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The Mendip Hills, aptly described by Thomas Hardy as ’a range of limestone rocks stretching from the shore of the Bristol Channel into the middle of Somersetshire’, are designated an Area of Outstanding Natural beauty and display the typical scenery of karst: dry gorges the spectacular remnants of collapsed cave systems at Cheddar, Burrington and Ebbor; smooth, domelike summits with thin calcareous soil; disappearing streams and swallet holes features that attract the rider, hiker, camper and caver. Although the high plateau is sparsely habited, the perimeter is belted round by main roads along which are strung compact and populous settlements: Axbridge, Cheddar, Draycott, Shipham, Westbury and Wells on the westerly scarp face; Shepton Mallet, Prome, Mells and Chewton Mendip on the gentler eastern side.

The northern fringe of the Mendips reaches its extremity at Churchill, Avon, lying on the A38 Bristol road beneath the Iron Age encampment of Dolebury Warren. A former turnpike road forks off from here (established 1827 by the Wedmore Trust), taking one past a round-windowed Gothic toll-house and into Shipham, Somerset, a name recalling the early sheep fairs.

The hilltop village is centred around the square, which has a clean, spacious, utilitarian look. It is presided over by the late-Victorian court house, the Miners’ Arms free house, a group of terraced council homes and the dazzling white Penscot Hotel and Restaurant. But the apparent orderliness of Shipham is belied by exploration: the plan of the village is an random, haphazard, comprising a maze of crisscrossing lanes. Go up Hollow Road and branching off to the right, not far from the Community Hall, are Allens Lane, Court Lane, Hindpits Lane and Folly Lane, all looping in and out and converging.

The names Hollow Road and Hindpits Lane hold the clue to the expansion of the village in the eighteenth century. Calamine was the basis for its sudden trebling of population and rash of cramped cottage dwellings. The ore yielded zinc which, alloyed to copper, produced brass thus supplying the busy foundries of Bristol, already dependent on South Wales for copper and north-east Somerset for furnace-coal. It was mined in pits and lateral grooves, and in 1792 Collinson observed ’upwards of 100 mines, in the streets, in the yards and in the very houses of Shipham’. The last observation bears a veiled reference to the citizens of the village traditionally regarded as lawless sinking shafts beneath their own kitchens in the hope of avoiding paying the Lord of the Minery his dues. Common land during this period became rapidly in-iilled with squat and boxy miners’ cottages (today spruce, colour-washed buildings) approached by narrow and intersecting lanes, a feature which gives Shipham its distinctive cellular plan.

Hollow Road leads out of Shipham, climbing a hill on which derelict mining cottages stand and finally emerging in the hamlet of Rowberrow. Here the parish church and manor house stand adjacent, a mellow pair of buildings, lichen-stained and reddish-grey in colour. Clinging to the brow of a sheer-sided hill, they are most effectively seen from the flanks of Dolebury Warren.

Dedicated to St Michael, Rowberrow church was rebuilt in 1865, but the tower, an effective piece of Perpendicular work, dates from the original thirteenth-century foundation, although capped with Victorian pinnacles inferior to the originals which decorate the Churchyard. On a corbel, Fixed in the interior north wall, is a stone carved with interlaced and serpentine designs, obviously Saxon in origin. Quite Possibly it is part of a cross, and the Ringerlike coils may constituted the tail of the primeval serpent who was cast out of Heaven by the church's patron.

The manor house, although coeval with the church, is one of those hardy buildings designed to endure Mendip weather. Its one decorative feature is an oak mantelpiece carved with dolphins, probably Jacobean, which was moved from an upper floor to ground level. The rectory, screened by limes and elms, stands in spacious grounds, a large pink-washed Georgian building dating from 1790. Near it is the Swan Inn, an unpretentious free house around which several renovated cottages are grouped.

