Somerset County Preface

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This Preface to the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture record of sites in Somerset begins with an exemplary and startlingly vivid contrast between contemporary (i.e., early twenty-first century) perceptions of two major sites: the abbeys of Glastonbury and Keynsham. Admittedly, the greater pre-Conquest pedigree of the former confers upon it a distinct advantage over the latter — whose Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical importance can be inferred and evaluated but, even then, Keynsham has no comparable reputation for Celtic significance or supposed link with Joseph of Arimathea.

But that is no good reason for the disgraceful contrast between the current adulation of all things connected with Glastonbury Abbey — the site itself well protected and visited, its artefacts on public display in situ or in the museum — and the current popular ignorance of the high art of Keynsham Abbey. The latter, not so lavishly surviving as the Glastonbury work but of considerable artistry (as well as being  organically and instructively related to that at its sister abbey), may now easily be glimpsed only in a few bits and pieces in the town: some of the best very insecurely incorporated in the archway to the entrance to the former abbey farm, along Station Road, inches away from the public pavement and thus exposed to possible vandalism after already having suffered centuries of air pollution. When the author saw them, the very finest surviving pieces were deep in the vaults of the town hall, well away from public view — although the packing cases containing the famous [v. entries 163a-c, p.194, in the catalogue of the 1984 exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, English Romanesque Art 1066-1200]  refectory roof bosses were evidence of the peripatetic life of these, arguably the finest relics, as they continue their round of various national and international art galleries and museums. As for a ‘heritage centre’ at Keynsham, it is possible that current (early 2011) plans for the redevelopment of the town hall area may, despite economic stringency, include some or all of the extant ex situ abbey sculpture.

The contrast between Glastonbury and Keynsham is of course predicated upon their contrary popular reputations.

Glastonbury (legendary ‘Isle of Avalon’) is a small gentle cosy settlement in the middle of the county, set in a predominantly pastoral/bucolic landscape and surrounded on all sides except the east by the famous Somerset ‘Levels’, the low-lying moors which were a watery expanse in the middle ages before the Abbey authorities set about controlling and altering the watercourses and water-table, the better for their own commercial exploitation (v. Williams 1970). Although some real industries survive still, Glastonbury nowadays has successfully modified a traditional rural/market town economy based on agriculture and livestock husbandry (leather goods a notable local speciality — footwear, clothes and accessories) with the addition of one based on the commercialisation of an ever-increasing menu of ‘mystical’ cults — the contemporary continuation/development of the long-standing reputation of Glastonbury as being, beyond a central and representative locality in contemporary Somerset, a focus of myth and history about the earliest British christianity and its subsequent development. It is, in short, a tourist ‘mecca’ indiscriminately welcoming a whole range of pilgrims of all shades and grades of the sacred and profane. The ‘Tor’ to the east, surmounted by the late thirteenth-century tower remaining from the church dedicated to St Michael, is a kind of nodal point for the county — although it is just the most famous of the many outcrops of Upper Lias which rise so dramatically above the ‘Levels’. (Brent Knoll is another such outcrop, well-known to M5 travellers). In short, Glastonbury encapsulates several popular notions of Somerset. There are plenty of former cider apple orchards hereabouts, just to add the decisive characteristic cliché. 

On the other hand, Keynsham lies along the busy Avon valley communications system, is probably generally considered part of the Bristol-Bath conurbation, has no tourist attractions to match those available at either city, and is — to be honest — neither handsome nor welcoming. For those of a certain generation, it is perhaps best remembered for the well-known ‘infra-draw’ football pools system of Horace Bachelor as advertised on Radio Luxemburg: laboriously and famously, he used to spell out the name of town when giving his address. The author has family connections with Keynsham; when he bemoaned the apparent neglect of the town’s rich abbatial heritage he received the comment ‘Well, what do you expect of Keynsham?’ Unfortunately, that does say it all.

Glastonbury Tor & the Holy Thorn

The author’s painful awareness of a contrast between Glastonbury and Keynsham — or, more particularly, the ‘iconic’ status of the former — was unexpectedly sharpened when someone (or some people) set about vandalising the Holy Thorn tree on Wearyall Hill, Glastonbury, on 8th December 2010. The following report appeared in the ‘Guardian’ newspaper.

 ‘It may have looked like a scrubby bush high on the bare slope of a hill in Somerset, but it was one of the most famous trees in England, and once one of the most famous in all Christendom. And it has been felled by vandals. 

‘The attack left the crown trailing to the ground beside the almost severed trunk of the Glastonbury Thorn, said to have flowered on Wearyall Hill every Christmas day for 2,000 years, since Joseph of Arimathea thrust the staff he brought from the Holy Land into the soil and it miraculously broke into blossom.

‘There were reports of many people in tears in Glastonbury today as they looked up at the bare patch of sky where the tree had grown, beside a public footpath and protected only by an iron railing — still festooned with the ribbons, prayers and little decorations regularly left as offerings. [v. author’s photograph, taken in November 2008]

 ‘The day of the attack, 8 December, may have been chosen for its special significance: each year on that day a sprig is cut from a tree in St John’s churchyard grown from a cutting from the thorn, and sent to the Queen to decorate her Christmas dinner table.

 ‘Katherine Gorbing, the director of Glastonbury Abbey, said: “It’s a great shock to everyone in Glastonbury — the landscape of the town has changed overnight.”

 ‘“The mindless vandals who have hacked down this tree have struck at the heart of Christianity. It holds a very special significance all over the world and thousands follow in the footsteps of Joseph Arimathea, coming especially to see it.”

‘The Glastonbury mayor, John Coles, climbed the hill to look at the stump yesterday, and said he was devastated: “I’m stood on Wearyall Hill looking at a sad, sad, sight. The tree has been chopped down — someone has taken a saw to it. Some of the main trunk is there but the branches have been sawn away. I am absolutely lost for words — I just do not know why people would want to do this.”

 ‘Paul Fletcher, a trustee of the Chalice Well, believed by some to be a sacred spring where Joseph hid the Holy Grail, said: “People in the town have felt this like a physical blow. It’s an act of violence really, against a living thing, a tree which was so special and symbolises the very origins of Christianity to so many people. There has been a vigil at the site all through the day, and I am sure people will come together to replant the tree.”

 ‘It is not the first time the tree has been targeted, but thorn trees are famously resilient. In the middle ages, like the abbey below believed to hold the graves of King Arthur and Guinevere, it became a major pilgrimage site — and therefore was regarded as an object of Romish superstition in the religious turmoil in which the last abbot of Glastonbury was hanged in 1539 on top of Tor Hill. It was felled by Parliamentarians during the civil war, but regrown from cuttings saved by townspeople. Like the St John’s tree, thorns from cuttings also flourish in the grounds of the abbey, the rural life museum, the Chalice Well garden and other gardens in the town.

 ‘Avon and Somerset police are appealing for witnesses, and making house-to-house inquiries — despite being isolated, the spot is popular with dog walkers.

 ‘Joseph of Arimathea, who according to the Gospel gave his own tomb to hold the body of Christ, is said to have come to the West Country after the Crucifixion, sparking legends about Glastonbury that unite the Holy Grail and Arthurian lore. In some versions of the story Joseph’s staff was made from the wood of the cross, in others it had belonged to Christ himself.’

Guardian 09 12 2010

That the Holy Thorn tree survived the harsh winter of 2010-2011 was shown by a report in the local press at the end of March. Morgana West, of the Glastonbury Pilgrim Centre, was reported as saying: ‘The new growth was actually spotted at the Spring Equinox, which is quite encouraging. There’s a skip in everybody’s step in the town.’

Somerset, from the Bartholomew Gazetteer.

I now turn from the mythology of Somerset’s core ecclesiastical site to the more mundane and quotidian, from the sacred to the profane.

Somerset people know better but, exiled, what they will often be offered during polite chat with strangers to the county are clichés about cider, the ‘Levels’ (suggesting a predominantly flat county); some foreigners may have touristically ‘done’ Glastonbury and Wells; some may follow the fortunes of the county cricket team (the ‘Cidermen’ are still in the First Division); many will have experienced the county as a transit between most areas of England, Wales and Scotland, and the traditional holiday counties of Devon and Cornwall. Distressingly frequent is a cursory and partial impression of the county gained from the M5’s transit of the ‘Levels’.

Brent Knoll & the M5 Motorway, viewed from the Mendip Hills to the N, the Quantock Hills in the background


The M5 Motorway cutting through the defile in the Mendip Hills between Christon & Banwell, showing the conurbation of Weston-super-Mare

Rapid travel through Somerset has long been facilitated by such trunk roads as the A38 (running south-west from Bristol in the north through Taunton, the county town, into Devon through Exeter), the A39 (running from Bath in the north, south-west through the other major town of Bridgwater, thence along the West [1] Somerset coast into North Devon, eventually reaching North Cornwall beyond Barnstaple) and the A30 (which runs west from the Dorset border just east of Yeovil along the north edge of the Dorset hills into Devon by way of Honiton, before proceeding to Exeter). The last-named road is nowadays supplemented and effectively superseded by the A303, which avoids major settlements.

The routes of principal railways connecting the rest of the country with the South-West Peninsula correspond closely with those of three of the main roads mentioned above: connections with the Midlands and the North are effected by what was originally the Bristol and Exeter line, which corresponds with the A38; connections with London are either by the former London & South-Western Railway operating out of Waterloo and roughly following the A30 road route, or by the former Great Western Railway operating out of Paddington and roughly corresponding with the A303. All three lines converge at Exeter, the first and last having combined just east of Taunton.

Canals, although of some importance to local industries, may safely be ignored in the contemporary context of national communications. In the middle ages, they were constructed by the Glastonbury Abbey engineers as part of the commercial exploitation of the low-lying moors.

Crucially (because thereby contrasting with the eleventh/twelfth-century situation), what is missing from the contemporary scene is the use of the Bristol Channel for communications: ironic and misleading since that must have been a primary way into Somerset until very recently. Admittedly, the sea-route is still used for the mass importation into Portbury of motor vehicles and there are plans (as there have been periodically for some time) for regular cross-channel passenger services between the North Devon/West Somerset coast and the Welsh coast; but the Bristol Channel is nowadays totally irrelevant as a normal utilitarian route. Hindrances to, rather than channels of, communication in these days when rapid transit is taken for granted as a requisite, the Bristol Channel and the Severn Estuary were, in the twentieth century, triumphantly traversed by two Severn Bridges (the first having proved inadequate to traffic demand) — previously, the traveller by road between South Wales and southern England had to go as far north as Gloucester to cross the Severn. A railway route through a tunnel under the estuary opened in 1886; its course is between the two road bridges carrying the M4 and M48. The only exceptions to the Bristol Channel being a barrier to travel include the occasional and seasonal leisure trips on a restored 1949 paddle steamer, which may include Minehead in Somerset and Clevedon in North Somerset, and the regular boat service between North Devon and Lundy island.

Mention of the Devon island in the Bristol Channel must prompt references to the two islands projected from the line of the Mendip Hills: Steepholm (historically part of Somerset, now administratively part of the present county of North Somerset) and Flatholm (part of Welsh Glamorgan). All these islands (as their Nordic names suggest) have been significant in the various Scandinavian incursions: incursions at their most prolonged, serious and threatening during the ninth- and tenth-century Danish attacks. Along with the mainland coasts (including that of Somerset), these islands prominently figure in the accounts in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (v. Appendix I).

Porlock Bay & the Bristol Channel viewed from the SW.

The political significance of the Bristol Channel, in an European context, is now virtually forgotten in the popular mind. Nevertheless, for a very long time until relatively recently, it has been substantial.

During prehistory, the land either side of the Bristol Channel shared in the considerable seaborne traffic touching the west European coasts between Iberia and the northern isles. It was part of the so-called Irish Sea Province, of which perhaps the more significant areas are Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, the Isle of Man, Ireland, the Hebrides and adjacent parts of the Scottish mainland. Evidence for migration is found in the distribution of New Stone Age and Bronze Age tombs.


The Welsh Coast of Glamorgan viewed from Minehead to the S.

The same communications-pattern continued into the period of early Christianity, facilitating the travel of missionaries and thence the transmission of cults and associated ecclesiastical establishments (primarily monasteries). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (v. Appendix I), which gives accounts of activities (especially political adventures) right up to and into the Norman period, includes material directly pertinent to the Bristol Channel region. Unfortunately, we do not have access to comparable detail with respect to the ecclesiastical history of the area: there is some documentation of the missionary activities of monks from South and West Wales on the opposite shores of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, mainly in the hagiographical literature, but it is insufficient and the whole topic needs further research; we also lack sufficient detail of how the Normans established and exercised political control over South Wales and the South-West Peninsula (spurred on perhaps by uncomfortable memories of the future English King Harold’s 1052 adventures in attempting the restoration into King Edward’s favour of his father Godwin and by the similar efforts of Harold’s sons in 1067, possibly with Danish assistance — v. Appendices I & II) — it seems obvious that this would most effectively have been effected from a convenient Somerset bridgehead — some place like Stogursey, for example. If so, then that might conceivably account for the high status conferred on ‘military’ and ‘ecclesiastical’ Stogursey which is now represented by the (ruined) castle and the large priory church with its relatively fine Romanesque work.

Stogursey & the Mouth of the Parrett, viewed from the Quantock Hills to the WSW.

Such presumed connection between strategic significance and church build/decoration may, of course, occur at any place particularly sensitive to cross-border threat. For example, the small parish church of Flax Bourton, in North Somerset just outside the Bristol conurbation, possesses some remarkable Romanesque work difficult to account for unless there was relevant patronage unknown to us — or unless one thinks of the locality as controlling what has always been, and still is, a considerable concentration of traffic funnelled between Bristol and the Bristol Channel coast by ranges of hills. Flax Bourton stands just a short distance south of the pass and the Wansdyke.


The North Somerset Communications Corridor through the Mendip Hills viewed from the NW, the village of Backwell in the distance.

Certainly until Glastonbury Abbey set about organising the ‘Levels’ (commissioning massive engineering works which included, for example, the thirteenth-century diversion of the river Brue from its original course running north from Glastonbury to join the Axe to more-or-less its present course), much of that area must have been easily accessible to small craft from the sea: so that Glastonbury itself, a central point in the county, was open to communication with the wider world through the Bristol Channel. The ‘Isle of Avalon’ was an obvious location for early ‘Celtic’ Christianity. The place-name ‘Glastonbury’ was preceded by the Welsh/Celtic ‘Iniswytrin’ = Glassy? Island.


Glastonbury Tor & the higher part of the town viewed from the river Brue to the S.

