Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Solsbury Hill

The tabletop appearance of the Iron Age fort viewed from Bathford

Bathampton Celtic field system as seen from Solsbury Hill, with the River Avon in between

On top of Solsbury looking down the Swainswick Valley with Freezing Hill (I/A) in the distance.

Solsbury Hill, Iron Age fort overlooking Bath, dance to the music of Peter Gabriel who wrote a song about it years ago. Gabriel lives in the little village of Box a couple of miles away, but to get to Solsbury you must drive out of Bath on the London Road, Turning left at Northend, park the car in the village and then begin the steep climb. Northend stands at the head of one of the prettiest valleys around Bath, Catherine Valley. Drive your car along the narrow lane if you must, but walking is a great deal better. Jane Seymour the actress owns the beautiful Elizabethan House along here - Catherine Court, at one time let out to summer visitors but apparently there has been controversy with her neighbours over an alcohol licence she had applied for and succesfully got - too many noisy parties!.....

But to return to the hill itself, it overlooks the River Avon, and on the other side the Iron age settlement at Bathampton would have been a twin sentinel in guarding the route into Bath. And it is strange that on the other side of Bath (the Bristol side) we have Littledown Fort and Stantonbury fort doing a similar thing. That there was a period in the dark ages when defended strongholds were seemingly a must, and just perusing the Iron Age map round the south west one realises that there are literally hundreds of such places.
Solsbury has of course another more modern history, the A46 widened beneath it in the late 1990s, was also a scene of road protest, with the young protesters taking to the trees and there is on top of the hill a maze done at about this time.

The maze, the bonfire was probably down to a pagan festival

The steep sides of the banks
The landscape is characteristic of the small valleys and downs round Bath, in a sense this beautiful countryside has always been difficult to develop, and in its own way protects the small, intimate nature of the City of Bath, development almost being non-existent. This is the last fall of the Cotswold landscape, a place of small fields often stone walled, for around here and on Lansdown the monks of Bath raised their sheep, a few fields will be ploughed where the land is level enough, but the small winding sunken lanes harbour many wildflowers and may often go back to prehistoric trackways. The Fosse Way makes its way near here, as does of course the old London to Bath Roman road. History's imprint still defined on the land though it takes a long time to understand the area.

Peter Gabriel - Solsbury Hill

Thursday, January 22, 2009

One Brave Lady

the following clip was received from an American friend this morning, with the proviso that it may be taken off the web, Obama seems to be having an effect already!

"Here is a powerful and amazing statement on Al Jazeera television. The woman is Wafa Sultan, an Arab-American psychologist from Los Angeles . I would suggest watching it ASAP because I don't know how long the link will be active. This film clip should be shown around the world repeatedly!"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


A blank page, nothing to write, but words will tumble eventually......A book by Richard Mabey describing the great storm of 1987 when a great swathe of trees was cut down. The percieved wisdom at the time, was to clear and get rid of the trees, to remake the landscape. But as anyone knows that is foolish, the landscape is perfectly capable of making itself. New tree seedlings start up, colonisers or invaders, call them what you will, but they are there in the soil, Old trees their roots wrested from the ground, lying like beached whales, will still cling tenaciously to life, half buried roots succouring the fallen giant so that leaves still flourish. Life is perfectly capable of getting on without us, the sunlight space that felled trees make will in turn suddenly produce woodland flowers that have not been there before.
There is a creative edge to nature we know nothing about, in spring and early summer there is a vibrancy of growth, late summer and the air will be hazy with minute seeds and spore, falling softly to the ground they are trapped till the right conditions come along.
Now in winter,the branches and twigs stand out in sharp contrast against a blue sky, we see haphazard growth in old trees, limbs lost, thickly textured barks, an intricate balance of twigs along the secondary branches, a stand of beeches on a hill top, their branches sloping away from the prevailing wind. We inherit trees, we do not own them. Tolkien portrayed them as venerable, slow, old gentleman, plodding through the wildwood ready to fight.
We bemoan their lose in our lifetime, for we will never see a tree grow to full maturity, but it is of little consequence, they are not there for our pleasure...
A tree is beautiful because we are seemingly programmed by our senses to respond to its shape, it becomes a familar on the horizon, should it be cut down, there is an empty space, yet the spirit of the tree is still there. But can trees have spirits, physically it draws water from the ground up through the outer layer to the leaves which then transpires the water through the stomato of the leaves creating a perfect environment. Once I cut a branch of the large walnut tree up on the bank in early spring, and all of a sudden water gushed out of the wound, running down the trunk, it was if I had cut an artery of the tree, a scary happening.