Dotted about the valley in Rowberrow are ruined homesteads, where daffodils once grew profusely, adding a touch of Hebridean melancholy to the landscape. They bring home vividly the situation in 1822 when nearly every man in the village was engaged in mining, except for about six who worked the land. But calamine-roasting was a dreadful trade, producing poisonous fumes that shrivelled trees, tainted pasturage and shortened lifespans. Only the spoilheaps and choked shafts survive today; fortunately many of them are effectively concealed by Rowberrow Woods, 545 acres of Corsican pine, Norwegian spruce and Sitka spruce, planted by the Forestry Commission in 1939.

The road from Shipham to Cheddar descends into the gorge of Callow Hill Quarry. Spoilheaps and scars loom; machinery clanks and shudders; lorries churn up lime dust; year by year the skyline is lowered by blasting. The demand for aggregates is still rising, and the quarries have been granted large concessions: no doubt in time Callow Hill and Sandford Hill will be reduced to hollowed-out stumps.

The main road from Bristol to Cheddar bypasses Shipham and Rowberrow. It hooks round Shute Shelve Hill, a former place of execution where felons were hung in chains, and clings to the lower slopes above the floodplain of Axbridge Moor. From here the Cheddar Reservoir, like an immense blue coin, glimmers crisply.

The name ’Cheddar’ derives from the Old English ’che’, ’high ground’, and ’dwr’, ’water’ features that have recommended the site from earliest times. Prehistoric man occupied the gorge over 10,000 years ago, and one imagines the Celts viewed this awesome green-robed chasm, rife wnth subterranean rumours, as a place of sanctity and terror.

The manor house, although coeval with the church, is one of those hardy buildings designed to endure Mendip weather. Its one decorative feature is an oak mantelpiece carved with dolphins, probably Jacobean, which was moved from an upper floor to ground level. The rectory, screened by limes and elms, stands in spacious grounds, a large pink-washed Georgian building dating from 1790. Near it is the Swan Inn, an unpretentious free house around which several renovated cottages are grouped.

Dotted about the valley in Rowberrow are ruined homesteads, where daffodils once grew profusely, adding a touch of Hebridean melancholy to the landscape. They bring home vividly the situation in 1822 when nearly every man in the village was engaged in mining, except for about six who worked the land. But calamine-roasting was a dreadful trade, producing poisonous fumes that shrivelled trees, tainted pasturage and shortened lifespans. Only the spoilheaps and choked shafts survive today; fortunately many of them are effectively concealed by Rowberrow Woods, 545 acres of Corsican pine, Norwegian spruce and Sitka spruce, planted by the Forestry Commission in 1939.

The road from Shipham to Cheddar descends into the gorge of Callow Hill Quarry. Spoilheaps and scars loom; machinery clanks and shudders; lorries churn up lime dust; year by year the skyline is lowered by blasting. The demand for aggregates is still rising, and the quarries have been granted large concessions: no doubt in time Callow Hill and Sandford Hill will be reduced to hollowed-out stumps.

The main road from Bristol to Cheddar bypasses Shipham and Rowberrow. It hooks round Shute Shelve Hill, a former place of execution where felons were hung in chains, and clings to the lower slopes above the floodplain of Axbridge Moor. From here the Cheddar Reservoir, like an immense blue coin, glimmers crisply.

The name ’Cheddar’ derives from the Old English ’che’, ’high ground’, and ’dwr’, 'water’ features that have recommended the site from earliest times. Prehistoric man occupied the gorge over 10,000 years ago, and one imagines the Celts viewed this awesome green-robed chasm, rife with SUbten’anean rumours: as a Place of sanctity and terror.

Romans, more commercially inclined, exploited the water~ supply by establishing a wharf at Hythe on the Wedmore Road, whereby lead mined at Charterhouse was shipped clown the Rivers Yeo and Axe to the port of Uphill on the Bristol Channel. Water-power also made an important contribution to trade in the eighteenth century, turning thirteen grist and paper-mills, while the rich pasturage of the valley encouraged cheese-making.

