The River: Bruce Garrard makes a friend of the Brue
Book review by Kevin Redpath, reprinted from Newsletter 144:
Bruce Garrard’s latest book, The River, helps deepen our sense of wonder of the ecology of central Somerset with its distinctive natural and engineered landscape. He gently peels away the layers of time to reveal a much more meandering River Brue that wound its way past the island chapels of saints — a landscape of special significance, their names listed with Glastonbury in King Edgar’s charter, as islands that had a privileged status that exempted them from the ordinary laws of the land — the Isles of Avalon, Beckery, Godney, Martinsea, Panborough and Andrewsea.
The Brue once connected them all. But it has become a disconnected river as the engineering work by the medieval monks effectively cut it in half. The Brue and the Axe were once the same river. It took a lot of hard work to retrace the original path.
With a background in environmental activism and a healthy scepticism of the purely academic, Bruce would never have been content locking himself away in the antiquarian library or poring over the archives of the Somerset Drainage Boards. Throwing a rucksack over his shoulders he got out into the landscape with all its nettles, barbed wire, railway lines, rhynes, weather and landowners and walked, over five days, from the Brue’s source at Brewham to its original mouth at Uphill, just south of Weston-super-Mare. But more than that, he made friends with it. He kayaked and swam in the river, sat on its banks and listened to its changing sounds. He observed the deforestation in its upper reaches as it tumbles towards Bruton and the accumulation of algae pollution in its slow flow near its present-day mouth at Highbridge.
He was inspired by a Glastonbury screening of the film Aluna last year, where the Kogi people of Colombia, isolated for centuries, relay an urgent message to the materialist modern world: “You don’t have to abandon your lives, but you must protect the rivers.” Bruce made a commitment to explore the Brue.
The first quarter of the 258-page book recounts his pilgrimage along its banks. Then he reflects on the Brue’s past: from prehistory, through the iron age, Roman occupation, Celtic Christianity, King Alfred, St Dunstan, the medieval Abbey, through to the current debate about the future of our wetland ecology in a world dominated by economic growth. (The Environment Secretary visiting Somerset in the 2014 floods when asked “What is the purpose of a river?” replied “To get rid of water” — as if our rivers are giant gutters to be straightened and dredged.)
A remarkable graph in the book shows the relationship between woodland and river discharge. The greater the tree cover in the catchment area, the greater the absorption of heavy rain. Government research reached the astonishing result that “water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under grass”.
I believe that Bruce, as a writer, is contributing to an emerging body of immersive, experiential writing about nature that encourages us to reconnect with the land around us. Writers like Robert Macfarlane, Philip Marsden, Glastonbury’s own Patrick Whitefield [who died in 2015], and Roger Deakin, who wrote the groundbreaking Waterlog, can help deepen our appreciation of the spirit of place.
The River offers us an opportunity to remember the Brue, to appreciate its history and its displacement. Bruce deserves our deepest thanks for giving witness to its remarkable story.
• The River is available at £12.95 from local bookshops, or by post from Unique Publications or at a discount direct from the author at his office upstairs in the Old Clinic, 10 St John’s Square. (Bruce gave a talk about his book to a meeting of Glastonbury Conservation Society, 2016 June).
Walter Tully, Glastonbury’s pioneer photographer
Glastonbury Conservation Society’s annual general
meeting on Friday 27 November 2015 saw a collection of
photos taken in town between 150 and 90 years ago by Walter
Plying his trade in the early days of photography, Tully had
a state-of-the-art studio with fine skylights at 19 High
Street (the building that now houses the Dilliway & Dilliway
shop selling crafts from India) until he retired in 1920.
Andrew Boatswain showed the meeting slides of a number of
Tully's photos that he collected — studio portraits, views of local events, book
illustrations and picture postcards. They give interesting
insights into Glastonbury and its residents over those six
Frustratingly, however, many of the pictures remain anonymous —
such as the two puzzling ones below. Can you give any clues?
This studio portrait by Walter Tully is what is known as a Cabinet Card
— the picture is 10.5 × 15cm. It shows two young
men, who are probably brothers, dressed in their best.
“What is the occasion?” Andrew Boatswain wonders. “I am guessing it is all about
a wedding and one is the bridegroom and the other his best
man. This photo could date
from about 1905.
Andrew Boatswain purchased this photograph (16 × 21cm) from
Ohio in the United States. It shows three generations of a
family, again dressed in their Sunday best. The
costumes would date it about 1902. “Sadly, there
is no clue as to the identity of the family members but I
would love to know how this picture taken in Walter Tully’s
Glastonbury studio ended up in Ohio. There has got to be a
story there if only we could find it.”
‘Article 4’ of planning law now in effect
New rules covering buildings in Glastonbury’s designated
— unlisted buildings as well as listed ones — came into effect on August 2 in 2012.
to give Conservation Area more protection
Mendip District Council mailed a pack to all property owners in the
Conservation Area giving details. On the day — despite rain and
impossibility of holding an umbrella while tying string — conservation
officers fixed official notices on lampposts throughout the Conservation Area.
