1825/6 Skinner Part II

[No 13/76 Ancient House at Glastonbury]

Having taken leave of Mr Reeves I visited an ancient house at the upper end of the town which well merits the attention of the curious, as being coeval with the Pilgrim’s Inn, and some of then buildings prior to the dissolution of the Monastery, then front having its porch ornamented with roses, and two lofty square windows divided into compartments; also a bow window running the whole height of the house; sufficiently indicate the date of the edifice to have been early in the reign of henry VIII, or the latter end of that of his predecessor.  The interior of the house corresponds with that of the outside, the beams being adorned with carvings and running borders of the vine; but what most excited my curiosity and engaged my attention was the Chimney piece in one of the upper rooms,

[No 14/77 A stone chimney piece]

dividing into three compartments descriptions of the amusements of the people; in fact, the English gymnasia of the fifteenth century.

[No 15/78 Firsts compartment of the chimney piece]

The first compartment shows dancing: a youth in his doublet, very gallantly taking the hand of a fair partner, who is clad with a close garment and singular appendages to her head, resembling asses ears,  A little figure playing the bagpipe, with on leg crossed over the knee of the other, occupies a corner in the front of the group; behind him is a man blowing a horn, and in the centre a tall woman with something circular in her right hand, intended I believe, for a tambourine; she is dressed similar to the dancing figure.  In the upper corner of the compartment is represented a stick passing through two circles, too small for hoops, but what else they are intended for I am unable to guess.

[No 16/79 Second Compartment 1497]

In the second division is sculpted a group of figures descriptive of Archery; a youth in a dress fitting close to his shape ; with a cap and feathers on his head, stands with his bow and arrow prepared to shoot at a mark; behind him stands a person clad as a yeoman, with his bow in his hand looking at the youth preparing to shoot, he having already himself struck the mark, his arrow being fixed in it near the centre.  In the opposite corner is another  yeoman with a bow in his left hand elevated apparently in admiration of the youth about to discharge his arrow at the mark; a little boy sitting on a cask like an infant Bacchus completes the assemblage.  The butt they aim at appears to be intended for a log of wood but upright in the ground.  Above the figure is represented a kind of case for keeping bows and arrows which in all probability was attached to the ceiling of the farmer’s kitchen.

[No 17/80 Third Compartment}

The third compartment describes Wrestling; two naked figures being in the middle of the group struggling for mastery, the one with his arm passed round the waist of his adversary, and lifting hi off the ground; he meanwhile strives to annoy the other by grappling his head with one hand, and endeavouring to supplant him with his right leg.  Close to the wrestlers is a man holding a bottle in his right hand, for the refreshment of the combatants.  Two men stand behind him, one having a spear, the other a kind of halberd, such as I have seen in the Tower, attributed to the time of Henry VIII.  A cat, badly executed, stands before the bottle holder, and in the opposite direction a dog with the head broken off accompanies a group of three lookers on, dressed as yeomen.  Al the figures were originally coloured, but time, smoke and dirt have given a strange hue.  As nothing is scarcely broken, excepting the head from the dog, this curious record of English sports might be easily repaired.  My time would not permit me to take other than a rough sketch of it, but I mentioned it so particularly to Warner, I hope he will have it properly executed for his work.  Probably the house belonged to some Yeoman of consequence, or Steward connected with the Monastery.  I think this might be ascertained by Warner, as belonging to the local history that he has undertaken.  Mr Pratt has a slight sketch of it framed in his parlour, I perceive, but not sufficiently accurately for an engraving to be taken from it. 