The Bristol Channel has historically been the primary marine access route to Somerset but two others need a mention, in order of importance: firstly, the mouth and estuary of the Exe, a river running through Somerset for the first half of its approximately 60km course from Exmoor to Exeter; secondly, the mouth and estuary of the Axe, which river rises very near the headwaters of the Somerset Parrett and enters the English Channel alongside the seaside resort of Seaton. The Exe gave access to west Somerset, the Axe to the south of the county.


The Mouth of the Axe, Brean Down and Uphill Church.

Somerset is a county very sharply defined. Its boundaries are more natural than artificial: it has a very long coastline along the Bristol Channel, separating it from Wales — another nation since the Saxon invasion, not merely another county. Somerset’s northern boundary is broadly defined by the Avon valley dividing the Mendip Hills from the Cotswolds (but, importantly, that border also corresponds approximately with the Wansdyke boundary work); its eastern boundary takes its cue from long north-south ridges which spring from the western edge of the historically important Selwood Forest; its southern boundary encroaches into, but keeps back from the heights of, the cretaceous hills of Dorset which extend a short distance into Devon; its south-western and western boundary extends into the South West Upland hills (the Blackdown Hills, the Brendon Hills and Exmoor).


 West Somerset


North Somerset

Central Somerset

Bridgwater area

West Somerset


S E Somerset


The Mouth of the Avon & Avonmouth viewed from the SE, the Severn Estuary in the background.


The Lower Avon Valley in the Bristol Area, viewed from North Stoke to the E.


Stanton Prior & Stantonbury, Iron-Age hillfort on the line of the Wansdyke.


The view NNW from North Stoke over the N suburbs of Bristol, towards the First Severn Crossing.

The view N from Bathampton Down, showing the newly improved A46 cutting into the Somerset Cotswolds to form the link between Bath & the M4 Motorway.


The Selwood Ridge, which forms the Border with Wiltshire, viewed from the W.

The View NE from Ham Hill towards Wiltshire.

The view ENE from Ham Hill towards the Dorset North Salient.

The view S from above Corton Denham, near the present border with the Dorset North Salient.


The View SSW from Ham Hill towards Dorset.


The View W from Ham Hill towards Devon.


The View WNW from Ham Hill towards the SW Uplands.


The View NW from Ham Hill towards the Quantock Hills.


The View N from Ham Hill towards the Mendip Hills, showing part of the A303 on the line of the Roman Fosse Way.

Defining the county by its rivers is not quite as neat but needs a survey: the northern boundary is the river Avon (except for an area to its north around Bath, explained by the political/ecclesiastical arrangements pertinent to the monastery/abbey at Bath, which needed a control ring around the city); much of the eastern boundary takes its cue from the course of the river Frome; the central Somerset river Brue has its source just over the border into Wiltshire (in Selwood); the headwaters of two important rivers, the Parrett and its tributary the Yeo, are in Dorset but very close to the boundary with Somerset (to be precise, the springs which are the source of the Yeo are about 20m inside Somerset);[2] much of the boundary in the west follows the river Tone (another tributary of the county’s central and principal river, the Parrett). Finally, a glance at the courses of the river Exe and its tributary the Barle will suggest a reason for the extraordinary extension of the county at the extreme west: it must have been thought necessary to include within Somerset territory the head-waters of those two rivers. (Unfortunately, we seem to lack documentary corroboration of this intention — and why comparable extensions of the county were not made in respect of the headwaters of the Parrett and the Yeo would be an interesting research topic.) Apart from the northern and eastern boundings by the Avon and Frome, it is almost exactly as if the boundary of Somerset is defined by the sources of its principal rivers, these latter pushing the boundaries away from the Bristol Channel. Almost exactly, since whereas the Barle, Exe and Tone rise just within the county, the Brue, Parrett and Yeo rise just without.

Other important Somerset rivers which are unrelated to the county’s historic boundary need a mention. (I start in the south and move north.) The Brue now enters the Bristol Channel near Highbridge (just south of Burnham-on-Sea) although before its thirteenth-century diversion by Glastonbury Abbey engineers it flowed into the Axe north of Glastonbury; that latter river enters the Bristol Channel at Uphill (just south of Weston-super-Mare) — it has been used in recent times as the basis of the western part of the boundary between the present administrations of Somerset and North Somerset; the Chew drains part of the Mendip Hill range into the Avon at Keynsham; the Cam drains another area of the north Mendips into the Avon at Monkton Combe, several miles upstream from Bath.

An imaginative glance at a map of the whole of Somerset might prompt the fancy that the county pivots at the mouth of the Parrett where the coast makes a right-angle between north-south and west-east. Near that central point lies the barrier of the Quantock Hills, lying south-east/north-west: a barrier since it may be considered the upland mass historically separating the peninsular Dumnonii tribe from the Durotriges to the east and north. Further to the north, well into contemporary Wiltshire, were the Belgæ tribe.


The Quantock Hills viewed from Minehead to the W.]

The pre-1974 bordering counties (clockwise from the mouth of the Avon) were the city and county of Bristol, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Dorset and Devon (sharing with Somerset by far the longest border). In 1974 a large area of northern Somerset was incorporated into the trans-river county of Avon, an error partly corrected in 1996 when the western part of Avon south of the river became the new county of North Somerset and the eastern part became Bath and North-East Somerset. B.A.N.E.S. includes that part of historic Somerset north of the river around Bath: a tract which may be small in area but whose intricate and almost intractable hills shelter some tiny churches with plenty of historical interest relevant to the Corpus — as shown in the site reports on five of the eight mediæval Somerset churches in the Cotswolds (viz. Charlcombe, Langridge, North Stoke, St Catherine and Swainswick).


Bath & the Avon Valley viewed from the S.


Langridge church & farm in the Somerset Cotswolds.

Topographically then, the overall impression of the county is of a central relatively low-lying area (the ‘Levels’ or, as Somerset people allegedly prefer, the ‘Moors’) interrupted and surrounded by ranges of hills which attain considerable heights: the highest point in the county is at Dunkery Beacon on Exmoor in the West (the eastward extension of the South-West Uplands) at 519m; the Quantocks 25kms to the east of Dunkery rise to 310m; the highest point on Mendip in the north, Black Down, is 325m high; along the eastern boundary against Wiltshire (Selwood), the north-south range of hills are at about 250m altitude; along the southern boundary which encroaches into the Dorset hills, Somerset reaches a modest altitude of 150m or so.

The dramatic contrast between the hills and the low-lying moors may perhaps best be seen at one of the following locations: at the top of the southern scarp of the Mendips, in the Wells area; at the top of the eastern scarp of the Blackdowns in the neighbourhood of Castle Neroche; or from the Quantocks. However, although scenery tends to thought of as either typically hill, fen, or coastal, there is a large range visible to the observant, sensitive and inquisitive visitor.

The S Scarp of the Mendip Hills, looking W.

 The Mendip Hills viewed from the Polden Ridge to the S.


Brent Knoll viewed from the Polden Ridge to the SE.


The View E towards Cheddar  from Compton Bishop along the S Scarp of the Mendip Hills.


Glastonbury Tor & Cadbury Castle viewed from Beacon Hill to the SE.


Dunkery Beacon, the highest point of Somerset, viewed from Porlock Hill to the N.


The view E from Porlock Hill, in the SW Uplands.


The W limit of Oare parish viewed from Devon.

Demographically, there is an inevitable thinness on the low-lying moors which, historically, have been substantially under water — certainly in winter, a season which still produces large flooded areas, especially adjacent to the Parrett and Tone rivers. Likewise for the hills, although there are quite large settlements on Mendip associated with the Somerset coalfield (which operated from the fifteenth century until 1973) — as in other high-altitude coalmining areas like South Wales and County Durham. The areas of greatest settlement tend to be on Mercia Mudstone (formerly known as Keuper Marl) but there is a remarkable concentration of small villages clustered on the Yeovil Sands (Lower Jurassic Upper Lias) in the extreme south of the county — where, interestingly, there is also the greatest concentration of extant Romanesque architecture and sculpture in the parish churches. This is also where one of more notable Limestone building stones in the county, Hamstone (closely related to the Yeovil Sands), is still quarried. South Somerset is today one of the more prosperous areas of the county.

The present county of Somerset (i.e., excluding the two counties in the north formed out of Avon county) is divided into districts which correspond with the well-defined separate areas sketched above: Mendip in the north; South Somerset, partly in the low-lying moors and partly edging into the Dorset hills; Sedgemoor, occupying a large tract of the central moors; West Somerset, including the uplands of the Quantocks, the Brendons and Exmoor; and Taunton Deane, commanding the nationally important transit corridor between the Brendon and Blackdown Hills. Each of these districts tends to be characterised by the predominance of particular types of bedrock, the three principal being sandstone, lias and limestone. Mendip is basically limestone, Sedgemoor lias, South Somerset lias and hamstone, West Somerset and Taunton Dean sandstone. (Hamstone is the golden limestone.)

Somerset Geology, from OS 1:625,000 South Sheet.

Simplifying the geology: the bedrock of the ‘Levels’ is Lower Jurassic Lias; the next layer above is composed of extensive Triassic Mercia Mudstone (formerly known as Keuper Marl). West Somerset is dominated by Devonian Sandstone but there are extensions of Lias and Mercia Mudstone westward from central Somerset. South Somerset shows Lias and Mercia Mudstone bordering the Greensand and Gault of the Cretaceous Dorset uplands. The great Jurassic belt which famously starts at the Dorset coast and diagonally crosses the country before narrowing into a north-south strip through Lincolnshire into Yorkshire roughly defines the eastern part of the southern border of Somerset and the whole of the eastern boundary. It comprises bedrock of Lower Jurassic Upper Lias and Middle Jurassic Oolite. North Somerset is dominated by the Carboniferous Limestone of the Mendip massif, but the border of Somerset extends beyond to the river Avon and even beyond, into the Cotswolds, in the Bath area in the extreme north-east of the historic county, where Great Oolite Limestone is an important source of good building stone.

Good (or sufficiently good) building stone has been historically available throughout the county, varying between the dark red Devonian Sandstone of the west and the cool Oolitic Limestone of Bath; in between are the Blue, Gold or White Lias of the central area and the golden yellow Hamstone limestone. Churches in the west of the county frequently mix Lias with Sandstone (e.g., St Michael’s in Minehead); in the south they are mostly built of Hamstone or a local variety of that; in the north they incorporate Carboniferous or Oolitic Limestone. However, stone has often been imported a short distance if it has particular qualities required by the architect or mason — significant examples are Hamstone, Dundry and Bath stone (both Oolite). Specialist stone was imported from the neighbouring county of Dorset (Purbeck Marble) and even from Caen across the English Channel.

One of the major gaps in our knowledge is a detailed account of mediæval quarries in the county, but some information can be recorded. For example, significant quarries of the fine freestone, Oolitic Limestone, were at Bath, Doulting, Dundry and Chilcote (near Wells). John Allen Howe, in his 1910 publication, lists the following Somerset sources of Carboniferous Limestone: Abbot’s Leigh (two quarries), Binegar, Dulcote, Emborough, Cranmore (two quarries), Winscombe, Vallis (near Frome), Vobster and Shepton Mallet. Puriton is mentioned as a source of Lias. Quarries of Jurassic stone he lists at Doulting and Shepton Mallet.

(Greater detail on Somerset’s geology is to be found in the introduction to either of the two relevant Pevsner volumes.)

As elsewhere, the early history of the county has left its trace in stone artefacts — or their manufacture (as, for example, at Hawkcombe Head just west of Porlock on Exmoor, where flint tools were manufactured in the late Mesolithic period). Evidence of occupation and exploitation during the Neolithic period in Somerset is lacking, although there are a few examples of Severn-Cotswold type tombs in the north (notably at Stoney Littleton, near Wellow — whose parish church is included in the Corpus survey) and the enigmatic Priddy henges are dated to this period. There is also famous evidence of Neolithic exploitation of the ‘Levels’ by the use of wooden causeways across the waterlogged moors. Bronze Age remains are more numerous, especially of course on the unploughed upland heaths of the west of the county, but a relative lack of handy stone means that Exmoor ‘monuments’ are diminutive and unspectacular compared with those on Dartmoor or Bodmin Moor, where granite is in such plenty. The Iron Age is represented by many enclosures, including such famous ‘forts’ as the three named ‘Cadbury’ (two in the north near Congresbury and Tickenham less than five miles apart, the third in the south near Sparkford), and the strategic importance of the county in the Roman period is shown principally at Bath and along the course of the Fosse Way but also there was mining exploitation in the west (iron ore) and on Mendip (lead). Throughout history — until very recently, that is — there must have been continuous and considerable exploitation of the marine resources of the Bristol Channel and its coast.

With the sub-Roman period we enter that part of Somerset’s history increasingly relevant to its ecclesiastical history. The Celtic Christianity of the Britons has already been sketched. It was displaced by the Roman Christianity imported by the newly converted Saxons. 

Reference to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle will provide an outline of events in which Somerset was involved or which affected it most nearly. All political and religious history involving the British Isles as a whole is to some extent relevant and the decision on what to include or exclude is difficult. But it is very clear that the position of Somerset relative to the ‘Irish Sea Province’ placed it in the forefront of national affairs in the early mediæval period. Most notably, along with contiguous areas and other British coasts, Somerset fell prey to the successive waves of attack by Scandinavian adventurers in the ninth and tenth centuries. After his victory over the Danish army at the Battle of Edington (just over the border in Wiltshire) in 878, King Alfred brought the enemy King Guthrum to Aller (in the Survey) where he conducted the baptism of the previously pagan king (the baptism subsequently confirmed at the vital centre of Wedmore).

(Wedmore is a crucial settlement in Somerset’s history and it is rather a pity that there is apparently no early work in the parish church. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle helpfully places Aller near Athelney, whose monastery has disappeared: knowledge about it is one of the most significant lacunæ in the mediæval history of Somerset.)

In the eleventh century, shortly before the Conquest, the Somerset coast (specifically at Porlock) was witness to the 1052 débacle when Harold Godwinson (who, as King, would be killed fourteen years later at Senlac, thus enabling the Norman Conquest) made a landing in an attempt to raise support for the restitution to monarchical favour of his exiled father Godwin, nominally Earl of Wessex. Harold met unexpected suspicion and resistance but his greater forces enabled victory; the combined forces of Somerset and Devon were massacred. Nevertheless, Harold was put to flight around Land’s End to the South Coast [that is, according to Freeman, whereas the A-S Chronicle states that Harold joined his father by an overland route]. This was the unwise and headstrong act of a perhaps well-meaning but inexperienced man which, in the perspective of history, was yet another proof that England needed strong defences along the Bristol Channel coast. His sons staged a similar approach in 1067 when, having sailed from Ireland, they attempted to ravage the Bristol area; not finding success there, they turned their attentions to the Somerset coast — v. Appendix I. To repeat a point already made, the author wonders whether the high status of Stogursey castle and priory owes something to the need to establish political strength near the Bridgwater Bay ‘pivot’ of Somerset. The Bridgwater area is an obvious communications ‘hub’.

