The Streets, Highways, and Byways of Glastonbury
By The Late J. G. L. Bulleid.
A paper delivered to the Society in 1904
The enquiry into the names—ancient and modern—of the Highways and Byeways in almost every parish is a matter of interest to archaeologists, as in such names are frequently found buried scraps of history which are well worth unearthing and remembering; and especially is this the case where the parish includes within its boundaries some historic town as Glastonbury. It might be supposed, as is the case, that next to the hills and vales, the rivers, and other great natural features of each locality, the highways would be the least likely to change their names ; but still there are numerous curious exceptions, particularly in the nomenclature of the streets in towns.
To-night we purpose considering the names of the Streets and Highways in the town itself of Glastonbury, leaving the Highways and Byeways beyond the limits of the town for a future paper.
The town of Glastonbury is clearly an accessory to the Abbey. It can scarcely be imagined to have had any existence prior to, or independently of, the ecclesiastical foundation. In all probability the site of the monastery was selected and its enclosure made, and then, in process of time, the town grew around it. In point of fact three of our principal streets are coincident with the east, north, and west sides of the Abbey grounds, and a well-known highway abuts upon the remaining side. Our other streets are almost wholly continuations, or extensions, of these three streets, or offshoots from them. Several of the streets can be traced back to the 14th Century. The name of one is met with so early as 1304.
In Glastonbury, as in most other towns, four of the principal streets converge at an open space commonly called the "Cross," where a Market Cross was generally erected, around which, on stated days, a market was held. The site of our early Cross (taken down in 1808) lay somewhat to the west of the present Cross, built in 1845. In the earliest documents this open space is called "The Cross," and the Shambles and old Conduit there are frequently referred to. Market Place is a comparatively modern designation. A market-house, built by William Strode, a former Lord of the Manor of Glastonbury, stood where the weighbridge now stands. For some reasons, now unknown, it was latterly used as a Silk Factory, and taken down when the present Council Chambers were erected. There was a blind-house on the ground floor of the building, into which some wag once placed a horse, which was not discovered for a day or two.
The street to the east of the '' Cross " has always been the principal one in the town; in 1313 it was, to show its importance, called Great Street; in 1366 (temp. Edw. III.) it was known as High Street, and always since has borne that name. Some distance up the street, and immediately adjoining St. John's Church, is a lane, formerly called Church Lane, but really a part of Norbin's Lane, the derivation of which is curious. Savaricus, when Bishop of Bath and Glastonbury, at the end of the 12th Century, gave to the Sacristy of the Abbey the Church of the Blessed John the Baptist of North Binne, that is the Church situate by the enclosures north of the town; and the lane leading to such enclosures was called Northbinne, subsequently contracted into Norbyns, and so called in the reign of Henry VIII. It is now re-named Norbyns Road.
Opposite Church Lane is a road or lane, until recently, when the old name was resuscitated, and for several centuries, called Cart Lane, but in still earlier times known as Silver Street. There was a tradition that in the palmy days of the Abbey, when Glastonbury, as it was said, was many times larger, it was a street filled for the most part with silver- and gold-smiths, but the word "silver" is but another reading of the Latin Sylva, a wood, and the street or modern phraseology should be Wood Street.
From about the middle of Silver Street to High Street is a modern rank of houses bearing the loyal name of Victoria Buildings, whilst at the extreme west end of the street was a small court of mean houses satirically named Hanover Square, but noteworthy as, until lately, enclosing the remains of the Porter's Lodge to the great entrance to the Abbey Church. Somers Square, between the two streets, is but a ludicrous apology for a square, the houses having been built by one John Somers 50 or 60 years ago.
It should be noticed that the principal entrance to the Abbey Church was through Silver Street, facing St. John's Church against the Vestry Hall, which, in its old condition, was for many years used as a Guildhall.
At the top of High Street there was formerly a large horse-pool, where cattle and horses were watered and carts and other vehicles washed. This pond was very unsightly and dangerous. and was filled up and levelled over nearly 70 years since. One of the chief causes of its removal was the ducking in it of Rebecca Brook, a notorious scold, and otherwise a woman of bad fame, who was nearly drowned there by the populace.
From the top of High Street to the east end of Silver Street is Lambrook Street, at one time, and it seems simultaneously, called King Stream Street; and from it eastwards, in a line with Silver Street, is Laundry Lane. 450 years ago we read of late Cokes Garden, then used as the "Dieng-house," in East Lambrook Street. The words stream, brook, and Laundry all have reference to the small stream rising high up in Bushy Combe and flowing from thence down by Laundry Lane and Silver Street, underneath the Market Place, into our sewers. 300 years ago Laundry Lane was called Lauder Lane ; 100 years after Landery Lane. The name is probably derived from Launder, an old English term for a watercourse or channel ; but if you want a more fanciful, learned, or recondite meaning you may take that of a friend who insists that it represents two British words—Llan, a church, and dior, water—meaning the stream passing by the Ancient British Church ; and this stream did, no doubt, run close to St. Mary's Chapel.