Neglected wood with old coppice stools

The old yew at Alton Barnes

Strange shapes

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So what went wrong with the planning application

Bonds Garage development which was granted planning application on January 2008, but why?

Regulatory Committee 10th January 2008 Planning Services , will give some idea of the strong opposition to the building of these houses in a World Heritage Site.

Note the fact that the "stand of horse chestnuts on the opposite side of the Swindon Road are dying from bacterial growth". See latest news on this one as the trees are to be chopped down;[...]95.Avebury_trees_for_the_chop/ making even more visible the houses that are to be built..

The following quotes will underline some of the strong opposition:

"KDC Landscape and Countryside Officer: No objection in principle - the planting scheme should be designed by a suitably qualified professional who can address the issues related to such a sensitive site……

The stand of horse chestnuts on the opposite side of the Swindon Road are dying from bacterial canker and once they have gone there will be open views from the site to Windmill Hill. Therefore, the dwelling design and landscape design must consider the intervisibility between the two and the need to integrate the design into the village. ......

KDC Conservation Officer: The garage was constructed to provide local services following the clearance of established houses and businesses from within the henge. It seems that the need for the garage has diminished over time and the current condition of the site is less than satisfactory. The prospect of some mitigation is therefore generally welcomed but the location is of the utmost archaeological and visual sensitivity and the Council needs to take account of the long term. Not sure that redeveloping this remote site with new housing provides the best solution.
The new houses will be seen from the bank of the henge monument and other key locations within the historic landscape. The construction of three houses well forward on the site, in particular, will significantly alter the northern approach to Avebury. In terms of the principle the scheme appears to fall foul of the Local Plan policy which states “proposals which would harm the historic landscape, archaeological features or visual setting of that part of the world heritage site … will not be permitted”. This policy echoes Objective G in the original WHS Management Plan......

As regards the detailed design of the proposed development I do not consider this to be very convincing. The terrace fronting the main road is relatively modest but the wide span of the houses produces box-like proportions. … Similarly, the units 4 and 5 appear to be designed in the form of barn pastiche with a high number of roof lights which are likely to be visible in hours of darkness from the henge. The cramped parking yard also suggests that the proposal is an over development of the site..........

World Heritage Site Officer: Objection; the proposal contravenes a number of policies within the local plan not least HH3 designed to protect the World Heritage Site from harm. The Local Plan states clearly that at paragraph 6.16 that the “protection of the World Heritage Site should take precedence over all other demands for development and the use of the land in the inscribed area”. It follows, therefore, that this planning application should be refused.
The site is located within the Avebury world Heritage Site. The UK, as a signatory to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (UNESCO, 1972) must provide adequate legal protection and management mechanism for conserving the site and ensuring its outstanding universal values are transmitted to future generations. The Avebury World Heritage Site Management Plan (AMP 2005) fulfills this condition and is recognised as a material consideration in deciding planning applications.

HH3, the local plan policy on the Avebury World Heritage Site, states that developments that will harm the historic landscape, archaeological features or visual setting will not be permitted. In paragraph 6.16 it is stated that the protection of the WHS should take precedence over all other demands for development and the use of land in the area. The development could potentially harm the site in a number of ways.

World Heritage Site Landscape and Setting of Monuments ;

HH3 prioritises the historical landscape visual setting of the monuments. Management Issue 16 in the Avebury Management Plan 2005 (AMP 2005) states that the visual sensitivity of the monuments within the WHS extends to a broad area and that careful and particular consideration should be given to the visual impact of new developments affecting the WHS and its setting. The AMP 2005 emphasises the importance of the wider setting and its visual sensitivity. It draws attention to the importance of panoramic views. Objective H of the AMP 2005 is to enhance and protect the visual sensitivity of the key monuments and their settings. It highlights the retention of views from Windmill Hill as key.

The proposed development is clearly visible from the banks of the Henge monument and would have a major impact on its setting, particularly during the winter months when the beech trees are without leaves. It lies only 200m from the Henge. Although the current garage and its outlying buildings cause a certain level of intrusion, there is no justification for replacing them with housing. The WHS is of international significance and its sustainable management is key to safe-guarding its values. Simply replacing one visual intrusion with another is not a way to ensure that the site is not harmed. The AMP 2005 Issue 16 (AMP 2005) requires careful consideration of the visual impact of new developments affecting both the WHS and its setting. It also encourages the removal or screening of currently intrusive features, not simply their replacement with relatively intense housing development. The development also seems to challenge PD1 of the Local Plan which requires sensitivity to the relationship to historic features.

