- History of Somerset
Somersetis an historic countyin the south west of England. There is evidence of human occupation since prehistoric times with hand axes and flint points from the Palaeolithic, and a range of burial mounds, hill fortsand other artifacts dating from the Mesolithicera. The oldest dated human road work in Britain is the Sweet Track, constructed across the Somerset Levels with wooden planks in the 39th century BC.
Following the Roman invasion of Britain the
miningof leadand silverin the Mendip Hillsprovided a basis for local industry and commerce. Bath became the site of a major Roman fort and city, the remains of which can still be seen. During the Dark Agesand Saxon period Somerset was the scene of several battles and was ruled by various kings. Following the defeat of the Saxonsby the Normansin 1066, several castleswere built in Somerset.
Expansion of the
populationand settlements in the county continued during the Tudor and more recent periods. Agricultureand coal miningexpanded until the eighteenth century, although other industries declined during the industrial revolution. In modern timesthe population has grown, particularly in the seaside towns, notably Weston-super-Mare. Agriculturecontinues to be a major business, if no longer a major employer because of mechanization. Light industries take place in many of the towns such as Bridgwaterand Yeovil. The towns of Tauntonand Shepton Malletmanufacture cider, though there are no longer as many apple orchards as there used to be.
This refers to the period up to the arrival of the Romans, c. 47 AD. There is
evidencefrom flintartefacts in a quarry at Westbury that an ancestorof man, possibly Homo heidelbergensiswas present in the future Somerset from around 500,000 years ago. [cite web | title=Mendip Hills An Archaeological Survey of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty | work=Somerset County Council Archeological Projects | url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/media/896B4/MendipAONB.pdf | accessdate=2006-10-28|format=PDF] There is still some doubt about whether the artifcats are of human originbut they have been dated within Oxygen Isotope Stage 13 (524,000 - 478,000 BP). [cite web |url=http://webapp1.somerset.gov.uk/her/details.asp?prn=24849 |title=Westbury Cave, Westbury Quarry, Westbury |accessdate=2007-12-07 |format= |work=Somerset Historic Environment Record ] Other experts suggest that "many of the bone-rich Middle Pleistocenedeposits belong to a single but climatically variable interglacial that succeeded the Cromerian, perhaps about 500,000 years ago. Detailed analysis of the origin and modification of the flint artefacts leads to the conclusion that the assemblage was probably a product of geomorphological processes rather than human work, but a single cut-marked bone suggests a human presence." [cite web |url=http://www.nhm.ac.uk/publishing/pubrpwbc.html |title=Westbury Cave: The Natural History Museum Excavations 1976-1984 |accessdate=2007-12-07 |format= |work=Natural History Museum ] A Bradsaw Foundation paper on "Anglia Man" suggests "re-examination of animal bones and artefacts unearthed in the 1980s at Westbury-sub-Mendip, in Somerset, have shown evidence of early human activity 100,000 years before Boxgrove Man," and dates the Boxgrove man at 500,000 years ago. [cite web |url=http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/anglia-man/ |title=Anglia Man |accessdate=2007-12-07 |format= |work=Bradshaw Foundation ]
Modern man came to Somerset during the Early Upper Palaeolithic. There is evidence of occupation of four Mendip caves some 35,000 to 30,000 years ago. [ The Archaeology of Somerset by C Webster and T Mayberry] During the Last Glacial Maximum, about 25,000 to 15,000 years ago, it is probable that Somerset was deserted as the area experienced tundra conditions. Evidence was found in
Gough's Caveof several deposits of human bone dating from around 12,500 years ago. The bones were defleshed and probably ritually buried though perhaps related to cannibalismbeing practiced in the area at the time. Somerset was one of the first areas of future England settled following the end of Younger Dryasphase of the last Ice Agec. 8000 BC. Cheddar Manis the name given to the remains of a human male found in Gough's Cavein Cheddar Gorge. He is Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton. The remains date to approximately 7150 BC, and it appears that he died a violent death. Somerset is thought to have been occupied by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers from about 6000 BC with Mesolithic artifacts being found in more than 70 locations. Mendip caves were used as burial places, with between 50 and 100 skeletons being found in Aveline's Hole. In the Neolithicera, from about 3500 BC, there is evidence of farming.cite web | title=Introduction to Somerset's History | work=Britannia | url=http://www.britannia.com/history/somerset/somhist2.html|accessdate=2006-10-29] There is evidence of Exmoor's human occupation from Mesolithictimes onwards. In the Neolithic period people started to manage animals and grow crops on farms cleared from the woodland, rather than act purely as hunter gatherers. [cite journal |last=Fyfe |first=R.M. |authorlink= |coauthors=A. G. Brown and S. J. Rippon |year=2003 |month= |title=Mid- to late-Holocene vegetation history of Greater Exmoor, UK: estimating the spatial extent of human-induced vegetation change |journal=Vegetation History and Archaeobotany |volume=12 |issue=4 |pages=215–232 |doi=10.1007/s00334-003-0018-3 |url=http://www.springerlink.com/content/p1jl55y2r5fkn4gr/ |accessdate= 2007-11-29 |quote= ] It is also likely that extraction and smelting of mineral ores to make tools, weapons, containers and ornaments in bronzeand then ironstarted in the late Neolithic and into the Bronze and Iron Ages.cite web |url=http://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/the_history_of_exmoor |title=The history of Exmoor |accessdate=2007-11-29 |format= |work=Exmoor National Park ]
