Somerton Court is a large historic country house believed to date in part from the 12th Century. It is situated at Lower Somerton on the eastern edge of Somerton, the royal town of ancient Wessex set in some 55 acres of parkland and gardens.
Somerton Court Country House
Although believed to incorporate Roman remains or materials in its foundations, the first known record of Somerton Court dates to an 1176 purchase of land by William de Erleigh. He presumably built a manor house here, and the new holding – later known as the manor of Somerton Erleigh – remained with his decendants and their relations for over 350 years. The manor was a small one, and was used for income and dowries rather than as a family seat.
Most of its owners were rather quiet – other than in the 1400s when the manor was held by a number of people who were either slain or executed during the 100 Years War and the Wars of the Roses. Among these unfortunate owners were Henry le Scrope and James Butler, Earl of Ormond and Wiltshire (both of whom married owners of the manor), who were executed in 1415 and 1461 respectively.
Somerton Court’s most famous owner, however, was undoubtedly Edward IV’s brother, the Duke of Clarence – best remembered for having been drowned in a butt of malmsey in 1478.
The manor house was later owned by Henry Percy, the sixth Earl of Northumberland, who sold the estate in 1530 to pay some of his massive debts. After passing through a number of hands, it was bought in 1597 by James Fisher. (In 1597, another part of the estate – the manor of Somerton Randall was sold to John Still, the Bishop of Bath and Wells. This second house is now known as “Somerton Erleigh”, leading to past confusion as to which house was the manor house.)
The original manor house had not been improved much after its construction in the late 1100s, and Fisher’s son (another James) rebuilt it, marking his work with the date 1641 carved into the porch. It remained with the Fishers until 1808 – again with presumably little in the way of upgrading – when it was sold, renamed “Somerton Court”, and updated with Gothic battlements and turrets in place of the former gabled dormers. It was enlarged in the 19th century by the Hall-Stephenson family and was sold in 1927 and 1970.