The Local Plan states clearly at paragraph 6.16 that ‘the protection of the World Heritage Site should take precedence over all other demands for development and the use of the land in the inscribed area’. It follows, therefore, that this planning application should be refused.

NR6 states clearly that development will be restricted to locations within the Limits of Development; this application lies outside this area in the countryside. The development would benefit neither the rural economy nor the social well-being of the community to any measurable extent. The plan contains no provision for affordable housing and there is no longer any school in Avebury that needs to raise its intake of children to remain open. Furthermore, the additional houses in Avebury will increase the need to travel and thereby compromise sustainable development.

In addition, the proposal fails to meet the requirements laid out in PD1 under B2 due to its scale and height which is not at all compatible with its position in a WHS on the approach to one of its major monuments, the Avebury Stone Circle. The barn-like development in particular is of such a scale that it will detract from the setting imposing a tall, mass across the field of vision of visitors approaching the banks of the Henge. It is crucial that the impact of the approach to the monument is maintained.

PD1 B7 clearly states that any proposal must take into account its relation to historic features, while B3 requires consideration of the relationship to landscape context. The elevation and angle of the barn building in particular is opposed to the character of a landscape internationally important for its clearly visible, outstanding monuments. The current proposals would detract markedly from the Henge’s setting. The current simulations do not accurately portray the impact of the developments significant scale and height having been done from a bird’s eye perspective. They also fail to set the development in context i.e. within close range of the banks of the Henge.

Although the removal of the garage forecourt may take away what is perceived as an eyesore locally, the seriousness of the very wide departure from local plan policy cannot be justified. It far outweighs any benefit to be gained from removal of the cars. I have mentioned in my previous comments the range of other policy the proposal does not comply with, most notably HH3; the requirement to avoid harm to the World Heritage Site. As the World Heritage Site officer I must strongly recommend that the long-term protection of the internationally recognised significance of the site is not compromised.

International Council on Monuments & Sites UK: ICOMOS-UK is recognised by government as having special status with regard to World Heritage Site. Its parent body, ICOMOS, is official advisor to UNESCO on cultural World Heritage Sites, as set out in the World Heritage Convention.

The UK has an obligation, under the terms of the World Heritage Convention 1972, to protect the Avebury part of the Stonehenge and Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage site. This does not exist as a planning entity, rather its boundaries reflects a collection of designations such as scheduled monuments, listed buildings, and conservation areas as well as parts that do not have discrete protection. Its overall protection delivered through agreed policies in local plans and in accordance with the agreed Management Plan for the site.

As has been set out clearly in the response to the application from the World Heritage Site Officer, this application is not in line with local planning policies. English Heritage has stated in their letter that this application must be determined in accordance with local and national policy guidance.
If this application is approved against the policies of the local plans, then the overall protection of the World Heritage Site is put at risk as these policies can no longer be relied upon to deliver the necessary protection as set out in the approved Management Plan for the site.

ICOMOS-UK appreciates that the existing garage may be considered an eye-sore and that development may be perceived by some to deliver ‘benefits’ in tidying up the site. However, it is in ICOMOS-UK’s view not acceptable to approve proposals that are against local policies on the grounds that they deliver benefits when the disbenefits they deliver are identified as being adverse impact on the values of the World Heritage Site.

Protection of World Heritage Sites means a commitment to sustaining the values for which the site was inscribed in the long term: these may be compromised for short-term gains or expediency. There seem to us to be other ways to tidy up this site than approving a development that is out of line with policies to protect the World Heritage Site and which could through setting a precedent undermine future protection through planning policies.

Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society: Objection, for archaeological and conservation reasons.

The proposed development lies close to the Avebury Henge; it is visible from it and whatever is built here will affect its wider setting. Five new houses built in close proximity and forward of the established building line would look out of character here and adversely affect the setting of the Henge and the village, contrary to Local Plan Policy HH3 and Structure Plan Policies HE1 and HE5 - all of which relate to the WHS as a whole; and Local Plan Policy HH1 and Structure Plan Policy HE2 which here apply in relation to the setting of the Henge. If the present tree screen were to go at some future date, the new build would also be conspicuous in longer views from the Henge towards Windmill Hill.