Prior to the building of the old Wesleyan Chapel and the erection of the houses on the south-west side of Lambrook Street, several old houses faced the south, overlooking the stream referred to ; and within 50 years there has been a fell-monger's yard in Silver Lane, possibly a survival of the "Dieng " House of the reign of Edward IV.
In a straight line with Lambrook Street, and forming the east boundary of the Abbey enclosure, and continuing beyond it to the foot of the "Tor," is Chilkwell Street, formerly written Chalicwell, and, in 1420, Chelkewell—all these names being contractions of Chalice Well Street. The street winds round the west base of Chalice Hill, in which the celebrated springs rises known as the Chalice or Blood Well. Tradition tells us that the chalice from which our Saviour drank at the last supper, and in which, at the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathsea caught some of His blood (the Holy Grail), was brought by Joseph to Glastonbury and buried in Chalice Hill, from which flows perenially water still tinged with His blood.
Opposite the entrance to the Abbey House is Dod Lane, leading to Chalice House and Bushy Combe. In the middle of the last century a Miss Lydia Dod lived in this lane and is popularly supposed to have given her name to it; but this could not be, for many years previously, in the seventeenth century, the lane was known as Dod Lane. Perhaps a more prosaic meaning is that it was a very dirty lane, almost a quagmire. Supentitious people in old times believed that sometimes in the twilight an old man without a head would be seen sitting on the gate adjoining Bushy Combe at the end of this lane—a reminiscence perhaps of poor Abbot Whiting, who was beheaded on Chalice Hill just above.
At the junction of Bere Lane with Chilkwell Street, a cross, called Stickers Cross, formerly stood ; but why so-called, when erected, or when destroyed, is unknown. We do know that it still existed during the Commonwealth, when Hollar prepared his views of Glastonbury, and it is further known that a family of that name, of some standing, many generations since lived in Glastonbury. Some present will remember the fine carved doorway in the wall by Stickers Cross, sold to Mr. West and taken by him to London, evidently belonging once to a good old house ; and they will also remember the Turnpike Gate there, removed about 40 years since to the further end of Chilkwell.
Following the Abbey Wall we reach Bere Lane, commonly believed to commemorate Abbot Richard Bere, the penultimate Abbot of Glastonbury—a not unreasonable guess, as the Abbot's Barn is in Bere Lane ; but it is a guess only, and not correct, as we know that the Lane was so called long previously to his abbacy. Bere Lane is merely the lane through which the bere (old English for barley) and corn was taken to the Bere-an (now shortened into Barn), as the enclosure round the Barn is called the Bere-tun—now Barton. Half-way down the lane is the old road to Butleigh, formerly part of, and known as, Cowbridge Lane. Just 100 years since, a rank of houses was built in Bere Lane, and from an engraved stone on one of the houses it was called Prospect Place, but it was subsequently much better known as Paupers' Row.
The new road through Culver Close towards Butleigh was made about 60 years since. There was formerly a footpath across the field, but no road. When excavating at the junction of the new road with Bere Lane and Hill head, some bodies of suicides were dug up, each with a stake (as then the custom) driven through it. Prior to the making of the road, races by men and women, for cakes, clothes, and money, were ran down the incline near the new road on Easter Sunday annually. Beyond Bere Lane is Hill Head, the old Turnpike Road to Bridgwater, but which has no noteworthy features.
From Bere Lane towards the Cross we pass by the Armoury, through Magdalen Street, into the Market Place. Magdalen Street derives its name from the Almshouse or Royal Hospital there, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen. Its first-known name, in 1302, was South Street. In 1322, and from thence to 1553, it was called Spital Street, from the Royal Hospital; since then Magdalen Street, with the usual contractions of Maudlin and Marling. The Almshouses were doubtless erected in the first 20 years of the 14th Century. Why, or when, the short street called the Armoury was first so named is uncertain. One explanation is that a house there, during part of the great war with France, when some French prisoners were kept at Glastonbury, was used to store arms and ammunition. In 1820 in our Parish Books it is described as Pensioners' Row. Some suppose that the Armoury is a corruption of the Almonry belonging to the Abbey ; but we have no evidence that any monastic buildings were built outside the Abbey walls.
