No arts; no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and
danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and
short.’ Thomas Hobbes English Philosopher 1588-1679
Would this statement apply to our forebears, who lived in the hill-forts? What
evidence can be found of the quality of their lives? One thing that we can be sure of is
that our ancestors needed food, warmth and shelter. Occupation of caves close to here
Location GR 402588
VHCS II p471 describes cross as 2 ft high 12 ft broad, arms North 61 ft, East 56 ft,
South 57 ft, West 72 ft. Dobson p212 whole earthwork 165 ft by 135 ft entrance East,
ditch/vallum cross 2 ft high 10-12 ft wide. What I found was a single bank, aligned
North to South 2 ft high 10-12ft long.
Location GR 410590
Description VHCS is on the top of a hill about half a mile southsoutheast of the
church and the defence was a bank of earth and stones around the inclosure.
Rutter p145a severe battle was fought near this hill, between the Saxons and Danes;
the memory of which is preserved by the appellation of Wint Hill, which, in the
Saxon language implies the name of a towerThe situation is well adapted for the
enjoyment of a rural repast, by any parties, who are induced to explore the varied
scenery, which this elevation situation commands, and which the Rev. W. Lisle
Bowles has celebrated in his recently published poem on Banwell Hill
Location GR 336576
Description VCHS p522 The so-called camp on the slope of the hill to the north of the
village contains low banks and ridges, most of which run down the slope of the hill
from north to south, but some run east and west.
Location GR 479584
Description VCHS p483 is on the lower slope of the Mendip about half a mile south
of Burrington churchThe inclosure is oblong, with rounded corners, its length north
by east to south by west being about 120 yds., and west by north to east by south
Cadbury Camp Congresbury
Location GR 442650
Description Vince Russett
Demolished Roman temple at Henley Wood, GR 443651 with a fine view over North
Moor and Severn Estuary. Building painted white, visibility 50 Miles. It would have
been possible for the Romans to use signalling fires across the estuary. River Yeo
navigable to Congresbury villa Wemborough 5 Congresbury Place Names St Conger.
Two clear post-Roman phases. Second group mediaeval Mediterranean. Material late
antique collection. Wine in pottery Mediterranean. Celtic pottery from South West
France. There was a trading network across the Western Roman Empire. Byzantium
genetic connection. Western seaboard of Europe. Oblique entrance with D shaped
guard chambers. There was an excavation in 1959. There were post Roman postholes
of a large rectangular hall. Welsh speakers might understand Old British. Weaving
tools, bone, glass, lead, iron ore. Dishes from North Africa had crosses on them.
Conger son of prince of Byzantium people living here until 7th Century. Calcareous
grassland. Why did the occupation end? Arabs conquered North Africa and Spain.
Sherds found at Congresbury church. There was a Celtic monastery and Roman
pottery industry 3rd to 5th century. People looked back at the Roman period until the
11th Century, much as we do towards the British Empire. There are remains of
buildings. There was a plague in the 6th Century that persuaded people not to stay.
Was a weird thing in sky’ a volcanic eruption? It caused tree rings to grow very close
together for three years.
Location GR 450589
Description Its form is a parallelogram, open at each end, and it has been supposed to
have been the work of the Britons; but Roman and Saxon coins have frequently been
found in it, as also have spear-heads, pieces of swords, and other warlike weapons’
Collinson Vol III p579
Location GR 460586
Rowberrow valley runs for 3km/1.5 miles in an East-South-Easterly direction from
Rowberrow church towards Burrington Combe.
I have passed a plot of land in Rowberrow many, and been puzzled why it has not
been built on. I spoke to a resident one day, and he told me that it is a burial ground
and remains of a chapel GR 452583). Further enquiries led me to Derek Venn, who
does research for the Shipham History Society. He told me about the history of
mining in the area, and gave me some material including a map of Rowberrow valley,
details of residents from the 1841 census and three leaflets: The Village and Industry
of 18th Century Shipham, Shipham Parish Accounts 1785-1822 and Edith’s Letter
Home. The latter being from Edith Day, On the 6th of February 1828 Edith wrote a
letter home to her family in England, pleading with them to come and join her. It was
addressed to Mr Charles Pitman, Shipham, Somerset the husband of Edith’s sister
Phoebe.’ 1 Edith and her husband had emigrated to Van Diemens Land (Tasmania).’
