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Episode 2: Somerset



Where is Somerset?

In our second episode, we referred to loads of interesting Somerset-based things - and promised links and photos, so here they are:

Hardy's Wessex


Thomas Hardy called Somerset 'Outer Wessex' - and if you're seeking a frame of reference, the story from today's episode takes place near what Hardy called Stancy Castle - Dunster in the real Somerset - as prominently featured in his novel A Laodicean.

T.S. Eliot's East Coker

The famous Modernist poet and playwright T.S. Eliot is buried at St Michael's Chuch in East Coker, alongside his wife Valerie. There's a plaque in their memory:

Eliot's poem, East Coker, from his Four Quartets begins:


In my beginning is my end. In succession

Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,

Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place

Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.

Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,

Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth

Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,

Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.

Houses live and die: there is a time for building

And a time for living and for generation

And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane

And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots

And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.


You can read the whole poem here.


Taunton Castle


The Castle is a Grade I Listed Scheduled Ancient Monument standing at the heart of Somerset’s county town. It has been the home of a Museum for well over 100 years.


A residence for the bishops and a minster church evidently existed at Taunton during the Anglo-Saxon period. But it was in the 12th century that the present Castle began to take shape. It was most of all an administrative centre and a status symbol, which welcomed royal guests including King John and his son Henry III.


Occasionally it was also tested in warfare. In 1451 the Earl of Devon, a Yorkist, was besieged at Taunton by the Lancastrian Lord Bonville. And it was at Taunton Castle in 1497 that Perkin Warbeck, the failed pretender to the throne of Henry VII, was brought before the Tudor king as his prisoner.


Defended for Parliament in the Civil War, the Castle was severely damaged during three bitter sieges in 1644–5. Forty years later, in September 1685, it was the terrible setting for the Bloody Assizes which followed the Monmouth Rebellion. Judge Jeffreys, presiding in the Castle’s Great Hall, sentenced 144 rebels to be hanged, drawn and quartered.


The Cheddar Man

Excavated in 1903, the Cheddar Man is Britain's oldest near-complete human skeleton. The remains are kept by London's Natural History Museum, in the Human Evolution gallery.

The skeletal remains of the Cheddar Man date to around the mid-to-late 9th millennium BC, in the Mesolithic period, and it appears that he died a violent death. A large crater-like lesion just above the skull's right orbit suggests that the man may have also been suffering from a bone infection.


He was found in Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, which you can visit here.

Glastonbury


If you've never been, Glastonbury is an amazing place, with Glastonbury Abbey being a particular highlight for folklore lovers.

Legend has it that King Arthur's body was buried here - though sadly it seems to have been lost after Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Mother Shipton and Porlock

The famous witch Mother Shipton was born in Yorkshire (don't worry - we'll talk more about her, and her monkey familiar, in future episodes!) and spent much of her life in the Somerset village of Porlock.

Learn more about Porlock on The Best of Exmoor website.


Dunster


Joan Carne was born in Dunster, where the National Trust have excellent sites at both Dunster Castle and Bat's Castle.


The Witch Joan Carne's Three Homes...

This is Sandhill Manor Farmhouse as it appears today. You can book to stay there here.

This is Orchard Wyndham House. Book to visit here.

Alas, Edward Carne's Elizabethan manor house was destroyed in 1803, but the ruins of Ewenny Priory are still standing - though are in private ownership.


You can visit them though, provided you contact the owners and make arrangements with them, which you can do here.


St Decuman's Church, Watchet


The churchyard of St Decuman's in Watchet is where Joan Carne's body is said to be buried in an iron coffin, barred beneath the earth.

Interestingly, John Wyndam's mother Florence was accidentally buried alive in the same churchyard. There's a splendid ballad celebrating the event, written by Victorian poet Lewis H. Court, in which a Sexton comes to steal the rings from the corpse and gets a nasty shock...


...He seized the slender fingers white

And stiff in their repose.

Then sought to file the circlet through:

When, to his horror, blood he drew.

And the fair sleeper rose.


She sat a moment, gazed around.

Then. great was her surprise.

And sexton, startled, saw at a glance

This was not death, but a deep trance,

And madness leapt to his eyes.


The stagnant life stream in her veins

Again began to flow:

She felt the sudden quickening.

For her it was a joyous thing,

For him a fearsome woe.


He sprang, and like a madman fled

From the accusing vault,

And made his way among the tombs

As one chased by a hundred dooms.

Who dared not call a halt.


The lady beckoned him in vain.

He was too scared to heed.

She would have given him his price;

He cleared'the churchyard in a trice.

Spurred by his desperate deed...


You can read the whole poem here.




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