Similar objections from CPRE, The National Trust and The Avebury Society

And what does the local Avebury parish say....

Avebury Parish Council: no objection. The proposals represent good design and will look much better than what is there now, especially as this is one of the main routes in the World Heritage Site. It will improve the area, bring new life to the village and make a very run down area much nicer. The area can be well landscaped and it will soon lose the newness of the build.

No comment!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Welsh Celtic Story - Water and Mirrors

A first century AD Celtic mirror

The story starts with Peredur, the first person who was supposed to go looking for the holy grail... now on his journeying through the Celtic landscape he rode through a river valley, heavily forested. Eventually he came to a river with meadows on either side, on one side there was a flock of white sheep and on the other bank a flock of black sheep... When a black sheep bleated a white sheep would cross the river and turn black, and when a white sheep bleated a black sheep would cross the river and turn white. Also when he had crossed the river he saw a tall tree, one half of which was green, the other half was aflame..

Now here we have that marvellous Otherworld of the celts, a dreaming place of eternity, so that when a man died he passed over to the joyous place called the Otherworld, but he could also return from the Otherworld back into our world. This is a version of 'heaven', though without the miserable 'hell' that the christians tagged on to make its worshippers suffer. Both places reside in the imagination of the people who believe in them. The Celtic magical place having a more fun loving aspect to it than religions have today.

They were simple people, death meant nothing to them because you went to a better place, the soul/essence resided in the head, so that chopping off the heads of their enemies and bringing them home to display meant they respected the enemy if he had fought a good battle.

We think we know of this period through the Roman writers and their mention of the druids, but worship went on in the natural world, in the great groves of the woods, or by a spring or a river. These shrines were part of the natural world, water was a life-giver, and if you peered into its depth you could see the reflection of yourself, a mirror image of that otherworld underneath.
Water is after all a life affirming resource, its powers stem from far back into the past...

It could perhaps be argued that this nature worship went back into the Bronze Age, and that water may also have been seen as a mysterious 'force'. It is difficult to set out that history which is not written down, we have tantalising archaelogical evidence here in the West of ritual shafts such as the Wilsford one, and the swallets on the Mendips with their bronze age votive offerings to be found.

"It is difficult to imagine how prehistoric populations would have explained swallets. Not only can they open virtually overnight but many make very strange noises due to water percolation - gurgling, rumbling and echoing. They could not be entered easily. Whereas caves tend to involve a horizontal descent into their depths, swallets have to be entered vertically, probably aided by ropes and ladders. Descending a swallet is truly an entering of the earth, undoubtedly a somewhat unusual experience. Some of the deposits in swallets represent a deliberate emplacement, deliberate intent on the part of prehistoric populations to access these places. The artefacts deposited show no sign of the damage that would have occurred if they had been simply thrown in." taken from the Jodie Lewis article...

These swallets cavernous holes that appeared inexplicably, making strange noises underground, a half understood message from an unseen creature, added to the magical qualities of the Mendips with its gorges, rocks, caves and underground river.
Slowly as I meander round the Iron age and Bronze Age, I am edging my way towards that sacred spring in Aqua Sulis, here we have living proof of goddess worship at a spring. A native goddess respected by the Romans, and evidence of her powers in the written curses that have been found, and the memorial stones dedicated to her name.
The hot steaming water, its outfall housed in an arched cavern like interior, gushing forth on reddened stones, its powers remembered in the Saxon poem 'The Ruin'.

Bob Stewart in his book the Waters of the Gap, explains the mythology of the sacred springs at Bath concentrating on the Celtic/Roman aspects. He mentions that "Suil" or "Sulis", means an eye, gap or orifice, which creates a natural name for the presiding goddess; so the place-name of Aqua Sulis is a Latin-Celtic joint term meaning "The Waters of the Gap", or "The Waters of the Goddess of the Gap", and here we come to the etymology of other places of combined worship of the Latin-Celtic gods such as Appollo Cunomaglos - Apollo the Runner of the Hounds, (dedication to be found at Nettleton Shrub 15 miles from Aqua Sulis) Medionmeton - The Middle Tree Sanctuary; Loucetio Marti et Nemetona - Mars the lightening god and the goddess of the wood; Aqua Arnemetiae - the waters of the goddess of the grove....

