1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Minehead
MINEHEAD, a market town and seaside resort in the Wellington parliamentary division of Somersetshire, England, 188 m. W. by S. of London by the Great Western railway. Pop. of urban district (1901), 2511. The town has three parts: the Upper, built on the sides of a lofty foreland known as North Hill; the Lower; and the Quay Town, with many ancient houses, stretching for about a mile beside the harbour. It is much visited for the sake of its mild climate, the grand cliffs, moors and hills of the neighbourhood, and the beach, admirably suited for bathing. St Michael's, the parish church, has a striking Perpendicular tower, an arch of carved oak dividing its nave and chancel, a magnificent rood-loft, and a 13th-century monument doubtfully described as the tomb of Bracton, the famous lawyer, whose birthplace, according to local tradition, was Bratton Court in the vicinity. Coaches for Porlock and Lynton start from the town.
There is no evidence of the existence of Minehead (Mannheve, Manehafd, Mynneheved) in Roman or Saxon times. The town owed its origin and growth to its position on the shores of the Bristol Channel, and its good harbour developed an oversea trade with Bristol, South Wales and the Irish ports. The De Mohun family were overlords of the town from 1086 to the 14th century, when they were followed by the Luttrells, who are the present owners. It is possible that Minehead had a corporate existence during the 15th century, as certain documents executed by the portreeve and burgesses at that date are preserved, but no record of the grant of a charter has been found. A charter of incorporation given by Elizabeth in 1558 vested the government in a portreeve, a steward and twelve burgesses, the continuance of the corporation being subject to the port and harbour being kept in repair. This condition being unfulfilled, the charter lapsed in the reign of James I., and an attempt to obtain its renewal in the 18th century failed. The corporation was replaced by two constables chosen annually in the court leet of the manor until 1894, when an urban district council was appointed. The borough returned two members to parliament from 1558 until disfranchised by the Reform Act of 1832. A weekly market on Tuesdays and a fair (Sept. 29 to Oct. 2) were held by the lord of the manor from the 15th century, but the date of the grant has not been found. In 1465 a second annual fair on the 1st of May was granted by Edward IV., which is still held on the Wednesday in Whitsun week. The other fair has been discontinued, and the market day has been changed to Wednesday. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries Minehead had a considerable coastwise trade in wool, grain and wine, but began to decline owing to the migration of the woollen industry to the north of England, and to the decay of the herring fishery. A renewal of prosperity began when it acquired a reputation as a watering-place.
See Victoria County History: Somerset; F. Handcock, Parish and Borough of Minehead (1903).