At the end of the last
Ice Agethe Bristol Channelwas dry land but subsequently the sea level rose, particularly between 1220 and 900 BC and between 800 and 470 BC, resulting in major coastal changes. The Somerset Levelsbecame flooded, but the dry points such as Glastonburyand Brent Knoll, have a long history of settlement, and are known to have been occupied by Mesolithichunters.cite book |last=Dunning |first=Robert |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=A History of Somerset |year=1983 |publisher=Phillimore & Co |location=Chichester |isbn= 0-85033-461-6 ] cite web | title=Somerset | work=Camelot Village: Britain's Heritage and History |url=http://www.camelotintl.com/heritage/counties/england/somerset.html|accessdate=2006-05-28] The county has many prehistoric burial mounds(such as Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, stone rows(such as the circles at Stanton Drew and Priddy) and settlement sites. Evidence of Mesolithic occupation has come both from the upland areas, such as in Mendip caves, and from the low land areas such as the Somerset Levels. Dry points in the latter such as Glastonbury Torand Brent Knoll, have a long history of settlement with many wooden trackways between them. There were also "lake villages" in the marsh such as those at Glastonbury Lake Villageand Meare. The oldest dated human road work in Britain is the Sweet Track, constructed across the Somerset Levels with wooden planks in the 39th century BC. [cite web | title=The Neolithic Period: The first settlers | work=Somerset County Council: History of Somerset | url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/archives/ASH/neolith.htm | accessdate=2006-10-29] cite book |last=Dunning |first=Robert |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=A History of Somerset |year=1983 |publisher=Phillimore & Co |location=Chichester |id=ISBN 0-85033-461-6 ] [cite web | title = Special issue on Wetlands / The Somerset Levels | work = Current Archaeology 172 | publisher = Current Archaeology | month = February | year = 2001 | url = http://www.archaeology.co.uk/ca/issues/ca172/ca172.htm|date=2007-04-05 | accessdate = 2007-10-26 ] cite web | title = The day the Sweet Track was built | work = New Scientist, 16 June 1990 | url =http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg12617212.800.html | accessdate = 2007-10-07 ] [cite book |last=Williams |first=Robin |authorlink= |coauthors=Romey Williams |title=The Somerset Levels |year=1992 |publisher=Ex Libris Press |location=Bradford on Avon |isbn=0948578386 ]
The caves of the
Mendip Hillswere settled during the Neolithicperiod and contain extensive archaeological sites such as those at Cheddar Gorge. There are numerous Iron AgeHill Forts, some of which were later reused in the Dark Ages, such as Cadbury Castle, [cite web | title=Mendip Hills An Archaeological Survey of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty | work=Somerset County Council Archaeological Projects | url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/media/896B4/MendipAONB.pdf| format=pdf | accessdate=2006-10-28] and Ham Hill. The age of the henge monumentat Stanton Drew stone circlesis unknown, but is believed to be from the Neolithic period. [cite web | title=Stanton Drew Stone Circles | work=English Heritage Archeometry | url=http://www.eng-h.gov.uk/archaeometry/StantonDrew/ | accessdate=2006-07-08] There is evidence of miningon the Mendip Hillsback into the late Bronze Agewhen there were technological changes in metal working indicated by the use of lead. There are numerous " hill forts", such as Small Down Knoll, Solsbury Hill, Dolebury Warrenand Burledge Hill, which seem to have had many purposes, not just a defensive role. They generally seem to have been occupied intermittently from the Bronze Ageonward, some, such as Cadbury Campat South Cadbury, being refurbished many times. [cite web | title=South Cadbury | work=Somerset Past.net | url=http://www.somersetpast.net/southcadbury.html|accessdate=2006-10-29]
Iron Agetribes of later Somerset were the Dobunniin northSomerset, Durotrigesin southSomerset and Dumnoniiin westSomerset. The first and second produced coins, the finds of which allows their tribal areas to be suggested, but the latter did not. All three had a Celtic cultureand language. However, Ptolomystated that Bath was in the territory of the Belgae, [cite web |url=http://www.dot-domesday.me.uk/tribes.htm |title=British Tribes |accessdate=2007-12-02 |format= |work=From Dot to Domesday ] but this may be a mistake. [cite web |url=http://www.kmatthews.org.uk/Ravenna_Cosmography/group12.html |title=Britania in the Ravenna Cosmography |accessdate=2007-12-02 |format= |work=cyberhome of Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews ] The Celtic gods were worshiped at the templeof Sulisat Bath and possibly the temple on Brean Down. Iron Age sites on the Quantock Hills, include major hill forts at Dowsboroughand Ruborough, as well as several smaller earthwork enclosures, such as Trendle Ringand Plainsfield Camp.