It is a shame that the Kennet and the Winterbourne rivers meeting at Swallowhead do not have the same mythology to trace through, there is no evidence to link them with the Roman settlement to be found round Silbury, this is of course probably due to the fact that little archaeological excavations have taken place over the last century. This may be a good factor, but it is intriguing to think that somewhere in this settlement may lie clues to a Roman/cCeltic shrine here, and perhaps much earlier evidence of the importance of the meeting place at the Swallowhead spring...........

Thursday, January 8, 2009


An old holloway between Solva and Middle Mill

One of the good things we have is of course public libraries, so a request for Robert Macfarlane's Wild Places book resulted in it coming a few days ago. He has separated his chapters into different aspects of the countryside, a map of the land as seen through rivers, waterfalls, moors etc.
But a chapter that intrigued me was about holloways, those old green roads worn deep into the earth, with tall banks on either side. Gilbert White had written about them, they are a feature of the soft earths of the south, and can be seen in such places as Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset.
Macfarlane says they date back into the Iron Age, and of course my mind immediately leapt to the title of this blog Northstoke, which is a small hamlet a few miles from my home, for I had written a piece about it a couple of years back, only to lose the blog itself. One day I will write about Northstoke again, and its church of St.Martin, for it also has that pre-christian history of being built on old pagan land, though in this case it was a Roman building. But leading up to this church with its tumbling stream alongside is a holloway.... and hunting through my photos came across these.....

The church sitting on high ground

The holloway

This looks like part of the Roman track that veered across the field to a roman villa at Upton Cheyney

The stream that cascades down by the side of the church

Gilbert White in the Natural History of Selbourne, says this

These roads, running through the malm lands are, by the traffic of ages, and the fretting of water, worn down through the that they look more like water-courses than roads.....In many places they are reduced sixteen or eighteen feet beneath the levels of the field; and after floods, and in frost, exhibit very grotesque and wild appearances, from the tangled roots that are twisted among the strata, and from the torrents rushing down their broken sides...

This last photo is of a trackway that comes out of my village, to join eventually the North Stoke holloway that in turn leads to the Roman Via Julia that follows the River Avon to Bitton.This trackway though not a proper holloway comes from the Celtic-Romano Walcot settlement, just on the edge of Bath. This would have been the easiest way out of Bath/Aqua Sulis, following the middle way below the great Lansdown and joining up with the Via Julia as it made its way to the coast.

Its age can be seen from the steep sides, in the second World War a temporary air field was made at the top of the Lansdown on the old racecourse; it had a commanding view over to Bristol and would have been used to try to stop the terrible German air raids Bath and Bristol were subject to.

This trackway was metalled during this time and bits still remain, it also has a Saxon background, so stretching from Iron Age time, and probably before that it has a long history. It is a beautiful walk, but one I rarely go on, the body of a 60 year old man was found under the hedge a couple of years ago, he had been there for sometime, perhaps he had a heart attack climbing the hill, he was only found by the farmer when they started to cut back the hedge. At the bottom there is an old wood, and here last year someone from the village hung himself from a tree, perhaps the place is haunted by old ghosts, it is isolated and only walkers use it, but in summer the old wood is very beautiful, but not to end on a tragic note...
Another path, skirting a wood and the scent of wild garlic or ransomes that line it with such splendour, this path folds round to one of the most graceful trees I know.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Building houses within the Avebury WHS

Bonds Garage and the proposed five houses to be built there within the Avebury World Heritage Site;

Planning applications go forward in this modern world because local needs and bureaucratic machinery have a way of forcing their way through the labyrinth of strictures imposed by national concerns. This is evident of course when it comes to the protection of archaeological sites.

Avebury and its great Henge also suffers from this problem, to the outside eye a pleasant village lies within the protective curve of an old prehistoric monument, what you see are great stone monoliths forever fixed into a green sward. What is less understood is the wealth of prehistoric archaeological evidence that lies not only under the soil, but in a great swathe around the Henge. The ancient Ridgeway track, the old Saxon Herepath, and the many barrows still to be seen dotted around the landscape.

When the Bonds Garage was demolished rather than letting this area of land lie fallow on the approach to the northern entrance of the Henge, a planning application was put forward for five houses to be built on the site. Now this may not seem terrible, given the fact there is a mobile home site next to the garage, but as these houses are to be permanent, and I underline that word, what does it say to future developers, who with an eye on the 'potential' of building near to a famous World Heritage Site would spy a very profitable investment - will our planning laws be any stronger in the future?

