Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Spring and Rivers round Bath

Bath is renowned for its hot spring waters presided over by the goddess Sulis, Romans used this hot water source for a series of roman baths and built a great temple to their own goddess Minerva entwined with the earlier celtic goddess Sulis.

Water by its very nature has a practical use,without it we would die, our settlements are planned round good water sources. Yet, from the very earliest times, it must also have had an important and mystical potency that we can hardly understand today, it is woven into our religious rituals. In the later iron age, when belief systems held that there was an "Otherworld", water would have been seen to mirror this world, a liminal space that one could enter.

Bath is served by the river Avon, a gently winding river that loops and curves through the Somerset countryside as it meanders down into Bristol. Along its path other streams and smaller rivers tumble down the hillside from the downs above. Sometimes this water travels underground, breaking to the surface in water spouts, or appearing at the bottom of the hill to serve medieval corn mills. Occasionally it will break free from its underground way after a particularly heavy downpour and cascade exuberantly on the surface.

Tracing these streams and springlines often uncovers places of early religious worship.

St.Alphaege Well; On the Lansdown coming up the steep lane out of Weston, there is the Well of St.Alphaege, located on the left hand side down a small unmade track to Heather Cottage. There is an old footpath that leads down to this well from the small hamlet of Blaythwaite. Chapel Farm situated on the road that runs through Blaythwaite, was once St.Laurence’s Hospice, for pilgrims on their way to Glastonbury. It could well have been that St.Alphage Well would have had special powers for the pilgrims. Apparently a farmer from North Stoke bought a roman coffin to the well, presumably as a drinking vessel for cattle.
Founding of St.Lawrence's chapel; Probably in 1302 by Bishop Hasershaw is the official date, 100 sheep on Lantesdune -but it is possible that it had earlier roots as a pilgrim's stop (Vol.8 Bath Field Club) Prior Hugh of Avalon founded the cell on Lansdown as a resting place for weary pilgrims and as a beacon for wanderers on the Downs.. A chapel have already existed at this time because of a grant made by Prior Robert to Nicholas de Lanesdun of a messuage (1 acre). Grant made between 1198 and 1219 when Robert was elected and when Jocelyn ceased to be Bishop of Glastonbury.. There are very good sketches of the chapel as it originally was in this particular article.
One further point about Chapel Farm, it stands at a slightly awkward angle to the road, facing west towards the two barrows across the road. The reason for its odd angle is that a chapel or church must have been incorporated in the farmhouse building, it leads to the intriguing possibility that the chapel was set up in direct opposition to the pagan bronze age barrows. If this is so, then it gives this site a very early beginning probably dating back to the first evangelising "desert"monks of the early centuries of christianity. It well maybe that this is one of the roman trackways leading from Brockham End to Bath; there is a notable marking of boundaries to be found east of Bath along the Fosse Way the Three Shires Stones, http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/2308 which delineate the boundaries of Gloucester, Wiltshire and Somerset.. though this is a mock dolmen it may actually have represented some stones that had been found here in the past.
Lox brook/Locksbrook; Another powerful source of water that can be found in Weston, is the Loxbrook, note; Lox brook = Loxan - could possibly have meant salmon from the latin laxan. This rises at the foot of Kelston Round Hill, and must have been feed by underground springs that percolated down. This powerful brook, fed two mills in the village of Weston, these two mills were mentioned in the Domesday book, the wheel pit of one can be found, at the beginning of the village at the bottom of Lansdown lane.

The other mill was at the cottages in Weston Lane. The Loxbrook must have run through the centre of the village following the main road. At the junction of the pedestrian crossing it veered to the left, through the old part of the village, the high wall, probably built in the 19th century, on the left must have been a defensive barrier, when at times it flooded.

Flooding occurred periodically, caused by heavy rainfall on the top of the hills, water would gather and release its force with often catastrophic results. At times when it floods, the water rushes through the village, winding its way past the war memorial down Manor Road, and into the small valley of gardens betwixt Weston Lane and Weston Park. It then travels across Weston Lane, down the small steep sided (probably a waterfall centuries ago) of Gainsborough Gardens to follow its path via Locksbrook cemetery to the River Avon. In the 1960s a flood occurred, that knocked down a heavy wall in the valley, and managed to drown two ponies further down the valley.