Somerset was part of the
Roman Empirefrom 47 AD to about 409 AD. However, the end was not abrupt and elements of Romanitaslingered on for perhaps a century.
Somerset was invaded from the south-east by the Second Legion "Augusta", under the future emperor
Vespasian. The hillforts of the Durotrigesat Ham Hill and Cadbury Castlewere captured. Ham Hill probably had a temporary Roman occupation. The massacre at Cadbury Castleseems to have been associated with the later Boudiccan Revolt of 60-61 AD. The county remained part of the Roman Empireuntil around 409 AD.cite news |first=Amal |last=Rajan |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Around a county in 40 facts: A (very) brief history of Somerset |url=http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article2891211.ece |work=Independent on Sunday |publisher= |date= 2007-08-24 |accessdate=2007-10-21 ]
The Roman invasion, and possibly the preceding period of involvement in the internal affairs of the south of England, was inspired in part by the potential of the
Mendip Hills. A great deal of the attraction of the lead mines may have been the potential for the extraction of silver.cite web | title=Mendip Hills An Archaeological Survey of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty | work=Somerset County Council Archaeological Projects | url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/media/896B4/MendipAONB.pdf | accessdate=2006-10-28|format=PDF] cite web | title=Romano-British Somerset | work=Somerset County Council: History of Somerset | url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/archives/ASH/Romano-brit.htm | accessdate=2006-10-29]
Forts were set up at Bath and
Ilchester. The lead and silver mines at Charterhouse in the Mendip Hillswere run by the military. The Romans established a defensive boundary along the new military road known the Fosse Way(from the Latin"fossa" meaning "ditch"). The Fosse Way ran through Bath, Shepton Mallet, Ilchesterand south-west towards Axminster. The road from Dorchester ran through Yeovilto meet the Fosse Way at Ilchester.A number of small towns and trading ports were set up, like Camerton and Combwich. The larger towns decayed in the latter part of the period, though the smaller ones appear to have decayed less. In the latter part of the period, Ilchesterseems to have been a "civitas" capital and Bath may also have been one. Particularly to the east of the River Parrett, many villas were constructed. However, only a few Roman sites have been found to the west of the river. The villas have produced important mosaics and artifacts. Cemeterieshave been found outside the Roman towns of Somerset and by Roman temples such as that at Lamyatt. Many Romano-British farming settlements, such as that at Catsgore, have been found in Somerset. There was saltproduction on the Somerset Levelsnear Highbridge and quarryingtook place near Bath, where the Roman Baths gave their name to Bath. [cite web | title= Roman Baths Treatment Centre | work=Images of England | url= http://www.imagesofengland.org.uk/search/details.aspx?id=442194 | accessdate=2006-11-15]
Excavations carried out before the
flooding of Chew Valley Lakealso uncovered Roman remains, indicating agricultural and industrial activity from the second half of the first century until the third century AD. The finds included a moderately large villa at Chew Park, where wooden writing tablets (the first in the UK) with ink writing were found. There is also evidence from the Pagans Hill Roman Templeat Chew Stoke. [cite book | author = Ross, Lesley (Ed.)| year = 2004 | title = Before the Lake: Memories of the Chew Valley | publisher = The Harptree Historic Society | id=ISBN 0-9548832-0-9 ] cite book | author = Hucker, Ernest| year = 1997 | title = Chew Stoke Recalled in Old Photographs | publisher = Ernest Hucker | id = ] In October 2001 a hoard of 4th century Roman silverwas discovered in West Bagborough. The 681 coins included two denariifrom the early 2nd century and 8 Miliarenseand 671 Siliquaall dating to the period AD 337 – 367. The majority were struck in the reigns of emperors Constantius IIand Julian and derive from a range of mints including Arlesand Lyons in France, Trierin Germany and Rome. [cite web |url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/somerset/culturecommunity/museums/somersetcollection/thewestbagboroughhoardofromansilver/ |title=The West Bagborough hoard of Roman silver |accessdate=2007-10-07 |format= |work=Somerset County Museums Service Collections ]
