Arthurian Romances

The World Pertaining to King Arthur


Knights of the Round Table

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Population 8,784 [1]
OS grid reference ST501390
District Mendip
Shire county Somerset
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district BA6
Dialling code 01458
Police Avon and Somerset
Fire Devon and Somerset
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament Wells
List of places: UK • England • Somerset
Glastonbury is a small town in Somerset, England, situated at a dry point on the low lying Somerset Levels, 30 miles (48 km) south of Bristol. The town, which is in the Mendip district, had a population of 8,784 in the 2001 census.[1] Glastonbury is less than 1 mile (2 km) across the River Brue from the village of Street.

Evidence from timber trackways such as the Sweet Track show that the town has been inhabited since Neolithic times. Glastonbury Lake Village was an Iron Age village, close to the old course of the River Brue and Sharpham Park approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Glastonbury, dates back to the Bronze Age. Centwine was the first Saxon patron of Glastonbury Abbey, which dominated the town for the next 700 years. One of the most important abbeys in England, it was the site of Edmund Ironside’s coronation as King of England in 1016. Many of the oldest surviving buildings in the town, including the Tribunal, George Hotel and Pilgrims’ Inn and the Somerset Rural Life Museum, which is based in an old tithe barn, are associated with the abbey. The Church of St John the Baptist dates from the 15th century.

The town became a centre for commerce, which led to the construction of the market cross, Glastonbury Canal and the Glastonbury and Street railway station, the largest station on the original Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway. The Brue Valley Living Landscape is a conservation project managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust and nearby is the Ham Wall National Nature Reserve.

Glastonbury has been described as a New Age community which attracts people with New Age beliefs, and is notable for myths and legends often related to Glastonbury Tor, concerning Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail and King Arthur. In some Arthurian literature Glastonbury is identified with the legendary island of Avalon. Joseph is said to have arrived in Glastonbury and stuck his staff into the ground, when it flowered miraculously into the Glastonbury Thorn. The presence of a landscape zodiac around the town has been suggested, along with a collection of ley lines, but no evidence has been discovered. Glastonbury Festival takes its name from the town but is actually held in the nearby village of Pilton.


During the 7th millennium BC the sea level rose and flooded the valleys and low lying ground surrounding Glastonbury so the Mesolithic people occupied seasonal camps on the higher ground, indicated by scatters of flints.[2] The Neolithic people continued to exploit the reedswamps for their natural resources and started to construct wooden trackways. These included the Sweet Track, west of Glastonbury, which is one of the oldest engineered roads known and was the oldest timber trackway discovered in Northern Europe, until the 2009 discovery of a 6,000 year-old trackway in Belmarsh Prison.[3] Tree-ring dating (dendrochronology) of the timbers has enabled very precise dating of the track, showing it was built in 3807 or 3806 BC.[4] It has been claimed to be the oldest road in the world.[5] The track was discovered in the course of peat digging in 1970, and is named after its discoverer, Ray Sweet.[6] It extended across the marsh between what was then an island at Westhay, and a ridge of high ground at Shapwick, a distance close to 2,000 metres (1.2 mi). The track is one of a network of tracks that once crossed the Somerset Levels. Built in the 39th century BC,[5] during the Neolithic period, the track consisted of crossed poles of ash, oak and lime (Tilia) which were driven into the waterlogged soil to support a walkway that mainly consisted of oak planks laid end-to-end. Since the discovery of the Sweet Track, it has been determined that it was built along the route of an even earlier track, the Post Track, dating from 3838 BC and so 30 years older.[7]

Magdelene Chapel
Glastonbury Lake Village was an Iron Age village, close to the old course of the River Brue, on the Somerset Levels near Godney, some 3 miles (5 km) north west of Glastonbury. It covers an area of 400 feet (122 m) north to south by 300 feet (91 m) east to west,[8] and housed around 100 people in five to seven groups of houses, each for an extended family, with sheds and barns, made of hazel and willow covered with reeds, and surrounded either permanently or at certain times by a wooden palisade. The village was built in about 300 BC and occupied into the early Roman period (around 100AD) when it was abandoned, possibly due to a rise in the water level.[9] It was built on a morass on an artificial foundation of timber filled with brushwood, bracken, rubble and clay.[10]

Sharpham Park is a 300-acre (1.2 km2) historic park, 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Glastonbury, which dates back to the Bronze Age.

Middle Ages
The origin of the name Glastonbury is unclear but when the settlement is first recorded in the 7th and the early 8th century, it was called Glestingaburg.[11] The burg element is Anglo-Saxon and could refer either to a fortified place such as a burh or, more likely, a monastic enclosure, however the Glestinga element is obscure, and may derive from an Old English word or from a Saxon or Celtic personal name.[12]

William of Malmesbury in his De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie gives the Old Celtic Ineswitrin (or Ynys Witrin) as its earliest name,[13] and asserts that the founder of the town was the eponymous Glast, a descendant of Cunedda.[11]

Centwine (676–685) was the first Saxon patron of Glastonbury Abbey.[14] In 1016 Edmund Ironside was crowned king at Glastonbury.[15] After his death later that year he was buried at the abbey.[16] To the southwest of the town centre is Beckery, which was once a village in its own right but is now part of the suburbs. Around the 7th and 8th centuries it was occupied by a small monastic community associated with a cemetery.[17][18]

Sharpham Park was granted by King Eadwig to the then abbot Æthelwold in 957. In 1191 Sharpham Park was conferred by the soon-to-be King John I to the Abbots of Glastonbury, who remained in possession of the park and house until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. From 1539 to 1707 the park was owned by the Duke of Somerset, Sir Edward Seymour, brother of Queen Jane; the Thynne family of Longleat, and the family of Sir Henry Gould. Edward Dyer was born here in 1543. The house is now a private residence and Grade II* listed building.[19] It was the birthplace of Sir Edward Dyer (died 1607) an Elizabethan poet and courtier, the writer Henry Fielding (1707–54), and the cleric William Gould.

