In my backyard: a history of building in Nunney

Building in Nunney
Local residents protested against the Barratt Homes proposals to build 100 houses in Nunney.

Over the past century Nunney has seen new houses being built all over the village – often despite protest.

Barratt Homes protest
Nunney residents protesting against plans to build up to 100 new houses in Nunney
On Saturday 22 March 2014 at midday a group of 10 Nunney residents crossed the busy road to stand in the centre of Nunney Catch roundabout.

Under the watchful eye of the media, they stood in the middle of the traffic with placards to protest against an application for outline planning permission by Barratt Homes to develop up to 100 houses off Nunney Catch.

Nunney resident Lisa Ramsay told ITV News: “Affordable and social housing is always needed. But at the same time, do we need an extra 100 houses in a village that only has approximately 300 houses anyway?”

Royal consent

Despite its appearance as a tranquil backwater with a surprisingly steady population size since as far back as Domesday Book (1086), Nunney has a long history of planning, building and demolition issues.

The earliest known example of local planning issues is 1373, when Sir John Delamere obtained the King’s ‘licence to crenelate’ before building Nunney Castle.

The Bigot family who were lord of the manor at Marston went ahead before royal consent had been granted. Not only were they forced to demolish their new home, but they had all their land confiscated too.

Sunny Hill Nunney
In the 1930s a small number of cottages were demolished in Church Street under the Slum Clearance Act. New accommodation was built at Sunny Hill (right).
Houses demolished Nunney
Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror, Thursday 22 March 1934

More recently, Nunney has seen housing being added all over the village. Over the past 100 years new homes were added, barns converted into homes and extensions added on.

In some cases existing houses were demolished and not always replaced with new ones.

With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, increased house building and government expenditure was used to pull the country out of recession.

The Housing Act of 1930 – better known as the Slum Clearance Act – gave local councils wide ranging powers to demolish properties unfit for human habitation or that posed a danger to health, and made it compulsory to rehouse those people who were relocated due to the large scale slum clearance programmes.

Horn Street Nunney
There were plans to demolish all cottages on the riverside in Horn Street in Nunney. A house on the left, the house in the middle and a row of cottages behind it are no longer there.

Plans to clear run-down cottages in Nunney were much more ambitious than what was eventually realised.

Frome Rural Council – the local authority before Mendip District Council was set up in 1974 and Nunney got its own parish council – seriously considered knocking down all cottages on the riverside in Church Street as well as Horn Street.

In the end, a row of cottages leading from Horn Street to the Primitive Methodist Chapel was demolished as well as several other cottages in Horn Street.

Bell House
Most of Bell House escaped demolition

Three severely dilapidated cottages in Horn Street (also known as the Tudor Cottages) were largely saved and knocked into one property – now known as Bell House. The new owners even managed to get the new combined property listed!

There were plans to knock down a large number of old cottages in Church Street. Such plans met with considerable opposition, however, in particular from Mr Bailey-Neale, who lived at Springfield and was a key figure in Nunney community at the time. He pointed out that the cottages were as much part of local heritage as the castle or the church.

View from Nunney Church
View from Nunney Church around 1907, showing both the cottages opposite The George at Nunney (front) and cottages in Horn Street (centre) that were demolished in 1934. (Click to enlarge)
Demolition Nunney
Rear view of the three cottages (top left) opposite The George.

Frome Rural Council decided on Tuesday 16 January 1934 to order the demolition of three cottages in Church Street, Nunney.

According to a report by the Sanitary Inspector, these houses were dilapidated. Bailey-Neale argued against demolition as he felt it was possible to convert the houses into stables.

The chairman of Frome Rural Council, Mr E. Knox, gave Bailey-Neale the benefit of the doubt.

Since the new houses that were planned as a replacement were at Sunny Hill and not being built on the the site of the condemned ones, he thought they could remain – as long as no one lived in them.

Mr Kent, the council’s clerk, pointed out the new houses Frome Rural Council proposed to build in Nunney would be offered to the tenants of the condemned properties first at a very low rent.

Horn Street Nunney
Horn Street, showing cottages on the right that have since been demolished (Click to enlarge).
On that basis the order was issued to demolish three cottages opposite The George at Nunney. In total orders were issued in January 1934 for the demolition of around 60 properties in the Frome area.

Just two months later Frome Rural Council ordered demolition of a further 23 houses, including 6 at Nunney.

Castle Hill Nunney
Two views of Castle Hill around 1905, with the Jubilee oak planted in 1897 (left).
Both Castle Hill and Berry Hill (top left) are now lined with houses.

Construction in Nunney since 1900
A map showing construction in Nunney since 1900. New development is shown in red, demolitions are shown in blue. (Click to enlarge)
Looking at a map showing construction in Nunney since 1900, it is surprising how much of it was built right in the centre of the village.

Castle Hill, Berry Hill, Dallimore Mead, Fulwell Lane and Frome Road all had properties built on what were once allotments and green fields.

It was only once all options in the centre were exhausted – and what open space remained was the hands of private individuals who refused to sell it for redevelopment – that developers started looking towards the periphery of the village.