This is the period from about 409 AD to the start of Saxon political control, which was mainly in the late 7th century, though they are said to have captured the Bath area in 577 AD. [cite web | title=501-97 | work=Britania, The Anglo Saxon Chronicles | url=http://britannia.com/history/docs/501-97.html | accessdate=2006-10-29] However it must be realized that the county of Somerset was a Norman creation and the southern boundaries round
Crewkerne, Chardand Ilminsterwere more than likely a much earlier Saxon area than further north. Initially the Britons of Somerset seem to have continued much as under the Romans but without the imperial taxationand markets. There was then a period of civil warin England though it is not known how this affected Somerset. The Western Wandsdyke may have been constructed in this period but archaeological data shows that it was probably built during the 5th or 6th century. This area became the border between the Romano-British Celts and the West Saxons following the Battle of Deorhamin 577 AD."The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle", [http://britannia.com/history/docs/501-97.html 501-97 AD] .] The ditch is on the north side, so presumably it was used by the Celtsas a defence against Saxons encroaching from the upper Thames valley. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Saxon Cenwalh achieved a breakthrough against the British Celtic tribes, with victories at Bradford-on-Avon(in the "Avon Gap" in the Wansdyke) in 652 AD,"The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle", [http://britannia.com/history/docs/645-56.html 645-56 AD] ] and further south at the Battle of Peonnum(at Penselwood) in 658 AD,"The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle", [http://britannia.com/history/docs/658-75.html 658-75 AD] ] followed by an advance west through the Polden Hillsto the River Parrett."The Victoria History of the County of Somerset", Vol 1 (1906)]
The Saxon advance from the east seems to have been halted by battles between the British and Saxons, for example; at the siege of Badon
Mons Badonicus(which may mave been in the Bath region eg at Solsbury Hill), [cite web | title=Roman Times | work=Britannia | url=http://www.britannia.com/history/somerset/somhist3.html|accessdate=2006-10-29] or Bathampton Down. [cite book |title=The hidden places of Somerset |last=Scott |first=Shane |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1995 |publisher=Travel Publishing Ltd |location=Aldermaston |isbn=1902007018 |pages=16 ] During the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries, Somerset was probably partly in the Kingdom of Dumnonia, partly in the land of the Durotrigesand partly in that of the Dobunni. The boundaries between these is largely unknown, but may have been similar to those in the Iron Age. Various "tyrants" seem to have controlled territories from refurbished hill forts. There is evidence of an elite at hill forts such as Cadbury Castle and Cadbury Camp; for example, there is imported pottery. Cemeteries are an important source of evidence for the period and a number of large ones have been found in Somerset, such as that at Cannington, which was used from the Roman to the Saxon period. The towns of Somerset seem to have been little used during that period but there continued to be farming on the villa sites and at the Romano-British villages.
The language spoken during this period is thought to be
Southwestern Brythonic, [cite book | author=Jackson, Kenneth | title=Language and History in Early Britain | location= Edinburgh| publisher=Edinburgh University Press | year=1953 | id= ] but only one or two inscribed stones survive in Somerset from this period. However, a couple of curse tablets found in the baths at Bath may be in this language. A number of place names in Somerset seem to be Celtic in origin and may be from this period or earlier, eg Tarnock. Some river names, such as Parrett, may be Celtic or pre-Celtic. The religion of the people of Somerset in this period is thought to be Christianbut it was isolated from Rome until the Synod of Whitbyin 664 AD. Some church sites in Somerset are thought to date from this period, e.g., Llantokay.
Most of what is known of the history of this period comes from
Gildas's "On the Ruin of Britain", [cite web | title=Gildas and The History of the Britons. | work=Latin Writings in England to the Time of Alfred | url=http://www.bartleby.com/211/0501.html | accessdate=2006-10-29] which is thought to have been written in Durotrigen territory, possibly at Glastonbury.