Closer inspection of the map revealed a number of Venns. Their occupations were
agricultural labourers, lead miners and a calamine miner. I shall focus upon Farmer
Venn. These details are from the ROWBERROW (1841 Census & Tithe
Apportionment) He had three tithes in the valley 169/189/194. A tithe To grant or
pay one tenth of (one’s goods, earnings etc.) esp. to the support of the church.’ 2
Calamine: Next in importance to lead was zinc, of which the carbonate calamine
was abundant on Mendip, especially in the dolomitic conglomerate. He goes on to say
a man would simply dig a trench forward through the ground until he came upon a
vein, but great faith was placed in the virtue of the divining rod.’ 3 This district also
included some of the most important and productive parts of the ancient Mining
Forest, in which, during a long period of years, enormous quantities of lead and zinc
were raised, which at one time provided employment for some thousands of people,
and whose traces in long-abandoned shafts and workings, form one of the most
characteristic features of the hillsAt first the ore was exported as the English did not
have the knowledge of the process for mixing the calamine with copper to produce
brass. However, with the formation of the Bristol Brass Company in 1706, calamine
now came into high demand.’ 4
Google Maps showing earthworks
Go to Google maps and enter place names and press Search. Direction and distance of
the earthworks are from red marker. Note that most of them are circular, and show up
as a lighter green than the surrounding area. I found it useful to draw a scale from the
screen, with 200m intervals.
Banwell Camp E 1075 mtrs. What looks like a large tree due to phototrophism, are
actually four. (Phototrophism is the action of plants to gain maximum benefit from the
Sun to facilitate photosynthenis).
Bleadon WNW 1200 mtrs.
Burrington Combe NW 750 mtrs.
Cadbury – Congresbury NNE 1150 mtrs.
Dolebury N 800 mtrs.
Rowberrow Valley NNW 600 mtrs.
How to find earthworks with a map and compass, and a beginners guide to working out grid references
The first thing to do is find magnetic north. The Grid Magnetic Angle in July 2007
was 2 degrees 20 minutes West of Grid North. There is an annual change about 10
minutes. Say, 2 degrees 5 minutes at present. I am going to use the Earthwork on
Banwell Hill GR 402588 as an example. Line up needle and arrow on compass. Move
top of compass 2 degrees 5 minutes West. Re-align needle and arrow and this will
give Grid North. Align compass to grid on map. It helps to have a flat surface to do
this. Stand at the southeast corner of Banwell Castle GR 401587, and obtain bearing
of earthwork. This should show 62 degrees. My eyesight is not what they used to be,
so I had to use a magnifying glass. For distance apply the 1:50000 scale on the
compass to the map. This will show a distance of about 200 metres. This should lead
you to the earthwork.
To measure distance, assume that you are going to walk at 3 miles an hour, or a mile
every twenty minutes. Divide 20 by 8 and multiply by 5. This gives a time of 12
minutes per kilometre on flat ground.
I have chosen a tumulus at GR 457571. How did I begin? The first thing to remember
is to begin with eastings, then northings. Another way to remember this is, along the
corridor and up the stairs. In other words, you start by working along the bottom of
the map until finding the line to the left of the required location. In this case it is 45.
Then work out how many tenths to the right of the line is the tumulus. I have done it
by eye, and guessed 7. Then go up the stairs, and find the line underneath. This one is
57. Do the same as before, and it gives us 1, hence 457571. This map’s scale is
1:50,000, thus 2 centimetres (cms) represent 50,000 cms on the ground. Thus, a six
figure grid reference will bring you within 100 metres of the tumulus. An eight figure
reference within 10 metres. Check with Google maps to find out the exact location.
The Human Story
If you manage to reach this place, appreciate the fine view across the Severn Estuary
towards Wales, as the person buried here may have done. Perhaps the settlement
south south east was home, or the one further east. Try to put yourself in the mind of
that person, and imagine how they must have felt. What were their essential needs?
Compare and contrast to your needs today. One clue is to the south, a valley that a
river runs through, thus providing water. Perhaps you could write a play, inventing
different characters. Compare with Middle Ages serfdom VCH. Lake villages, fairs, pheasants. Freedom.
History of Somersetshire Reverend John Collinson 1791
The Mines of Mendip J.W. Gough David and Charles 1967 3 p5
The Heart of Mendip Francis A. Knight Chatford House Press 1971 4 p3
Ordnance Survey Landranger Sheet 182 Weston-super-Mare, Bridgwater and Wells
The Archaeology of Somerset D. P. Dobson MA Methuen & Co Ltd 1931
Ordnance Survey Landranger Sheet 182 Weston-super-Mare, Bridgwater and Wells
Extracts from a talk given by Vince Russett North Somerset Archaeology Service
Deliniations of the North Western Division of the County of Somerset and of the Ante diluvian Bone Caverns with a Geological Sketch of the District John Rutter 1829
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary Oxford at the Clarendon Press 1933 2
Ediths Letter Home Derek Venn 2007 1
The Victoria History of the Counties of England (VHCS in text) Somerset
Volumes I & II The University of London Institute of Historical Research 1969