The magnet of all the business is the caves. At the entrance to the Fantasy Grotto (discovered by Mr Cox in 1837) there is a plaster model of a snarling wolf tucking in to the carcase of an unfortunate deer, no doubt serving to remind the tourist, possibly sedated by an overdose of natural wonders, that the subterranean lifestyle of early man was beset by bloody hazards. Cox’s Cave is considered to have the more exquisite formations: Marble Curtain, Peal of Bells, Bunch of Carrots, Lady Chapel, Mermaid and Mummy, Home of the Rainbow. Gough’s Cave, on the other hand, goes all out for sublimity: St Paul’s, the Fonts, the Frozen Waterfall names transcending the human scale of things.

This then is a sketch of Cliff Street, Cheddar, but the ’larger part of the village is separated from the gorge. Exploring roads like the Lippiat, Church Street, Silver Street (after the Roman god Sylvanus?), one encounters case~ mented cottages, elegant Georgian townhouses with scalloped entrances, stone-built Victorian mansions with bargeboard gables an architectural variety of surprising richness.

The omphalos of the old town is the market cross a Hfteenth-century monument encircled by a colonnade of six arches and covered by a roof. Medieval merchants sold their wares from here, and itinerant preachers vented their sermons. Not far away is the parish church of St Andrew’s, noted for its 110-foot tower; also its chantry chapel dedicated to the Fitzwalter family and the canopy tomb with brasses to Sir Thomas de Cheddre (d. 1442) and his wife Isabella (d. 1474).

A lane from the churchyard leads to the Kings of Wessex Upper School -a centre for cultural and further educational activities adjoining the excavated site of an old Saxon palace. Cheddar was one of the royal forests used by the kings for hunting, and there is an account (941 AD) of King Edmund chasing a flying stag to where ’a certain wood covers a mountain of great height, which being separated at its summit, exhibits to the spectator an immense precipice and horrid abyss, called by the local people Cedderclyff’.

Not far from the school, in Lower North Street, is Hannah More’s Cottage, now the property of the Evergreen Club. In 1789 she founded the first day school at Cheddar assisted by the statesman William Wilberforce. She thought Cheddar even worse than Shipham: ’There is as much knowledge of Christ,’ she commented, ’in the interior of Africa as there is to be met in this wretched place.’ In a letter she noted that she saw one Bible in the whole of the parish ’and that was used to prop up a flower pot’. Nowadays there is a County First School at Hillfield for the village, Fairlands Middle School at Fairlands Way and the Kings of Wessex (Church of England) for the surrounding area, together with a county library, a modern Catholic church, a Baptist and Methodist church, an informal group of Christian Scientists who meet in Cathay Lane and a dozen more civilized facilities. Confronted with all this, even Hannah More might have felt a prick of nostalgia for the hard primitivism of her day.

Draycott conjures up the appealing image of strawberry Fields; unfortunately the physical evidence -equidistant rows of polythene cloches is not visually delectable. A native of Cheddar, Sam Spencer, was among the first to recognize that the rich red strip of loam skirting the foot of the north-west Mendips was ideal for market gardening; it combined long hours of sunshine and a humid climate, together with a sheltered position. The strawberry trade was particularly intense during the 18805, when the Cheddar railway was known as the Strawberry Special. The original luxuriant brand known as the Black Prince did not carry well; in transit it tended to bruise and leak hence tougher strains such as the Gauntlet were developed.

Market gardening still flourishes here; numerous homesteads have allotments advertising the sale of onions, leeks, potatoes, cabbages and carrots. Otherwise one receives the impression of a. tidy village lacking an integral centre. The A371 cuts between the succession of farmhouses, often spankingly refurbished, and the odd stone-built Victorian villa. The main part of the village lies west of the main road and consists of four parallel routes: Back Lane, the Street, West Lane and Bay Lane. These meet up in Station Road; from here a minor road crosses the old railway bridge and strikes out across the moors, looping round Nyland Hill, one of those evocative tree-studded outliers of the Mendips.