There were many strong objections from organisations such as English Heritage, the National Trust, the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, the CPRE and ICOMOS-UK. but all to no avail.

The site lies on the northern entrance to the Henge alongside the Swindon Road, the Henge's four entrances are aligned broadly on the cardinal points, with the northern entrance fairly close to the site, S.S.W. The following is taken from the archaeological survey done in 2007 by Berkshire Archaeological Services;

The importance of the landscape outside the Avebury Henge in the vicinity of the proposed development land is emphasised by the local distribution of round barrows, four of which are Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
A bowl barrow, which could have been constructed at any time between late Neolithic and early Bronze Age(3400-1000 bc) is approximately 600 metres from the site. (HER SU17SW677).
Similar burial mounds on slope of Windmill Hill some 800/900 metres NW of site (HER SU17SW643)
Bell barrow on the chalk escarpment about 1 kilometre to NE (HER SU17643) stands on the western fringes of a small barrow cemetery on Monkton Down; the dating is probably around 2600-1450 bc.
A ploughed out ring ditch (HER SW17SU759), may be another bell barrow, 750 metres ENE of the site. Note; a contemporary burial recorded from one of the stone holes with the Avebury Henge, 350 metres SWS (HER SU17SW182).....

One of the things the archaeological report highlights, is the relative closeness of the new excavations taking place at Durrington Walls, with its associated living areas close to the sacred ritual landscape of Stonehenge. This may also be true of the Avebury Henge, little archaeological investigation has been undertaken around this area, and though we can deduce that little evidence remains under the Bonds Garage site due to the petrol tanks that were sunk into the ground, in the event of future interpretation of the land, conservation of the landscape has to be considered.

How do we measure past history against development today? in a town context there is an inevitable pressure for new buildings to go up, but the countryside faces less pressure. Decisions can be easily made within a 'green belt' area, yet the decision to protect a world famous site has been put aside, the relevant bodies such as English Heritage have walked away from using their powers of protection. Maybe the building of five houses within a prehistoric sacred landscape are small in comparision to the saving of above ground castles, etc, but our past prehistory is very vulnerable because in the end it relies on the visuality of the landscape for our understanding in the interpretation of it.

Note; A rather appropiate letter was written by Alexander Keiller in August 1923, this was do with the proposed erection of a wireless mast, to be erected on Windmill Hill, he further goes on to say...

"Perhaps an even more horrible side of the proposal is that a large number of houses are to be built in connection with the scheme just outside the village of Avebury itself. Even Tom Robinson, the leader of the vandals who, in the eighteenth century destroyed so many of the mighty monoliths for the purpose of utilising the stone in the erection of trumpery cottages, could not have treated this greatest monument in Britain, or, for that matter of its kind in the world, with greater disdain and indifference"

Taken from A Zest For Life, The Story of Alexander Keiller by Lynda J.Murray

Saturday, January 3, 2009


A few years ago I took up minature furniture making and then gave it up. I had bought my daughter a Bath Georgian dolls house and also a little hat shop when she was young but it had been put away in the basement unused and unloved. I became waylaid into making dolls house furniture, and in the basement are still the tools I used, small drill, miniature lathe, etc.

My love of history began to niggle as well, so constructing small boxes I created little tableaus that took my fancy, some of which, if I can find the photos, are here. My Saxon -Prittlewell burial, was made quite quickly, using the fine leather out of an old purse, and my piece- de- resistance, a working roman chair; it also contains two Persian silver salt bowls given by my first mother-in-law.

This one is based on Farleigh Hungerford Castle, and the tomb there, the custodian once told me a story about the three little children's stone coffins in the crypt, how once she had stayed the night there for a wager, and that she had dreamt? that one of the children had said she was so cold down there so the custodian covered her coffin with her coat.... believe that and you believe in ghosts..

This a whimsy, with a Harry Potter wizard, and a dried cow parsley stalk for a tree sprayed gold.

This is an extravagance which I still have because it has some good miniature furniture I bought.

Again a historical one which took ages, my young grandson at the time would find a doll, skewer it with the swords and then hang her by the neck with the chain from the dowels I had put in...

Prittlewell Saxon burial - christian/pagan burial, the idea fascinated me at the time, the father had turned to christianity, but his sons were still pagan....