General View of the Bridgwater Bay area, including Cannington Hill, viewed from the Quantock Hills to the W.

Hinkley and the Mendips, viewed from the Quantock Hills to the SW.


Brean Down, Weston-super-Mare and the Severn Estuary, viewed from the Quantock Hills to the SW.


Flatholm, Steepholm and the Forset of Dean, viewed from the Quantock Hills to the SSW.

Kilve (Somerset),  Barry and the Brecon Beacons, viewed from the Quantock Hills to the S.

[Bibliographical note: the contents of the Victoria County History volumes for Somerset, as listed in the Bibliography below, provide a vivid survey of the county’s characteristics. Also strongly to be recommended for its incidental but sensitive awareness of the county’s character is the chapter ‘The Return and Death of Godwine’ in Freeman’s history — v. Appendix II.]

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A Short History of the Diocese from the Diocesan website

‘The diocese, historically the county of Somerset, was created when the diocese of Sherborne, itself once part of Winchester, was divided about 909. At first the bishops made the old minster at Wells their cathedral, but about 1090 the then bishop, largely for political reasons, moved to Bath where he set up his see in the abbey there. He and his immediate successors were known as the bishops of Bath.

‘In 1197, when Wells was being rebuilt, Bishop Savaric took over the vacant abbey of Glastonbury and with it the title bishop of Bath and Glastonbury. His successor Jocelin also used the title until 1217 but then reverted to Bath alone, though he seems to have preferred Wells. In 1245 the next bishop adopted the title of Bath and Wells. The monks of Bath continued to be nominally involved in the appointment of later bishops with the canons of Wells until the abbey was dissolved in 1539.

‘The diocese was divided between the archdeaconries of Glastonbury, Bath, Wells and Taunton in the Middle Ages and the last three after 1539. The rural deaneries were often based on the ancient minsters of the area.

‘Suffragan bishops of Taunton have served between 1538 and 1559 and again from 1911. Earlier, bishops from Wales, Ireland or with titles from the Middle East and elsewhere assisted absent diocesans. Retired colonial bishops helped from the mid 19th century.

‘The diocese gave up parishes to Bristol in 1541 and 1845 and to other neighbours in the 19th and 20th centuries as Somerset changed its own boundaries.’

Christianity in Somerset before the Norman Conquest

The history of Christianity in Somerset before the Norman Conquest was sketched by C A Ralegh Radford in a presidential address to the Somerset Archaeology & Natural History Society — published in PSANHS 106 (for Proceedings in 1961/2), pp.28-45. What follows is a summary of his address. (There is some reference to changes made after the Conquest.) 

After converting Ireland, St Patrick travelled to Cornwall and thence to Glastonbury, where he was monk and then abbot, dying in 472. Mediæval Glastonbury tradition held that St Indracht, an Irish pilgrim and a king’s son, was martyred nearby after visiting the shrine of St Patrick. Both saints’ bodies were buried beside the Old Church altar — later transferred to the well-known pyramids in the tenth century on the orders of St Dunstan. The cults of SS Patrick and Indracht date to the fifth and sixth centuries — the sub-Roman, pre-Saxon, period. Glastonbury with cults of St. Patrick and St Indracht falls into a well-known pattern. Topographical and hagiographical research has shown that Somerset, like Devon and Cornwall, was evangelized by missionaries based in Wales and directed ultimately to Brittany. (There is evidence for monastic building at Glastonbury before 700 although no Mediterranean pottery has been found (cf. Tintagel), which is odd if the site was flourishing before 600.) 

Other evidence for missions to Somerset survives in several coastal (or near coastal) church dedications and place-names:

(Reference moves from west to east, and then north.)

CULBONE [a corruption of Kil Bueno, ‘Bueno’s church’] commemorates St Beuno, who was abbot in the seventh century of the monastery of Clynnog Fawr on the northern side of the upper Llŷn Peninsula in Dyffyd.

PORLOCK parish church preserves the memory of St Dubricius (‘Dyfrig’ in Welsh, ‘Devereux’ in corrupt Norman-French), who lived in the sixth century. He was the evangelist of the Welsh kingdom of Ergyng (later known as the Border district of Archenfield) and much of South-East Wales. Dubricius founded monasteries at Hentland and then at Moccas (both Herefordshire locations, the parish church of the former still being dedicated to him). He became the teacher of many well-known Welsh saints, including Teilo and Samson.

The dedication of the parish church of TIMBERSCOMBE (5kms from the coast at Dunster) testifies to the power of St Petrock who, another sixth century Celtic saint born in Wales, spent most of his time in the South-West Peninsula: mostly in what are now Cornwall and Devon but he also worked in the western parts of Dorset and Somerset.

A mile or so east of Dunster, the village of CARHAMPTON, separated by very few fields from the sea, preserves the memory of St Carantoc in its place-name. He hailed originally from the Cardigan area of the Welsh west coast and his missions to the Dumnonian Peninsula fitted into the sixth-century pattern.

Back to the coast at WATCHET, where we meet St Decuman. He was apparently a refugee from the Pembroke area who wished to live as hermit on the coast opposite Wales, which he did while administering to the immediate and spiritual needs of the locals.

All the sites so far mentioned are strung along a relatively short length (23kms) of the north-facing coast of West Somerset. There are no surviving dedications to Welsh saints on the west-facing coast of Somerset between Bridgwater and Portishead but one cannot omit mention of St Congar, whose memory is commemorated in the place-name of CONGRESBURY (now in the county of North Somerset), where he founded a monastery, and in the church dedication at BADGWORTH (about 10kms inland from Burnham-on-Sea).

The great period of this British missionary expansion was the fifth and sixth centuries. As the Saxon advance pressed westward, embittered relations between the Britons and the Saxons put an end to this missionary activity. It is ironic that the westward push by the Saxons, with its subsequent Christian mission from Canterbury, set at nought the British Christianity which already existed; it is also noteworthy that the South-West Peninsula, which had for millennia benefited from and contributed to a lively communications system within the Irish Sea Province suddenly became relatively cut off and remote from the new world centred on the South-East (Kent and then London). The Saxon advance into the South-West laid the foundations of the contemporary attitude of metropolitan England to the Peninsula, whereby it is an area distant enough for holidays and romanticised — if not romantically mythologised, its rich history (with international as well as national context) and busy industrial past (and present) are conveniently sidelined. The Industrial Revolution had the after-effect of creating the impression that only certain areas were industrial (for example, the West Midlands, south Lancashire and the Pennines) and that industry inevitably implies a large scale.

The Saxon invasion of the (British) Christian South-West in the late seventh century, following the Battle of Selwood 658, was by recent and probably only partial converts. The Saxon kings confirmed the endowments of the British foundation of Glastonbury monastery; King Ina (who ruled 688-726) built the principal church; the rule of Wessex was established, based on Taunton.

The Anglo-Saxon Church in the seventh-eighth centuries was organised on the minster principle adopted from the Gallic pattern established by St Martin of Tours (d.397). The ‘minster’ [from ‘monastery’] was an ecclesiastical community charged with the pastoral care of the surrounding district. A cathedral was merely the chief minster. However, since nobody could be both a good monk and a good pastor there developed the familiar separation between monks and the pastoral (or ‘secular’) clergy — supported by the reforms instituted by St Gregory the Great in the sixth century. 

There were important minsters in Somerset, not all shown by the place-name suffix ‘–minster’ (as in Ilminster, Pitminster, etc.) The following list gives some details. 


King Ina (688-726) is claimed as the founder. King Cynewulf (757-786) granted land for the expansion of the monastery. The competition between Wells and both the neighbouring abbey at Glastonbury and the cathedral at Bath, which was to play so significant a rôle throughout the Middle Ages, was already marked in this early period. In Norman times, Bishop Gyso (1030-1057) consolidated the importance of Wells: ‘Then seeing that the church of my See was small with only four or five canons and neither cloister nor refectory, of my own accord I set myself to secure its increase . . . I added to the number [of the brethren] and I instructed in the canonical obedience those whom lack of means had formerly compelled to live with the laity and beg dishonestly. . . I made for them a cloister, refectory and dormitory and all things which I knew to be necessary and fitting and instituted them in a proper fashion according to the custom [i.e., the rule of St Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz] of my own country [Lorraine].’ 

After the Conquest, Bishop John de Villula, who transferred the See to Bath, allowed Wells to return to the older ways. ‘The dwellings of the canons, which the venerable Gyso had built, were torn down, together with the refectory, dormitory, storehouses and other necessary offices and the cloister; the canons, whom Gyso had taught to live religiously and according to rule, were cast forth and forced to dwell among the laity.’ 

These are key passages for our understanding of the difference between the minster and the regular house and neatly illustrate the pre-Conquest struggle for reform and the difficulties with which it had to contend. 


The earliest documentation suggests that a double monastery was founded in the late seventh century. In 756 it received a donation from Cynewulf (with the consent of Offa) of five hides at North Stoke. In 781, after a dispute, the land and monastery were restored to Offa.  (Bath was a royal demesne.) After King Athelstan (926-940) there was a series of grants. The pre-Conquest importance of the monastery is evidenced by the sculpture (v. Cramp 2006). (The mention of Offa reminds us that Bath was Mercian, not part of Wessex — it was, in fact, in a disputed region. Details of the political and ecclesiastical history of the Bath area are to be found in the writings of the Reverend Taylor of Banwell in Somerset, which are reproduced in the site report for the church of St Martin at North Stoke.) 

BANWELL and CONGRESBURY were given to Asser by King Alfred. GLASTONBURY was given to St Dunstan by King Edgar. 


The original foundation of a monastery was by St Aldhelm.

According to DB (1086), there was a wealthy church with eight carucates, held from the king by Reinbald the priest. It was probably a standard Anglo-Saxon minster before the Conquest — like BEDMINSTER (a royal holding in 1086), PITMINSTER and ILMINSTER.


The granting of privileges by King Edward (899-916) proves minster-status in the early tenth century. That status may date from the time of King Ina, who built Taunton Castle. 


There is a reference to a minster in an eleventh-century document.

There were royal manors at Frome, Cheddar, Bedminster, Bath and Congresbury. Wealthy churches (i.e., those possessing one hide or more) on royal manors included Milborne Port, North Curry, South Petherton, Crewkerne. Patronage was also secured from bishops and other wealthy landowners. Apart from the minster churches, lesser ones were attached to estates: with minimal endowment, probably wooden rather than stone-built. Chief among them were the royal chapels. 

The church at Wilton (now a south-west suburb of Taunton) is alone among the lesser churches in having evidence of pre-Conquest build. It was built in the tenth/eleventh century by the Bishop of Winchester for tenants on his estate. Such lesser churches (probably wooden) had begun to appear in the seventh century when missionaries urged landowners to look after their tenants. 

Despite the efforts of reformers, the minster system survived to the Conquest.  After the Conquest there were reforms: at Taunton the secular canons of the Saxon minster were replaced by Canons Regular of the Order of St Augustine (a new foundation from the time of William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester).


Somerset 871-1066, from OS 1:625,000 Britain before the Norman Conquest.


From The Anglo-Saxon Church in Somerset & Dorset, Hill 1981.


From English Dioceses under Edward the Confessor, Freeman 1875.

From Domesday England, Freeman 1876.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Being essentially peripatetic and missionary, British Christianity would have been content, probably, with minimal infrastructure in terms of buildings, which would have been in wood. Following the Saxon invasion, there will have been some fine stone buildings — probably the church of St Laurence at Bradford-on-Avon (Wiltshire) provides some glimpse of the high standards which could be reached. But of course the Normans took no account of artistic quality (or even of the durability of the buildings they took over) in their need to show a new power and to assert what was essentially a political ascendance; taking precedence over the function of church architecture and sculpture in the liturgy or as religious symbols was the paramount need to claim and sustain administrative control. (There is, I think, an unfortunate ‘romantic’ and optimistic assumption that the quality of ecclesiastical art can be attributed essentially to ‘sacred’ function or intention — an assumption encouraged perhaps by contemporary efforts to domesticise church-interiors in order to create more social use and put churches back at the centre of community life: a legitimate aim, with ‘sacred’ credentials. One is all too well aware, however, that principal forces behind the foundation, building, refurbishing, or even rebuilding of churches have always been the resources (varying extremely and sometimes uncertain) and the intentions (not always without personal vanity and perhaps sometimes, like the invading Normans, deriving from a need to assert political power) of patrons. 

Perhaps the tendency to rate Saxon over Norman is caused by a relatively romantic view of pre-Conquest personalities and ecclesiastical organisation and practice. 

The well-attested derivation from illuminated manuscripts of Romanesque decoration is evidence of the importance of scriptoria in the establishment of style, especially in the earliest period. Early (i.e., eleventh-century) building in Somerset after the Conquest includes the church of St John the Evangelist at Milborne Port (whose dating is controversial — see the Corpus report for details); that church also shows the influence of Bishop Roger’s work at Old Sarum, likewise an important source for ecclesiastical building at nearby Sherborne, itself of course once a diocesan headquarters. Eleventh-century Romanesque is possibly mostly to be dated to the building renaissance of the 1180s — as argued by Richard Gem. No doubt this renaissance depended on a cross-channel influx of master architects, masons and sculptors from France; certainly much English Romanesque recalls that to be found in Normandy (e.g., at Caen and Fécamp) and Aquitaine although nobody would want to pretend other than that the English versions are usually far less fine. ‘Usually’ but not always: the finest work in Somerset (notably at Bath, Glastonbury and Keynsham) shows comparable finesse. It should be no surprise that individuals played a crucial rôle: for example, Cluny-educated Henry of Blois commissioned fine work during his time as Abbot of Glastonbury (from 1126), which post he was allowed to keep even when appointed Bishop of Winchester in 1129 (where also he commissioned much fine building). He had been brought over by King Henry I for the express purpose of running Glastonbury and became very powerful in England, second only to his brother Stephen of Blois; during the latter’s reign (1135-1154) Henry kept a firm grip on Church matters. 

