History of Wellington

It was not until the early 19th century that Wellington received much attention from the wider world.

Archaeology has not revealed any significant prehistoric or Roman activity in or around the town.

The earliest record is in a document of c909 which transfers the town to Bishop Asser.

Wellington appears, as Weolintone, in the 1086 Domesday Book, William the First’s tax survey of the country.

 

In the 12th century, the first parish church, then dedicated to St Mary, now to St John the Baptist, took shape.

All seems to go quiet until the late 16th century when Sir John Popham had a house built on what is now the Playing Field.

 

Sir John, born near Bridgwater, rose to be Speaker of the House of Commons and Lord Chief Justice of England. He has an impressive memorial in the parish church.

His house was destroyed by fire during a Civil War skirmish in 1645. Wellington tended to side with the Parliamentarians in that conflict, however 40 years later three local men were executed on the orders of Judge Jeffreys as a result of their support for the Duke of Monmouth at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685.

 

At this time, Wellington was developing a wool-making reputation. By the middle of the 18th century the Were family, who had moved from east Devon, were prominent in organising the various stages of woollen production from their site in South Street.

 

When in the late 18th century Thomas Fox, a grandson of Thomas Were, became the sole partner in the firm he set about industrialising the business. The success of the firm, later to become Fox Brothers & Co, provided Wellington with the basis of its growth and economic stability for almost the next 200 years.

 

During the 19th century, several more industrial activities sprang up in the town, some of which have survived to the present time.

 

Those that have not, include a couple of iron foundries, Bishop Bros and Ford Brothers, whose output can still be seen in the town’s streets, another woollen manufacturer Elworthy, which closed around 1937, and a clothing manufacturer Egerton Burnett, which received a Royal warrant for supplying clothes to the Royal family.

 

A couple of the 19th century businesses have survived alongside Fox Brothers & Co, which almost failed in the late 20th century but carries on with a small workforce.

 

The town’s largest employer is Relyon, originally Price Brothers, the ‘maker of the world’s best beds’ – that is their adverting slogan.

The second largest employer is Swallowfield, originally Walter Gregory’s, a formulator and maker of toiletries and cosmetics.

 

Another 19th century institution that survives is Wellington School, founded in 1837 as the West Somerset Academy. Its more recent alumni include the actor David Suchet (Poirot), the novelist Jeffrey Archer, and the late Keith Floyd, a celebrity chef.

 

No history of the town would be complete without a mention of its relationship with the Duke of Wellington.

In 1809, Arthur Wellesley entered the peerage as a viscount in recognition of his recent successes in the Peninsula War against Napoleon’s France.

It was left to his brother, Richard, to choose a title. Richard was of the opinion that the Anglo-Irish Wellesley family had originated in Somerset and thought that Wellington and Wellesley were near enough in sound to be appropriate.

Arthur was happy with the choice despite probably never having heard of the town. He did visit the town once, for a few hours in September, 1819, on his way to Plymouth.

 

Nowadays, Wellington has a growing population of around 15,000. The town has a distinctive retail offering in a town centre environment which was largely created during that period of industrial and commercial innovation in the 19th century.

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Wellington is a small market town in rural Somerset, England, situated near Taunton in the Taunton Deane district, close to the border of Devon and the Blackdown Hills.