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Glastonbury Thorn

Reading about a new book that is about to be brought out on Jesus in the West country, The Missing Years of Jesus -The Greatest Story Never Told by Dennis Price, my curiosity was aroused so I turned to an old book called The Ruined Abbeys of Britain by Frederick Ross. He wrote about some of the many legends that are woven round the history of Glastonbury, and if one must start anywhere about Jesus being in England we must go to "planted with the standard of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was first sure rootage on the island of Britain."
Here be the Glastonbury Thorn, which is is said to flower on Christmas, though I believe it can be a bit tardy in that direction and flowers much later. The person who brought the original thorn, or at least his staff was of course Joseph of Arimathea. Now before I go on with the story, it is well to know that Frederick Ross was a 19th century American antiquarian therefore brings to his tales a somewhat sceptical approach, but he approaches the subject of Joseph from several sources. Joseph was a rich jew and a disciple of Jesus, offering his own tomb for Jesus to be buried in. He was banished with Phillip, and put in a boat without either sail or oar, and they eventually arrived in Marseilles, and from there to our "obscure and benighted land", Ross thinks they arrived at Bridgewater Bay? to a "country desolate and dreary, covered with dense forests."
They arrived at the court of King Aviragus, a pagan, but he was hospitable and granted to them 12 hides of land, one each for the members of their community. Here Ross goes on to explain the place we know as Glastonbury today, or Ynis-witrin (The Glassy/Glast Island), the Glast of course coming from the woad that was grown round here to produce the colour blue.
It was also called Isle of Avalon for the many apple trees, and in Saxon times, Glasstingabryig. Glastonbury "a long narrow tract of land, which the river Brue traverses lengthwise"
Rising from this marshy land was a hill - The Tor - nearly 500 feet, and Ross goes on to say that it seemed to have been a British Fortress (hillfort), and"moreover is supposed to have been an open air temple of the Sun-God, whose Baal fires were kindled on top", we will lightly skip over that one as pure wishful thinking but take into account the legend that comes from Weary-all Hill, because it is here Joseph finished his journey and took possession of their small portion of territory. Here we see Joseph leaning on his staff and thanking the lord for what they see, and of course the staff springing into life and covered with white blossom.
As I have mentioned before this 'miraculous' thorn is supposed to flower on Christmas day, but of course, as to what happened when the new style of calendar was adopted heaven only knows, but the tree had healing properties, and slips or cuttings were taken and sold for a huge price.
Of course the Puritans had to get in on the act and in the 17th century a soldier cut it down boasting that the age of miracles had come to an end, (Christmas also of course had come to an end as well under Cromwellian rule) but though the parent tree perished its children still flourished....
The story goes on that the brethren built a small church and small huts, and here these twelve lived and that Joseph was buried within the church.

To return to a later period, this is a tale told by William of Malmesbury. In the year 177, Lucius King of the Britons, sent to the then Pope asking him to send teachers to "dispel the darkness" into which the local population were falling. Two missionaries arrived Saints Phanagus and Duravianus, and as the old wattled church of St.Joseph had fallen into decay, they rebuilt the church in stone. Twelve anchorets were given place on the island and Lucius dictated that he took away all powers from the druids and that christianity was the religon of his country. These two saints also built a chapel on top of the Tor which was dedicated to St.Michael, the tower still remains today, above the doorway is a figure of St.Michael weighing the bible against the devil, with a little imp trying to pull the scales down in which his master sat. A fair of two days was held on top of the Tor.
Here we must turn to archaeological evidence for the existence of a probable hermitage up on the Tor in Philip Rahtz and Lorna Watts Glastonbury Myths and Archaeology. Dark age evidence shows fragments of amphorae, which obviously would have been traded from the Meditteranean, and would have contained liquid of some description. There was also two rock-cut graves, the two young male skeletons facing north-south, and Rahtz says that in the 'charter of St.Patrick' in the late 4th century there is mention of two lay brothers Arnulph and Ogmar. There was also a cairn of stones, again probably a 'dark age' date, only an iron ferrule was found.
One of the interesting finds up on this lofty summit, were metalworking hearths using bellows and clay nozzles to direct the air blast. And nearby a 'mask' of bronze, the head is a long 'celtic' face partly obscured by a helmet.
Rahtz speculates that this hillfort was used by a petty king or local chief, dining on fine meat with wine, etc with craftworkers producing specialised ware. The 'Chalice' well at the bottom providing water for this somewhat inaccessible site.