The Winchester connection must also have been significant elsewhere in Somerset, especially in Taunton, which belonged to the bishop before the Conquest. Other important associations included Old Sarum (see above), Worcester (especially in connection with Bath), Malmesbury (a locus classicus of the ‘West Country Style’ exemplified in such features as continuous orders in portals, as at Frome), Reading Abbey and Lewes Priory. 

In the 1066-1200 period, much Somerset church building and/or refurbishment took place during the generous years of King Henry II. Maybe the Lady Chapel of Glastonbury Abbey is not the only building in the county to have work on it abruptly terminated with his death in 1189 — see the Corpus report for details. 

Usually vague about dating, when Pevsner does comment on the dating of Norman work, it is usually to place it in the twelfth century or as ‘Late Norman’/‘Transitional’. Most Romanesque in Somerset (typified by the more complex forms of chevron, including ‘three-dimensional’) is probably to be dated to the second half of the twelfth century or, more precisely and pertinently (because of his financial support), to the reign of King Henry II (1154-1189). The only instance, in the author’s knowledge, where Pevsner considers any precise dating of a twelfth-century building is in respect of the Great Church and Lady Chapel at Glastonbury Abbey. 

Pevsner is, however, generally more closely attentive to the dating of work which seems to be earlier in the Norman period, especially to that which shows the influence of what is taken to be the Anglo-Saxon style. (As well as the sites hosting Saxon stone sculpture recorded in the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, there are several examples of ‘long-and-short-work’ — for example, at East Coker and Wilton.) The Saxo-Norman ‘overlap’ is a debatable concept, itself representing a host of fascinating controversies: what used to be considered pre-Conquest in style may these days be dated to the building renaissance of the 1180s. Somerset has some important eleventh-century sites in this controversial category, including the parish churches of St John the Evangelist at Milborne Port, St Andrew at Stogursey and SS Quiricus & Julietta at Tickenham. The first exhibits some Anglo-Saxon features (as, for example, the pilasters of the chancel walls); the second dates from the foundation of the alien priory (from Lonlay in Normandy) in 1100; the third has a chancel-arch dated by Pevsner to ‘1100 or before’. In addition to the two churches mentioned above (East Coker and Wilton), others possibly incorporating very early features include Butleigh (in the south portal) and Thurlbear (‘hardly later than c.1110’ according to Pevsner). 

It is interesting to consider the extent to which characteristic features of the Romanesque style are present in Somerset. As is familiar elsewhere in rural Britain, much of the execution (even perhaps the design and choice) of sculpture may be characterised as ‘crude’, the mason perhaps fully understanding neither the significance nor the purpose of the design as well as lacking even basic modelling skills — let alone finesse. Perhaps it was the general lack of intelligent and skilled artisans which caused the more rigid and ‘mechanical’ geometrical ornament to preponderate over the more fluid figuration which asked so much of understanding, imagination and sensitivity? 

Scarce is beak-head ornament around portals, notable locations being Lullington, Pawlett and Taunton Castle. Also rare are historiated capitals; the ‘martyrdom’ pair at Bath Abbey must consequently be highly valued. Tympana are neither plentiful nor usually notable for finesse, there being a particular lack of Maiestas Dei representations, which provides a striking contrast with Continental practice but is typical of England. Many tympana which have iconographical rather than geometric decoration follow the common English practice of representing the Tree of Life with various animals, realistic or mythical, at either side. On its north portal (to the nave) and surround, Lullington provides a useful example of this type but also presents a rare Maiestas Dei representation in the gable above the portal. (It is thought possible that a similar arrangement existed in the south portal to the nave at Milborne Port, where incidentally the tympanum below is figured with very fine representations of two affronted lions without the Tree of Life between them: somewhat fascinating and challenging iconography, in the author’s opinion.) 

Common is chevron ornament, much of it late (i.e., late twelfth-century) and quite intricate as well as uncompromisingly assertive (as, for example, in the chancel of St Andrew at Stogursey). Capitals are usually scalloped but may carry a range of Romanesque iconography (lions, griffins, etc.). As one might expect at a relatively short distance from the Dorset coast, there are quite a few fonts manufactured (in rather a standardised mass-production manner) from Purbeck Marble. Much more common than one might think are original Norman corbels: on several occasions during his work, the author found some when the literature had prepared him for nothing. They are evidently less studied than they deserve, even if they are filthy and high up (e.g., at West Harptree, Bath & North-East Somerset). Also unjustly neglected are the fragments of Norman masonry incorporated into later fabric: invaluable evidence of the previous build. 

Unfortunately, before very recent times it was customary to appropriate masonry fragments to decorate one’s house or garden. A particularly striking example is the collection of fragments from Glastonbury Abbey now to be found several miles away in the grounds of what is now Millfield Junior School. The author has been alerted to some appropriations — and has found some by himself — but there must be a significant number of pieces hidden away, whose provenance is perhaps unknown to the present ‘owners’. Casual conversion with a lord of the manor, at a musical event in a county bordering Somerset, elicited the information that he had a modelled column in his house brought from some church.[3] Another memorable occasion was when the author finally tracked down the font which had come out of the church at Charlynch when it had been deconsecrated, to find it broken in pieces in somebody’s garden several miles distant. Indeed, the interior of that church proved elusive: access could not be gained, there being no response to attempted communication with the owner. 

That situation is even more difficult with respect to vernacular Romanesque, of course. Claimed as one of the longest-inhabited houses in England, the manor house at Saltford has proved inaccessible to the author except externally from a distance. Perhaps there will be a chance in the future for some expert in the Romanesque properly to record the Norman window in the north wall, once the new owners have completed refurbishment etc. Another impossibility for the author is the manor house at Queen Charlton, itself not relevant but there is a display in the garden of mediæval sculpture. It would have been useful to have been able to inspect these pieces closely; as it is, however, something has been recorded in the Survey through the generosity of Barbara Lowe, the Keynsham Abbey expert. 

A number of parish churches which are exceptionally finely built and/or decorated should be noted. The following shortlist is merely suggestive rather than exhaustive. It is important, in the author’s opinion, to know the reasons for the above average work; his suggestions are meant as prompts for further research rather than definitive statements.  

            Clevedon: a strategic position

            Compton Martin


            Englishcombe: a rare English settlement among Saxon settlements

            Flax Bourton: a strategic position


            Lullington: the patronage of the Bishop of Coutances

            Milborne Port: a strategic position; the importance of the town as a royal demesne

            Portbury: a strategic position

            Stogursey: an alien priory; a strategic position         



 I. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

 (Quotations are from the translation edited by Dorothy Whitelock.)


‘In this year Cuthwine and Ceawlin fought against the Britons and killed three kings, Conmail, Condidan, and Farinmail, at the place which is called Dyrham; and they captured three of their cities, Gloucester, Cirencester, and Bath.’


‘In this year Cenwealh fought against the Britons at Peonnan [usually sc. Penselwood, at the extreme east limit of Somerset], and put them to flight as far as the Parrett.’


‘In this year Ine succeeded to the kingdom of the West Saxons, and held it for 37 years. [MS ‘A’ has a marginal entry ‘And he built the minster at Glastonbury.’]


‘In this year Aldhelm, who was bishop west of the wood [i.e., Selwood], died. Early in Daniel’s time [Daniel being bishop of Winchester c.705-744] the land of the West Saxons had been divided into two dioceses, whereas it had previously been one. Daniel held the one and Aldhelm the other.’


‘In this year Queen Æthelburh demolished Taunton, which Ine had built; . . .’


‘In this year Æthelbald occupied Somerton [a royal vill], . . .’


‘In this year King Egbert fought against the crews of 35 ships at Carhampton, and a great slaughter was made there, and the Danes had possession of the battle-field. And two bishops, Herefrith and Wigthegn, and two ealdormen, Duda and Osmod, died.’


‘In this year King Æthelwulf fought against the crews of 35 ships at Carhampton, and the Danes had possession of the battle-field.’


‘In this year Ealdorman Eanwulf with the people of Somerset and Bishop Ealhstan and Ealdorman Osric with the people of Dorset fought against the Danish army at the mouth of the Parrett, and there made a great slaughter and had the victory.’


‘In this year in midwinter after twelfth night the enemy army came stealthily to Chippenham, and occupied the land of the West Saxons and settled there, and drove a great part of the people across the sea, and conquered most of the others; and the people submitted to them, except King Alfred. He journeyed in difficulties through the woods and fen-fastnesses with a small force. [Asser places the woods and fens in Somerset.]

‘. . . And afterwards at Easter, King Alfred with a small force made a stronghold at Athelney, and he and the section of the people of Somerset which was nearest to it proceeded to fight from that stronghold against the enemy. Then in the seventh week after Easter he rode to “Egbert’s Stone” [location unknown] east of Selwood, and there came to meet him all the people of Somerset and of Wiltshire and of that part of Hampshire which was on this side of the sea, and they rejoiced to see him. And then after one night he went from that encampment to Iley [near Warminster in Wiltshire], and after another night to Edington, and there fought against the whole army and put it to flight, and pursued it as far as the fortress, and stayed there a fortnight. And then the enemy gave him preliminary hostages and great oaths that they would leave his kingdom, and promised also that their king should receive baptism, and they kept their promise. Three weeks later King Guthrum with 30 of the men who were the most important in the army came [to him] at Aller, which is near Athelney, and the king stood sponsor to him at his baptisms there; and the unbinding of the chrism took place at Wedmore. And he was twelve days with the king, and he honoured him and his companions greatly with gifts.’


‘When [King Alfred] had turned west with the army towards Exeter . . . and the Danish army had laid siege to the borough, they went to their ships when he arrived there. When he was occupied against the army there in the west, and the (other) two Danish armies were assembled at Shoebury in Essex, and had made a fortress there, they went both together up along the Thames, and a great reinforcement came to them both from the East Angles and the Northumbrians. They then went up along the Thames until they reached the Severn, then up along the Severn. Then Ealdorman Ethelred and Ealdorman Æthelhelm and Ealdorman Æthelnoth and the king’s thegns who then were at home in the fortresses assembled from every borough east of the Parrett, and both west and east of Selwood, and also north of the Thames and west of the Severn, and also some portions of the Welsh people. When they were all assembled, they overtook the Danish army at Buttington [near Welshpool in Montgomeryshire, now Powys] on the bank of the Severn, and besieged it on every side in a fortress. Then when they had encamped for many weeks on the two sides of the river, and the king was occupied in the west of Devon against the naval force, the besieged were oppressed by famine, and had eaten the greater part of their horses and the rest had died of starvation. They then came out against the men who were encamped on the east side of the river, and fought against them, and the Christians had the victory.’

‘914 (917A; 915 C, D)

‘In this year a great [Danish] naval force came over here from the south from Brittany, and two earls, Ohter and Hroald, with them. And they went west round the coast so that they arrived at the Severn estuary and ravaged in Wales everywhere along the coast where it suited them. And they captured Cyfeiliog, bishop of Archenfield [Herefordshire], and took him with them to the ships; and then King Edward ransomed him for 40 pounds. Then after that all the army went inland, still wishing to go on a raid towards Archenfield. Then the men from Hereford and Gloucester and from the nearest boroughs met them and fought against them and put them to flight and killed the earl Hroald and the brother of Ohter, the other earl, and a great part of the army, and drove them into an enclosure and besieged them there until they gave them hostages, (promising) that they would leave the king’s dominion. And the king had arranged that the men were stationed against them on the south side of the Severn estuary, from the west, from Cornwall, east as far as Avonmouth, so that they dared not attack the land anywhere on that side. Yet they stole inland by night on two occasions — on the one occasion east of Watchet, on the other occasion at Porlock. Then on both occasions they were attacked, so that few of them got away — only those who could swim out to the ships. And then they remained out on the island of Steepholme [MS A has ‘Flatholme’] until they became very short of food and many men had died of hunger because they could not obtain any food. Then they went from there to Dyfed, and from there to Ireland; and this was in the autumn.’


‘In this year Edgar, ruler of the English, with a great company, was consecrated king in the ancient borough, Acemannesceaster — the men who dwell in this island also call it by another name, Bath.’


‘In this year Watchet was ravaged; and Goda, the Devonshire thegn, was killed, and many fell with him.’


‘In this year the Danish army went round Devon into the mouth of the Severn and ravaged there, both in Cornwall, in Wales, and in Devon. And they landed at Watchet and did much damage there, burning and slaying; and after that they turned back round Land’s End to the southern side, and then turned into the mouth of the Tamar, and went inland until they reached Lydford, burning and slaying everything they came across, and burnt down Ordwulf’s monastery at Tavistock and took with them to their ships indescribable booty.’


‘In this year the [Danish] army came to the mouth of the Exe and then went inland to the borough, and proceeded to fight resolutely there, but they were very stoutly resisted. Then they went through the land and did exactly as they were accustomed, slew and burnt. Then an immense army was gathered there of the people of Devon and of Somerset, and they met at Pinhoe; and as soon as they joined battle the people gave way, and the Danes made a great slaughter there, and then rode over the land — and ever their next raid was worse than the one before it. And they brought much booty with them to their ships, and turned from there to the Isle of Wight. And there they went about as they pleased and nothing withstood them, and no naval force on sea, nor land force, dared go against them, no matter how far inland they went. It was in every way grievous, for they never ceased from their evil-doing.’


‘Then on St. Andrew’s day King Edmund died and his body is buried in Glastonbury along with his grandfather Edgar.’

‘King Edmund had previously gone out and he took possession of Wessex, and all the people submitted to him. And soon after that he fought against the Danish army at Penselwood near Gillingham [Dorset], and he fought a second battle after midsummer at Sherston [in the Wiltshire Cotswolds]; and a great number on both sides fell there, and the armies separated of their own accord.’


‘In this year Merehwit, bishop of Somerset [i.e., Wells], died, and he is buried in Glastonbury.’


‘In this year Archbishop Robert came here from overseas with his pallium, and in this same year Earl Godwine and all his sons were driven out of England. He went to Bruges with his wife and with his three sons, Swein, Tosti, and Gyrth. And Harold and Leofwine went to Ireland and stayed there that winter.’

