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[The Book of the British Countryside] Abbey

May 30, 2015


Abbey Barn and Abbey Farm in Yeovil. Built c.1420, but not a real abbey

Abbey Barn and Abbey Farm in Yeovil. Built c.1420, but not a real abbey

I don’t remember my first encounter with an abbey. Sherborne Abbey and Glastonbury Abbey are close to where I grew up, so it seems likely it was one of those. Yeovil has an Abbey Manor, an Abbot’s Mead, and an Abbey Farm, but there was never actually an abbey there (somewhere years ago I read that Abbey Farm had belonged to the Priory of Bermondsey – I forget my source, but I don’t think this is correct) .

As an archaeologist, my experience of abbeys has been quite limited. Not quite an abbey, which were large and powerful religious houses ruled by an abbot who was answerable only to the Pope (and perhaps a higher authority), there was a Carmelite friary on the site of the Colston Hall in Bristol, which I worked on as an excavator before the new theatre foyer was built. The late medieval landscape of Bristol between the Bearpit roundabout and the cathedral was dominated by religious houses. Traces are still there to be seen, most obviously the cathedral itself and St James’s Church by the bus station, but if you peer through gates between the two it is possible to catch occasional glimpses of an older cityscape. I find it quite hard to peel away the modern geography and visualise this monastic city.  There was also a convent in Clifton, rich in burials, where the wet red clay stained me and everything I touched a rich orange, so much so that a friend who passed me in town after work one day complimented me on my fantastic tan.

Most recently, and possibly coming full circle, earlier this year I worked on a shellfish assemblage from the Abbot’s Kitchen at Glastonbury Abbey (one of the most powerful abbeys) – dominated by oysters and whelks. That report is now online, and can be read here

Fragment of brown crab (Cancer pagarus) shell from Glastonbury Abbey

Fragment of brown crab (Cancer pagurus) shell from Glastonbury Abbey


[The Book of the British Countryside, first published by Drive Publications, the publishing arm of the Automobile Association in 1973, was a popular volume in 1980s Britain. It was essentially an encyclopedia that covered topics like geology, botany, zoology, archaeology, rural architecture and farming practices in an accessible style. I loved my parents’ copy, so much so that it has lost its cover, and still consult it after a day walking. It was a huge influence on me growing up. I am attempting a series of posts about my personal reflections on the entries in the book. I don’t honestly have very much to say about “Acacia” or “Aconite, Winter”, which are the other two entries on the first page. I did see two false acacia trees in bloom today though. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a winter aconite though.]

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