In the 1070s St Margaret’s Chapel was built on Magdelene Street, originally as a hospital and later as almshouses for the poor. The building dates from 1444.[20] The roof of the hall is thought to have been removed after the Dissolution, and some of the building was demolished in the 1960s. It is Grade II* listed,[21] and a Scheduled ancient monument.[22] In 2010 plans were announced to restore the building.[23]

17th-century engraving of Glastonbury
During the Middle Ages the town largely depended on the abbey but was also a centre for the wool trade until the 18th century. A Saxon-era canal connected the abbey to the River Brue.[12] Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, was executed with two of his monks on 15 November 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries.[24]

During the Second Cornish Uprising of 1497 Perkin Warbeck surrendered when he heard that Giles, Lord Daubeney’s troops, loyal to Henry VII were camped at Glastonbury.[25]

Early modern
In 1693 Glastonbury, Connecticut was founded and named after the English town from which some of the settlers had emigrated. It was originally called “Glistening Town” until the mid-19th century when it was changed in line with Glastonbury, England. A representation of the Glastonbury thorn is incorporated onto the town seal.[26]

The Somerset towns charter of incorporation was received in 1705.[12] Growth in the trade and economy largely depended on the drainage of the surrounding moors. The opening of the Glastonbury Canal produced an upturn in trade, and encouraged local building.[12]

Modern history
By the middle of the 18th century the Glastonbury Canal drainage problems and competition from the new railways caused a decline in trade, and the town’s economy became depressed.[12] The canal was closed on 1 July 1854, and the lock and aqueducts on the upper section were dismantled. The railway opened on 17 August 1854.[27] The lower sections of the canal were given to the Commissioners for Sewers,[28] for use as a drainage ditch. The final section was retained to provide a wharf for the railway company, which was used until 1936, when it passed to the Commissioners of Sewers and was filled in.[27] The Central Somerset Railway merged with the Dorset Central Railway to become the Somerset and Dorset Railway.[29] The main line to Glastonbury closed in 1966.[27]

In the Northover district industrial production of sheepskins, woollen slippers and, later, boots and shoes,[30] developed in conjunction with the growth of C&J Clark in Street. Clarks still has its headquarters in Street, but shoes are no longer manufactured there. Instead, in 1993, redundant factory buildings were converted to form Clarks Village, the first purpose-built factory outlet in the United Kingdom.[31]

During the 19th and 20th centuries tourism developed based on the rise of antiquarianism, the association with the abbey and mysticism of the town.[32] This was aided by accessibility via the rail and road network, which has continued to support the town’s economy and led to a steady rise in resident population since 1801.[12]

Glastonbury received national media coverage in 1999 when cannabis plants were found in the town’s floral displays.[33][34]

Mythology and legends

Holy Thorn, summer 1984. Died in 1991.
Glastonbury is notable for myths and legends concerning Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail and King Arthur. The legend that Joseph of Arimathea retrieved certain holy relics was introduced by the French poet Robert de Boron in his 13th-century version of the grail story, thought to have been a trilogy though only fragments of the later books survive today. The work became the inspiration for the later Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian tales.[35]

De Boron’s account relates how Joseph captured Jesus’ blood in a cup (the “Holy Grail”) which was subsequently brought to Britain. The Vulgate Cycle reworked Boron’s original tale. Joseph of Arimathea was no longer the chief character in the Grail origin: Joseph’s son, Josephus, took over his role of the Grail keeper.[36] The earliest versions of the grail romance, however, do not call the grail “holy” or mention anything about blood, Joseph or Glastonbury.

History of Christianity
in England
Anglican Communion
Roman Catholic Church
in England and Wales
Calendar of saints
(Church of England)
Joseph of Arimathea
Legend of Christ in Britain
Christianity in Roman Britain
Anglo-Saxon Christianity
Wars of the Three Kingdoms
Dissolution of the Monasteries
English Reformation
Marian Persecutions
Oxford Martyrs
Puritanism and the Restoration
English Civil War
18th Century Church of England
19th Century Church of England
Catholic Emancipation
Church of England (Recent)
In 1191, monks at the abbey claimed to have found the graves of Arthur and Guinevere to the south of the Lady Chapel of the Abbey Church, which was visited by a number of contemporary historians including Giraldus Cambrensis.[37] The remains were later moved and were lost during the Reformation. Many scholars suspect that this discovery was a pious forgery to substantiate the antiquity of Glastonbury’s foundation, and increase its renown.[38]

In some Arthurian literature Glastonbury is identified with the legendary island of Avalon. An early Welsh poem links Arthur to the Tor in an account of a confrontation between Arthur and Melwas, who had kidnapped Queen Guinevere.[39] According to some versions of the Arthurian legend, Lancelot retreated to Glastonbury Abbey in penance following Arthur’s death.[40]

Remains of St. Michael’s Church at the summit of Glastonbury Tor
Joseph is said to have arrived in Glastonbury by boat over the flooded Somerset Levels. On disembarking he stuck his staff into the ground and it flowered miraculously into the Glastonbury Thorn (or Holy Thorn). This is said to explain a hybrid Crataegus monogyna (hawthorn) tree that only grows within a few miles of Glastonbury, and which flowers twice annually, once in spring and again around Christmas time (depending on the weather). Each year a sprig of thorn is cut, by the local Anglican vicar and the eldest child from St John’s School, and sent to the Queen.[41]

The original Holy Thorn was a centre of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages but was chopped down during the English Civil War.[42] A replacement thorn was planted in the 20th century on Wearyall hill (originally in 1951 to mark the Festival of Britain; but the thorn had to be replanted the following year as the first attempt did not take).[43] Many other examples of the thorn grow throughout Glastonbury including those in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey, St Johns Church and Chalice Well.

Today Glastonbury Abbey presents itself as “traditionally the oldest above-ground Christian church in the world,” which according to the legend was built at Joseph’s behest to house the Holy Grail, 65 or so years after the death of Jesus.[44] The legend also says that as a child, Joseph had visited Glastonbury along with Jesus. The legend probably was encouraged during the medieval period when religious relics and pilgrimages were profitable business for abbeys. William Blake mentioned the legend in a poem that became a popular hymn, “Jerusalem” (see And did those feet in ancient time).[45]

In 1935 Katherine Maltwood suggested a landscape zodiac, a map of the stars on a gigantic scale, formed by features in the landscape such as roads, streams and field boundaries, could be found situated around Glastonbury. She held that the “temple” was created by Sumerians about 2700 BC. The idea of a prehistoric landscape zodiac fell into disrepute when two independent studies examined the Glastonbury Zodiac in 1983; one by Ian Burrow and the other by Tom Williamson and Liz Bellamy. These both used standard methods of landscape historical research. Both studies concluded that the evidence contradicted the idea of an ancient zodiac. The eye of Capricorn identified by Maltwood was a haystack. The western wing of the Aquarius phoenix was a road laid in 1782 to run around Glastonbury, and older maps dating back to the 1620s show the road had no predecessors. The Cancer boat (not a crab as in conventional western astrology) consists of a network of 18th-century drainage ditches and paths. There are some Neolithic paths preserved in the peat of the bog formerly comprising most of the area, but none of the known paths match the lines of the zodiac features. There is no support for this theory, or for the existence of the “temple” in any form, from conventional archaeologists.[46] Glastonbury is also said to be the centre of several ley lines.[47]