‘1052 (MS E)

‘In this year Ælgifu Emma, mother of King Edward and of King Hardacnut, died. And in the same year the king and his council decided that ships should be sent to Sandwich, and they appointed Earl Ralph and Earl Odda as their captains. Then Earl Godwine went out from Bruges with his ships to the Isère, and put out to sea a day before the eve of the midsummer festival, so that he came to Dungeness, which is south of Romney. Then it came to the knowledge of the earls out at Sandwich, and they then went out in pursuit of the other ships, and a land force was called out against the ships. Then meanwhile Godwine was warned; and he went to Pevensey, and the storm became so violent that the earls could not find out what had happened to Earl Godwine. And then Earl Godwine put out again so that he got back to Bruges, and the other ships went back again to Sandwich. Then it was decided that the ships should go back again to London, and that other earls and other oarsmen should be appointed to them. But there was so long a delay that the naval expedition was quite abandoned and all the men went home. Earl Godwine found out about this and hoisted his sail — and so did his fleet — and they went westward direct to the Isle of Wight and there landed, and ravaged there so long that the people paid them as much as they imposed upon them, and then they went westward until they came to Portland and landed there, and did whatever damage they could. Then Harold had come from Ireland with nine ships, and he landed at Porlock, and there was a great force there gathered to oppose him, but he did not hesitate to obtain provisions for himself, and he landed and killed a great part of the force that opposed him, and seized for himself what came his way in cattle, men, and property; and then he went east to his father, and they both went eastward until they came to the Isle of Wight, and there took what they had left behind them. Then they went on to Pevensey and took with them as many ships as were serviceable and so proceeded to Dungeness. And he took all the ships that were at Romney and Hythe and Folkestone, and then they went east to Dover and landed and seized ships for themselves and as many hostages as they wished. So they came to Sandwich and there they did exactly the same, and everywhere they were given hostages and provisions wherever they asked for them. They went on to the ‘Northmouth’ [i.e., the northern mouth of the Kentish Stour], and so towards London, and some of the ships went within Sheppey and did much damage there, and they went to King’s Milton and burnt it down to the ground. Thus they proceeded on their way to London in pursuit of the earls. When they came to London the king and earls were all lying there with fifty ships ready to meet them. Then the earls [i.e., Godwine and Harold] sent to the king and asked him legally to return to them all those things of which they had been unjustly deprived. But the king refused for some time — for so long that the men who were with the earl were so incensed against the king and against his men that the earl himself had difficulty in calming those men. Then Bishop Stigand with the help of God went there and the wise men both inside the city and without, and they decided that hostages should be arranged for on both sides. And so it was done. Then Archbishop Robert found out about this, and the Frenchmen, so that they took horses and departed, some west to Pentecost’s castle, and some north to Robert’s castle [both castles in Herefordshire]. And Archbishop Robert and Bishop Ulf and their companions went out at the east gate and killed or otherwise injured many young men, and went right on to Eadulfesness [i.e., the Naze], and [the Archbishop] there got on board a broken-down ship, and went right on overseas, and left behind him his pallium and all the Church in this country. This was God’s will, in that he had obtained the dignity when it was not God’s will. Then a big council was summoned outside London, and all the earls and the chief men who were in the country were at the council. Then Earl Godwine expounded his case, and cleared himself before King Edward, his liege lord, and before all his countrymen, declaring that he was guiltless of the charges brought against him, and against Harold his son and all his children. Then the king granted the earl and his children his full friendship and full status as an earl, and all that he had had. And all the men who were with him were treated likewise. And the king gave the lady all that she had had. And Archbishop Robert was declared utterly an outlaw, and all the Frenchmen too, because they were most responsible for the disagreement between Earl Godwine and the king. And Bishop Stigand succeeded to the archbishopric of Canterbury.’

[Interpolation by Peterborough chronicler.]

‘1053 In this year Earl Godwine died on 15 April and he is buried at Winchester in the Old Minster, and Earl Harold his son succeeded to the earldom and to all that his father had had, and earl Ælfgar succeeded to the earldom that Harold had had.’


‘. . . Then [King William] was informed that the people in the north were gathered together and meant to make a stand against him if he came. He then went to Nottingham and built a castle there, and so went to York and there built two castles, and in Lincoln and everywhere in that district. And Earl Gospatrick and the best men went to Scotland. And in the meanwhile Harold’s sons came unexpectedly from Ireland with a naval force into the mouth of the Avon, and ravaged all over that district. Then they went to Bristol and meant to take the city by storm but the citizens fought against them fiercely. And when they could not get anything out of the city, they went to their ships with what they had won in plunder, and so went to Somerset and landed there. And Eadnoth, the staller, fought against them and was killed there, and many good men on both sides. And those who survived went away.’


‘In this year the discord arose at Glastonbury between the abbot Thurstan and his monks. In the first instance, it came of the abbot’s lack of wisdom in misgoverning the monks in many matters [including, according to Florence, an attempt to replace the Gregorian chant by that of William of Fécamp], and the monks complained of it in a kindly way and asked him to rule them justly and to love them, and they would be loyal and obedient to him. But the abbot would do nothing of the sort, but gave them bad treatment and threatened them with worse. One day the abbot went into the chapter and spoke against them and wanted to ill-treat them, and sent for some laymen [household knights], and they came into the chapter, and fell upon the monks fully armed. And then the monks were very much afraid of them, and did not know what they had better do. But they scattered: some ran into the church and locked the doors on themselves — and they went after them into the monastery and meant to drag them out when they dared not go out. But a grievous thing happened that day — the Frenchmen [the household knights previously mentioned] broke into the choir and threw missiles towards the altar where the monks were, and some of the retainers went up to the upper storey and shot arrows down towards the sanctuary, so that many arrows stuck in the cross that stood above the altar; and the wretched monks were lying round about the altar, and some crept under it, and cried to God zealously, asking for his mercy when they could get no mercy from men. What can we say, except that they shot fiercely, and the others broke down the doors there, and went in and killed some of the monks and wounded many there in the church, so that the blood came from the altar on to the steps, and from the steps on to the floor. Three were killed there and eighteen wounded.’[4]


‘In this year this country was very much disturbed, and filled with great treachery, so that the most powerful Frenchmen who were in this country intended to betray their lord the king and to have as king his brother, Robert, who was count of Normandy. At the head of this plot was Bishop Odo, with Bishop Geoffrey and William, bishop of Durham. The king treated the bishop [Odo] so well that all England went by his counsel and did exactly as he wished; and he thought to treat him just as Judas Iscariot did our Lord; and Earl Roger was also in the conspiracy, and a very great number of people with them, all Frenchmen, and this conspiracy was plotted during Lent. As soon as Easter was reached, they marched and ravaged and burned and laid waste the king’s demesnes, and they ruined the lands of all those men who were in allegiance to the king. And each of them went to his castle and manned it and provisioned it as best they could. Bishop Geoffrey and Robert of Montbrai went to Bristol and ravaged it and carried the plunder to the castle, and then went out of the castle and ravaged Bath and all the surrounding area [footnote: ‘Florence, who attributed these ravages to William of Eu, says they reached Ilchester], and laid waste all the district of Berkeley.’

 [from Wikipedia:]

‘Edward’s reign began in 1042 on the death of his half brother Harthacanute. Edward’s reign was marked by peace and prosperity, but effective rule in England required coming to terms with three powerful earls: Godwin, Earl of Wessex, who was firmly in control of the thegns of Wessex, which had formerly been the heart of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy; Leofric, Earl of Mercia, whose legitimacy was strengthened by his marriage to Lady Godiva, and in the north, Siward, Earl of Northumbria. Edward’s sympathies for Norman favourites frustrated Saxon and Danish nobles alike, fuelling the growth of anti-Norman opinion led by Godwin, who had become the king’s father-in-law in 1045. The breaking point came over the appointment of an archbishop of Canterbury. Edward rejected Godwin’s man and appointed the bishop of London, Robert of Jumièges, a reliable Norman of Normandy.

‘Matters came to a head over a bloody riot at Dover between the townsfolk and Edward’s kinsman Eustace, count of Boulogne. Godwin refused to punish them, Leofric and Siward backed the King, and Godwin and his family were all exiled in September 1051. Queen Edith was sent to a nunnery at Wherwell. Earl Godwin returned with an army following a year later, however, forcing the king to restore his title and send away his Norman advisors. Godwin died in 1053 and the Norman Ralph the Timid received Herefordshire, but Godwin’s son Harold accumulated even greater territories for the Godwin family, who held all the earldoms save Mercia after 1057. Harold led successful raiding parties into Wales in 1063 and negotiated with his inherited rivals in Northumbria in 1065, and in January 1066, upon Edward’s death, he was proclaimed the king.’


II. FREEMAN, E A. The History of the Norman Conquest of England, its causes and results. Volume II (2nd revised edition). Oxford 1870.


Ԥ 4. The Banishment of Earl Godwine. 1051.


‘In the morning the King held his Witenagemot, and by a vote of the King [Edward] and his whole army, Godwine and his sons were declared outlaws, but five days were allowed them to get out of the land. . . . There could be little doubt as to the course which they were to take. Flanders, Baldwines land, was the common refuge of English exiles, and Godwine and the Flemish Count are said to have been bound to one another by the tie of many mutual benefits. . . . .

            ‘Godwine then, with the greater part of his family, had found shelter in the quarter where English exiles of that age commonly did find shelter. But two of his sons sought quite another refuge. To seek shelter in Flanders, a land forming the natural point of communication between England, France, and Germany, was the obvious course for one whose first object, as we shall presently see, was to obtain his restoration by peaceful diplomacy. Such were the designs of Godwine, the veteran statesman, the man who never betook himself to force till all other means had been tried in vain. But Harold, still young, and at all time more vehement in temper than his father, had not yet learned this lesson. His high spirit chafed under his wrongs, and he determined from the first on a forcible return to his country, even, if need be, by the help of a foreign force. This determination is the least honourable fact recorded in Harold’s life. It was indeed no more than was usual with banished men in his age.’


 ‘§ 1. The Return and Death of Godwine.


      ‘If the minds of Englishmen had been at all divided in their estimate of Godwine during his long tenure of power, it only need his exile to bring over every patriotic heart to one opinion with regard to him. Godwine doubtless had his enemies; no man ever stood for thirty years and more at the head of affairs without making many enemies; and there were points in his character which may have given reasonable offence to many. Even if the whole of his enormous wealth was fairly and legally acquired, its mere accumulation in the hands of one man must have excited envy in many breasts. His eagerness to advance his family may well have offended others, and the crimes and the restoration of Swegen, even under the guaranty of Bishop Ealdred, cannot fail to have given general scandal. It is possible then that there were Englishmen, not devoid of love and loyalty to England, who were short-sighted enough to rejoice over the fall of the great Earl. But, when Godwine was gone, men soon learned that, whatever had been his faults, they were far outweighed by his merits. Men now knew that the Earl of the West-Saxons had been the one man who had stood between them and the dominion of strangers. During that gloomy winter England felt as a conquered land, as a land too conquered by foes who had not overcome her in open battle, but who had, by craft and surprise, deprived her of her champions and guardians. The common voice of England soon began to call for the return of Godwine. The banished Earl was looked to by all men as the Father of his Country; England now knew that in his fall a fatal blow had been dealt to her own welfare and freedom. Men began openly to declare that it was better to share the banishment of Godwine than to live in the land from which Godwine was banished. Messages were sent to the court of Flanders, praying the Earl to return. If he chose to make his way back into the land by force, he would find many Englishmen ready to take up arms in his cause. Others crossed the sea in person, and pledged themselves to fight for him, and, if need were, to die in his behalf. These invitations, we are told, were no secret intrigue of a few men. The common voice of England, openly expressed and all but unanimous, demanded the return of the great confessor of English freedom.

            ‘These open manifestations on behalf of the exiles could not escape the knowledge of the King and his counsellors. It was thought necessary to put the south-eastern coast into a state of defence against any possible attack from the side of Flanders. The King and his Witan . . . decreed that ships should be sent forth to watch at the old watching-place of Sandwich. Forty ships were accordingly made ready, and they took their place at the appointed station under the joint command of the King’s nephew Earl Ralph and of Odda, the newly appointed Earl of the Western shires.

            ‘Precautions of this kind against the return of one for whose return the mass of the nation was longing must have been unpopular in the highest degree. And if anything could still further heighten the general discontent with the existing state of things, it would be the events which were, just at this time, going on along the Welsh border. The Norman lords whom Eadward had settled in Herefordshire proved but poor defenders of their adopted country. The last continental improvements in the art of fortification proved vain to secure the land in the absence of chiefs of their own people. Gruffydd of North Wales marked his opportunity; he broke through his short-lived alliance with England, and the year of the absence of Godwine and his sons was marked by an extensive and successful invasion of the land of the Magesætas. Gruffydd doubtless took also into his reckoning the absence of the local chief at Sandwich. He crossed the border, he harried far and wide, and he seems not to have met with any resistance till he had reached the neighbourhood of Leominster. There he was at last met by the levies of the country, together with the Norman garrison of Richard’s Castle. Perhaps, as in a later conflict with the same enemy in the same neighbourhood, English and foreign troops failed to act well together; at all events the Welsh King had the victory, and, after slaying many men of both nations, he went away with a large booty. Men remarked that this heavy blow took place exactly thirteen years after Gruffydd’s first great victory at Rhyd-y-Groes. Though the coincidence is thus marked, we are not told what day of what month was thus auspicious to the Welsh prince; but the dates of the events which follow show that it must have been early in the summer.


            ‘Godwine must by this time have seen that the path for his return was now open, and it was seemingly this last misfortune which determined him to delay no longer. It was not till all peaceful means had been tried and failed, that the banished Earl made up his mind to attempt a restoration by force. He sent many messages to the King, praying for a reconciliation. He offered now to Eadward, as he had before offered both to Harthacnut and to Eadward himself, to come into the royal presence and to make a compurgation in legal form in answer to all the charges which had been brought against him. But all such petitions were in vain. It marks the increasing intercourse between England and the Continent that Godwine, when his own messages were not listened to, sought, as a last resource, to obtain his object through the intercession of foreign princes. Embassies on his behalf were sent by his host Count Baldwin and by the King of the French. Baldwin, who had so lately been at war with England, might seem an ill-chosen intercessor; but Godwine’s choice of him for that purpose may have been influenced by Baldwin’s close connexion with the Court of Normandy. William was just now earnestly pressing his suit for Matilda. The ally of the great Duke might be expected to have some influence, if not with Eadward, at least with Eadward’s Norman favourites. King Henry, it will be remembered, claimed some sort of kindred with Eadward, though it is not easy to trace the two princes to a common ancestor. But King and Marquess alike pleaded in vain. Eadward was surrounded by his foreign priests and courtiers, and no intercessions on behalf of the champion of England were allowed to have any weight with the royal mind, even if they were ever allowed to reach the royal ear.

