National Gazetteer (1868) - Glastonbury


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

"GLASTONBURY, a parish, town and corporate borough, exercising separate jurisdiction, but locally in the hundred of Glaston-Twelve-Hides, county Somerset, 9 miles S.W. of Shepton Mallet, 14 N.E. of Bridgwater, and 126 from London by road, or 158 by rail. The Somerset and Dorset line has a station here. This ancient town is situated in a low peninsular marsh, formed by the river Brue, and stands on the high road from Exeter to Wells, having as its suburbs the places known as Havyatt, Week or Wick, Norwood Park, and Edgarley, at which last place was the palace of King Edgar. By the Britons it was named Inis-Witrin, or Yniswytrin, which was translated by the Saxons into Glasstinyabyrig, or Glastonbury; and also Avalonia, from the British word avalla, signifying "apples." It entirely derived its origin and celebrity from its religious establishments, which were, it is generally asserted, almost coeval with Christianity itself. Camden, following the monkish chroniclers, assigns its origin to Joseph of Arimathea, who is said to have originally constructed its famous abbey of wattles, which was subsequently replaced by a more permanent structure, built by Devi, Bishop of St. David's. St. Patrick is also said to have resided here, and to have built the monastery of St. Michael, on Tor Hill, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1275, the only remains of which is the tower at present standing.

On the conquest of Britain by the Saxons, Ina, King of Wessex, possessed himself of Somersetshire in 708, and was welcomed by the abbot at Glastonbury; for which service the king rebuilt the abbey, and added a splendid chapel adorned with 2,640 pounds weight of silver plating, and an altar containing 264 pounds weight of gold. This display of wealth excited the cupidity of the Danes, who, a century later, plundered the abbey and burnt the town; but it was again rebuilt by King Edmund. In 942 it was converted into a Benedictine monastery by St. Dunstan, who governed as abbot with regal splendour, and so enlarged the power of the abbacy, that henceforth it took precedence of all the abbots in England until 1154, when Pope Adrian IV. transferred that privilege to the abbots of St. Alban's. In the year 1184 it was destroyed by a fire; but it was again restored by Henry II., and continued to increase under successive abbots till the conventual buildings covered above 40 acres of ground, and its revenues amounted to £3,508 13s. 4d., arising from lands which would now produce above £300,000. Its abbot lived in almost regal state, had the title of lord, and sat among the barons in parliament: a greatness brought to a close at the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, when the last abbot, Richard Whiting, being the sixty-first in succession, was hanged in his robes, with two of his monks, at Tor Hill, for refusing to acknowledge the supremacy of, or surrender the abbey to, Henry VIII.

The estates passed, in the reign of Edward VI., to the Duke of Somerset, and again reverting to the crown, were given to the Duke of Devonshire, and have since been dispersed by sale. The principal remains of the abbey are the abbot's, kitchen, a large octagonal room with four immense fireplaces, and St. Joseph's Chapel, a beautiful specimen of Norman architecture of the 12th century. The town; which gradually rose up under the shelter of the abbey, is for the most part ancient, consisting of two principal streets crossing at right angles, and bearing many traces of ancient splendour. The more modern houses are well built, chiefly of blue lias, with which the streets are likewise paved; but the older tenements are built with stone derived from the abbey, which for a long time served the purpose of a quarry. In the market-place, near the centre of the town, is a new and elegant Gothic cross, built about 20 years since by public subscription. There are also a townhall, new assembly and reading rooms, with library attached, a bank and police barracks, with offices and chief constable's residence for the county of Somerset. The whole is well paved, lighted with gas, and supplied with excellent water.

The woollen and silk manufactures, originally introduced by the French Protestant refugees, were at one time extensively carried on, but are now extinct, as is also the stocking trade, the sewing of gloves being the chief industry at present. There are besides tanneries and fellmongers' yards, the latter employing many hands. Draining pipes, tiles, bricks, and coarse pottery are also made largely. The town received its first charter of incorporation from Queen Anne. It is at present governed under the Municipal Corporations Act, by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors, with the style of "mayor and burgesses of Glastonbury," and has a separate commission of the peace.

It comprises the two district parishes of St. John the Baptist and St. Benedict, united for all save ecclesiastical purposes. Both livings are perpetual curacies, value respectively, £150 and £100, in the gift of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. The- church of St. John the Baptist is situated in the central part of the town, close to the High-street; and its fine tower of 140 feet, surmounted by lofty pinnacles, renders it a conspicuous object for many miles round. It contains monuments, altar tombs, and brasses of the Atwell, Dyer, and other families. It is at present undergoing a complete restoration, under the superintendence of G. G. Scott, Esq. The register dates from 1603. The church of St. Benedict is a fine Gothic building, erected in the early part of the 16th century by Abbot Bere. It contains Sharpham Chapel and monuments of the Gould family. The register dates from 1678. The Independents, Wesleyans, Primitive Methodists, and Brethren have chapels.

There are National schools, recently built from designs by G. G. Scott, Esq., British, Sunday, and denominational schools. The parochial charities produce £110 per annum, inclusive of £50 payable to the almshouses. The church of St. John possesses an estate which, when in hand, will produce £350 a year. In the town and its neighbourhood are many remains to interest the antiquary, including the George Inn, the Tribunal, and other buildings, which were formerly appendages to the great religious community. The "Abbey House," including in its grounds the site and ruins of the celebrated abbey, were recently purchased by, and are in the occupation of, James Austin, Esq. At Tor Hill are entrenchments and other military works, extending some distance in the direction of the Wells- road; also the tower of St. Michael's Monastery, near which trees brought from the Holy Land were planted, and are said to have bloomed at Christmas. In the neighbourhood are some mineral springs, whose medicinal virtues were at one time highly celebrated. Sharpham Park, in this parish, was the birthplace of Henry Fielding, the novelist. The weekly market has been discontinued, but a large cattle market is held on the third Monday in each month. Two fairs are held, one at Tor Hill on the 19th September, and the other, called the Michaelmas fair, on the 11th October."

"EDGARLEY, a tything in the parish of Glastonbury, county Somerset, 1 mile S.E. of Glastonbury. King Edgar held his court here, and a handsome mansion now occupies the site of the former St. Dunstan's Hall."

"HAVETT, a hamlet in the parish of Glastonbury, county Somerset, 2 miles from Glastonbury."

"NORWOOD PARK, a hamlet in the parish of Glastonbury, county Somerset, 1 mile E. of Glastonbury."

"WEEK, a hamlet in the parish of Glastonbury, county Somerset, near Glastonbury."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]