Making the Most of a Bad Situation? Glastonbury Abbey, Meare, and the Medieval Exploitation of Wetland Resources in the Somerset Levels
University of Exeter
Maney Publishing on behalf of the Society for Medieval Archaeology
Meare, famous for its 'Abbot's Fish House', lay at the centre of Glastonbury Abbey's estates in Somerset. This paper reconstructs the medieval landscape that surrounded it, in particular showing how highly valued wetland resources were. A strongly interdisciplinary approach is used, integrating remarkably rich documentary material with evidence contained within the 'historic landscape': the pattern of fields, roads, settlements and watercourses as represented on the earliest (early 19th-century) cartographic sources and in many cases still in use today. Historic landscape characterization allows a series of distinctive 'landscape character areas' to be identified which reflect the impact that both lordship and community had on the landscape, with a walled manorial complex, adjacent church, planned village, carefully laid out open fields, and areas of reclaimed meadow, surrounded by extensive common pastures and the famous Meare Pool. These wetlands were clearly highly valued, both materially, as demonstrated by a series of acrimonious disputes between Glastonbury and the Dean and Chapter of Wells Cathedral over their respective rights there, and symbolically, as reflected in the inclusion of Meare along with a series of other islands and their associated Christian sites in the special jurisdiction known as the 'Twelve Hides'. Key to the successful utilization of this landscape was the control of water as a resource, including the exploitation of its natural occurrence in Meare Pool, and its manipulation in the form of canals used for navigation, fishing, flood prevention, and powering mills.
© 2006 Society for Medieval Archaeology. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher. Journal home page http://www.maney.co.uk/journals/ma ; complete issue available at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/maney/med
Medieval Archaeology, (2004), 48: pp. 91-130