             ‘The Earl was now satisfied that nothing more was to be hoped from any attempts at a peaceful reconciliation. He was also satisfied that, if he attempted to return by force, the great majority of Englishmen would be less likely to resist him than to join his banners. He therefore, towards the middle of the summer, finally determined to attempt his restoration by force of arms, and he began to make preparations for that purpose. His conduct in so doing hardly needs any formal justification. It is simply the old question of resistance or non-resistance. If any man ever was justified in resistance to established authority, or in irregular enterprises of any kind, undoubtedly Godwine was justified in his design of making his way back into England in arms. So to do was simply to follow the usual course of every banished man of those times who could gather together the needful force. The enterprises of Osgod Clapa at an earlier time, and of Ælfgar at a later time, are not spoken of with any special condemnation by the historians of the time. And the enterprise of Godwine was of a very different kind from the enterprises of Ælfgar and Osgod Clapa. Ælfgar and Osgod may have been banished unjustly, and they may, according to the morality of those times, have been guilty of no very great crime in seeking restoration with weapons in their hands. Still the question of their banishment or restoration was almost wholly a personal question. The existence or the welfare of England in no way depended on their presence or absence. But the rebellion or invasion of Godwine was a rebellion or an invasion in form only. His personal restoration meant nothing short of the deliverance of England from misgovernment and foreign influence. He had been driven out by a faction; he was invited to return by the nation. The enterprise of Godwine in short should be classed, not with the ordinary forcible return of an exile, but with enterprises like those of Henry of Bolingbroke in the fourteenth century and of William of Orange in the seventeenth. In all three cases the deliverer undoubtedly sought the deliverance of the country; in all three he also undoubtedly sought his own restoration or advancement. But Godwine had one great advantage over both his successors. They had to deal with wicked Kings; he had only to deal with a weak King. They had to deal with evil counsellors, who, however evil, were still Englishmen. Godwine had simply to deliver King and people from the influence and thraldom of foreigners. He was thus able, while his successors were not able, to deliver England without resorting to the death, deposition, or exile of the reigning King, and, as far as he himself was personally concerned, without shedding a drop of English blood.

            ‘The narrative of this great deliverance forms one of the most glorious and spirit-stirring tales to be found in any age of our history. It is a tale which may be read with unmixed delight, save for one event, which, whether we count it for a crime or for a misfortune, throws a shadow on the renown, not of Godwine himself, but of his nobler son. Harold and Leofwine, as we have seen, had made up their minds from the beginning to resort to force, whenever the opportunity should come. They had spent the winter in Ireland in making preparations for an expedition. They were by this time ready for action, and now that their father had found all attempts at a peaceful reconciliation to be vain, the time for action seemed clearly to have come. It was doubtless in concert with Godwine that Harold and Leofwine now set sail from Dublin with nine ships. Their crews probably consisted mainly of adventurers from the Danish havens of Ireland, ready for any enterprise which promised excitement and plunder. But it is quite possible that Englishmen, whether vehement partizans or simply desperate men, may have also taken service under the returning exiles. The part of England which they chose for their enterprise would have been well chosen, if they had been attacking a hostile country. They made for the debateable land forming the southern shore of the Bristol Channel, where no doubt large traces of the ancient British blood and language still remained. The country was left, through the absence of its Earl Odda with the fleet, without any single responsible chief. But it soon appeared that, from whatever cause, the wishes of the people of this part of the Kingdom were not favourable to the enterprise of Harold and Leofwine. Possibly the prevalence of Celtic blood in the district may have made its inhabitants less zealous in the cause of the English deliverer than the inhabitants of the purely English shires. Possibly the evil deeds of Swegen, of whose government Somersetshire had been a part, may have made men who lived under his rule less attached to the whole House of Godwine than those who had lived under the rule of Harold or of Godwine himself. And we must remember that, up to this time, Harold had done nothing to win for himself any special renown or affection beyond the bounds of his own East-Anglian Earldom. As yet he shone simply with a glory reflected from that of his father. And his enterprise bore in some points an ill look. He had not shared the place of exile of his father, nor had he taken any part in his father’s attempts to bring about a peaceful restoration. He had gone, determined from the first on an armed return, to a land which might almost be looked on as an enemy’s country. He now came back at the head of a force whose character could not fail to strike Englishmen with suspicion and dread. We are therefore not surprised to hear that the men of Somerset and Devon met him in arms. He landed on the borders of those two shires, in a wild and hilly region, which to this day remains thinly peopled, cut off from the chief centres even of local life, the last place within the borders of South Britain where the wild stag still finds a shelter. The high ground of Exmoor, and the whole neighbouring hilly region, reaches its highest point [519m] in the Beacon of Dunkery, a height whose Celtic name has an appropriate sound among the remains of primæval times with which it is crowned [Bronze Age cairns. ed]. It is the highest point in its own shire [Somerset. ed], and it is overtopped by no point in Southern England, except by some of the Tors of Dartmoor in the still further west. A descent, remarkably gradual for so great a height, leads down to the small haven of Porlock, placed on a bay of no great depth, but well defined by two bold headlands guarding it to the east and west. The coast has been subject to many changes. A submarine forest, reaching along the whole shore, shows that the sea must have made advances in earlier times. And there is as little doubt that it has again retreated, and that what is now an alluvial flat was, eight hundred years back, a shallow and muddy inlet, accessible to the light craft of those days. Harold therefore landed at a spot nearer than the present small harbour to the small town, or rather village, of Porlock. A landing in this remote region could contribute but little to the advancement of the general scheme of Godwine; the object of Harold must have been merely to obtain provisions for his crews. He came doubtless, as we shall find his father did also, ready for peaceful supplies if a friendly country afforded them, but ready also to provide for his followers by force, if force was needed for his purpose. But the whole neighbourhood was hostile; a large force was gathered together from both the border shires, and Harold, whether by his fault or by his misfortune, had to begin his enterprise of restoration and deliverance by fighting a battle with the countrymen whom he came to deliver. The exiles had the victory, but it is clear that they had to contend with a stout resistance on the part of a considerable body of men. More than thirty good Thegns and much other folk were slain. So large a number of Thegns collected at such a point shows that the force which they headed must have been gathered together, not merely from the immediate neighbourhood of Porlock, but from a considerable portion of the two shires. We may conceive that the system of beacons, which has been traced out over a long range of the hill-tops in the West of England, had done good service over the whole country long before the fleet of Harold had actually entered the haven of Porlock. But the crews of Harold’s ships were doubtless picked men, and there would have been nothing wonderful in their success, even if the irregular levies of the shires greatly exceeded their own numbers. Harold now plundered without opposition, and carried off what he would in the way of goods, cattle, and men. He then sailed to the south-west, he doubled the Land’s End, and sailed along the English Channel to meet his father.

            ‘This event is the chief stain which mars the renown of Harold, and which dims the otherwise glorious picture of the return of Godwine and his house. Harold’s own age perhaps easily forgave the deed. No contemporary writer speaks of it with any marked condemnation; one contemporary writer even seems distinctly to look upon it as a worthy exploit. It was in truth nothing more than the ordinary course of a banished man. Harold acted hardly worse than Osgod Clapa; he did not act by any means so badly as Ælfgar. But a man who towers above his own generation must pay, in more ways than one, the penalty of his greatness. We instinctively judge Harold by a stricter standard than any by which we judge Ælfgar and Osgod Clapa. On such a character as his it is distinctly a stain to have resorted for one moment to needless violence, or to have shed one drop of English blood without good cause. The ravage and slaughter at Porlock distinctly throws a shade over the return of Godwine and over the fair fame of his son. It is a stain rather to be regretted than harshly to be condemned; but it is a stain nevertheless. It is a stain which was fully wiped out by later labours and triumphs in the cause of England. Still we may well believe that the blood of those thirty good Thegns and of those other folk was paid for in after years by prayers and watchings and fastings before the Holy Rood of Waltham; we may well believe that it still lay heavy on the hero’s soul as he marched forth to victory at Stamfordbridge and to the more glorious overthrow at Senlac.’


III. Abbots and Bishops



c.1125             Ralph Maledoctus

c.1135             Simon

c.1159             Benedict

1174-1192       Roger I

1198-1227       Benedict II     



1066                Ælfwig Sewold

1077                Ælfsige


1121                John

1151                Benedict

1157                Peter

1160                Hugh

1180                Gilbert

1191                Walter

1198                Robert



1053-1078       Æthelnoth

c.1077-c.1096 Thurstan

1100-1118       Herluin

1120/1-1125    Seffrid Pelochin

1126-1171       Henry of Blois

1173-1180       Robert of Winchester

       ?               Peter de Marcy

1189-1193       Henry of Sully

1193-1205       Savaric FitzGeldewin



1175                William



(reign of William I)   Eadulf

c.1159             Alan

c.1175             Hugh

c.1198             Richard


(Of the Diocese of Wells to 1090, then of Bath until 1197, then of Bath and Glastonbury.)

 1. Under King William I (1066-1087)

Giso (in various spellings) (from 1061)

2. Under King William II (1087-1100)

            Giso (to 1088)

            John of Tours (from 1088)

3. Under King Henry I (1100-1135)

            John of Tours (to 1122)

            Godfrey (Chancellor to the Queen) (to 1135)

4. Under King Stephen (1135-1154)

            Robert (monk from Lewes) (from 1136)

5. Under King Henry II (1154-1189)

            Robert (to 1166)

            [vacant from 1166 to 1174]

            Reginald fitz Jocelin (from 1174)

6. Under King Richard I (1189-1199)

            Reginald fitz Jocelin (to 1191, when promoted to Canterbury)

            Savaric Fitz Geldewin (Abbot of Glastonbury) (from 1192 to 1197)






The author considers that there are significant gaps in knowledge about important aspects of what is pertinent to the Survey.

Generally, there could ideally be far more known about the eleventh century, although much may be learnt from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which becomes much more detailed for that century than it had been at its inception. Nineteenth-century scholarship was usefully active, as shown by the prodigious productions of Edward Freeman and of the Reverend C S Taylor of Banwell (whose papers, particularly useful for north-east Somerset, originally published in the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archæological Society, are readily available through the internet thanks to the enlightened and industrious initiative of that Society). 

As suggested elsewhere in this Preface, more information is needed on the mediæval history of the Bristol Channel: in the period of missionary activity from Wales (and possible elsewhere) and in the early years immediately following the Norman Conquest. As suggested above: was Stogursey, for example, important as a bridgehead for the control of South Wales (at least), with nearby Lilstock, Stolford and Combwich as useful little ports — a political strategy whose necessity was prompted by knowledge of how crucial the Bristol Channel had already been in the history of Invasion, a knowledge sharpened by a vivid memory of the 1052 adventure of the future King Harold which threatened to devastate the South-West Peninsula? 

Peering dimly through the mists of history are localities which were very important in the middle ages but now are substantially attenuated from their former identities. Athelney has obviously been an important monastery but there is virtually nothing left. Although there is something left of the ecclesiastical development at Montacute (formerly Lut[e]garesbi), one senses that its precise rôle has yet to be examined and described. Wedmore, one-time ‘capital of Wessex’, has no entry in the Corpus despite its crucial rôle in the middle ages.

The Domesday Book provides a survey of the taxable situation in 1086 but we do not, as far as I know, have enough information on the details of the land-distribution which immediately followed the Conquest: land was given as a reward for loyalty, of course, but also, surely, with political strategy in mind ? Land-distribution must have been predicated upon land-administration.

Time and again, one has wished for detailed information on exactly where building-stone has come from. Much can be inferred from archæological analysis (as, for example, that undertaken by John Allan of Exeter Archaeology) but it would be so useful to have any original documentation (accounts, invoices, receipts, etc.). Representations of any kind of quarry on maps are nowadays sadly lacking — although they were shown on first-edition six-inch sheets — so that research (into the dates of operation of mediæval quarries and the destinations of the stone) would be quite a challenge.

                . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. ed. Earle, rev. Plummer. Oxford 1892. translation Dorothy Whitelock. New Brunswick, New Jersey 1961; London 1965.

DB. Domesday Book. 8 Somerset. Chichester 1980.

Brakspear, H. A West Country School of Masons. Archaeologia 81.

Collinson, Revd. John. The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset. Bath 1791.

Costen, M. Anglo-Saxon Somerset, Oxford and Oakville 2011.

Cramp, Rosemary. Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, Volume VII South-West England. Oxford 2006.

Freeman, Edward Augustus. The History of the Norman Conquest of England, its causes and results. six volumes. Oxford 1867-1879.

Geological maps (British Geological Survey, 1:50,000):

264 Bristol, 265 Bath, 277 Ilfracombe, 278 Minehead, 279 Weston-super-Mare, 280 Wells, 281 Frome, 293 Barnstaple, 294 Dulverton, 295 Taunton, 296 Glastonbury, 297 Wincanton, 310 Tiverton, 311 Wellington, 312 Yeovil, 313, Shaftesbury. (BGS, 1:63,360) Bristol area.

Geological memoirs (BGS).

These are available for the 1:50,000 maps 278, 279, 280, 295, 312 and for the special 1:63,360 sheet of the Bristol area.

Howe, John Allen. The Geology of Building Stones. London 1910, Shaftesbury 2001.

Moore, Donald. The Irish Sea Province in Archaeology and History. Cardiff 1970.

Pevsner, Nikolaus. The Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol, South and West Somerset. (two volumes)  Harmondsworth 1958.

(revised second editions forthcoming)

Ralegh Radford, C. A. Presidential address to the Somerset Archaeology & Natural History Society — published in PSANHS 106 (for Proceedings in 1961/2).

Taylor, the Revd. C. S. Bath, Mercian and West-Saxon. in Transactions, Volume 23, of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. Gloucester 1900.

Victoria County History:

I. ed. Page 1906. Natural History, Early Man, Romano-British Somerset, Anglo-Saxon Remains, Domesday, Geld Inquest

II. ed. Page 1911. Ecclesiastical History, Religious Houses, Political History, Maritime History, Social and Economic History, Industries, Schools, Ancient Earthworks, Agriculture, Forestry, Sport, Index to Domesday, Index to Vols I & II

III. ed. Dunning 1974. This is the first volume of the Victoria History of the County of Somerset to be published since 1911, and is the result of the revival of the History under the patronage of the County Council. It provides a comprehensive and detailed account of twenty-one parishes towards the southern boundary of the county and lying in the ancient hundreds of Pitney, Somerton, Tintinhull, and part of Kingsbury (East). The land is partly in the valleys of the Parrett and the Yeo and partly on the hills. The lower ground, still liable to flood on occasions, has gradually over the years been drained and converted into the ‘moors’ that are a feature of the area and provide unusually rich grazing. From the hills in the south comes the celebrated Ham stone. The volume includes the history of two small towns that can each claim to have served at some time as the county centre: Somerton, whose name is linked with that of the county, and the diminutive Ilchester at the junction of the Foss Way and another Roman road. Langport, a commercial centre on the navigable river Parrett, is also an ancient settlement. Other parishes that figure in the volume include Montacute, with its fine Elizabethan mansion, and Muchelney, with the remains of its medieval abbey, and there are National Trust properties at Lytes Cary (in Charlton Mackrell) and Tintinhull. The test is illustrated with line-drawn maps and with plates that include both photographs, old and new, and reproductions of paintings and drawings.