Governance and public services

The Town Hall
The town council is made up of 12 members,[48] and is based at the Town Hall, Magdalene Street. The town hall was built in 1818 and has a two-storey late Georgian ashlar front. It is a Grade II* listed building.[49]

Glastonbury is in the local government district of Mendip, which is part of the county of Somerset. It was previously administered by Glastonbury Municipal Borough.[50] The Mendip district council is responsible for local planning and building control, local roads, council housing, environmental health, markets and fairs, refuse collection and recycling, cemeteries and crematoria, leisure services, parks, and tourism. Somerset County Council is responsible for running the largest and most expensive local services such as education, social services, the library, road maintenance, trading standards, waste disposal and strategic planning.
The town’s retained fire station is operated by Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service,[51] whilst police and ambulance services are provided by Avon and Somerset Constabulary and the South Western Ambulance Service. There are two doctors’ surgeries in Glastonbury,[52] and a National Health Service community hospital operated by Somerset Primary Care Trust which opened in 2005.[53]

Glastonbury falls within the Wells constituency, represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament (MP) by the first past the post system of election. The Member of Parliament is Tessa Munt of the Liberal Democrats.[54] It is within the South West England (European Parliament constituency), which elects six MEPs using the d’Hondt method of party-list proportional representation.

Glastonbury is twinned with the Greek island of Patmos,[55] and Lalibela, Ethiopia.[56]


Street and Glastonbury Tor viewed from Walton Hill
The walk up the Tor to the distinctive tower at the summit (the partially restored remains of an old church) is rewarded by vistas of the mid-Somerset area, including the Levels which are drained marshland. From there, on a dry point, 158 metres (518 ft) above sea level,[57] it is easy to appreciate how Glastonbury was once an island and, in the winter, the surrounding moors are often flooded, giving that appearance once more. It is an agricultural region typically with open fields of permanent grass, surrounded by ditches with willow trees. Access to the moors and Levels is by “droves”, i.e., green lanes. The Levels and inland moors can be 6 metres (20 ft) below peak tides and have large areas of peat. The low lying areas are underlain by much older Triassic age formations of Upper Lias sand that protrude to form what would once have been islands and include Glastonbury Tor.[58][59] The lowland landscape was formed only during the last 10,000 years, following the end of the last ice age.[60]

The low lying damp ground can produce a visual effect known as a Fata Morgana. This optical phenomenon occurs because rays of light are strongly bent when they pass through air layers of different temperatures in a steep thermal inversion where an atmospheric duct has formed.[61] The Italian name Fata Morgana is derived from the name of Morgan le Fay, who was alternatively known as Morgane, Morgain, Morgana and other variants. Morgan le Fay was described as a powerful sorceress and antagonist of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in the Arthurian legend.

Glastonbury is less than 1 mile (2 km) across the River Brue from the village of Street. At the time of King Arthur the Brue formed a lake just south of the hilly ground on which Glastonbury stands. This lake is one of the locations suggested by Arthurian legend as the home of the Lady of the Lake. Pomparles Bridge stood at the western end of this lake, guarding Glastonbury from the south, and it is suggested that it was here that Sir Bedivere threw Excalibur into the waters after King Arthur fell at the Battle of Camlann.[62] The old bridge was replaced by a reinforced concrete arch bridge in 1911.[63]

Until the 13th century, the direct route to the sea at Highbridge was prevented by gravel banks and peat near Westhay.[64] The course of the river partially encircled Glastonbury from the south, around the western side (through Beckery), and then north through the Panborough-Bleadney gap in the Wedmore-Wookey Hills, to join the River Axe just north of Bleadney. This route made it difficult for the officials of Glastonbury Abbey to transport produce from their outlying estates to the abbey, and when the valley of the River Axe was in flood it backed up to flood Glastonbury itself. Some time between 1230 and 1250 a new channel was constructed westwards into Meare Pool north of Meare, and further westwards to Mark Moor. The Brue Valley Living Landscape is a conservation project based on the Somerset Levels and Moors and managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust.[65] The project commenced in January 2009 and aims to restore, recreate and reconnect habitat, ensuring that wildlife is enhanced and capable of sustaining itself in the face of climate change, while guaranteeing farmers and other landowners can continue to use their land profitably.[65] It is one of an increasing number of landscape scale conservation projects in the UK.[66][67]

The town centre in summer 2010
The Ham Wall National Nature Reserve, 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) west of Glastonbury, is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.[68][69] This new wetland habitat has been established from out peat diggings and now consists of areas of reedbed, wet scrub, open water and peripheral grassland and woodland. Bird species living on the site include the Bearded Tit and the Bittern.[70]

The Whitelake River rises between two low limestone ridges to the north of Glastonbury, part of the southern edge of the Mendip Hills. The confluence of the two small streams that make the Whitelake River is on Worthy Farm, the site of the Glastonbury Festival, between the small villages of Pilton and Pylle.


Glastonbury has a temperate climate that is generally wetter and milder than the rest of the country. The annual mean temperature is approximately 10 °C (50.0 °F) and shows a seasonal and a diurnal variation, but because of the modifying effect of the sea the range is less than in most other parts of the UK. January is the coldest month with mean minimum temperatures between 1 °C (33.8 °F) and 2 °C (35.6 °F). July and August are the warmest months, with mean daily maxima around 21 °C (69.8 °F).[71]

The southwest of England has a favoured location with respect to the Azores high pressure when it extends its influence northeastwards towards the UK, particularly in summer. Convective cloud often forms inland however, especially near hills, reducing the number of hours of sunshine. The average annual sunshine totals around 1,600 hours.[71]

Rainfall tends to be associated with Atlantic depressions or with convection. The Atlantic depressions are more vigorous in autumn and winter and most of the rain which falls in those seasons in the southwest is from this source. Average rainfall is about 725 millimetres (28.5 in). November to March have the highest mean wind speeds, and June to August have the lightest winds. The predominant wind direction is from the southwest.[71]

The High Street
Glastonbury is a centre for religious tourism and pilgrimage. As with many towns of similar size, the centre is not as thriving as it once was but Glastonbury supports a large number of alternative shops.