As a hamlet and ecclesiastical parish, Draycott was formed in March 1862 out of the parishes of Cheddar and Rodney Stoke. One of its major industries was quarrying ’Draycott marble’, a conglomerate found in layers one to four feet thick and used for posts and steps but capable of taking a high polish and impervious to weather. The church, chapel and school, plus miscellaneous gateposts and quoins, together with the plinth of the memorial to John Card (d1729, the donor of a local charity) in the churchyard, are Composed of this attractive golden stone.

Draycott almost imperceptibly merges with Rodney Stoke, its sister village, yet POSSESSing a quite different atmosphere, an entrenched tranquillity. The village is built \ largely of Dolomitic conglomerate and comprises a church, manor, post office, Baptist chapel and junior school. Lining the main road there is a string of red-brick council homes; they exude a slightly raw sunset glare, modified only by their neat, well-tended gardens.

But the arresting feature is the church, a restrained and sober building displaying the familiar rooting appeals. Its highlight is the Rodney Chapel, comprising the tomb chest of Sir Thomas Rodney (1478), armoured and slumbering under an open canopy of cusped arches; of Sir John Rodney (1527), looking less comfortable under a Tudor cusped arch; and of Anna (1630), wife of George Rodney, under an arch supported by four columns. Finally there is the wall tomb and monument to George Rodney (1651), youngest son of Sir Edward, complete with angel statuettes and figure rising up from the coffin. There is something almost eerily affecting about these monuments. Not the fact that they bring the past to life. Rather it is their frozen inertia, their total deadness, that is unsettling. All that ornate sorrowing; gilded grief; a hopeless bid to achieve immortality by means of alabaster and elaboration.

From Draycott the New Road branches off, ascending the steep scarp face of the plateau, passing scattered tumuli, isolated farmstead, eroded hillfort. Colours here are muted greys, browns and greens. The terrain has a weathered, planed-down aspect; dazzling knuckles of limestone protrude through the turf, and sheep are strewn over the rough pasture like bits of cloud. After passing a quarry and reservoir, the road levels out and crosses the West Mendip Way, emerging on the 33135 about one mile from Priddy.

This village is the capital of the Mendips. Lying 800 feet up in a sheltered basin, it appears at first glance a harsh, grey-walled community grouped around a spacious green on which a stack of hurdles is placed, awaiting the annual sheep fair. In such a context, the word ’village’ is almost a misnomer, hardly applicable to these straggled settlements that have sprung up in this wild country owing to the presence of water, adequate pasturage or mineral wealth. There is such quietness here. No tight Devonshire grouping of rose-embowered cottages, church and manor house; here buildings stand separate, self-contained, reminding One there is work to be attended to and little time for neighbourly gossip.

Arranged around the green are the New Inn, a sprinkling of slated, colour-washed cottages, St Cuthbert’s Farm, Manor Farm, the post office and discreetly isolated on a low eminence the church of St Lawrence. Built in the Early English style, it stands boldly against the skyline, the western tower with pierced trefoiled parapets and pinnacles, making a powerful impression in its bare and barren setting. The font is early Norman, squat yet decorative, and there is a notable pulpit about which there is a legend that, when a goose nested annually inside, the kind vicar did not disturb the bird’s sojourn and COHHHEd his preaching to the lectern. Interesting too is a tablet recording the mending of the tower and ’to pinikls’ in 1705, when Shavian spelling flourished.

Priddy gives its name to one of the four mineries of Mendip. They were enclosures to which the miners brought their ore to be processed. First it was washed in buddles (tanks) and then reduced to metal in furnaces. The Hues and the chimneys for the latter were curious. Each flue ran for several hundred yards along the ground before ending in the usual high chimney to create the draught. The reason for this arrangement lay in the fact that lead was a volatile metal, and, if the vapours went straight into the atmosphere, much would be lost. The workers, however, could cool the Hues and enter the tunnels to scrape out the condensed lead. Until fairly recently, Chewton or Waldegrave minery had a complete chimney, but now only the flues along the ground remain. The water-supply, on the other hand, is still intact, the large artificial pond being widely known as Priddy Pool. Today people Fish in it and during cold winters go ice-skating; it is also a favourite place for naturalists, the nearby Stockhill Wood providing in autumn a fungicollector’s paradise.