IV. ed. Dunning 1978. The fourth volume of the history of Somerset contains the histories of the parishes in the three ancient hundreds of Crewkerne, Martock, and South Petherton. Lying near the middle of the southern edge of the county, there are, in all, 21 parishes (including Wambrook, transferred to Somerset from Dorset in 1896), and they range in size from Martock, containing nine separate settlements and over 7,000 acres, to Seavington St. Michael, with less than 300 acres. While agriculture predominates, there is considerable variation between the fertile arable of the Yeovil Sands to the north and the woodlands and pastures around Windwhistle ridge to the south; manufacturing industry, moreover, was represented not only by the works in Martock but also by the making of coarse cloth and rope at Lopen. The three market towns of Crewkerne, Martock, and South Petherton, which give their names to the hundreds, probably all had Saxon minster churches: the name of Misterton parish records its dependence on the minster at Crewkerne. The smaller places also have much historical interest. New interpretations are offered, for example, of the building of Hinton house in Hinton St. George, the seat of the earls Poulett, with a park stretching into neighbouring Dinnington, and of Barrington Court. Other manor-houses featured are Avishays (in Chaffcombe), Cricket St. Thomas, Wayford, and Whitestaunton. Among the many re-markable parish churches not only the larger ones but also the smaller are discussed and illustrated, including those of Chillington, Cudworth, Knowle St. Giles, and Shepton Beauchamp. The people who figure in the parish histories include, besides members of noble families and the landed gentry, humbler people like John Scott the ‘orchardist’ of Merriott, the followers of Joanna Southcott at Dowlish Wake, and the village carpenter and wheelwright of Seavington St. Mary.

V. ed. Dunning 1985. The fifth volume of the history of Somerset contains the histories of twenty-two parishes in the eastern part of the hundred of Williton and Freemanors and of one parish, Holford, part of which was in Whitley hundred. The parishes occupy a roughly triangular area of western Somerset includ-ing the southern and eastern part of the Brendon hills as far as the Devon border, the north-western end of the Quantock ridge, the wide valley between them, and some of the coastal strip to the north which faces the Bristol Channel. Extensive grazing on the Hangman Grits of the Quantocks and the slates of the Brendons was an important feature of the economy, and the Quantocks still retain large tracts of uncultivated heath land. Mining for copper on the Quantocks and for iron ore on the Brendons, and quarrying limestone for burning in most parishes, provided an important industrial element in the 18th and 19th centuries beside an agrarian system which in the 17th century and earlier had concentrated on sheep and cattle on the higher ground and arable in the valleys and coastal strip. Cloth-making was of significance in many parishes until the earlier 19th century. The nucleated villages in the east of the area contrast with the scattered pattern of Brendon settlement. Stogumber and St. Decumans had Saxon minster churches; boroughs were formed in the Middle Ages at Crowcombe, Nether Stowey, and Watchet. A castle was built at Nether Stowey, a monastery in Old Cleeve parish. Williton emerged as an urban centre in the 19th century. Among the large houses featured are Nettlecombe Court, Orchard Wyndham, St. Audries, and Court House, East Quantoxhead. The Acland-Hoods, the Carews, the Luttrells, the Trevelyans, and the Wyndhams were prominent in land ownership and government; also important in the local economy were the 17th-century country shopkeepers selling figs and canary seed, the seaweed burners and paper-makers of the 18th century, and the shippers of grain, flour, and timber in the 19th.

VI. ed. Dunning 1992. Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton hundreds together occupy the Lower Parrett valley stretching from the Quantock ridge in the west to King’s Sedgemoor in the east, and from the Bristol Channel in the north to the river Tone in the south. By the late 11th century the settlement pattern was dense, especially between the Quantocks and the Parrett, an area crossed by the Saxon ‘herepath’ in the north and including the 10th-century strongholds of Athelney and Lyng in the south and the Domesday royal manors of Cannington, North Petherton, and Creech St. Michael. The origin of the medieval royal park at North Petherton can be traced to a pre-Conquest royal forest on the Quantocks, and North Petherton was an extensive minster parish. Bridgwater, a chartered borough from 1200, is the only significant town. By the later Middle Ages its port served central, south, and west Somerset, and until the 19th century heavy goods continued to be transported along the Parrett, the Tone, and the Bridgwater and Taunton canal into Dorset and Devon. The pattern of settlement is varied, with a few nucleated villages, roadside villages, and many dispersed hamlets. Interlocking parish boundaries indicate complex economic units and late parochial formation. Arable farming predominated until the 16th century, partly in open arable fields. In the 17th century there was an emphasis on stock rearing and an increase in dairying and orchards, large-ly the result of improved drainage. Cheese was an important product of the area in the 18th century, and in the 19th baskets from locally grown willow. Woollen cloth production con-tinued into the 17th century. From the late 17th century the alluvial clays of the Parrett valley provided material for the bricks and tiles for which Bridgwater became well known in the 19th century. Substantial estates whose houses wholly or partially survive include Fairfield, Gothelney, Gurney Street, West Bower, and Sydenham. Halswell House was from the later 17th century the grandest mansion in the area, and Enmore Castle was built in the later 18th century.

VII. ed. Dunning 1999. The volume relates the history of the south-east corner of Somerset. The area comprises the outliers of Salisbury Plain on the east and part of a clay vale to the west. It included a natural route followed by the two principal roads from London to Exeter and by the railway. Of the towns, Milborne Port and Wincanton each owed its prosperity to one of those roads. Bruton and Milborne Port were royal urban centres in the late 11th century, both centres of minster parishes. Milborne Port, a borough in 1086, returned members to parliament for some years from 1298; at Wincanton a borough had been created by the mid 14th century. Settlement in nucleated villages was dense in the clay vale but ancient scattered farmsteads were found both south of Wincanton and west of Selwood forest. Quarries in most parishes provided local building stone; millstones from the Upper Greensand at Penselwood were widely distributed in the 13th and 14th centuries. The area remains chiefly agricultural. Arable farming was at first often in paired open fields, mostly inclosed and consolidated by private agreement before 1800. Acts between 1771 and 1821 inclosed and allotted surviving common meadow and pasture. Dairying, significant by 1600, predominated by 1700. The heart of Selwood forest, still heavily wooded, supported a timber industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Deer parks preceded two 18th century landscaped parks at Redlynch and Bruton Abbey. Textiles were long made in the countryside as well as in the three towns. Milborne Port, from the 1670s a centre for tanning, was from the early 19th century to the late 20th an important gloving town, employing outworkers in surrounding villages.

VIII. ed. Dunning 2004. Somerset’s Polden hills divide the county’s central marshlands, Sedgemoor to the south and the Brue Valley to the north. Traces of human activity there include wooden trackways built across those marshes six thousand years ago. Most of the written sources tell the story of men from settlements on the nearby hills or isolated ‘islands’ who looked to those low-lying lands for food and fuel for themselves and food for their stock. Those sources, dating from the late Saxon period and particularly rich in the middle ages, derive largely from the archives of the former abbey of Glastonbury, main landowner in the eighteen parishes of this volume.
Pastoral farming dominated and still dominates, its early progress due to successful drainage and flood-prevention schemes, one of the largest dating from the late twelfth century. Each parish has its own long story: of Glastonbury-planned origins at Shapwick and perhaps also at Catcott, Edington, and Chilton Polden; of trade along the tidal river Parrett at Huntspill and Puriton (Dunball); of the gradual expansion of the ‘island’ farmers of Westonzoyland, Middlezoy and Othery into the surrounding marsh; of the long-enduring common arable fields at High Ham; of the rise and fall of peat digging.

IX. ed. Dunning 2006. The ancient religious settlement of Glastonbury, with its many legendary associations stretching back into the Dark Ages, and the manufacturing town of Street, the creation of the late 19th century, are curious neighbours. They lie at the centre of the mysteriously-named Twelve Hides Hundred, the core estate of Glastonbury Abbey in the early Middle Ages. Around them, spreading into the low-lying moors of the Somerset Levels, are parishes which produced for the abbey, after continuous improvement of drainage, most of its economic riches — meat, milk, cheese, fruit, wool, wine, cider, fish, stone, timber, and fuel.
The suppression of Glastonbury under unusually tragic circumstances ended the dominance of a single lord and a coordinated economic system, and the eventual inclosure and drainage of the moors took two more centuries to achieve. Glastonbury, meanwhile, faced a century and more of depression but in the 18th received a charter of incorporation and became a centre of the stocking industry; while the fortunes of Street also rose, both through the shoe industry but also of the role of the Clark family in education and social improvement

X. ed. Siraut 2010. Castle Cary is a relatively unspoilt town deep in the Somerset countryside, its narrow streets rich in high-quality late eighteenth and nineteenth-century buildings. Its most famous industry, horsehair weaving, still flourishes.
This volume explores its history from the original castle and its lords to its rebirth as an industrial town. It also covers many villages, among them Ansford, early home of Parson Woodforde; Kingweston, virtually recreated by the Dickinson family; Keinton Mandeville, once famous for its paving stone quarries and as the birthplace of Henry Irving; tiny Wheathill, almost obliterated by a golf course; and West Lydford, the family home of the early eighteenth-century diarist John Cannon. Other places of note include Barton St David, home of Henry Adams, the reputed ancestor of two American Presidents, and Lovington, whose small primary school traces its origins back to an eighteenth-century charity school.

Williams, M. The Draining of the Somerset Levels. Cambridge 1970.


My chief debt is to the many churchwardens who enabled my access to churches and often proved invaluable sources of information relevant to the Corpus. Members of the clergy, inevitably because of their intensive work-load, I rarely saw, but from those I was privileged to meet I received considerable assistance and information. 

I worked on the Corpus for too long on my own, entirely without the advice of others, professional or amateur. When, eventually, help came it was first from the Yeovil archæologists Brian and Moira Gittos, then from Malcolm Thurlby (following an entirely coincidental meeting at Milborne Port) and finally from Julian Orbach, who was at the time revising the South and West Somerset volume of the Buildings of England. The Corpus has gained substantial benefit from the invaluable assistance and stimulating ideas of these four people in particular. 

Other personal help has come from my one-time Anglo-Saxon teacher, now Professor Rosemary Cramp of Durham University — whose fine volume in the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture on the South-West deals authoritatively with the major pre-Conquest stone sculpture in Somerset but which may possibly have missed some pieces. (Where this seems to have been the case, I have taken the liberty of including descriptions in my survey of Romanesque in Somerset.) 

Finally, I am indebted to the library resources of the Somerset Archaeological Society and the document resources of the Somerset Record Society.



All sites except four have ecclesiastical contexts and those four include two where sculpture has been re-sited from an ecclesiastical context. As stated elsewhere, the recording of fragments dispersed from ecclesiastical sites cannot possibly ever be complete — unless the police are ever commissioned thoroughly to search everyone’s house and garden. 

Most of the ecclesiastical sites in the Survey are parish churches. Exceptions are the abbeys of Bath, Glastonbury, Keynsham and Muchelney, and the cathedral of Wells.


Sites Location.



[Listed in three groups corresponding to the current administrative counties.] 

[abxy] indicates the National Grid reference of the 1km square in which the site is located. 


[All sites are located within the National Grid 100km ‘ST’ square,

except where indicated in ‘SS’ to the west of ‘ST’.] 

