7 Transport

The early attempts to ease access to Glastonbury were concerned with both creating causeways over the moors and clearing the waterways through them.  The delivery of carved pews for St John’s Church from Bristol in the 15th century was via coastal shipping to the new port at Rook’s Bridge, then by barge through the new cut at Mark and up the River Brue to Beckery, the final stage being by ox cart.

Most of the traffic would have been local, between the town and the hamlets of Edgarley, Wick, Brindham, Havyatt and Norwood Park.  As farms were built on the enclosed common fields these lanes would have become used even more and only fell into disuse as the numbers employed on the land were decimated during the 20th century.  Some have now virtually disappeared, like the lane from Edgarley to Wick, partly replaced by the 19th century Wick Lane.  Before the creation of Norwood Park it is possible that the road from Ponter’s Ball climbed up by the Avalon or Evidence Oak into Stone Down Lane, north of the Lynches, and continued, either along Paradise Lane to Wick Hollow, or down Bushy Coombe to Dod Lane and Silver Street.  This route may date back to the Roman settlement, linking with the Roman road along the northern scarp of Pennard hill.

The early mediaeval road across the River Brue to Street, to the east of the present road, may have followed the route of a Roman ford.  However, Bunbaily and Pomparles bridges were probably on their present sites by the early thirteenth century.  The road to Wells over the Queens Sedge Moor may have been constructed at the same time by the Abbey.  Ironically, it was stones from the despoiled Abbey that formed the foundation of many of the moor roads as they needed to be strengthened for heavier wheeled traffic after the enclosures.

It may even be that the increased heavy wheeled traffic along die River Brue to Meare at the beginning of the nineteenth century led to the demolition of the Market Cross to make an easier access to Northload Street.  There were many plans drawn up during the 19th century to remove the frontages at the entrances to Northload and Benedict Streets to ease traffic flowfortunately for the mediaeval character of the Market Place all were abandoned.

The Wells Turnpike Trust’s road, from Wells through Street, and the Shepton Mallet Turnpike Trust’s road, from Fishers Hill along Bere Lane and also across the moor to Butleigh, led to major road improvements.  The present Wells Road was built in the 1790’s from Tin Bridge to join up with a farm track leading across North Binne from the top of the High Street.  When the Market Hall came down part of its site was used to widen Magdalene Street and at the same time the cottages and smithy against the wall of St Dunstan's House garden were cleared away.  In 1820 the new Street Road was built across Wirral Park, passing through part of John Symon’s house and tanyard at Northover and requiring the present main road bridge over the mill steam between the fulling mill and Bunbaily Bridge.

It was hoped that when the Glastonbury Canal opened from Highbridge in 1834 it would bring new life to the townbut its main result was bankruptcy and the suicide of one of its promoters.  It was finally bought by the Central Somerset Railway Company and provided land and access for its construction across the levels in 1854.  The canal basin was finally filled in when the sidings were added in 1868 after the branch line was constructed to Wells.  The links by the Somerset and Dorset Railway to Bath, Poole and the Southern Railway by 1874 provided travel in all directions that was faster and, for many, more convenient than is now possible.

With the more recent concentration on road transport the pressures caused by having major roads passing through the town have once more increased.  They have resulted in the demolition of the Glastonbury Arms to allow for the widening of the Wells Road and High Street junction and in the transformation of Bere Lane from a rural town lane into a trunk road.

As with many small scale historic towns, the attempt to apply the guidelines of the transport lobby resulted in conflict and finally the rejection of an insensitively designed inner relief road.  This resulted in the abandonment after a Public Tribunal of the plans by the County Council to demolish the Assembly Rooms and double the width of Silver Street, with a pavement where the abbey precinct wall now remains.  This approach would have detracted from the remarkable atmosphere created at the junction of Silver Street, Lambrook Street, Chilkwell Street and Launder Lane.  The scale of the road widths, wall heights and the grouping of the varied buildings and their many local materials and styles here brought special praise from Pevsner.  In the event the second supermarket that these plans were designed to service was demolished when an even larger one was constructed a little further from the town centre.

The bypass on the railway track to the north of the town eventually removed much traffic from the centre.  However, because it was not completed from the Tin Bridge roundabout along the railway track to West Pennard station a trunk road still takes inappropriate traffic through Bere Lane and the dangerous area between Chilkwell Street and Coursing Batch.  Hopefully its future completion will one day make the scale of the new Bere Lane look unnecessary, a waste of scarce resources and environmentally insensitive. 

As the canal and railway have passed away, so the motorway has changed the patterns of vehicle use on the roads of Glastonbury.  The quickly changing patterns of shopping and industry, together with the construction of the bypass, require us to recognise the recent destructive short term policies as damagingly short sighted. 

In the 1980s it became generally accepted that there is a need not only to divert the through traffic but also to control the indiscriminate use and parking of delivery vehicles and private cars in this type of town.  A compromise attempt at traffic diversion, pedestrianisation and local traffic management and enhancement was agreed upon and a start made to the gradual enhancement and the recovery of the individual character of the many components of our town.

All images and text © Glastonbury Antiquarian Society 2021

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