The earliest fortification of
Tauntonstarted for King Ine of Wessexand Æthelburg, in or about the year 710 AD. However, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chroniclethis was destroyed 12 years later.cite web |url=http://www.britannia.com/history/somerset/castles/tauntoncast.html |title= History of Taunton Castle in Somerset By Charles Oman|accessdate=2007-11-21 |format= |work=Britannia castles ]
This is the period from the late 7th century to 1066, though for part of the 10th and 11th centuries England was under Danish control. Somerset, like Dorset to the south, held the Saxon invasion back for over a century, remaining a frontier between the Saxons and the Romano-British Celts. [cite web |url=http://www.britannia.com/history/somerset/somhist5.html |title=Narative History of Saxon Somerset |accessdate=2007-10-21 |last=Lewis |first=Brenda Ralph |coauthors=David Nash Ford |date= |work=Britania |publisher=]
Saxonsconquered Bath following the Battle of Deorhamin 577, and the border was established along the line of the Wansdyke on the ridge of the Mendip Hills. Then Cenwalh of Wessexbroke through at Bradford-on-Avonin 652, and the Battle of Peonnumat Penselwoodin 658, advancing west through the Polden Hillsto the River Parrett. [cite web | title=Saxon Somerset | work=Somerset County Council: History of Somerset | url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/archives/ASH/Saxonsom.htm|accessdate=2006-10-29] The River Parrett was established as the border between Wessexand Dumnonia, this natural border endured for almost a century until further fighting between Anglo-Saxonsand the West Welsh in the mid 8th century when the current borders of Devon (West Welsh) and Somerset (Anglo-Saxon) were established.
Then in the period 681–85
Centwine of Wessexconquered the Welsh King Cadwaladr and occupied the rest of Somerset west and north to the Bristol Channel. Saxon rule was consolidated under King Ina, who established forts or palaces at Taunton, Somertonand South Petherton. By 705 the diocese of Sherbornewas formed, taking in Wessexwest of Selwood. Saxon kings granted land in Somerset by charter from the seventh century onward. The way and extent to which the Britons survived under the Saxons is a debatable matter. However, King Ina's laws make provision for Britons. Somerset originally formed part of Wessex and latter became a separate "shire". Mints were set up at times in various places in Somerset, e.g., Watchet.
Somerset played an important part in defeating the spread of the Danes in the 9th century.
Vikingraids took place for instance in 987 and 997 at Watchetcite book |title=Somerset Harbours |last=Farr |first=Grahame |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1954 |publisher=Christopher Johnson |location=London |isbn= |pages=125-137 ] and the Battle of Cannington. King Alfred was driven to seek refuge from the Danes at Athelneybefore defeating them at the Battle of Eddingtonin 878, usually consided to be near Cheltenham, but possibly the village of Edington in Somerset. Alfred established a series of forts and lookout posts linked by a military road, or Herepath, so his army could cover Viking movements at sea. The Herepath has a characteristic form which is familiar on the Quantocks: a regulation 20m wide track between avenues of trees growing from hedge layingembankments. The Herepath ran from the ford on the River Parrettat Combwich, past Cannington Hill (fort) to Over Stowey, where it climbed the Quantocks along the line of the current Stowey road, to CrowcombePark Gate. Then it went south along the ridge, to TriscombeStone. One branch may have led past Lydeard Hill and Buncombe Hill, back to Alfred's base at Athelney. The main branch descended the hills at Triscombe, then along the avenue to Red Post Cross, and west to the Brendon Hillsand Exmoor."Dumnonia and the Valley of the Parret", Rev. W.H.P. Greswell (1922)] A peace treaty with the Danes was signed at Wedmore and the Danish king Guthrum the Oldwas baptised at Aller. A number of " burhs" (fortified places) had been set up by 919, such as Lyng. Monasteriesand minster churches were set up all over Somerset, with daughter churches from the ministers in manors. There was a royal palace at Cheddar, which was used several times in the 10th century to host the Witenagemot, [cite web | url= http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/arch-769-1/ahds/dissemination/pdf/vol06-07/6_053_066.pdf | format= PDF | last= Rahtz | first= Phillip | publisher= Archaeology Data Service | title= The Saxon and Medieval Palaces at Cheddar, Somerset-an Interim Report of Excavations in I 960-62 | accessdate= 2008-03-31] and there is likely to have been a "central place" at Somerton, Bath, Glastonbury and Frome since the kings visited them. The towns of Somerset seem to have in occupation in this period though evidence for this is limited because of subsequent buildings on top of remains from this period. Agriculture flourished in this period, with a re-organisation into centralised villages in the latter part in the east of the county.