The outskirts of the town contain a DIY shop a former sheepskin and slipper factory site, once owned by Morlands, which is slowly being redevoped. The 31-acre (13 ha) site of the old Morlands factory was scheduled for demolition and redevelopment into a new light industrial park,[72][73] although there have been some protests that the buildings should be reused rather than being demolished. As part of the redevelopment of the site a project has been established by the Glastonbury Community Development Trust to provide support for local unemployed people applying for employment, starting in self-employment and accessing work-related training.[74]


The Tribunal was a medieval merchant’s house, used as the Abbey courthouse and, during the Monmouth Rebellion trials, by Judge Jeffreys.[75] It now serves as a museum containing possessions and works of art from the Glastonbury Lake Village which were preserved in almost perfect condition in the peat after the village was abandoned. The museum is run by the Glastonbury Antiquarian Society.[76] The building also houses the tourist information centre.[77]

George Hotel and Pilgrims’ Inn
The octagonal Market Cross was built in 1846 by Benjamin Ferrey.[78]

The George Hotel and Pilgrims’ Inn was built in the late 15th century to accommodate visitors to Glastonbury Abbey, which is open to visitors. It has been designated as a Grade I listed building.[79] The front of the 3-storey building is divided into 3 tiers of panels with traceried heads. Above these are 3 carved panels with arms of the Abbey and Edward IV.[79]

The Somerset Rural Life Museum is a museum of the social and agricultural history of Somerset, housed in buildings surrounding a 14th-century barn once belonging to Glastonbury Abbey. It was used for the storage of arable produce, particularly wheat and rye, from the abbey’s home farm of approximately 524 acres (2.12 km2). Threshing and winnowing would also have been carried out in the barn, which was built from local “shelly” limestone with thick timbers supporting the stone tiling of the roof. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building, and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.[80]

Cover of the Chalice Well
The Chalice Well is a holy well at the foot of the Tor, covered by a wooden well-cover with wrought-iron decoration made in 1919. The natural spring has been in almost constant use for at least two thousand years. Water issues from the spring at a rate of 25,000 imperial gallons (110,000 l; 30,000 US gal) per day and has never failed, even during drought. Iron oxide deposits give the water a reddish hue, as dissolved ferrous oxide becomes oxygenated at the surface and is precipitated, providing chalybeate waters. As with the hot springs in nearby Bath, the water is believed to possess healing qualities. The well is about 9 feet (2.7 m) deep, with two underground chambers at its bottom.[81] It is often portrayed as a symbol of the female aspect of deity, with the male symbolised by Glastonbury Tor. As such, it is a popular destination for pilgrims in search of the divine feminine, including modern Pagans. The well is however popular with all faiths and in 2001 became a World Peace Garden.[82]


Glastonbury Tor from Street
The Glastonbury Canal ran just over 14 miles (23 km) through two locks from Glastonbury to Highbridge where it entered the Bristol Channel in the early 19th century,[83] but it became uneconomic with the arrival of the railway in the 1840s.[84]

Glastonbury and Street railway station was the biggest station on the original Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway main line from Highbridge to Evercreech Junction until closed in 1966 under the Beeching axe. Opened in 1854 as Glastonbury, and renamed in 1886, it had three platforms, two for Evercreech to Highbridge services and one for the branch service to Wells. The station had a large goods yard controlled from a signal box.[85] The site is now a timber yard for a local company. Replica level crossing gates have been placed at the entrance.[86]

The main road in the town is the A39 which passes through Glastonbury from Wells connecting the town with Street and the M5 motorway. The other roads around the town are small and run across the levels generally following the drainage ditches. Local bus services are provided by Badgerline, Nippy Bus, National Express and local community groups.[87]


There are several infant and primary schools in Glastonbury and the surrounding villages. Secondary education is provided by St Dunstan’s Community School. As of 2009, the school had 639 students between the ages of 11 and 16 years.[88] It is named after St. Dunstan, an abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, who went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury in 960 AD. The school was built in 1958 with major building work, at a cost of £1.2 million, in 1998, adding the science block and the sports hall. It was designated as a specialist Arts College in 2004, and the £800,000 spent at this time paid for the Performing Arts studio and facilities to support students with special educational needs.[89]

Strode College in Street provides academic and vocational courses for those aged 16–18 and adult education. A tertiary institution and further education college, most of the courses it offers are A-levels or Business and Technology Education Councils (BTECs). The college also provides some university-level courses,[90] and is part of The University of Plymouth Colleges network.

Religious sites

Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey
Glastonbury may have been a site of religious importance in pre-Christian times.[91] The abbey was founded by Britons, and dates to at least the early 7th century, although later medieval Christian legend claimed that the abbey was founded by Joseph of Arimathea in the 1st century. This fanciful legend is intimately tied to Robert de Boron’s version of the Holy Grail story and to Glastonbury’s connection to King Arthur, which dates at least to the early 12th century.[92] Glastonbury fell into Saxon hands after the Battle of Peonnum in 658. King Ine of Wessex enriched the endowment of the community of monks already established at Glastonbury. He is said to have directed that a stone church be built in 712. The Abbey Church was enlarged in the 10th century by the Abbot of Glastonbury, Saint Dunstan, the central figure in the 10th-century revival of English monastic life. He instituted the Benedictine Rule at Glastonbury and built new cloisters. Dunstan became Archbishop of Canterbury in 960. In 1184, a great fire at Glastonbury destroyed the monastic buildings. Reconstruction began almost immediately and the Lady Chapel, which includes the well, was consecrated in 1186.[93]

Church of St John the Baptist
The abbey had a violent end during the Dissolution and the buildings were progressively destroyed as their stones were removed for use in local building work. The remains of the Abbot’s Kitchen (a grade I listed building.[94]) and the Lady Chapel are particularly well-preserved set in 36 acres (150,000 m2) of parkland. It is approached by the Abbey Gatehouse which was built in the mid-14th century and completely restored in 1810.[95]

The Church of St Benedict was rebuilt by Abbot Richard Beere in about 1520.[96]

The Church of St John the Baptist dates from the 15th century and has been designated as a Grade I listed building.[97] The church is laid out in a cruciform plan with an aisled nave and a clerestorey of seven bays. The west tower has elaborate buttressing, panelling and battlements. The interior of the church includes four 15th-century tomb-chests, some 15th-century stained glass in the chancel, medieval vestments, and a domestic cupboard of about 1500 which was once at Witham Charterhouse.[98]

