts added in the later 18th century, typical of the 'Jane Austin' period. One house in West Street still has evidence of an older style, with a breastsummer beam visible above a stone front which must have been inserted later.