THE MENDIP RING
A Time Line
In the beginning, the land on the western side of what is now Mendip was open to the sea. Over millions of years the seaward entrance silted up and the enclosed area became a deep saline marsh. Tidal waters intermittently flooded in from the west and fresh water, from rivers far larger then than they are today, poured in from the east. Layer upon layer of plant and animal remains were laid down under the water and become peat, creating what are now known as the Moors and Levels (Legs 1 & 9). They are unique; the lowest lying area of land in England. The archaeological record shows man-made tracks across the mere from at least 4000BC.
The other major feature of the area was the great forest that covered most of the high ground. The trackways that linked the settlements of the indigenous Britons, or Celts, were often along the ridges where vital landmarks could be seen, dropping to a ford for a river crossing.
With both these features, that is the peat moors and the forests, staying on the beaten track could have meant life or death.
Then came the Romans. The Fosse Way (Leg 2) was built, probably over an existing trackway, early in the Roman advance into Britain in 43AD. From Exeter to Bath and beyond, it was one of many well-made roads that opened up the area to Roman power and influence. The Mendip area is rich in Romano-British archaeology.
Then came the Saxons. After the withdrawal of the Roman administration in 410 the country fell prey to invaders and mercenaries. In this area, in about 500, the western advance of the Saxons was briefly checked by Arthur, the King of the Britons (Leg 1) but by 600, Wessex, the Kingdom of the West Saxons had been established. In 879 Alfred, the King of Wessex (Leg 3) halted a Danish invasion into the area. The Danes were, however, to remain an ongoing problem.
Then came the Christians. There was a Christian settlement at Glastonbury (Leg 1) by the early 7th century. Benedictines from France, they
may have travelled up the Fosse Way from the coast. St Aldhelm (Leg 3), Abbot of Malmesbury and Bishop of Sherborne, was the late 7th century apostatising monk who travelled widely in this area. The founding of Abbeys and Monasteries and their growth, power and influence is a major feature of the history of this and all other parts of the country.
Then came the Normans. Many of the local place names, for example Whyke Champflower (Leg 3) owe their origins to the Norman French landowners who took possession after the Conquest in 1066. The Doomsday Record remains an invaluable historic source. It shows the population of the whole of Somerset as 13,307 at that time.
Then came the Black Death. In 1348/9 the population, largely agricultural, was reduced by about a third by Bubonic Plague. Some villages now described as deserted may date back to that time.
Then came the Dissolution of the Monasteries. King Henry VIII, only the second monarch of the Tudor dynasty and without a male heir from his first wife, asked the Pope for an annulment so that he could remarry. This was refused. After the failure of long and acrimonious negotiations, Henry withdrew England from the Papacy and declared a separate Church of England with himself at its Head. As part of this process in 1539, the Catholic Abbeys and Monasteries were dissolved. Many of their buildings were destroyed. Their lands and properties passed to the Crown and the redistribution, the greatest since the Norman Conquest, founded some of the noble families who still have a considerable presence in Mendip today.
Then came the Civil War. Social, economic and religious unease erupted into civil war from about 1642. After the capture and execution of King Charles I there followed the period called the Commonwealth, headed by the Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell. The Mendip area was, by and large, untouched by the Civil War with just one recorded skirmish (Leg 1). Part of the route taken by the flight into exile of Charles II was across Mendip (Legs 2 and 7). The rise of non-conformism in religion, such as the Quakers and Methodism, stems roughly from this time.
Then came the Monmouth Rebellion. The restoration of the Stuart Monarchy in 1660 brought a return to Anglicanism under Charles II, but he had no legitimate children and the succeeding monarch, James II, was a Catholic. A short lived and ill fated uprising in 1685 in favour of the protestant Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of Charles II, was almost entirely within Somerset and much of it within Mendip (Legs 1, 4, 5).
Then came the Enclosures. De-forestation began in earnest in the 16th century, much of the oak initially being used for shipping. Later, those landowners created by the Dissolution of the monasteries cleared woodland the better to manage their flocks and to enclose parks around their newly built houses.
Then came Industrialisation. From the 18th century improvements in the road networks rolled up with the beginnings of industrialisation, which in Mendip particularly affected the coal and stone mines in the north of the area. A new aristocracy, the nouveau riche industrial baron,
emerged. Many of the great houses and churches in Mendip were either built, or restored, during the Victorian period.
Then came the Enlightenment. A range of public services such as education, the provision of clean water and the postal service originate in the 19th century. The Bank Holiday and Saturday Half Day Closing Acts of the 1870's were the catalyst for sport and leisure activities, the land for recreation fields and village halls often being the donation of the local landowner.
Then came the World Wars. In the late 19th century the race by the European powers for colonial expansion led to the First World War and that, inevitably, led on to the Second. The village War Memorial is a poignant reminder of these times. Following WWI many large estates were broken up following the loss of an heir on the battlefield, or when landowners were hit by heavy death duties. This gave rise to the greatest redistribution of land since the Dissolution of the monasteries.
Local defence measures, Army and Air Force camps and the presence of Allied troops are all part of the history of Mendip.