The United Reformed Church on the High Street was built in 1814 and altered in 1898. It stands on the site of the Ship Inn where meetings were held during the 18th century. It is Grade II listed.[99]

The Glastonbury Goddess Temple was founded in 2002 and registered as a place of worship the following year. It is self-described as the first temple of its kind to exist in Europe in over a thousand years.[100][101]


Tor Leisure Ground home of Glastonbury Cricket Club
The local football side is Glastonbury Town F.C.. They joined the Western Football League Division Two as Glastonbury in 1919 and won the Western Football League title three times in their history.[102] They changed their name to Glastonbury Town in 2003. For the 2010–11 season, they are members of the Somerset County Football League Premier Division.[103]

Glastonbury Cricket Club competes in the West of England Premier League, one of the ECB Premier Leagues, the highest level of recreational cricket in England and Wales.[104] The club plays at the Tor Leisure Ground, which used to stage Somerset County Cricket Club first-class fixtures.


Glastonbury has been described as a New Age community where communities have grown up to include people with New Age beliefs.[105][106]

In a 1904 novel by Charles Whistler entitled A Prince of Cornwall Glastonbury in the days of Ine of Wessex is portrayed. It is also a setting in the Warlord Chronicles a trilogy of books about Arthurian Britain written by Bernard Cornwell.[107] Modern fiction has also used Glastonbury as a setting including The Age of Misrule series of books by Mark Chadbourn in which the Watchmen appear, a group selected from Anglican priests in and around Glastonbury to safeguard knowledge of a gate to the Otherworld on top of Glastonbury Tor.[108]

The first Glastonbury Festivals were a series of cultural events held in summer, from 1914 to 1926. The festivals were founded by English socialist composer Rutland Boughton and his librettist Lawrence Buckley.[109] Apart from the founding of a national theatre, they envisaged a summer school and music festival based on utopian principles.[110] With strong Arthurian connections and historic and prehistoric associations, Glastonbury was chosen to host the festivals.

There is little link, beyond the name, between the festivals and the modern Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts, founded in 1970 which is now the largest open-air music and performing arts festival in the world. Although it is named for Glastonbury it is held at Worthy Farm between the small villages of Pilton and Pylle, 6 miles (9.7 km) east of the town of Glastonbury.[111] The festival is best known for its contemporary music, but also features dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret and many other arts. For 2005, the enclosed area of the festival was over 900 acres (3.6 km²), had over 385 live performances and was attended by around 150,000 people. In 2007, over 700 acts played on over 80 stages[112] and the capacity expanded by 20,000 to 177,000.[113] The festival has spawned a range of other work including the 1972 film Glastonbury Fayre[114] and album, 1996 film Glastonbury the Movie[115] and the 2005 DVD Glastonbury Anthems.[116]

The Children’s World charity grew out of the festival and is based in the town. It is known internationally (as Children’s World International). It was set up by Arabella Churchill in 1981 to provide drama participation and creative play and to work creatively in educational settings, providing social and emotional benefits for all children, particularly those with special needs.[117] Children’s World International is the sister charity of Children’s World and was started in 1999 to work with children in the Balkans, in conjunction with Balkan Sunflowers and Save the Children. They also run the Glastonbury Children’s Festival each August.[118]

Glastonbury is one of the venues for the annual West Country Carnival.[119]

Notable people

Glastonbury has been the birthplace or home to many notable people. Peter King, 1st Baron King was the recorder of Glastonbury in 1705.[120] Thomas Bramwell Welch the discoverer of the pasteurisation process to prevent the fermentation of grape juice was born in Glastonbury in 1825.[121] The judge John Creighton represented Lunenburg County in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly from 1770 to 1775.[122] The fossil collector Thomas Hawkins lived in the town during the 19th century.[123]

The religious connections and mythology of the town have also attracted several authors. The occultist and writer Dion Fortune (Violet Mary Firth) lived and is buried in Glastonbury.[124] Her old house is now home to the writer and historian Geoffrey Ashe, who is known for his works on local legends. Frederick Bligh Bond, archaeologist and writer.[125] Eckhart Tolle, a German-born writer, public speaker, and spiritual teacher lived in Glastonbury during the 1980s.[126] Eileen Caddy was at a sanctuary in Glastonbury when she first claimed to have heard the “voice of God” while meditating. Her subsequent instructions from the “voice” directed her to take on Sheena Govan has her spiritual teacher,[127][128][129][130] and became a spiritual teacher and new age author, best known as one of the founders of the Findhorn Foundation community. Sally Morningstar a Wiccan High Priestess and the author of at least twenty-six books on magic, astrology, Ayurveda, Wicca, divination and spirituality teaches Hedge Witchcraft and Natural Magic in Glastonbury,[131] and lives in Somerset.

Popular entertainment and literature is also represented amongst the population. Rutland Boughton moved from Birmingham to Glastonbury in 1911 and established the country’s first national annual summer school of music.[132] Gary Stringer, lead singer of Reef, was a local along with other members of the band,[133] as are the band Flipron.[134] The juggler Haggis McLeod and his late wife, Arabella Churchill one of the founders of the Glastonbury Festival lived in the town.[135] The author and dramatist Nell Leyshon and she has set much of her work in the local area.[136] Sarah Fielding, the 18th-century author and sister of the novelist Henry Fielding, lived in the town.[137] Michael Aldridge a character actor who appeared as Seymour in the television series Last of the Summer Wine was born in Glastonbury.[138] The conductor Charles Hazlewood lives locally and hosts the “Play the Field” music festival on his farm nearby.[139] Bill Bunbury moved on from Glastonbury to become a writer, radio broadcaster, and producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.[140]
Athletes and sports players have also been resident. Cricketers born in the town include Cyril Baily in 1880,[141] George Burrough in 1907,[142] and Eustace Bisgood in 1878.[143] The footballer Peter Spiring was born in Glastonbury in 1950.[144]


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The Baltic Region

The Baltic Region

The Court of King Arthur: Merchant Guild or Proto-Medievalists?

By Ásfríðr Ulfvíðardóttir

Original article appeared in issue 55 of Slovo: The Newsletter of the Slavic Interest Group. Revised and Updated.

