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The Bruton Town Dovecot


The small Somerset town of Bruton probably started as a Celtic Settlement although there is no absolute proof of this.
What is known shows a history (but not necessarily settlement) from the time of flint axes, one is supposed to have been found just to the North of the present town near the site of an iron age fort on the top of Creech hill (creech comes from the Celtic for hill which gives us "hill" hill). In the days of the Roman Empire there was certainly a Temple on Creech Hill, near the Iron Age Fort, and a villa at Discove (birth place of Thomas Ludwell) to the South of the town where traces of a Roman pavement were found in 1711 -- folklore has it that this is what gave Discove it's name, in truth though Discove existed by Domesday called 'Dinescove' or 'Dignescove'. In the 18th century a 'pig' of lead (unfortunately since lost) was discovered near Redlynch. It weighed some 50 pounds and measured roughly 21 inches long by 31/2 inches wide by 2 inches thick. Inscribed "IMP DVOR AUG ANTONINI ET VERI ARMENIA CORUM" which roughly translates as "The lead of the two joint rulers Antonius (Marcus Aurelius) and Verus called Armenian (A.D. 164-9). Whether these discoveries indicate a settlement or merely points on a road from the lead mines on the Mendip hills to the Dorset coast we don't know.

About 5 miles to the Southwest of Bruton is Cadbury Castle, the reputed site of Camelot, to the Northwest is Glastonbury, the fabled Avalon, which would suggest that it is possible that King Arthur may have visited the town at some time in the 5th or 6th century.

Bruton was certainly settled by the 7th century as can be seen by the evidence of St. Aldhelm and King Ine having visited Bruton. In 1985 during the building of the flood relief scheme about 1 mile East of Bruton a Saxon sword possibly dating from the 9th century was found, this is now kept in Taunton museum with a replica in Bruton museum ----- we have to wonder though was this lost by a Saxon warrior going from or to the battle at nearby Penselwood. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles tell us that in 658 "Cenwalh fought with the Welsh at Penselwood and they put them to flight in the Parret", Bruton is between Penselwood and the river Parret which flows into the Bristol Channel. -- The term Welsh was used as a generic term for the original Celtic Britons by the Anglo-Saxons.

By King Canute`s time we know that there was a royal mint in the "Borough of Bruton" and certainly a market was in existence by the 12th century probably much earlier. This continued until the middle of the present century but moved its site several times. The market cross was originally in the centre of town but this has long since disappeared. The various alleyways called "Bartons" were once yards used for holding cattle, prior to market. In the 19th and early 20th Century the market was held near the railway station, allowing cattle to be loaded onto trains and pigs to go to the bacon factory which was not far away in Quaperlake St.{rhymes with quarter-lake} (many of the strange street names in Bruton have their roots in Anglo-Saxon place names).

The Domesday book Bruton says:

"The King holds Briwetone. King Edward held it.
There are 5 burgesses. 1 swineherd, 6 mills, 5 Carucates of arable. 38 acres of meadow, 1 wood 5 miles long & 1 mile wide.
In demense are three curacates, 5 servants, 4 coliberts, 26 cottars, 28 villeines & 18 plough teams"

This would make Bruton a reasonably sized settlement for the time. A curacate was the amount of land that could be ploughed by a plough team in one year, approximately 120 acres. Thus some 600 acres were under cultivation.

The large wood was probably Cogley wood which now runs to about 350 acres and would have been much larger in the 11th century. Beyond Cogley is Selwood often referred to as Bruton forest, although now many separate areas of woodland, it is possible to see that the forest covered an area something like 15 miles long by 5 wide. Sometime shortly after the Domesday book was compiled the King granted the Manor of Bruton to William De Mohun who also owned the neighbouring Manor of Brewham. Much of Bruton manor was eventually incorporated into the priory estates during the 12th century.

In 1142 William de Mohun (grandson? of the above) Lord of the Manor at Bruton founded an Augustinian Priory, giving them the Manor. This may have replaced an earlier Benedictine Monastery. The Augustinians were technically not monks but Canons, all being in Holy Orders. It is still noticeable on the modern map of Bruton how the River Brue formed a natural boundary between the townspeople (North of the River) and the various eclesiastical property (South of the River). Prior to 1900 there was effectively nothing in the way of dwelling houses to the South but all on the hill to the North. Unfortunately nothing of the main Abbey buildings has survived to modern times but traces can be found in various buildings in and around the town, whose builders "rescued" various windows, arches etc. after the Abbey was pulled down in 1786 by the Hoare family of Stourhead fame who had purchased the Abbey from the Berkeley family after the Bruton Branch died out.

There appears to have been a church at Bruton since the at least the 7th century, when King Ine mentioned it, probably built by St Aldhelm. Extensively rebuilt in the 14th century, with many modifications over the next 400 years, the present layout dates from about 1743 when Sir Charles Berkeley built the chancel to comemmorate his late father. The only real addition since was the installation of the organ about 1870.

At least three Public houses, The Bull, The Crown, & The Queen's Head, have closed since the Second world war reflecting the changes in society. At least one pub, The Blue Ball, has a continuous history as an Inn for well over 400 years. In 1588 there is a mention of a death at the White Hart, the Blue Ball's name at the time, several others are known to date from the 1700s, but are believed to be actually much older.

Leyland (Leland) came through Bruton in 1540 and reported that Bruton had two bridges each with three arches- one is obviously Church Bridge the other is presumably the original West End (Legges) Bridge which was replaced in the 20th century.

A hundred or so years later Bruton was described by Celia Fiennes as "a very neate stone built town"

The population of the town has slowly risen over the centuries from about 300 at the time of the Domesday book to about 1500 in 1801 after which it peaked at about 2200 in 1861 dropped back to about 1700 in the early 1900's and has slowly risen to it's current 2500 or so.

A few quotes from the parish register give an idea of what was important to a rural community

"November Ye 5th The Prince of Orange arrived in this land att Torbay in ye county of Devon & in ye year of our Lord 1688 And ye 20th of ye same instant was a skirmish at Wincanton in ye county of Sumrsett."

"May 5th 1740 There was a great snow which lasted for the space of three hours and a half, and at the ceasing thereof it measured 3 Inches deep in level ground."

"The River Brue rose suddenly 20 feet Septr 1st 1768"


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