THE MENDIP HILLS they are full of deserted camps and barrows that were once used and defended and meant something to someone of whom we may know nothing ; every height or headland is bastioned or crowned with the work of man, work that was already crumbling, nay, already a forgotten ruin, before the beginning of history. These remain. But the work of the Romans, those deserted mines beyond Charterhouse, what is there left of them . What is there to be found of those two religious houses of the Carthusians, Charterhouse a cell of Witham, and Green Ore a cell of Hinton ? Not a stone, not a single foundation. For them no man can say here they stood or there. It is as though Mendip were outside History and Christendom.
And yet on a day of wind, a clear day after rain, this great plateau which a man fears almost as much as he loves is
capable of offering you endless reward.
On such a day Mendip awakes ; the thin grass laughs like an old man in the sun, the grey rock shines golden with lichen, the spare woods are filled with the strength and the joy of the wind, and suddenly you find as you come up southward out of the plateau on to the height, on to Beacon Hill or Pen Hill or Maesbury for
instance, all the world spread out at your feet.
It is a glory that passes and' yet cannot pass away.
To one returning after long absence that view must always be the most beautiful and the most consoling in
the world, for it gives him at a glance all his childhood and his home.
Setting out from Chewton Mendip to explore the hills, one will take the straight road to Wells, passing Chewton Priory,
the seat of Earl Waldegrave, whose family has held Chewton so long. The Priory stands upon the site of a Benedictine house belonging to the monks of Jumieges; when the alien priories were suppressed the King, Henry V , granted this
appropriation to the Carthusian priory of Sheen, which he had founded in 1413.
Climbing steadily past the Priory, one comes to Green Ore, in about half an hour, and here the road to Wells
possesses several fine ornaments, among them two ancient screens, one the rood screen still in position, and the other across the north aisle.
That across the south aisle is modern.
Here, too, is a curious stone pulpit and a very beautiful altar cloth of mediaeval needlework.
Priddy, as its little church would lead us to believe, is a very old place.
A chapel of Westbury, it was anciently a part of the estates of the Bishop of Wells, but in 1164 the rectory of Westbury, near Priddy, was added to the endowments of the Augustinian Priory of Bruton, by Bishop Robert.
T he Canons, in return, were obliged, among other payments, to
supply a wax taper to burn continually before the High Altar of the Cathedral Church of Wells.
In 1225 a curious murder was committed at Priddy. T he
account of the outrage runs: “ John Swete-bi-the-bone killed
Richard, the Shepherd, and fled. H e was o f the mainpast of
the Abbot of Bruere, in his sh'eepcote of Bridie (Priddy).
Therefore, he (the abbot) is in mercy, and he (John) is suspected, and no one else. Therefore, let him be exacted
and outlawed. He had no chattels.” This verdict was given at Ilchester Assizes, in 1225. To be of the mainpast of the abbot, was to have the abbot for surety; the abbot, therefore,
was held at the mercy o f the court.1
T he mention of Richard the shepherd brings us to the subject of sheep. A very peculiar and valuable breed once inhabited the Mendip Hills.
they were an intermediate breed between the two. The horns were smaller and the countenance wilder, the sheep altogether
more diminutive and the wool finer, and the flesh more finely flavoured than the Dorsets. “ They were,” says Youatt, “ a hardy breed, and would thrive upon the poorest soil. They
covered the Mendips in immense numbers, and were alternately changed from the moors to the hills as the season
demanded. They bred, too, twice a year. When a considerable tract of the hills became enclosed the number of sheep
diminished, and the character little by little was changed.
T h e old wild Mendips were crossed with the heavier Devons and others, and the genuine Mendip sheep' became extinct.”
\See Rev. Preb. J. Coleman, “ Historical Notes on Priddy” (Som. Arch. Soc. Proc., LV , (ii), 13S et seq
MAESBURY CAMP is crossed at right angles by the old Roman Road to the lead mines, and, perhaps, to Uphill on the coast. Turning along this road, to the left, on the hollow top of Mendip, in three
miles the traveller will come to Maesbury Camp, through which the Roman Way passes as a mere track, onward to Beacon Hill, where at the Inn, which sells as good cider as is to be had in the known world, the Roman Road is continued for half a mile as a modern highway, to be lost again at Long Cross, where the modern road swerves to the north for
Leigh-upon-Mendip and Frome. Maesbury Camp is chiefly celebrated for the great view it offers south and west of the county of Somerset.
It is an ancient fortress, how ancient who shall say, upon a hill top, with artificial defences following the natural line of the hill.
Its very name means hill-fort, and it must have been a verystrong one.
Returning from Maesbury to Green Ore, one again follows the Wells Road for half a mile, and then turns westward, tothe right, at Hill Grove, and, continuing past Hunter’s Lodge Inn, near which is one of the many Mendip caverns, one comes to Priddy. There is not, in all the Mendip country, a more desolate village than Priddy, yet it is the chief place upon these
T h e church, as indeed we might expect, is very plain, but
it contains a font of the eleventh century, though it is mainly,
as we see it, a building of the Perpendicular period. It
1 Prof. Boyd Dawkins assigns it to the Prehistoric Iron A g e ; Mr.
St. George Gray to the Bronze A ge “ and it may subsequently have been
occupied in the Prehistoric Iron Age. ” Only excavation can decide the
“ We are at present only on the threshold of our knowledge as regards
the hundreds of camps, fortifications, and ancient enclosures with which
the whole of England is studded, and which as a rule occupy the most
elevated and commanding positions. . . . Wherever we find isolated
encampments of prehistoric date on the top of hills we may be pretty sure
that they were simply places of refuge for local tribes . . . to which they
resorted when attacked. Endeavours to differentiate the Stone A ge and
Bronze Age camps from Roman, post-Roman, and Norman camps in
Britain are for the future. . . . A s a rule the art of castramentation was
very much the same in all periods . . . the only real method o f throwing
light upon the subject is by means of the pick and shovel, provided these
potent instruments are wielded in the right manner.”— H. St. George Gray
in Som. Arch. Soc. Proc., 1903, pp. 27, 28.