Opposite the Armoury, before the new Road to Street was made, was the entrance to Fishers Hill and the middle portion of the Park Estate. Old inhabitants of Glastonbury, recently dead, could well remember the gate between two poplar trees leading into these fields, and the footpaths across them by the ditch under Weary-All. This road was made nearly 80 years ago. Park Terrace has been built about 30 years only. It is to be remembered that part of Magdalen Street near the Pump House is called Chain Gate, from the Gate-house supposed formerly to cross the street at that point, though the Gatehouse may have been the entrance to the Abbot's lodging within the Abbey enclosure, and lying to the east of Chain Gate. In Magdalen Street, too, was the embattled gateway or entrance to the Great Hall and other conventual buildings, a portion of which still remains as the Red Lion Inn. Until about the year 1820 there was a blacksmith's forge and other buildings in the garden of "St. Dunstan's," projecting six or eight feet into the street.
Benedict Street, the street running due west from the Market Place by the Church of St. Benignus (commonly known as Saint Benedict's) was formerly called Maidlode or Madilode Street. It is so termed in early Churchwardens' leases in 1402, and even earlier. The name Maidlode requires some explanation. The word lode in Western dialects means a ford through a river or stream. We have notable examples in Long Load, through the Parrett near Martock ; and Common Load, through the Brue at Meare. Part of Glastonbury is bounded westward by the Brue and the Millstream, through which, prior to the erection of bridges, there were fords or lodes. Three of these fords were well known ; the northermost was that at Northload Bridge, from which the name of Northload Street is derived ; the southern ford is through the river near St. Bridget's Chapel, and seems to have led to Sharpham Park (it is marked an ancient maps as a ford, and its stoned course can still be traced in the banks and bottom of the river) ; whilst the name of the centre or most westward one at St. Benedict's Bridge is preserved in the name Madilode Street—the prefix made, as in Maidenhead near London, meaning middle. Maidlode is therefore the middle ford. Maidlode Bridge, which supplanted the ford, was built prior to the year 1398. When the name Maidlode was superseded, and why, is not known ; but it was doubtless about the middle of the 17th Century, as we find in 1646 the street itself described as "Madilode als Bennings." This description shows, too, that the proper name of St. Benignus was still in use, as Bennings could not be a contraction of Benedict ; but 50 years later (temp. William III.), Benedict and Bennett (its contraction) were in common use. There is but one street leading from Benedict Street—that behind the Church, and vulgarly called Grope Lane.
The meaning of Northload, the street extending northwards from the Market Place, has just been explained, and seems never to have been altered. Prior to the making of the Somerset and Dorset Railway, the road from the bottom of Northload Street to Northload Bridge curved round the Manor House orchard to the west, and then continued in a straight line to the "First and Last" Inn. At that time the remains of the old Manor House stood facing Northload Street, but the requirements of the railway rendered it necessary to raise the highway, and a new road, in continuation of Northload Street, was taken through the site of the Manor House and through Manor House orchard, and only a small portion of the ground floor of the house was left, which is now converted into, and used as, the Parish Pound. Northload Street has been greatly enlarged within the last 30 years, two terraces having been erected, known as Albert Buildings and Northload Terrace.
Grist Lane, which extended from opposite the Gas works to the new Wells Road, formerly the road to the Windmill on Edmund Hill, and getting its old name from its connection with the Mill, has in a great measure, and within a few years past, been built upon, forming the streets called King Street and Manor House Road—King Street being named from Sir Peter King, the first Recorder of Glastonbury, who obtained our Charter of Incorporation from Queen Anne ; Manor House Road, commemorating the house near, already noticed, which belonged to his ancestors, and in which his father was born.
Returning again to the top of High Street, we may note that the new Wells Road, now such a fashionable resort, adjoining which numerous houses are built, was only made in the second decade of this century. Formerly there was a narrow lane which extended from the " Glastonbury Arms" Inn past the top of Grist Lane by Butt Close—possibly to Lowerside Lane. For years after the making of the road there was but one house adjoining it—that of Mr. Welch at Butterwell, facing Grist Lane.
Bove Town—the street continuing High Street eastwards up the hill—carries on its face evidence of the origin of its name. So long back as the reign of Edward II. (1305-22) it was called Bove Town Street. In 1690 we find it called Buttowne (it is now often called "Button ") ; and the old road at its east end, now known as the Old Wells Road, was then called Wells Way. About midway up Bove Town is a steep, narrow footpath, or lane, vulgarly called " Jacob's Ladder." Fifty years ago an intelligent old resident in Glastonbury was asked an explanation of the name ; he said it was called after Jacob Underwood, the owner of the adjoining land; and this derivation would commend itself to all who did not know that it was called Jacob's Ladder long before the birth of Jacob Underwood, and really because it adjoins the old chapel of St. James (Jacobus), still standing, and now converted into a cottage.
We have now journeyed with you through the Streets and Highways in the town of Glastonbury, explaining very briefly their names past and present. We at first wished and intended to have extended the paper to the Highways of the whole United Parishes; on some future occasion we will do so ; to-night your time and patience have already been taxed long enough.