« PreviousContinue »
ART. IV.-1. Somerset : Highways, Byways, and Waterways.
Written and Illustrated by C. R. B. BARRETT. London:
1894. 2. Historical and Topographical Collections relating to the
Early History of Parts of South Somerset. By John
BATTEN, F.S.A. 8vo. Yeovil : 1894. SON OMERSET, we are told by Camden, is a large and plentiful
country, rich in soil and pastures and mineral produce, taking its name, as some have thought, from its bright and balmy air. Like Titania's realm, it is pleasant at every season : “the summer still doth tend upon my state.' It may have been that the Welsh bards confused its blue hills with Arthur's Paradise among the orchards of Fairyland and the bowery hollows crowned with summer sea.' Those who dwelt in the wet moors and bleak uplands probably thought that their country should be called the Winterland. But, as a matter of fact, all the stories of the 'Summer region’ were based upon a false etymology. The shire took its name from the West. Saxon settlement at Somerton, just as the title of Wiltshire is derived from the town on the banks of the Wily.
At Somerton was the royal town set on a lofty hill, from which the invading army might survey the whole range of conquest. As one stands above the town on the Langport Road, the view extends across the whole width of the county from the ridge of Mendip to the neighbourhood of Exmoor. It is with Somerton that we shall begin our consideration of the sketching-tour described in Mr. Barrett's work. should premise that the handsome volume now before us does not deal with the whole county, but is confined almost entirely to its central and western portions. The author's object seems to have been to describe the chief places of interest between Wells and Dunster, with the help of etchings and woodcuts. “I purpose,' he says, 'to wander with • my reader through village and town, and to linger by some • historic spot, making use of my pencil by the way. Several of these illustrations are of very good quality. They appear to us to follow the lines of advice laid down fifty years ago by Mr. Eagles, still remembered as “the Sketcher' in his West-country home. He was all for general aspects, without a refined minuteness. He loved an unlaboured freshness' as bringing one nearest to nature; "for a true sketch is not 'u finished picture, but the vivid impression of a scene.'
Under the heading of Somerton we find a good etching of the market cross, which is of seventeenth-century work, though built on a more ancient basement. Its arcade runs round a central pillar and rises with a pyramidal roof. In the foreground is the Town Hall, backed by old bowwindowed houses, and we see a fine octagonal church-tower
peeping up above the roofs.' The church lies high, and is naturally dedicated to St. Michael. It was the Western custom to choose the same Guardian of the Mount whether the church were built on some wind-swept hill, on a sharppointed tor, or an island of sand and shingle, left stranded wben the waters retired. The tower forms a southern quasi-transept, the lower portion is early English, the upper a good specimen of the Perpendicular work for which the county is celebrated. There is a similar example at South Petherton, where the tower is set at the centre of the cross; a smaller octagon tower exists at Bishop's Hull, near Taunton, and half-a-dozen other specimens may be found in different parts of the county. The roof of Somerton Church is magnificent, its panels being thickly covered with figures and twining foliage ; but our author seems to prefer the Martock roof of black oak, with its panels so enriched as to form one continuous mass of ornament. With this last example we ought to compare its rival, the grey upstained roof at Shepton Mallet, divided into three hundred and fifty carved compartments, of which no two are alike. A Somerton anecdote is told by 'Murray' about some of Monmouth's followers. After the battle of Sedgemoor a good many of the prisoners were confined in the church; they • ainused themselves with playing at ball, and when the roof • was repaired a large number of balls were found, of which specimens are preserved at the Taunton Museum.' We can test the story by referring to certain extracts from the parish accounts, lately published by the Rev. D. L. Hayward, and by these it appears that there was a practice of playing fives against the church wall long before Monmouth's time. It cost a large sum every year to keep the windows in repair; but it is certainly remarkable that in the year of the rebellion the expenses rose to more than double the ordinary amount. An old man at Pitney told Mr. Hayward that he remembered how the lads played at ball against the church tower even during the performance of Divine service. We may say a word about the tile-pared well behind the Almshouse. The meaning of its name seems to be forgotten, although it was recorded by Collinson; but his history
is somewhat scarce and more than a hundred years old. There is a spring, he says, of very fine water, with five distinct streams, from which circumstance it has • obtained the name of the Ringers' Well. There used to be an old castle in this town, long since pulled down; out of its materials a prison was built, with a wall 'embattled
about, castle-wise,' and when the prison was destroyed in its turn some of the fragments were used in building the Bears Inn, where the historian saw a crenellated wall and *the vestiges of a semicircular tower ;' but it seems that these relics are now mistaken for a part of the more ancient fortress. The ‘Bears' is no longer an inn, but its old neighbours, the White Hart and the Red Lion, still exhibit their fantastic signs.