In the period before the
Norman Conquest, Somerset came under the control of the Danish Godwin family. There seems to have been some Danish settlement at Thurloxtonand Spaxton, judging from the place-names. After the Norman Conquest, the county was divided into 700 fiefs, and large areas were owned by the crown,cite web |url=http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Somersetshire |title=Somersetshire |accessdate=2007-10-21 |format= |work=1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica ] with fortifications such as Dunster Castleused for control and defence.
This period of Somerset's history is well-documented, for example in the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicleand Asser's Life of Alfred. [cite web | title=Life of King Alfred. | work=Northvegr Foundation | url=http://www.northvegr.org/lore/alfred/index.php | accessdate=2006-10-29]
This is the period from 1066 to around 1500. Following the defeat of the
Saxonsby the Normansin 1066, various castleswere set up in Somerset by the new lords such as that at Dunster. Somerset does not seem to have played much part in the civil war in King Stephen's time, but Somerset lords were main players in the murder of Thomas à Becket.
A good picture of the county in 1086 is given by
Domesday Book, though there is some difficulty in identifying the various places since the "hundreds" are not specified. [cite web | title=The Shire and the Hundred | work=Somerset County Council: History of Somerset | url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/archives/ASH/Shirehundred.htm | accessdate=2006-10-29] [cite web | title=Domesday Somerset | work=Somerset County Council: History of Somerset | url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/archives/ASH/Domesom.htm | accessdate=2006-10-29] Farming seems to have prospered for the next three centuries but was severely hit by the Black Deathwhich in 1348 arrived in Dorsetand quickly spread through Somerset, causing widespread mortality, perhaps as much as 50% in places. It re-occurred several times, resulting in a change in feudal practices since the manpower was no longer so available.
Reclamation of land from marsh in the
Somerset Levelsincreased, largely under monastic influence. Crafts and industries also flourished, the Somerset woollen industry being one of the largest in England at this time. [cite web | title=Saxon Times | work=Britannia | url=http://www.britannia.com/history/somerset/somhist6.html|accessdate=2006-10-29] A number of "new towns" were founded in this period in Somerset, i.e. Newport, but were not successful. Coal miningon the Mendipswas an important source of wealth while quarryingalso took place, an example is near Bath.
The towns grew, again often by monastic instigation, during this period and many fairs were started. The church was very powerful at this period, particularly
Glastonbury Abbey. After their church burnt down, the monks there "discovered" the tomb of "King Arthur" and were able rebuild their church. There were over 20 monasteries in Somerset at this period including the priory at Hinton Charterhousewhich was founded in 1232 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury who also founded Lacock Abbey.cite book |title=The hidden places of Somerset |last=Scott |first=Shane |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1995 |publisher=Travel Publishing Ltd |location=Aldermaston |isbn=1902007018 |pages=18-19 ] Many parish churches were re-built in this period.
Middle Agessheep farming for the wool trade came to dominate the economy of Exmoor. The wool was spun into thread on isolated farms and collected by merchants to be woven, fulled, dyed and finished in thriving towns such as Dunster. The land started to be enclosed and from the 17th century onwards larger estates developed, leading to establishment of areas of large regular shaped fields. During this period a Royal Forestand hunting ground was established, administered by the Warden. The Royal Forest was sold off in 1818.
This is the period from around 1500 to 1800. In the 1530s, the monasteries were dissolved and their lands bought from the king by various important families in Somerset. By 1539,
Glastonbury Abbeywas the only monastery left, its abbot Richard Whiting was then arrested and executed on the orders of Thomas Cromwell. From the Tudor to the Georgian times, farming specialised and techniques improved, leading to increases in population, although no new towns seem to have been founded. Large country houses such as at Hinton St Georgeand Montacute Housewere built at this time.
