Victorian Somerton

Somerton had been prosperous in the days of stage coaches, but with the development of railways after 1840, it was increasingly isolated and relied almost entirely on agriculture for its livelihood. This caused great hardship and the town was described as 'decayed' and complaints were made about the number of cottages let to poor people who were likely to become a charge on the rates.

The Quakers, Clarke & Welch, opened a collar factory in Broad Street, which provided employment for over 100 women and girls. Clarke's also provided men with out-work as shoe-makers, the work being done at home. There was a Brewery on the site in West Street which is now the shopping precinct, and a cardboard box factory further along where the petrol station is now, which made boxes for the collars and fancy goods for the gift trade. Otherwise, people worked on the land or in the trades and businesses associated with agriculture. The Market continued, and fairs came several times a year, taking place on the field behind the Red Lion, which is still called the Fair Field.

During Victorian times, the Pinney family, who had acquired the estate of Lower Somerton in 1803, rebuilt some of the properties, particularly in the Market Place and in Kirkham Street. The open fields in the south-east of the parish had already been enclosed and the Pinneys built substantial farmhouses at Midney, Catsgore and Highbrooks for their tenant farmers. The family were benefactors to the town, providing Monteclefe School (1851) for infants and girls, the Infants School at West End (1870), the Parish Rooms (1902) as well as contributing to the restoration of the parish church in 1889.

The manor of Somerton belonged to the Earls of Ilchester, who also improved many of their properties, such as the farm at St Cleers (now demolished to make room for a housing estate), Town Farm in Sutton Road and many of the smaller properties in the West End. The Manor House (now Lloyds Bank) in the Square belonged to the estate, as did the grand Donisthorpe House in Cow Square, built by one of the Ilchester stewards towards the end of the 18th century. However, the Ilchester estates were sold off in 1874, 1913, 1920 and 1921.