Having finished my observations, which were carried on with some considerable inconvenience to myself, owing to a dreadful racking head ache which had attended me since morning, I returned to the Inn, where I found Burrard and Warner waiting for me to attend them to Norwood Park Farm, formerly belonging to the Abbot, but now to Sir Harry Neale, in right of his wife.  Mr Pratt was there with his vehicle to accompany us.  Having settled the charges at the Inn, which were not very mighty, we quitted Glastonbury a little after twelve, and took the road to the right at the upper end of the town, which leads to Wellow Lane, where the Spring rises that supplied the moat and the Holy Well,  The Tor is seen to advantage with all its steep linches, rising in succession above each other to the summit; the lane was well secured by similar defences, and a deep trench , as it was the custom every where with the Belgic engineers, if I may use the term, which marks it as an original track way.  Continuing to descend the hill for nearly half a mile we arrived at the Farm house of which I made the sketches while my companions were occupied with the farmer.

The first gives a general view of the premises situate close to the track way; it having originally been one of the outposts or defences to it, hence the denomination of it;    The agger encompassing the Park, as I before noticed when I was here with Mr Richardson, was carried on the Pennard road, although in parts it has been removed for the sake of being hauled over the grounds;

[No 18/81 Norwood Park Farm]

the front of the building facing South, consists of a bow window now spoilt by the introduction of modern sashes, and four smaller, stopped up.  The initial letters of J Selwood, the last Abbot but one before the unfortunate Whiting, let into the wall, show the date of the building.  In Summer time the lordly masters of these domains doubtless spent many pleasurable days in their country mansion (in Charity we may suppose) charitably employed.

[No 19/82 Norwood Farm house side view]

[No 20/83 Norwood Park Farm]

The sketches which I have given will best describe the architecture of this; much has been taken down I fear within these last few years; at present it is interesting as specimen of the country buildings of the day.  The gathering clouds seeming to promise rain, I hurried my companion Burrard to return to Camerton.  Warner went back to Glastonbury with Mr Pratt.  We fortunately escaped without rain and got home just as Mrs Burrard and the children were going to dinner.  Not having had any sleep scarcely the night before, I went early to bed I feel I need some care to be bestowed on my cold.


March 30

Night at Bishop’s Palace.  I was an early riser , and in my car at half past six, and at Glastonbury in three quarters of an hour from the time I left Wells  —  Mr Parker, with the younger Mr Buckler, arrived before nine, in his carriage; Sir Richard Hoare did not join us till two hours after, as he took his breakfast at the Palace; but the bishop was obliged to go early to Bath to attend the opening of the chapel of Mrs Partis’s College.  Mr Parker being anxious to see the Fisherman’s House I drove him and the younger Buckler hither. 

[No 107/223 Glastonbury Abbey from the road]

[No 108/224 Armorial bearings and devices of the abbots of Glstonbury]

[No 109/227 Road from Glastonbury to Mere…]

I am pretty certain the British had established themselves on the rising ground above the marsh, and probably the Romans after them, before the Monastery was built, as  I saw the inclosing linchets of the former and some pottery which belonged to the latter.  After dinner I visited the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey now much improved in appearance by the judicious management of Mr Reeves the possessor, who has prepared everything for the mansion he is about to erect on the spot.  I got to bed pretty well fatigued a little after ten o’clock. 

March 31

Mr Reeves having attended the Assizes in Taunton I did not see him till this morning, when I accompanied him over his domain.  By laying down turf and filling up the inequalities of the ground near the ruins a more finished appearance is certainly produced, and the contrast between the green surface and the stone buildings much greater than heretofore; but it may be doubted whether trim grass plots and gravel walks are so much in character with a ruin as rude fragments of walls, weeds and brambles;  but the latter accompaniments would ill accord with a gentleman’s residence close to hand;  on this account ruins in desolate places must always be more picturesque than near towns or mansion houses; and the mind is more disposed to contemplate the vicissitudes of life, and the insufficiency and short duration of human grandeur.  I was introduced during my walk to Dr Wilkinson, whom Mr Reeves had taken to Taunton to prove that the evaporation from a piece of water lately made by Sir Alexander Hood would lessen the stream, which flowed from it, considerably so that detriment must accrue to the persons who were accustomed to benefit by the stream in dry weather. 