The Bristol Channel floods of 1607 are believed to have affected large parts of the
Somerset Levelswith flooding up to convert|8|ft|m|0|lk=on above sea level. [cite journal |last=Bryant |first=Edward |authorlink= |coauthors=Simon Haslett |year=2002 |month= |title=Was the AD 1607 coastal flooding event in the Severn estuary and Bristol channel due to a Tsumani? |journal=Archaeology in the Severn Estuary |volume=13 |issue= |pages=163–167 |id= |url=http://www.bathspa.ac.uk/schools/science-and-the-environment/geography/Tsunami/archaeology-in-the-severn-estuary-2003-paper.pdf|accessdate= |quote= |format=PDF] [cite journal |last=Bryant |first=Edward |authorlink= |coauthors=Simon Haslett |year=2004 |month= |title=The AD 1607 Coastal Flood in the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary: Historical Records from Devon and Cornwall (UK) |journal=Archaeology in the Severn Estuary |volume=15 |issue= |pages=81–89 |id= |url=http://www.bathspa.ac.uk/schools/science-and-the-environment/geography/Tsunami/archaeology-in-the-severn-estuary-2005-paper.pdf|accessdate= |quote= |format=PDF]
English Civil War, Somerset, which was largely Parliamentarian, although Dunsterwas a Royalist stronghold. The county was the site of a number of important battles between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, notably the Battle of Lansdownein 1643 and the Battle of Langportin 1645. [cite book |title=Battles and Generals of the Civil Wars |last=Rodgers |first= Colonel H.C.B.|authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1968 |publisher=Seeley Service & Co. |location= |isbn= ] This war resulted in many of the castles being destroyed to prevent their re-use. [cite web | title=The Civil War in Somerset | work=Somerset County Council: History of Somerset | url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/archives/ASH/Civilwar.htm | accessdate=2006-10-29]
In 1685, the Duke of Monmouth led the
Monmouth Rebellionin which many Somerset people fought against James II. The rebels landed at Lyme Regisand traveled north hoping to capture Bristoland Bath, puritan soldiers damaged the west front of Wells Cathedral, tore lead from the roof to make bullets, broke the windows, smashed the organ and the furnishings, and for a time stabled their horses in the nave. [cite web |url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/archives/ASH/Monmouthreb.htm |title=The Monmouth rebellion and the bloody assize |accessdate=2008-02-11 |format= |work=Somerset County Council ] They were defeated in the Battle of Sedgemoorat Westonzoyland, the last battle fought on English soil. [cite web |url=http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~smedlo/history.htm |title=History of Bridgwater |accessdate=2007-10-21 |format= |work=Bridgwater ] The Bloody Assizeswhich followed saw the losers being sentenced to death or transportation. [cite web | title=Tudor & Stuart Times | work=Britannia | url=http://www.britannia.com/history/somerset/somhist7.html | accessdate=2006-10-29]
The 18th century was largely one of peace and declining industrial prosperity in Somerset. The
Industrial Revolutionin the Midlands and Northern England spelt the end for most of Somerset's cottage industries. However, farming continued to flourish, with the Bath and West of England Agricultural Society being founded in 1777 to improve methods. John Billingsley conducted a survey of the county's agriculture in 1795 but found that methods could still be improved. [cite web | title=General View of the Agriculture of the County of Somerset| work=Google Books | url=http://books.google.com/books?id=DBUAAAAAQAAJ&printsec=titlepage | accessdate=2007-10-10]
In north Somerset, mining in the
Somerset coalfieldwas an important industry, and in an effort to reduce the cost of transporting the coal the Somerset Coal Canalwas built; part of it was later converted into a railway. [cite web | title=Rivers and Canals | work=Somerset County Council: History of Somerset | url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/archives/ASH/Rivers.htm|accessdate=2006-10-29] Other canals included the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, Westport Canal, Grand Western Canal, Glastonbury Canaland Chard Canal. The Dorset and Somerset Canalwas proposed, but very little of it was ever constructed.
The 19th century saw improvements to Somerset's roads with the introduction of
turnpikesand the building of canals and railways. The usefulness of the canals was short-lived, though they have now been restored for recreation. The railways were nationalised after the Second World War, but continued until 1965, when many were scrapped; two were transferred back to private ownership as "heritage" lines.
The population of Somerset has continued to grow since 1800, particularly in the seaside towns such as
Weston-super-Mare. Some population decline occurred earlier in the period in the villages, but this has now been reversed.
First World Warmany Somerset soldiers were killed, and war memorials were put up in most of the towns and villages; only a few villages escaped casualties. There were also casualties – though much fewer – during the Second World War, who were added to the memorials. The county was a base for troops preparing for the 1944 D-Daylandings, and some Somerset hospitals still date partly from that time. The Royal Ordnance Factory ROF Bridgwaterwas constructed early in World War IIfor the Ministry of Supply. It was designed as an Explosive ROF, to produce RDX, which was then a new experimental high-explosive.Cocroft, Wayne D. (2000). "Dangerous Energy: The archaeology of gunpowder and military explosives manufacture". Swindon: English Heritage. ISBN 1-85074-718-0] It obtained water supplies from two sources via the Somerset Levels: the artificial Huntspill River which was dug during the construction of the factory and also from the King's Sedgemoor Drain, which was widened at the same time.Williams, Michael. (1970). "The Draining of the Somerset Levels". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-07486-X.] The Taunton Stop Linewas set up to resist a potential German invasion, and the remains of its pill boxes can still be seen, as well as others along the coast. [cite web |url=http://www.pillboxes-somerset.com/taunton_stop_line.htm |title=Taunton Stop Line |accessdate=2007-10-25 |format= |work=Pillboxes Somerset ] A decoy town was constructed on Black Down, intended to represent the blazing lights of a town which had neglected to follow the black-out regulations. [cite web | title=Mendip Hills An Archaeological Survey of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty | work=Somerset County Council Archeological Projects | url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/media/896B4/MendipAONB.pdf | accessdate=2006-10-28|format=PDF] Several sites in the county housed Prisoner of War camps including: Norton Fitzwarren, Barwick, Brockley, Goathurstand Wells.