  1. Aller [3928]: church of St Andrew.

  2. Angersleigh [1918]: church of St Michael.

  3. Ansford [6332]: church of St Andrew.

  4. Ashcott [4337]: church of All Saints.

  5. Ashill [3217]: church of St Mary.

  6. Badgworth [3952]: church of St Congar.

  7. Barton St David [5331]: church of St David.

  8. Barwick [5513]: church of St Mary Magdalene.

  9. Batcombe [6939]: church of St Mary.

 10. Beckington [8051]: church of St George.

 11. Bicknoller [1139]: church of St George.

 12. Biddisham [3853]: church (dedication unknown).

 13. Blackford [6526]: church of St Michael.

 14. Bradford-on-Tone [1722]: church of St Giles.

 15. Bratton Seymour [6730]: church of the Holy Trinity.

 16. Brent Knoll [3350]: church of St Michael.

 17. Brushford [SS 9125]: church of St Nicholas.

 18. Bruton [6834]: church of St Mary.

 19. Bruton [6834]: detached double capital in private ownership (in town museum).

 20. Buckland Dinham [7551]: church of St Michael.

 21. Burrowbridge [3530]: ruined church of St Michael (on the Mump).

 22. Butleigh [5233]: church of St Leonard.

 23. Cannington [2539]: church of St Mary.

 24. Chaffcombe [3510]: church of St Michael.

 25. Chapel Allerton [4050]: church (dedication unknown).

 26. Chard [3208]: church of St Mary the Virgin.

 27. Charlton Adam [5328]: church of SS Peter & Paul.

 28. Charlton Mackrell [5228]: church of St Mary.

 29. Charlynch (or Charlinch) [2337]: (deconsecrated) church (dedication unknown).

 30. Chesterblade [6641]: church of St Mary.

 31. Chewton Mendip [5953]: church of St Mary Magdalene.

 32. Chilcompton [6452]: church of St John.

 33. Chilton Cantelo [5722]: church of St James.

 34. Chilton Polden [3739]: church of St Edward.

 35. Chiselborough [4614]: church of SS Peter & Paul.

 36. Churchstanton [1914]: church of SS Peter & Paul.

 37. Cloford [7244]: church of St Mary.

 38. Combe St Nicholas [3011]: church of St Nicholas.

 39. Compton Bishop [3955]: church of St Andrew.

 40. Corfe [2319]: church of St Nicholas.

 41. Cothelstone [1831]: church of St Thomas of Canterbury.

 42. Cothelstone [1831]: Manor Farm barn.

 43. Crewkerne [4309]: church of St Bartholomew.

 44. Cucklington [7527]: church of St Lawrence.

 45. Cudworth [3710]: church of St Michael.

 46. Culbone [SS 8448]: church of St Culbone (Beuno).

 47. Cutcombe [SS 9339]: church of St John.

 48. Dinder [5744]: church of St Michael.

 49. Dinnington [4012]: church of St Nicholas.

 50. Donyatt [3314]: church of St Mary.

 51. Donyatt [3414]: slab in private ownership.

 52. Doulting [6443]: church of St Aldhelm.

 53. Dowlish Wake [3713]: church of St Andrew.

 54. Dowlish Wake [3712 (village)]: slab in private ownership, now exported.

 55. Downhead [6946]: church of All Saints.

 56. Drayton [4024]: church of St Catherine.

 57. Dunster [SS 9943]: church of St George.

 58. East Coker [5312]: church of St Michael.

 59. East Lambrook [4318]: church of St James.

 60. East Lyng [3328]: church of St Bartholomew.

 61. East Pennard [5937]: church of All Saints.

 62. East Stoke (or Stoke-sub-Hamdon) [4817]: church of St Mary.

 63. Edington [3839]: church of St George.

 64. Emborough [6151]: church of St Mary.

 65. Enmore [2435]: church of St Michael.

 66. Exton [SS 9233]: church of St Peter.

 67. Fiddington [2140]: church of St Martin.

 68. Fivehead [3522]: church of St Martin.

 69. Frome [7747]: church of St John.

 70. Glastonbury [5038]: abbey ruins.

 71. Glastonbury [5038], 45 Chilwell Street: fragments affixed to house frontage.

 72. Glastonbury [5038], 51 Chilwell Street: fragments affixed to house frontage.

 73. Glastonbury [5137], Edgarley House: fragments incorporated in summer-house.

 74. Great Elm [7449]: church of St Mary Magdalene.

 75. Halse [1327]: church of St James.

 76. Hardington Bampfylde [7452]: church of St Mary.

 77. Hardington Mandeville [5111]: church of St Mary the Virgin.

 78. Haselbury Plucknett [4710]: church of St Michael.

 79. Hawkridge [SS 8630]: church of St Giles.

 80. Hemington [7253]: church of St Mary.

 81. High Ham [4231]: church of St Andrew.

 82. Hinton St George [4112]: church of St George.

 83. Holcombe [6650]: [old] church of St Andrew.

 84. Holton [6826]: church of St Nicholas.

 85. Hornblotton [5934]: church of St Peter.

 86. Huish Champflower [0429]: church of St Peter.

 87. Huish Episcopi [4226]: church of St Mary.

 88. Ilchester [5222]: church of St Mary Major.

 89. Isle Abbotts [3520]: church of St Mary.

 90. Isle Brewers [3621]: church of All Saints.

 91. Keinton Mandeville [5430]: church of St Mary Magdalene.

 92. Kilmersdon [6952]: church of SS Peter & Paul.

 93. Kilve [1443]: church of St Mary.

 94. Kingsdon [5126]: church of All Saints.

 95. Kingstone [3713]: church of St Mary.

 96. Kingweston [5231]: church of All Saints.

 97. Lamyatt [6636]: church of SS Mary & John.

 98. Langport [4226]: church of All Saints.

 99. Laverton [7752]: church of St Mary.

100. Leigh-on-Mendip [6947]: church of St Giles.

101. Limington [5422]: church of St Mary.

102. Long Sutton [4625]: church of the Holy Trinity.

103. Lopen [4214]: church of All Saints.

104. Lovington [5930]: church of St Thomas à Becket.

105. Lufton [5116]: church of SS Peter & Paul.

106. Lullington [7851]: church of All Saints.

107. Lympsham [3354]: church of St Christopher.

108. Maperton [6726]: church of SS Peter & Paul.

109. Marston Magna [5922]: church of St Mary.

110. Mells [7248]: church of St Andrew.

111. Merriott [4412]: church of All Saints.

112. Middle Chinnock [4713]: church of St Margaret.

113. Milborne Port [6718]: church of St John the Evangelist.

114. Milborne Port Guildhall [6718]: portal presumed resited from church.

115. Milverton [1225]: church of St Michael.

116. Monksilver [0737]: church of All Saints.

117. Montacute [4916]: church of St Catherine.

118. Montacute [4916]: slab in private possession.

119. Moorlinch [3936]: church of St Mary.

120. Muchelney [4224]: ruins of abbey.

121. Nether Stowey [1939]: remains of font from Charlynch on private property.

122. North Barrow [6029]: church of St Nicholas.

123. North Cadbury [6327]: church of St Michael.

124. North Cheriton [6825]: church of St John the Baptist.

125. North Curry [3125]: church of SS Peter & Paul.

126. North Wootton [5641]: church of St Peter.

127. Norton-sub-Hamdon [4716]: church of St Mary.

128. Nunney [7345]: church of All Saints.

129. Oake [1525]: church of St Bartholomew.

130. Oare [SS 8047]: church of St Mary.

131. Odcombe [5015]: church of SS Peter & Paul.

132. Old Cleeve [0441]: church of St Andrew.

133. Old Cleeve [0439]: former chapel of St Pancras, now deconsecrated and converted into private dwelling.

134. Orchard Portman [2421]: church of St Michael.

135. Otterhampton [2443]: church of All Saints.

136. Pawlett [3042]: church of St John the Baptist.

137. Penselwood [7531]: church of St Michael.

138. Pilton [5840]: church of St John the Baptist.

139. Pitcombe [6732]: church of St Leonard.

140. Podimore [5424]: church of St Peter.

141. Priddy [5251]: church of St Lawrence.

142. Puckington [3618]: church of St Andrew.

143. Pylle [6038]: church of St Thomas à Becket.

144. Rimpton [6121]: church of St Mary.

145. Rode [8053]: church of St Laurence.

146. Rodhuish [0139]: chapel of St Bartholomew.

147. Rodney Stoke [4849]: church of St Leonard.

148. Ruishton [2625]: church of St George.

149. Seavington St Mary [4014]: church of St Mary.

150. Seavington St Michael [4114]: church of St Michael.

151. Selworthy [SS 9246]: church of All Saints.

152. Shepton Beauchamp [4017]: church of St Michael.

153. Shepton Mallet [6243]: church of SS Peter & Paul.

154. Shepton Montague [6831]: church of St Peter.

155. South Barrow [6027]: church of St Peter.

156. South Brewham [7036]: church of St John the Baptist.

157. South Petherton [4316]: church of SS Peter & Paul.

158. Spaxton [2237]: church of St Margaret.

159. Staple Fitzpaine [2618]: church of St Peter.

160. Stawley [0622]: church of St Michael.

161. Stocklinch [3817]: church of St Mary Magdalene.

162. Stocklinch Ottersey [3817]: church of St Mary.

163. Stogursey [2042]: church of St Andrew.

164. Stoke Pero [SS 8743]: church (dedication unknown).

165. Ston Easton [6253]: church of St Mary.

166. Stratton-on-the-Fosse [6550]: church of St Vigor.

167. Street [4837]: fragments incorporated in wall bordering private property.

168. Sutton Bingham [5411]: church of All Saints.

169. Sutton Montis [6224]: church of the Holy Trinity.

170. Swell [3623]: church of St Catherine.

171. Taunton Castle [2224]: arch with beakheads.

172. Tellisford [8055]: church of All Saints.

173. Templecombe [7022]: church of St Mary.

174. Thorne St Margaret [0921]: church of St Margaret.

175. Thurlbear [2621]: church of St Thomas.

176. Thurloxton [2730]: church of St Giles.

177. Tolland [1032]: church of St John the Baptist.

178. Upton Noble [7139]: church of St Mary Magdalene.

179. Watchet [0642]: church of St Decuman.

180. Weare [4152]: church of St Gregory.

181. Wells [5545]: cathedral church.

182. Wells [5445]: church of St Cuthbert.

183. West Bradley [5536]: church (dedication unknown).

184. West Buckland [1720]: church of St Mary.

185. Westbury-sub-Mendip [4948]: church of St Lawrence.

186. West Camel [5824]: church of All Saints.

187. West Coker [5113]: church of St Martin.

188. Weston Bampfylde [6124]: church of the Holy Cross.

189. West Quantoxhead (or St Audries) [1142]: church of St Etheldreda (St Audrey).

190. Whatley [7347]: church of St George.

191. Whitelackington [3715]: church of St Mary.

192. Whitestaunton [2810]: church of St Andrew.

193. Winsford [SS 9035]: church of St Mary Magdalene.

194. Winsham [3706]: church of St Stephen.

195. Witham Friary [7441]: church of St Mary, St John the Baptist & All Saints.

196. Withiel Florey [SS 9833]: church of St Mary.

197. Withycombe [0141]: church of St Nicholas.

198. Withypool [SS 8435]: church of St Andrew.

199. Wookey [5145]: church of St Matthew.

200. Woolavington [3441]: church of St Mary.

201. Wootton Courtenay [9343]: church of All Saints.

202. Yarlington [6529]: church of St Mary.

203. Yeovilton [5422]: church of St Bartholomew. 


 [All sites are located within the National Grid ‘ST’ 100km square.]

 1. Backwell [4968]: church of St Andrew.

 2. Banwell [3959]: church of St Andrew.

 3. Blagdon [5059]: church of St Andrew.

 4. Bleadon [3456]: church of SS Peter & Paul.

 5. Brockley [4667]: church of St Nicholas.

 6. Burrington [4759]: church of the Holy Trinity.

 7. Chelvey [4668]: church of St Bridget.

 8. Christon [3757]: church of St Mary.

 9. Churchill [4360]: church of St John.

10. Clapton-in-Gordano [4673]: church of St Michael.

11. Clevedon [3970]: church of St Andrew.

12. Congresbury [4363]: church of St Andrew.

13. Flax Bourton [5069]: church of St Michael.

14. Kenn [4169]: church of St John the Evangelist.

15. Kewstoke [3363]: church of St Paul.

16. Kingston Seymour [4066]: church of All Saints.

17. Locking [3659]: church of St Augustine.

18. Loxton [3755]: church of St Andrew.

19. Portbury [5075]: church of St Mary.

20. Portishead [4576]: church of St Peter.

21. Puxton [4063]: church of the Holy Saviour.

22. Tickenham [4571]: church of SS Quiricus & Julietta.

23. Uphill [3158]: [old] church of St Nicholas.

24. Weston-in-Gordano [4474]: church of SS Peter & Paul.

25. Wick St Lawrence [3665]: church of St Lawrence.

26. Worle [3562]: church of St Martin.

27. Wraxall [4972]: church of All Saints.



[All sites are located within the National Grid ‘ST’ 100km square.]

 1. Bath Abbey [7564]: church, vestry stone-stores, Heritage Vaults.

 2. Bath Roman Museum [7564].

 3. Bathampton [7766]: church of St Nicholas.

 4. Bathford [7866]: church of St Swithun.

 5. Cameley [6157]: church of St James.

 6. Charlcombe [7467]: church of St Mary.

 7. Chelwood [6361]: church of St Leonard.

 8. Chew Magna [5763]: church of St Andrew.

 9. Clutton [6258]: church of St Augustine of Hippo.

10. Compton Martin [5457]: church of St Michael.

11. East Harptree [5656]: church of St Laurence.

12. Englishcombe [7162]: church of St Peter.

13. Farmborough [6660]: church of All Saints.

14. Hinton Blewett [5957]: church of All Saints.

15. Hinton Charterhouse [7758]: church of St John the Baptist.

16. Langridge [7469]: church of St Mary Magdalene.

17. Midsomer Norton [6654]: church of St John the Baptist.

18. Midsomer Norton [6654]: tympanum resited on external wall f private property.

19. Midsomer Norton [6654]: various fragments on private property, some assembled into portal.

20. Nempnett Thrubwell [5360]: church of St Mary.

21. North Stoke [7069]: church of St Martin.

22. Norton Malreward [6065]: church of the Holy Trinity.

23. Priston [6960]: church of St Luke.

24. Queen Charlton [6366]: church of St Margaret.

25. Queen Charlton [6366]: resited portal.

26. Queen Charlton [6366]: sculptural fragments resited in garden of manor house.

27. Radstock [6854]: church of St Nicholas.

28. Saltford [6867]: church of St Mary.

29. Saltford [6867]: manor house.

30. South Stoke [7461]: church of St James.

31. St Catherine [7770]: church of St Catherine.

32. Stanton Drew [5963]: church of St Mary.

33. Stanton Prior [6762]: church of St Lawrence.

34. Swainswick [7568]: church of St Mary.

35. Twerton [7264]: church of St Michael.

36. Ubley [5258]: church of St Bartholomew.

37. Wellow [7458]: church of St Julian.

38. West Harptree [5656]: church of St Mary.

39. Whitchurch [6167]: church of St Nicholas. 

1. The West Somerset coast between Bridgwater and North Devon just east of Countisbury is often referred to as the ‘North Somerset’ coast, even by officialdom. A glance at the map will suggest that this term might wisely be reserved for the stretch running roughly north-south between Bridgwater and Portishead (the northernmost extent of the coast of the historic county, on the south side of the mouth of the Avon): a wisdom nowadays reinforced by the existence of a specific county of North Somerset (the western part of the former county of Avon).

2. This is true in respect of the current border, but this was established only as recently as 1896, when the Somerset parishes of Poyntington, Sandford Orcas and Trent were transferred to Dorset. (They are only a parish or so distant from the major Dorset town of Sherborne.) Consequently, the current jagged border is historically misleading, especially if one is interested in the mediæval reality. A consideration of the pre-1896 parishes map shows a much straighter border between the two counties. As far as the major Somerset river Yeo was concerned, its headwaters were more securely within the county (more than the few metres in the parish of Charlton Horethorne as at present) since it ran through Poyntington; its continuing course — through the Dorset parishes of Oborne and Sherborne (created out of Castleton as recently as 1894), between the Dorset parishes of Thornford and Nether Compton, Clifton Maybank and Bradford Abbas — to near Yeovil Junction railway station, where it becomes the border between the two counties, is relatively short. Presumably, there must have been some significance attached to the Yeo running through the major ecclesiastical centre of Sherborne.

    (Also transferred in 1896 from Somerset to Dorset were the parishes of Goathill — just east of Sherborne and adjoining the south boundary of the Somerset parish of Milborne Port, with its major Saxon and Norman church — and Seaborough, near Crewkerne. Wambrook, near Chard, was transferred from Dorset to Somerset.)

3.  The manor concerned was in one of those parishes transferred to Dorset from Somerset in 1896.

4.  ‘William of Malmesbury, whose fullest account is in his work On the Antiquity of Glastonbury, and Florence give the figure as two killed and fourteen wounded, and give further details of the fight. An enquiry was made and the abbot was removed and several of the monks placed under the charge of various bishops and abbots. Later, Thurstan bought back the abbacy from William II for £500.’