Owners now require planning permission to make any change to the front
of their property that will affect the character of the neighbourhood.
Article 4 is part of the Town and Country Planning Act, dating back to 1990.
Bringing it into effect in Glastonbury was one of the recommendations of the
formal Appraisal of the town’s Conservation Area carried out last
year. The Appraisal would have been cancelled in the council’s budget
cuts, but a £1,000 grant from the Conservation Society enabled it to go ahead. The
Conservation Society at its inception 40 years ago was the moving force that
led to the designation of the Conservation Area to begin with, back in 1976.
Wells is so far the only other area in Mendip where Article 4 is in effect;
others are under consideration. South Somerset has Article 4 directions at
Wincanton, Bruton and Castle Cary.
More information is available from Mendip council’s website:
of the Appraisal
the booklet about Article 4 as posted to property owners.
Farewell to Keith Miller, fourth generation at hardware shop
Keith Miller died in June 2012 at the age of 82, five years after he retired and
sold the family hardware shop in Benedict Street because he was due for major heart surgery.
Keith began working in the family shop when he was 17 and eventually took over
from his father, George Miller Jr. It was Glastonbury’s oldest shop:
his great-grandfather founded G. Miller & Son in 1872.
Articles about Keith and Miller’s
Hardware from past newsletters have been republished on this website.
The sketch, after an old photograph, shows Keith at age 18
outside the family shop in Benedict Street. The artist is Keith’s son
Matthew — contact him if you’d like to commission a drawing of
your own property: (01458) 83 2078.
Civic Voice is the national body set up in 2010 as an umbrella group for
local societies promoting civic pride all over Britain. A campaign is
growing around the government’s current proposals to loosen the
planning process in favour of developers. (Glastonbury Conservation Society
has not yet joined Civic Voice.)
Civic Sense is the online newsletter published monthly by Civic Voice, with links to civic
societies around the country and what they are doing.
The Chronicles of John Cannon
Both volumes of The Chronicles of John Cannon are out now (£55 and £65, oup.co.uk). Adrian Pearse, who is probably Cannon's nearest descendant, reviews the publication in Newsletter 134.
From Prof John Money, the editor who spent 18 years on the project, a lengthy essay about Cannon’s diaries of Somerset is online on the Conservation Society website.
Cannon was born at West Lydford, near Glastonbury, in 1684. He worked as an exciseman (tax officer) and then as a scrivener (solicitor’s clerk) and Glastonbury town schoolmaster. Throughout his life he kept a meticulous diary, and it contains fascinating detail of people, places and customs that no one else of that period recorded. Cannon has been called “the poor man’s Pepys”.
About the society
It is somewhat startling to calculate that the Conservation Society has been doing its bit
for more than 10% of the tercentenary that Glastonbury as a town recently celebrated: 40 years out of the 300.
The society was formed in haste in 1971 in order to save the Crown Hotel
in the central Market Place from being pulled down, as had several interesting
medieval buildings nearby; swift spot-listing saved a number of other sites too.
Today the Crown thrives as the Backpackers Inn.
Another project was to rescue some of Glastonbury’s pre-Beeching heritage:
the canopy from the railway station,
by relocating it (ironically?) amid parked cars, in the main central
carpark, where it shelters market stalls and makes two acres of asphalt
easier on the eye. The trees in the carparks are the society’s work
Today, Glastonbury Conservation Society
- obtains copies of all planning applications and exercises the right to comment
- plants trees in town and 10 miles around: 45,000 trees in 40 years!
- hears interesting talks from experts on various aspects of our environment
- publishes a newsletter (approx quarterly)
The membership subscription is only £5 a year (and dare i say it,
the newsletter alone is worth that much); members are of course free to give more.
Also on this website
- Eric King’s memories of the High Street in the 1940s (four-part series published in newsletters 95–99)
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
55 years in Glastonbury: John Brunsdon looks back over his time here
This is the full text of a talk John gave recently, updated from reminiscences he wrote down 10 years earlier.
How did Kiwi pioneers come to keep Glastonbury time?
Robin Huggins, touring New Zealand after a wedding, discovered a longcase
clock with “R. Woollan, Glastonbury” inscribed on its face, at
The Elms, a historic
mission house built in 1847 amid warring Maori tribes. Can anyone shed light
on the clock? Who made it? How did it come to be where it is? Write to the
Mr Huggins and his wife founded Becket’s Inn in
Glastonbury High Street (in a building that was the town surgery for 250
years); they now live in France.
Update 2013-12-01: The surname was wrongly given as “Huggett” — corrected now.
Memories of childhood in Somers Square
David Orchard grew up in the 1950s in a forgotten square near the top of the
High Street. His schoolboy painting of it won him a scholarship. Somers
Square was flattened to become a garage and eventually the Co-op
supermarket. Now that too has been demolished and new cottages and flats
have gone up; the developer called it Avalon Mews. Click here for a fuller version of David Orchard’s piece,
from Newsletter 115.
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