Flowerfield Estate

In the 1950s Nunney’s population almost doubled in size when the Flowerfield Estate was built. The decision to build new housing in Nunney was taken by Frome Rural Council. Nunney did not have its own parish council at the time.

Electrical Times 1959
Electrical Times, 1959
Max Barnes in the Bristol Evening World, Wednesday 13 April 1960: “But Nunney does not just dwell in the past. It has a big stake in the future. On Flower Field, West Over and Glebelands live the newcomers to Nunney.”

“The tenants who live in these new estates cannot boast of being Nunney Jacks – men born and bred in the village. But they represent the new generation of villagers.”

“There is an inclination in old Nunney to talk of new Nunney as The Barracks.”

Frome Road
View from the church tower towards Frome Road. The area on the right has since been built on.
“Nunney, like many other historic villages, is facing the challenge of change. And despite the gloomy forebodings I heard expressed in some homes in old Nunney, I feel it will accept the challenge and settle down to become a united village.”

From The Field, 2 June 1977: “Nunney is not a completely idyllic backwater. The twentieth century has made its mark. Quarries need labour, labourers need houses, and as a result the late Rural District Council created a vast estate at Flowerfield on the edge of the village.”

“Nunney doubled in size (the population is now 1,200), the old village was unable to absorb the new and they have tended to develop as two separate entities, a matter of concern to local leaders.”

No confidence

planningIn 1985 Nunney Parish Council accused the district council’s planning committee of ignoring its recommendations and spoiling parts of the village.

“Parish councillors now claim planning matters are treated as a standing joke at meetings because the district council without exception always makes the reverse decision to the recommendation made by the council,” it claimed.

Chairman of the parish council, Stan Smith, said: “It seems to us that Mendip’s planning authority do not seem to take any notice of our recommendations. We are representing the villagers, who have a right to have a say in what goes on in it. But our recommendations seem to be a formality that is promptly ignored.”

Nunney Parish Council issued a vote of no confidence letter, expressing its dismay at the planning committee’s decisions.

Nunney Parish Council
Nunney Parish Councillors Stan Smith (left) and Owen Hillier
Another parish councillor, Owen Hillier, said that a strong line needed to be taken with the planning department.

“They should realise they have got to consider what parish councils say and not merely consider it as a law and take no constructive notice of it,” he said.

“Nunney is considered to be one of the most picturesque villages with 7,000 tourists visiting it every year. The committee should come along and see for themselves before they make decisions that spoil the look of the village.”

Ray Bush, chief planning officer for Mendip, said that the parish council’s allegations were “nonsense”.

“There is absolutely no truth in these allegations. My reply to the parish council was that their claim was nonsense. But, despite a lenghty explanation to the council why certain decisions have been made, they have still not seen fit to withdraw their vote of no confidence,” said Mr Bush.

Barratt Homes Nunney

Many of the arguments used decades ago in connection with new developments in Nunney sound remarkably familiar today.
He explained Nunney Parish Council were up in arms over a controversial extension to Cobblers Cottage in Frome Road, Nunney.

“It was certainly not a case of the parish council’s views being ignored. In fact, the applicant was asked to change the proposed materials, which is the main matter of contention, but point blank refused to do so.”

“In fact, I suggested the parish council contact the architect and make known its feelings.”

“It was also explained why the decision was made with regard to the advice issued in Government circulars. If this advice is ignored, planning authorities have to consider their chances of success on appeal and the possibility of costs being awarded.”

“In this particular instance, we do have a sympathy with Nunney Parish Council, but the committee’s – and my – view was that it was not a sufficiently strong case to pursue to appeal.”

Green Pits Lane

Barratt Homes NunneyGreen Pits Lane is not the only site in Nunney that could face new housing development. Applications to build on land behind Horn Street and Castle Hill have been rejected repeatedly over access concerns, as have plans to build up to 10 houses at Berry Hill.

Feasibility studies over the past decade showed that only three sites remained that were realistically suitable for future housing: a field south of Nunney First School on the left of Catch Road as you go up to the former Theobald Arms, a field at Castle Hill opposite Southwest Marquees, and the site between Green Pits Lane, Glebelands and Nunney Catch for which Barratt Homes is seeking outline planning permission.

Protest meetings have taken place and dozens of letters opposing the plans have been submitted to the planning authority. Many of the concerns and arguments used decades ago in connection with new developments in Nunney sound remarkably familiar today.

We don’t yet know whether the Green Pits Lane development will go ahead – and on what scale. If it does, parish councillors warn it could lead to further divisions in the village.

Members of Nunney Parish Council and local residents have raised concerns over extra traffic through the village, flood defences, sewage works and noise from the Nunney Catch transport car park.

The sense of helplessness of local people against the planning system hasn’t changed much. People have expressed anxiety that they may not be able to stop developers doing whatever they like under the current planning system. As long as a new Local Plan has not been adopted, it is feared that planning applications are almost impossible to turn down. We’ll see.

As Max Barnes wrote in 1960: “Nunney, like many other historic villages, is facing the challenge of change. And despite the gloomy forebodings I heard expressed in some homes in old Nunney, I feel it will accept the challenge and settle down to become a united village.”

Only time will tell.