It is likely, if you are reading this, that you are a person interested in history. You may even be the sort of person who may take part on the occasional weekend, or longer, at ‘living-history’ events like Medieval Week in Sweden on Gotland, or the broad-focused Pennsic War in Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
People have been taking part in activities designed to capture the essence of a particular time period for a very long time. One such example is from the middle ages itself, aiming to recreate the legendary Court of King Arthur.

Even in the 14th century, the desire to re-live a ‘golden age’ of high culture and the chivalric ideal, was an attractive idea. The merchant class in Danzig (Gdańsk), Poland, were no exception to this siren song, and the mercantile Brotherhood of St. George built their very own Court (Wallace, 2007). Centred on Poland, and spreading throughout the Hanseatic trade routes of the Baltics, similar courts appeared in Riga, Elbląg, Rewal (Tallinn), Brunsberg (Braniewo), Thorn (Toruń), Culm (Chełmno), and Stralsund (Schlauch, 1959). These buildings were named in honour of the mythical king and his round table as the Court of King Arthur, (German: Artushof, Latin: Curia Regis Artus, Polish: Dwór Artusa), and the Gdańsk building still stands to this day.

A Late 19th/early 20th colour lithograph of the building in Gdańsk.
Source: Wikimedia.

It is fallacious, however, to draw parallels between modern re-creation groups, striving to reproduce an idealized time, and those first faltering steps of the Artushöfe. Arthur was seen as the epitome of knightly virtues and chivalry; his round table was a symbol of equality and partnership amongst the brotherhood. A rose-tinted view of an idealized period draws parallels with the modern-day complaint from some historians that modern recreations use small groups of individuals dressed and acting in a manner too similar and high-class to accurately portray society (eg. Dawson, 1999 and 2001). While the Court is rememberted today as a place of feasting, jousting tornaments, dancing and frivolity (Gdańsk History Museum, 2009), at the time it was likely to have been perceived as an aristocratic club, combining feudal ceremonies, a religious benevolent society and banking. Although the courts were a major source of ‘social contacts between and amongst locals and foreigners’ (Graf and Gelderblom, 2009) they also acted as a way of keeping the German-speaking merchant class culturally homogenous, as they were a major social outlet where one had to abide by societal norms (Schlauch, 1959).

A modern photo of inside the Court in Gdańsk. The interior dates to the 18th century (Gdańsk History Museum, 2009).
Click on image to enlarge.
Source: Wikimedia.

Like the knightly order the merchants were trying to emulate, members of the Brotherhood were held to high standards of ideal behavior. According to an early ‘Artushofordnung’ allegedly from 1300, “quarreling, bad language, commercial malpractices, intimacy with eachothers’ wives and marriage of women with bad reputation” would result in disqualification from the Brotherhood (Schlauch 1959, trans. Simson 1900).

Members of the Artushof were drawn from the merchants and burghers of Polish society (Kmetz, 1994), which may resonate with the decidedly middle-class background of many people involved in re-enactment today (Coles and Armstrong, 2008). However it seems that guests and members of the Brotherhood were also required to be of noble standing (Gdańsk History Museum, 2009), and male. Skilled laborers, hired workers as well as female merchants and craftspeople were excluded from the Brotherhood into the 16th century (Schlauch, 1959).

Annual ceremonies included ‘tournaments held in knightly costumes,’ although if this included historic dress as well as amour seems to be unclear (Schlauch, 1959). Although it is tempting to picture a high-medieval Polish man attempting to dress as a 6th century Saxon from the supposed time of King Arthur, it is highly unlikely that the chivalric activities of the Brotherhood of St. George would be considered to have been a re-enactment of any time period – real or imagined – by any modern observer. It would be impossible to know for certain what a participant in such spectacles thought, too.

Jousting from the 14th century German Manesse Codex.
Source: Wikimedia.

As seductive as it may be to see these members as proto-medievalists, in reality the situation was probably much more ordinary. If anything the court, in day to day activities, was more akin to a gentlemen’s club, known throughout the Baltic trade routes. It is known that food and drink was served at the court daily, excepting Sundays and special occasions, until 10pm (Simson, 1900; Schlauch, 1959). Foreigners visiting from other Hanseatic towns was a frequent occurrence (Schlach, 1959), but for locals it formed part of the daily routine. “For it is the maner in Danswycke [Danzig] that the moste parte of all the merchaunte men have supped at vii. a clocke, and than they goe to Artus gardeyn to drinke and there to take there recreacyon, and sometyme to make bargains with theyr marchandise.” So explains a wife who knows when her lover would be able to visit safely, in the 1560s fictional text The Deceyte of Women (Schlauch, 1959).

It was a place for the merchants to trade and strike deals, disseminate and receive information, and hear announcements from the authorities (Gdańsk History Museum, 2009). The acquisition of money, albeit wrapped in a knightly chivalric guise, is more likely to be the principal aim of the members of the Brotherhood than a modern-day interest in the past.
Sadly, by the late 16th and early 17th centuries, war, disease and turmoil struck Poland, and the Court was not immune. The feasts and frivolity that had marked its existence through the middle ages declined, until the 18th century when it became the Danzig stock exchange (Gdańsk History Museum, 2009).

Yet the Artushof remains to this day an interesting quirk of history, and shows that re-creating and re-enacting elements from an idealised past has been happening for longer than one might think.


Coles, J. and Armstrong, P. 2008. “Living History: Learning Through Re-enactment” 38th Annual SCUTREA Conference, University of Edinborough.
Available online, via the British Education Index at: [PDF]
Last Accessed 19th September, 2009.
Dawson, Timothy. 2001. Questions about re-enactment
Online at:
Last Accessed 25th October, 2009.
Dawson, Timothy. 1999. Beyond Re-enactment: Rescuing History from Recreation
Online at:
Last Accessed 25th October, 2009.
Gdańsk History Museum. 2009. Artus Court
Online at:
Last Accessed 16th September, 2009.
Graf, Regina and Gelderblom, Oscar. April 13. 2009. The Rise, Persistence and Decline of Merchant Guilds: Re-thinking the Comparative Study of Commercial Institutions in Pre-modern Europe Economic History Workshop Yale University.
Available online, via the Past Seminars webpage at: [PDF]
Last Accessed 24th October 2009.
Kmetz, J. 1994. Music in the German Renaissance. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)
Schlauch, M. 1959. King Arthur in the Baltic Towns. Bulletin Bibliographique de la Société Internationale Arthurienne 11: 75-80
Simson, Paul. 1900. Der Artushof in Danzig und seine Brüderschaften, die Banken. Danzig: T. Bertling.
Available online at
Last Accessed 16th September, 2009.
Wallace, D. 2007. “Margery in Gdansk” William Matthews Memorial Lectures, Birkbeck University of London.
Available online at: Last Accessed 16th September, 2009.
©2009, Rebecca Lucas
Photo of Turaida Castle by Maurice
Text: . Images are in the public domain or licensed by their owners. See their Wikimedia links for details.