Mr. Barrett's plan is to group together the more archaic parts of his subject, and the story of Somerton matches easily with the romance of a pilgrimage from Camelot to *Avalon ;' but it must be confessed that the high earthworks at Cadbury have little to remind us of the green meads and crystal dykes' of Camelot, and that the world no longer believes in the sham discovery of Guinevere's crumbling tresses and the bones of the king that was and
is to come. There are several interesting antiquities to be seen en route, such as a paved stretch of the Roman Fosseway, and a slab-road through a peat-moss, which is known as the Abbot's Path. The date of this frame-way is unknown. It seems to have been constructed of roughly squared logs of birch and alder, with sides and cross-pieces, or 'stringers, as in some of the American corduroy roads. Most interesting of all is the marsh-village discovered by Mr. Bulleid in the vicinity of Glastonbury, and described by Professor Boyd Dawkins before the British Association in 1894. It is not quite like the Swiss lake villages, which were generally built some way from the shore; it rather resembles the
Marniere' of Lombardy, which have been defined as marshvillages built on piles in shallow pools of no great extent. The houses of the Glastonbury settlement were protected by a palisade standing in the mere. The peat has risen in some places about five feet above the ancient level; but in making the calculation it should be remembered that not one sixth part of the area has been excavated. It should also be remembered that both in the Irish crannoges,' or artificial islands, and on the sites of the palustrine villages near Modena, there was a further accumulation of mould, formed of organic remains mixed with the peat; this,
we may add, is the deposit called Terramare' by M. Figuier and his Italian correspondents. The marsh-villages are considered by very high authorities to have originated in the Age of Bronze. Lake-dwellings of a much earlier kind have been found, as in the case of the huts in Drumkellin Marsh, where it was evident that the inhabitants had been ignorant of the use of metal. The Swiss lake-villages, on the other hand, form a magazine of antiquities belonging to the Early Iron Age, and in the instance before the Marsh-men seem to have used their old home long after the use of iron was known. An iron sickle, riveted to a wooden handle, has been found in the Glastonbury excavations; and many of the other objects belong to the · Late Celtic'Age. Most of these articles are deposited in the local museum, and the best of them have been described by Mr. Arthur Evans and the Rev. G. Smith, who has assisted Mr. Bulleid in his work. They comprise a bowl, brooches, and ornaments of bronze, rings of jet and amber, and black pottery turned on the wheel. No weapons or coins have as yet been seen; there are the remains of a loom, nearly complete, with combs for carding flax or wool, and other implements used in weaving and spinning, and many of them carved with great ingenuity from the bones of domestic animals. Not far from this place a boat was discovered in the peat; in many respects it resembled an Indian “dug-out canoe;' and Mr. Barrett notes that it was made on exactly the same lines as the boats which the eel-fishers use about Athelney. In this connexion we may mention a discovery recorded in the · Magna Britannia' under the year 1666, when some of the moors' between Yeovil and Bridgwater were parched up with the drought, and the burnt surface seemed to some observers to show the outlines of buried trees. • In some of “them,' we are told, they found oaks as black as ebony, which made others eager to search for more, “and many • hundreds have by that means been taken up in other parts of the county.'
Mr. Barrett begins his work with a view of Cadbury Castle, which from time to time has been identified with King Arthur's home in Camelot. In the middle ages it seems to have been known as Camellec, a name apparently derived from the neighbouring river Camel. There are also the villages of West Camel and Queen's Camel, from which (as we suppose) came the Camel family, connected with the monument to Camel, the Abbot's Purse-bearer, in St. John's Church at Glastonbury, and possibly with the old legend of VOL. CLXXXI. NO. CCCLXXII.
"Nancy Camel's Cave' in the neighbourhood of Shepton Mallet. The sight of the Castle, for so these bare camps are called in the West, with the concentric rings of its huge intrenchments, will make the visitor think of Leland's fine description : *How vast is the depth of the fosses, how “wonderful the work of the ramparts, how precipitous the
slopes, how it all shows out as a miracle of Nature and ‘Art!' Cadbury is a natural fort, lying in front of an escarpment of hills. We may gather the details from an account written by the Rev. J. A. Bennett, late Rector of South Cadbury, who acted as Honorary Secretary to the local Archæological Society. Standing on his rock of Camelot, where he delivered an address not long before his death, he pointed out to his audience how it stood apart, like an island off a harbour's mouth. Glastonbury Tor looms up like another island some miles away: the edge of the Oolite hills is like a steep shore-line, 'with curving bays and jut'ting headlands,' as one may see from Glastonbury, or from any of the heights on the Blackdown range. The sides of the camp were protected by four concentric lines of rampart, cut as steep as the ground would allow, with the help of a little rude mason-work. Below these defences, but chiefly on the southern side, we notice lines of seed-beds, arranged like terrace-gardens, and divided by the grassy banks which are known as 'wales' in the West country, and in other parts as
balks,' or 'linches. It may be remembered that in Mr. Seebohm's book on the English Village Community' a distinction is drawn between linches' naturally formed by the action of the plough on a hillside, and terraces for ploughing'artificially cut on the steep chalk downs.' He quotes Pennant for a description of certain hill-terraces, a little
raised in the middle like a formed walk,' set in flights one above the other, and terminating exactly in a line at each end like those in the case before us.
The discoveries made upon the spot show that this camp, like Castle Neroche on the Blackdowns, to which it bears a strong resemblance, was a tribal refuge before the coming of the Romans, and probably before the introduction of iron weapons had superseded the use of bronze. Both places, however, show signs of having been used for habitation during the Roman period. The collection of objects from Cadbury includes fint implements, a bronze bracelet, and a number of broken 'querns,' or hand-mills. Mr. Bennett found a piece of Samian ware and one well-made tile. But Roman coins are still commonly found, though not so