As important as Priddy, and particularly rich in Associations, prehistoric, Roman and medieval, is the Scattered settlement of Charterhouse, set in a wide, empty landscape of rolling heather-covered hills, looking south

over Velvet Bottom towards Cheddar. Around Charterhouse, on the very top of Mendip, there is this feeling of ordered desolation. Compared with the lush dairylands of the Somerset plain, the terrain seems harsh, almost savage, especially where the turf has been ravaged by mining. There are few trees, only green-grey recessions of space, sweeping horizons, across which razoring winds hiss and sigh. Drystone walls crawl across the hillslopes in Hinty Piles, oozing moss between their layers like emerald cement, and many of the roads and tracks they follow are ruler-straight, affording spectacular views towards the edge of the plateau.

The name 'Charterhouse’ derives from the French ’Chartreuse’, the spot, fourteen miles from Grenoble, where in 1084 St Bruno of Rheims founded the first Carthusian monastery. The conclave at Witham near Frome was the first in England, St Hugh of Lincoln being its most famous prior, and it owned land at Velvet Bottom, a valley near Charterhouse, which was probably worked by lay brothers as a sheep farm. The building is a long, two-gabled affair with stone-mullioned windows, a tiled roof and look of weathered severity: no pepperpot chimneys or spiky ornaments for this hard land. It was erected over the monastic foundation by one Robert May whose descendants included John May, Sheriff of Somerset. The present house dates from around 1600, and the May family held it until 1799; the new owner was granted the glorious title Baron Mendip. His descendant, Viscount Clifden, owns it today.

Once Charterhouse had a village school but this now serves as an outdoor activity centre. The Blackmore Educational Reserve owns several acres of the old minery and is an important focus for wildlife studies. Those interested in local architecture find themselves drawn to W.D. Caroe’s most unusual church, erected 1908, with its roughcast exterior, vestigial spire and finely carved screen. Fittingly enough, it bears a dedication to St Hugh of Witham.

To the south of Priddy is Green Ore, a small hamlet situated on the crossroads where the Roman road from Charterhouse to Old Sarum and the Bristol-Wells turnpike road intersect. The land is irregular, with scooped-out troughs and bumpy depressions, the legacy of ancient leadworkings, and the hamlet consists only of a pu.

Druidically named ’The White Bull’, a few bleached cottages and outlying farms, and the ruined mansion of Hill Grove (1850), once a sanatorium. This is a grimly atmospheric ruin, split-walled with high, echoing rooms in which old wallpaper hangs like gigantic flaps of skin and ghosts of elderly men and ladies intermittently appear.

One explanation of the name is that ’Creen Ore' derives from the rare emerald-coloured deposits occasionally found in the local mines Woodward mentions ’Mendip Green Ore, a lead ore of Poppinjay green colour’. But the hamlet was formerly called 'Greenworth’, ’the green enclosure’, referring to the Carthusians’ grange and sheepwalks, but later corrupted to ’Green Ore’ by reason of the mining.

The grange belonged to Witham Priory, the owners of the Charterhouse farm, and Green Ore was referred to in the census of 1841 as an ’extra-parochial district’. The farmhouse occupying the sight of the Carthusian grange is obviously a building of some antiquity; the windows are narrow and arched, arranged in groups of twos and threes, indicating a seventeenth-century origin which is confirmed by an inscribed stone near the entrance porch: ’PAX HUIC DOMINI 1655’ (’Peace to this place 0 Lord’).

Wookey Hole, derived from the Celtic ’ogof’, ’Cave’, is recessed in a narrow Mendip valley two miles north-west of Wells. A wedged-in hamlet, always industrially active in a minor way, it had a paper-mill in 1610 close to where the Axe discharges itself from that immense stone vent that draws the jostling multitudes.