The Bishop arrived from Bath about the middle of the day and a consultation was held by the party respecting the best site for the house, which is to be built after a drawing given by Mr Buckler Senior; it was determined on, near to the moat, to the east of the enclosure, immediately beyond the ruins, so that the whole may be seen in perspective, the Tower of St Benet’s Church forming the central point of sight above the Chapel of St Joseph of Arimathea.  It will be a most delightful residence when finished and I hope every success will attend it.  It was indeed proposed by the Bishop and Sir Richard that an annual Easter Meeting should be established at Glastonbury as Conservators of the ruins;  indeed it is determined that a County History of Somerset be undertaken under the auspices of the Bishop and Sir Richard Hoare; I have engaged to take the Antiquities, that is British and Roman, and Queries are immediately to be sent round to the incumbents of the different parishes respecting the subjects connected with the work.  The plan cannot fail of success if persevered in.

I made several sketches of the fragments of sculptures, preserved among the ruins; also the effigies of an Abbot, and Saint, at least I take it to have been such from the rich colouring bestowed upon the drapery;  there were letters on the hood at the back of the figure, but being painted in water colours, they were so much defaced by the workmen when digging it up, that I cannot ascertain the legend; some say they read the name of St Thomas, but this may be mere conjecture.

[No 109/228 Fragments of Sculpture preserved at Glastonbury]

[No 111/229 Fragments of Sculpture preserved at Glastonbury]

[No 112/230 fragments of Sculpture preserved at Glastonbury]

[No 113/231 Mutilated figure of an abbot preserved at Glastonbury]

[No 114/232 Sculpture preserved at Glastonbury]

[No 115/233 Mutilated figure preserved at Glastonbury]

Mr Reeves’ gardener, who is an active intelligent man, and takes great interest in what is going on, described to me several Oak coffins, which were found to the north of St Joseph’s Chapel; they were formed of thick slabs, joined together by wooden pegs, and covered with the same material; these Cists were almost a parallelogram as to form, but rather wider at the head than at the foot; no chalice or ornament of any kind accompanied them; but each skeleton had a staff of wood, at his left side which has induced Mr Reeves to suppose they were Pilgrims who died on their visit to the Shrine.  One figure measured, so saith my informant, 8 feet in length, but the skull which is preserved is not larger than that of a man of the usual stature.  We know how fond mankind are of the marvellous, and must receive all such accounts with a considerable degree of hesitation.  The Oak of which these coffins were composed still hard and sound in substance, and almost black.  I understand from an intelligent farmer who I met on the road to Mere that a number of Oak Trees had been found while digging the ditches below Shapwick, and to all appearance they formed a causeway across the Moors from the Polden Hill to the opposite range of Mendip.

After dinner, I enjoyed, I may ad, to the fullest extent of the words an hour among the ruins; the moon being at the full, and not a cloud in the sky once veiled her beams;  I thought of times past.  I thought of Kings, Warriors, and Abbots who had mingled their dust around me.  I thought on the rapid course of Time, and how soon I as myself destined to mingle with the dust; how strange that this once famed church, to whose shrine Pilgrims from all parts approached with their richest gifts, should now become the garden of an Attorney, who now quietly possesses what a King could not gain possession of without the murder of an imminent person.  Should superstition again reign supreme in Britain, Glastonbury will again revive.  Grant, O God, ere this takes place that I may be as thousands and ten thousands are beneath the sod; I went to bed at the Inn thinking of the inmates of the Tomb.

[No 107/223 Glastonbury Abbey from the road]  

September 6

I rose early and perambulated the town and made sketch of the little Chapel of St Mary Magdalene the clochty or belfry is beautifully finished, and retains a small figure of the person to whom it is dedicated, in a niche above the little bell.  I took my breakfast with Mr Reeves and afterwards proceeded to Littleton, which was the principle  object of my excursion to this part of the county.

[No 43/73 The Clochte or Belfrey of St Mary Magdalenes Glastonbury]

[No 44/74 St Mary Magdalene, Glastonbury]


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