Sunday, 12 July 2009

Brent Knoll Somerset/ Brant: Place in The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell

Brent Knoll is a village in Somerset, England, at the foot of a hill (correctly referred to as the Knoll at Brent) with a height of 137 metres (450 ft) dominating the low surrounding landscape of the Somerset Levels. The name means Beacon Hill in Old English.


Earthworks at Brent Knoll

Brent Knoll has seen human settlement since at least the Bronze Age. It is the site of a Iron Age hill fort, with multiple ramparts (multivallate) following the contours of the hill, broken only by the main entrance on the eastern side.
Before the Somerset Levels were drained, Brent Knoll was an island, known as the Isle (or Mount) of Frogs, that provided a safe haven from the water and marshes. According to legend, Ider son of Nuth, who was one of King Arthur's knights, came to the Mount of Frogs on a quest to slay three giants who lived there.
The village of Brent Knoll lies at the south west base of the hill. Between 1875 and 1883 the village name was changed from South Brent to Brent Knoll to avoid rail passenger confusion with the village of South Brent in Devon.
Brent Knoll railway station on the Bristol and Exeter Railway operated from 1875 until 4 January 1971.

Religious sites

Church of St Michael

The Church of St Michael dates back to the 11th century but has undergone several renovations since the. The tower contains a bell dating from 1777 and made by William Bilbie of the Bilbie family. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building
Brent Knoll was known by the Romans as The Mount of Frogs and stands as an outcrop on the Mendip Hills. It is 449 feet tall - some 137 meters high - and those it walk up it are rewarded with superb views of the Polden Hills to the south, Glastonbury Tor to the east, the Mendip Hills and Cheddar Gorge to the north east, the Bristol Channel and Wales to the west and the Quantock Hills to the south west.
The Knoll dates from the Jurassic times 300 million years ago when dinosaurs, primitive mammals and strange birds roamed the area. A warm, shallow sea washed around its slopes thus giving its other name of "Frog Island."
The outcrop of clays and limestone soon attracted primitive man as a secure and advantageous place. Subsequently, Bronze Age and Iron Age people set up home on the summit which became a focus for religious activity. The Romans are known to have built a temple there, and Roman coins of the Emperor Trajan (AD98 -117) and Septimus Severus (AD145 - 211) were found in an urn on the Knoll in 1610.
Anglo-Saxons coming up the Bristol Channel are believed to have made good use of the Knoll as a look-out post. They were followed by the Vikings, known for their ferocity, so much so that the monks would offer up the earnest prayer: "From the fury of the Norsemen, O Lord, deliver us!"
On its eastern slopes is the site of a battle in AD875 when the Saxons drove away the Danes. Hence, the village has the "Battleborough Grange" Hotel, and nearby Battleborough Lane. The Hotel caters for local people, as well as visitors to the area.
The Domesday Book, commissioned by William I in AD 1086 shows the make-up of the land near the Knoll. About 250 people were living around its base, earning a poor existence. The land was marshy and often in flood, but dried out for summer farming. The next 200 years saw more efficient use of land, better drainage, an absence of invaders, rule of law and increased trade.
The Lay Subsidy Returns of AD 1327 set out actual names of about 180 residents from whom tax would be extracted. Including East Brent about 600 persons were living in the area at that time. Intricate patterns of rhynes helped improve the fertility of the land and attract people.
During the English Civil War (1641 - 1645) some Royalist soldiers caused mayhem in the village. Under the leadership of John Somerset, local people rose up against the plunderers. His effigy and those of his family may be seen in the church.
In AD 1607 the whole of the Vale of Avalon flooded to the depth of twelve feet as far as Glastonbury. In AD 1703 the sea broke across the land again. Drainage efforts increased in the 18th and 19th centuries and made living in the village a more viable proposition.

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