Cadbury Castle- Arthur’s Camelot?

CADBURY CASTLE: King Arthur’s Camelot?
Excerpted from “The Traveller’s Guide To Arthurian Britain” by Geoffrey Ashe

Cadbury Castle is the best known and most interesting of the reputed sites of Camelot. A hill-fort beside South Cadbury, down a small road which leaves the A303 at Chapel Cross, 1 1/2 miles east of Sparkford.
The road passes through South Cadbury village and, a short distance beyond the church, comes to the foot of the only path up the hill. This is marked by a notice-board. There is a small parking space, and a much larger one farther on. The path climbs gently to a gate in a wall, and then more steeply through woods, till it emerges in she enclosure on top. After rain it is apt to be muddy and slippery.

Cadbury is an isolated hill of limestone and sandstone. The summit is about 500 feet above sea-level, with a wide view of central Somerset, including the Tor at Glastonbury 12 miles away, and, in clear weather, Brent Knoll beyond. It has four lines of bank-and-ditch defence. For most of the way round they are densely wooded, and, in spring, full of bluebells and primroses. Wherever the trees have grown, as they have in the place where the path goes up, the banks have crumbled and lost shape. But towards their south-east bend – reached by turning left when you enter the enclosure – they come out into the open, and you can look down and see them as they once were all round the hill, a formidable system. They surround a defended area of l 8 acres, rising to a long, level central plateau. A break at the south-west above another village, Sutton Montis, is the original gateway.

The first known author to refer to Cadbury as Camelot is John Leland in 1542. He says: “At the very south end of the church of South-Cadbyri standeth Camallate, sometime a famous town or castle . . . The people can tell nothing there but that they have heard Arthur much resorted to Camalat.” Skeptics have argued that there was no real local tradition, or perhaps a vague tradition of Arthur only, and that the evocative name is a guess of Leland’s prompted by the villages of Queen Camel and West Camel not far away. Yet he speaks of Camelot without any discussion as a recognized fact, and his spelling with an a instead of o in the last syllable may echo a local pronunciation. This can be heard today; the a is sounded as in “father”. It may have some bearing on the case that the first printed edition of a work by the classical geographer Ptolemy, which Leland could have read, notes a place called “Camuludanum” in this part of Britain.

Whatever the people of the neighbourhood were saying in 1542, they have certainly cherished Arthurian lore since then. Cadbury hill has its version of the cave-legend, which, in fact, can be documented earlier than any other, as far back as the sixteenth century. Arthur lies asleep in a cavern closed by iron gates, or maybe golden ones. Sometimes they open so that the fortunate wanderer can glimpse him inside. A party of Victorian archaeologists were asked by an old man if they meant to dig up the king. A well on the left of the path as you go up it is Arthur’s Well, and the highest part of the hill is Arthur’s Palace, a phrase on record as early as 1586. On Midsummer Eve, or Midsummer Night, or Christmas Eve (opinions differ, and some say it is only every seventh year), Arthur and his knights ride over the hilltop and down through the ancient gateway, and their horses drink at a spring beside Sutton Montis church. Whether or not they can be seen, their hoof beats can be heard. Below the hill are traces of an old track running towards Glastonbury, called Arthur’s Lane or Hunting Causeway, where a noise of spectral riders and hounds goes past on winter nights.

One theory about the name “Cadbury” is that this itself is a link with Arthur, because it means “Cadwy’s Fort”, and we find Arthur as the colleague, perhaps early in his career, of a prince named Cadwy at Dunster. He could have taken over Cadbury through some arrangement with its owner. But the derivation is dubious, and so is the argument, if only because there are other Cadburys.

The word “castle” suggests a medieval fortress with towers and battlements. The same warning applies here as at Liddington and elsewhere: Cadbury never had a castle like that. The fortified hill itself was the castle. Since nothing was ever here like the Camelot of romance (which, moreover, has no real geography), in what sense could Cadbury deserve the name? Solely in the sense of having been Arthur’s headquarters and principal citadel, the far-off reality underlying the fiction. But that in itself is an impressive thing to be, and the nearby “Camel” place names suggest how traditions of the Cadbury area might have helped to shape a name for the dream-city remotely recalling it.

Antiquarian writers from Leland on simply call Cadbury “Camelot” (variously spelled) without drawing such distinctions, and speak of Roman coins and fragments of buildings. No such fragments were left when the Rev. James Bennett, Rector of South Cadbury, carried out the first small excavation. In a paper published in 1890 he told how he had cut a trench through the top rampart, and judged that it was built up in layers over a long time. We now know that this was correct. On the plateau he dug down to a pit in the bedrock with scraps of pottery in it, and half a quern. The pit had a large flat stone at the bottom. A workman who was helping thought this covered a manhole leading down to the cave, but when they lifted it they found only another large flat stone. In 1913, H. St. George Gray excavated again, chiefly near the south-west entrance, finding objects which showed that people were on the hill in the late Iron Age just before the Roman conquest.

The crucial step from an Arthurian point of view did not come till the middle 1950s. Part of the enclosure was ploughed, and a local archaeologist, Mrs. Mary Harfield, picked up the flints and potsherds which appeared on the surface in the upturned soil. Among these Dr Ralegh Radford recognized pottery of the type he had found at Tintagel, which proved that somebody had lived here at about the time of Arthur, and most likely a “somebody” of wealth and standing who could import luxury goods. The interest thus aroused led to the formation of the Camelot Research Committee, which carried out large-scale excavations in 1966 – 70 under the direction of Leslie Alcock.

The results were copious. It became clear that British Celts of the Iron Age had not only built the earthwork defenses, but reconstructed the top bank several times, as Bennett suspected. A village flourished on the plateau for hundreds of years. Then the Romans stormed Cadbury and evicted the survivors, resettling them at the foot of the hill so that they could not make it a strong point in any future rebellion. During most of the Roman period the enclosure was empty. However, a temple may have been built during a pagan revival which is known to have spread through Britain in the fourth century AD. After that comes a phase of total obscurity, and after that, the Arthurian period. For this the archaeological haul was richer than anyone had expected, or dared to predict.

