The Brent Knoll Crosses

View of Brent Knoll from the west on the way back from Brean Down on the coast.

View of Brent Knoll from the west on the way back from Brean Down on the coast.

Brent Knoll like Burrow Mump and Glastonbury Tor is a landmark rising out of the Somerset Levels. Beyond it to the west lies the flat land towards Brean Down and the sea.

The National Trust acquired the hilltop in 1979 and the way up is along footpaths from either the churches of East Brent or South Brent. Brent Knoll and the surrounding land was owned by Glastonbury Abbey from Saxon times.

This is such a prominent place that there has long been a tradition that three wooden crosses should be erected on the east rampart to celebrate Easter.

The old cross foundations had deteriorated and the local community applied to English Heritage and the National Trust to relocate the cross foundations in a better, more visible location. This was agreed and so I was asked to supervise the excavation.

View from the east rampart of Brent Knoll towards Crook Peak on the Mendip Hills (also NT).

View from the east rampart of Brent Knoll towards Crook Peak on the Mendip Hills (also NT).

We jumped into Ian’s landrover and he drove me and Laura to the top of the Knoll. A perfect day. We stepped out onto the rampart and the views were spectacular. We each took a spade and dug the holes at the marked locations.

The excavation for the three cross post-holes

The excavation for the three cross post-holes

Strange for just the three of us to be spaced along this exposed earthwork digging the holes for crosses just before Easter. Then I found a fragment of Black Burnished ware bead rim bowl within my post-hole. 2000 years old..contemporary with the crucifixion of the person who changed the world.

At that time, this Iron Age hillfort was probably still occupied…just a few years before the Roman Conquest. Perhaps the first christian arrived with the legions.

My post-hole where I found the fragment of bead-rim bowl.

My post-hole where I found the fragment of bead-rim bowl.

200 years before my visit, the Rev Skinner a renowned Somerset antiquarian and also curate of South Brent church had walked up to the top and wrote this in his diary on July 20th 1812
“after breakfast we took a pick-axe and shovel and climbed the Knoll in order to dig within the entrenchment; in the course of a few minutes Mr Phelps and his brother, my companions, collected a good many pieces of the coarse Roman pottery…I understand that a good many coins have been found here…The ground at present is very unequal within the vallum having been turned up by the quarrymen, who without doubt removed the foundations of the buildings and walls”

The quarried interior of the hillfort. There are only a few islands of stratified archaeology left.

The quarried interior of the hillfort. There are only a few islands of stratified archaeology left.

Within the hillfort, much of the archaeology has been removed in the past because of the extent of the quarrying Rev Skinner described. Quite an ornate late Roman building once stood here. Perhaps a temple. Many Somerset hillforts were re-occupied after the Romans left in the 5th century and there may be evidence for this fortification to hold back the Saxon advance.

We walked around the edge of the hillfort and found the slit trenches dug by Brent’s home guard during WWII. Then we took one last panoramic scan of the beautiful Somerset countryside and bumped down the hill in the landrover.

2 thoughts on “The Brent Knoll Crosses

  1. Pingback: West Mendip Wander | Olly Writes

  2. Pingback: About Walking | Olly Writes

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