In the 19th century it is recorded that a man saved a boy from being swept away in the High Street. Even today, flooding still occurs, though obviously the brook has been culverted.
Celtic spoons found at Loxbrook; One other interesting fact is that near the end of the brook before it joins the River Avon a pair of “Celtic” spoons were found. To quote (taken from Rev.Preb.Scarth 1870). “they were found while clearing the ground for quarrying stone to form a new road, and lay near the stream, at the depth of about 7 feet”. These spoons, of which other pairs have been found in England, Wales and Ireland, are considered to be early christian spoons, probably dating from the 3rd or 4th century. Its interesting that they should be found just outside Bath, and near to a local stream. This leads one to believe that they were used for a baptismal rite, one spoon normally has a small hole in its bowl, also they are often incised with a faint cross in the bowl. The other characteristic is distinctive celtic curvilinear patterns that are found at the top of the spoons.

On a 19th century map stones are marked at this end of the Lockbrook, but they must have disappeared when the new road was built.

Bitton; In a previous essay about North Stoke, I have referred to the conjunction of the River Boyd with the River Avon at Bitton, this would only have been about four miles down the road from the Locksbrook. Again the same significance of the importance of water at a meeting place of water is highlighted. In this instance a bronze age barrow marks this spot; a couple of hundred yards away, is the church which probably also sits on old roman foundations with a mention of a “heathen temple” nearby.
Northstoke, with its strong water spout, that forms a stream that runs down the south boundary of the churchyard, (coincidentally echoing the Locksbrook that ran down by the side of the cemetery at Lower Weston) and roman villa near the church also points to the strong christian association with water, and the more practical aspect of roman sensibilities and a good water supply.
At Keynsham the River Avon meets the River Chew at a confluence. it is here that the small Chew comes to an end, flowing into the Avon quietly without any fuss. This small river Chew must have been one of the waterways that prehistoric man would have travelled along, an inland waterway linking the high downlands from the Mendips to the area around Bath. Stanton Drew stone circle, lies on a stretch of the Chew a few miles further west, and this bronze age circle has an avenue leading down to the river from the circle. This may echo what is being found in the more famous site of Stonehenge, where a long trackway from Durrington Walls also leads down to a different river Avon. These are seen as ceremonial pathways, and Stanton Drew circle with its long history of timber circles and then stone may have been part of a pattern of religious activity that we unable to comprehend today, but encompassing within it a reverence for water.
Pucan Wylle; There is also another spring that may have risen on Dean Hill Farm, this is mentioned in the Boundaries of the Lands Granted to Aethelare by King Edmund A.D.946 this little spring is called Pucan Wylle, an anglo saxon name.
Pucan Wylle is mentioned in the Bath Nat.History.Soc as being under Kelston Knoll and a 10th saxon charter gives it as a boundary;- This synd tha land gemeru the sceotath dun to Puck's Spring (these are the bounds that run down to Puck's Spring) There is also mention of a Black Spring, which could well be the "spout" marked to the west of Pen Dean Farm, "Swa up be Broce thar Black Wylle ut scyt" (from the Black Spring to the Dairy Farm to the west of where the Black Spring gushes forth). But there again there is Little Spring "Swa be Bege? to Lytle Wylle" (so by the corner/bend? to Little Spring, and then from Little Spring to Puck's Spring. Also mentioned in this Saxon list is the intriguing "Play Dyke" (from the old Cattleshed with a house attached to it which Aethelare possessed to the Play Dyke). There is also mention of Ael's Barrow, which according to this article states that it stood by the Camp (littledown) along the north slope of the great combe (Midridge?) Elle Beorh is also Aeles Beorh.........


  1. Dear Thelma, I am writing a book about Bath racecourse. Racing is my main interest and I have written books about three other courses. I try to make them interesting by bringing in non-racing stories about their localities. I am interested in your thoughts about the sun disc, the barrows, the religious significance of the area. Would you mind me drawing on some of the contents of your blog? Unfortunately for me I am not local (I live and work in London) so I don't know Bath and the Lansdown area as well as I'd like.

  2. Hi Jim,

    Sorry I have'nt replied, but at the moment I am in Whitby for a few days, plus of course I live in Chelmsford now. But will get together some of my thoughts on the sun disc soon..