In a central and commanding position, on the high part of the hill called Arthur’s Palace, the foundations of a timber hall came to light. It was 63 feet by 34. Its walls were marked by post-holes cut in the bedrock. A trench running across it, closer to one end than the other, showed where a partition had divided it into large and small rooms. In outline it resembled the hall at Castle Dore, but there were grounds for inferring more skillful workmanship, quality rather than size. In this building the chief warriors would have assembled, feasted, listened to minstrels, planned campaigns. A smaller building close by could have been the kitchen, and others may also have belonged to an Arthurian complex, though it was only with the hall that dating was certain.

At the south-west entry were the remains of a gatehouse of the same period. A cobbled road ten feet wide climbed into the enclosure. It passed through double doors into a nearly square wooden tower, and out through similar doors the other side. All this, of course, has now been buried again and only the gap in the bank is visible, far shallower than it was.

Most important of all was the discovery which was made in that bank, the three-quarter-mile perimeter of the hill. Cuts through it in several places, now refilled like the entrance, revealed a cross-section like a layer cake, with strata one above another showing how the ram art had been rebuilt at various times over the centuries. In Arthurian times it had been rebuilt grandiosely. On top of the earth at that level was a dry stone bank or wall 16 feet thick. Gaps where ancient timber had rotted marked the places where massive posts had upheld a breastwork on the outside, protecting men who stood on the wall. Beams had run across, binding the structure together and supporting a platform, and perhaps, at intervals, wooden watch towers.

This defensive system surrounding the hill made an impression in keeping with the period. The wall itself, with its timber bracing and superstructure, was very like what the British Celts were building before the Roman conquest. It incorporated fragments of Roman masonry, salvaged from derelict buildings, but it was strictly a national piece of work. On the other hand the gatehouse had Roman touches. When Arthurian Cadbury was formed, Britain’s heritage of Roman architecture was seemingly almost forgotten, but not quite. By the later fifth century that might well have been the state of affairs.

Cadbury Castle: artist’s reconstruction of the Arthurian timber hall, with roof cut away to show the internal framework. Nothing was found with Arthur’s name on it, and it would have been foolish to hope for that. What the project did prove was that Cadbury was reoccupied by the right sort of person, at approximately the right time. A leader with uncommon resources took possession of this vacant hill-fort and refortified it on a colossal scale. He was (as somebody phrased it during the excavations) an Arthur-type figure, if no more. At the centre he set up at least one fair-sized building and probably several smaller ones. He may have had others; even in 1970 after five seasons of digging, only a fraction of the site had been opened up. But quite possibly his soldiers used tents or huts leaving no lasting traces. When they were at Cadbury, their encampment held fully 1,000 men, plus ancillary staff, followers and families. During the campaign season the base may have been looked after by a garrison only. But it may have been a regional centre of government with a permanent civilian establishment.

The point about Cadbury-Camelot is not only that this hill-fort was converted into a vast citadel at the right time, but that there is no other known instance in ex-Roman Britain of such a thing having happened. A number of hill-forts were reoccupied, but simply as protected places of residence for a household. The areas resettled within their ramparts were much smaller; none became a base for substantial forces; and while, in a few, a little feeble wall- building was carried out, none acquired a new fortification remotely like the stone-and-timber rampart of Cadbury, with its gatehouse and implied use of the whole 18-acre enclosure. It is hard to believe that when Leland called this place “Camelot” he was merely guessing, rather than drawing on a valid tradition. A mere guess would have been most unlikely to pick on the one known place throughout Britain with the right characteristics. Even a modern archaeologist could not have made such a guess, simply by looking at the hill, with any confidence of being correct.

The Camelot Research Committee, of course, turned up material of value and interest covering a far longer stretch of time than the brief Arthurian period. Some of it still had an indirect bearing on the Arthurian Legend itself, or on stories related to it.

For instance, at the south-east bend of the uppermost rampart, a human skeleton was found. It was the skeleton of a young man rammed head-down into a pit, his knees drawn up to his chin. Fresh rampart-building had been done on top of him. The bones showed no physical defect, and the likeliest explanation is that this was a human sacrifice, performed for divine strengthening of the wall in a pre-Roman phase of its reconstruction. That calls to mind the tale of Vortigern’s stronghold and the Druids’ advice about sprinkling its foundation with a boy’s blood. Whoever first told that story knew something of pagan Celtic customs, and rituals which might have survived on the wild fringes of fifth-century Britain.

Again, one surprising outcome of the excavations was the discovery of evidence that the Iron Age village was not stormed by the Romans, its people were not deported, till a considerable time after this part of Britain was officially conquered. It was a centre for some last stand,’some unchronicled resistance. Historians have nothing to say about this. But the Roman poet Juvenal speaks briefly of a British leader named Arviragus who would have been known or at least remembered in about AD 80 – 90 for causing trouble. Now in accounts of the Grail-bearer Joseph of Arimathea and his coming to Glastonbury, he and his companions are said to have been granted land there in AD 63 by a local king not subject to Rome. In some versions this king is named, and his name is Arviragus . Could that detail show a hazy awareness of traditions about a real person, a British Hereward the Wake who maintained a miniature kingdom in the hills and marshes of central Somerset, till the conquerors moved in on his strongest hill and dispersed its inhabitants?

While the archaeologists left the cave-legend alone, their project may have shed accidental light on it. There is no cave now. In such cases there seldom is. But a visitor who knew the hill well pointed out a place in the scarp on the south side of the central plateau, where a metal rod could be thrust horizontally far into the soil without hitting bedrock. Possibly a recess once existed there, and was filled in by crumbling, leaving a folk-memory which exaggerated its size and depth.

Lastly – though this was no part of the project – an amateur group which took an interest in it tested the “beacon” theory by building a large fire on the summit and posting observers on Glastonbury Tor, who reported that when the fire was lit after dark, they could easily see it across the low-lying country between.


Knights of the Round Table

The Round Table – first mentioned by Wace in his “Roman de Brut” – was not only a physical table, but the highest Order of Chivalry at the Court of King Arthur. Its members were supposedly the cream of the British military who followed a strict code of honour and service. Sir Thomas Malory outlines this as:

To never do outrage nor murder

Always to flee treason

To by no means be cruel but to give mercy unto him who asks for mercy

To always do ladies, gentlewomen and widows succor

To never force ladies, gentlewomen or widows

Not to take up battles in wrongful quarrels for love or worldly goods

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