Exmoor was one of the first British National Parks, designated in 1954, under the 1949
National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.cite web |url=http://www.everythingexmoor.org.uk/_E/Exmoor_National_Park_Authority.php |title=Exmoor National Park Authority |accessdate=2007-10-16 |format= |work=Everything Exmoor ] and is named after its main river. It was expanded in 1991 and in 1993 Exmoor was designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area. The Quantock Hillswere designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty(AONB) in 1956, the first such designation in England under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The Mendip Hillsfollowed with AONB designation in 1972. [cite web | title=The Mendip Society website | url=http://www.mendipsociety.org.uk/ | accessdate=2007-02-17]
Somerset today has only two small cities, Bath and
Wells, and only small towns in comparison with many other areas of England. Tourismis a major source of employment along the coast, and in Bath and Cheddar for example. Other attractions include Exmoor, West Somerset Railway, Haynes Motor Museumand the Fleet Air Arm Museumas well as the churches and the various National Trust and English Heritageproperties in Somerset.
Agriculture continues to be a major business, if no longer a major employer because of mechanisation. Light industries take place in many of the towns such as
Bridgwaterand Yeovil. The towns of Tauntonand Shepton Malletmanufacture cider, though there are no longer as many apple orchards as there used to be.
In the late 19th century the boundaries of Somerset were slightly altered, but the main change came in 1974 when the county of Avon was set up. The northern part of Somerset was removed from the administrative control of
Somerset County Council. On abolition of the county of Avon in 1996, these areas became separate administrative authorities, " North Somerset" and " Bath and North East Somerset". [cite web | title=Local Government since 1800 | work=Somerset County Council: History of Somerset | url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/archives/ASH/Localgov.htm | accessdate=2006-10-29] The Department for Communities and Local Governmentwas considering a proposal by Somerset County Council to change Somerset's administrative structure by abolishing the five districts to create a Somerset unitary authority. The changes were planned to be implemented no later than 1 April 2009. [cite web | url= http://www.somerset.gov.uk/somerset/features/unitarycouncil/page8.cfm | work= Somerset County Council | title= A unitary council for Somerset | accessdate=2007-06-29 ] [cite web | url= http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/proposalsfuture | work= Communities and Local Government | title= Proposals for future unitary structures: Stakeholder consultation |accessdate=2007-06-29 ] However, support for the county council's bid was not guaranteed and opposition among the district council and local population was strong; 82% of people responding to a referendum organised by the five district councils rejected the proposals. [cite web | url= http://www.tauntondeane.gov.uk/tdbcsites/council/press/latestnewsitems.asp?id=222 | work= Taunton Deane Council | title= Residents reject Unitary Council bid | accessdate=2007-06-29 | month= June | year= 2007 ] It was confirmed in July 2007 that the government had rejected the proposals for unitary authorities in Somerset, and that the present two-tier arrangements of Somerset County Council and the district councils will remain. [cite web |url=http://www.communities.gov.uk/statements/corporate/local-government |title=Written statement by John Healey MP, Minister for Local Government, 25 July 2007 |accessdate=2007-10-27 |format= |work=Department of Communities and local government ]
Timeline of Somerset history
Geology of Somerset
History of England
Timeline of the Anglo-Saxon invasion and takeover of Britain.
List of places in Somerset
List of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in Somerset
* [http://www.somerset.gov.uk/archives/ASH/index.htm Aspects of Somerset History]
* [http://www.somersetpast.net/ Victoria County History of Somerset]
* [http://www.somerset.gov.uk/archives/ Somerset Archives and Record Service]
* [http://www.sanhs.org/ Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Service]
* [http://www.somerset.gov.uk/media/087/B7/Report.pdf The Aggregate Landscape of Somerset: Predicting the Archaeological Resource]
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