Chard in South Somerset has a fascinating history linked first to the wool trade which in 1819 was replaced by lace making. Luddite activity was strong here in the early 1840s. Several famous people feature in the town’s past. John Stringfellow of Chard invented steam-powered aeroplanes and Britain’s first female cabinet minister – Margaret Bondfield heralds from the area. The main centre lies around High Street and Fore Street. Buildings in the town date from the twelfth century, although a fire in 1577 destroyed much of the old medieval architecture which was quickly replaced by buildings financed by the blossoming wool trade.
Discover more on Chard’s colourful history at the town’s museum and head off on the town heritage trail featuring stories of Luddite rebellion. Leaflets and guides are available from Chard Tourist Information Centre at The Guildhall on Fore Street. The town is surrounded by beautiful countryside and nearby Chard Reservoir has some pleasant country walks. Local attractions include Grade II Listed Cricket St Thomas Lakes and Gardens and Forde Abbey and Gardens.
Chard Museum & Town Tours
At the top of High Street is Chard Museum, housed in the sixteenth century Godworthy House. Here you can see John Stringfellow’s early steam-powered aeroplanes. Stringfellow lived at No 121 High Street, marked by a blue plaque. The Plaque Trail around Chard takes in sixteen historic sights. There is also an audio tour about the Chard Lace Riots available from the Tourist Information Office. In August 1842 workers in Chard’s lace factories revolted against the harsh working conditions and lack of pay, many were on the point of starvation. The tour takes you through the social pressures of the time and tells of the mill strikes and the owners and authorities attempts to stamp out the protesters.
Chard Museum also has an excellent collection relating to the Victorian shoemaker, James Gillingham. He pioneered the production of artificial limbs after an accident in 1863 when a local man was left with only one arm after a celebratory cannon badly injured him. Gillingham’s work was so well regarded it was sought all over the country. Other famous locals also feature in museum displays such as Margaret Grace Bondfield who was Britain’s first women cabinet minister in 1943. You can hear a recording of one of her speeches. The museum also has a varied collection of machinery including a lace making machine that was used at a mill locally, a blacksmith’s forge and a 1940s garage.
Walking & Birdwatching Around Chard Reservoir
Chard Reservoir is just to the north east of the town centre. The reservoir was originally built in 1842 to provide water for the Chard Canal which was abandoned when the railway arrived. After years of it being used for shooting and fishing the council took it on as a Local Nature Reserve in 1990. Today Chard Reservoir is managed as a nature reserve with waterside walks, bird hides and a waymarked circular trail. Habitats here include woodland, meadows, reedbed and of course the open water which attracts great crested grebe, little egret, common sandpiper, cormorants, swallows and house martins. Certain areas of the reservoir are reserved for angling. Tickets should be obtained from Chard Angling Club before getting to the bank.
Forde Abbey & Gardens
Forde Abbey Historic House & Gardens in Chard offers a fun family day out and makes an exceptional wedding venue. On-site attractions and activities include beautiful themed gardens and ponds, tours of the magnificent house with medieval beginnings and you’ll find an Abbey Nursery, gift shop and undercroft tearooms on-site. Children’s trails wind around the estate and you can pick your own fruit and enjoy a host of year round events from garden tours and talks to classical music concerts. Well trained dogs are welcome on the estate.
Cricket St Thomas Lakes & Gardens
Just to the east of Chard is Cricket St Thomas Lakes and Gardens. The Park is most renowned for its wildlife park but it was also the location for the filming of "To The Manor Born" with Penelope Keith. The historic Manor House is now open as a hotel whilst the park features a mini train which pushes around the valley across the Chinese Bridge with spectacular views across the lakes and gardens. A Grotto Garden and Water Garden, the Cricket House and Hamiltons Tea Rooms are all on-site.