1794 Universal British Directory
THIS town is fituated 126 miles from London, 27 from Briftol, 26 from Bath, 5 from Wells, 9 from Shepton Mallett, 7 from Somerton, and 15 from Bridgewater. It is in a manner encompaffed with rivers, and was of old called the ifle of Avalon.
This town while under the protection of its abbots was a parliamentary borough, but it loft that privilege at the death of abbot Whiting, in the year 1539. It is now a town corporate (by charter from queen Anne), governed by a mayor, juftice, eight aldermen, and fixteen burgeffes. It confifts of fix ftreets, two parish churches, the upper a Handfome fabric, with a fine tower, adorned with figures in niches, one prefbyterian meeting-houfe, and one meeting for the people called Quakers, two alms-houfes, one for men and the other for women (with a chapel belonging to each), and a free fchool for 30 boys; alfo a Sunday fchool.
The principal inns are the White Hart and the George, the latter of which is the poft and excife-office. The George inn is an old ftone building, called the Abbot's inn, where chiefly the pilgrims were lodged, who came ftrolling hither, and idling their time away for fanctity. A coat of arms of the kings of England, fopported by a lion and a bull, is over the gate, with many croffes. There was a bed of large timber, with imboffed gilt pannels, which feemed to have been the abbot's.
The market is on Wednefday. Its annual fairs are held on Wednefday in Eafter-week, September 19th, October 10th, and the Monday week after St. Andrew’s day.
The chief manufactures are worfted ftocking fcribling, and a filk-manufactory.
This place is much vifited by the curious, efpecially thofe who have a tafte for monaftic antiquities, on account of the ruins of the ancient abbey, being the firft Chriftian church in Britain. The inclofure of the abbey is of a quadrangular form, bounded on the north, eaft, and weft, by the ftreets of the town, and on the fouth by the turnpike read. It k furrounded by high walls, and there is now ftanding the fouth wall of the church, with part of the high arch which fupported the tower. St. Jofeph's chapel (otherwise St. Mary's chapel) is almoft entire, except the roof and the vault, on the north fide of which are feveral emblematical figures. The length of the church with St. Jofeph's chapel is 580 feet, which appears to have been confiderably larger than St. Paul's at London now is. Here lie buried fix kings, fifteen abbots, four bifhops, five dukes, and divers other perfons of diftinction. The roof of this chapel being beat down by violence, a mean wooden one now fupplies its place, thatched with ftubble, to make it ferve as a ftable. The manger lies upon the altar and nich, where they put the holy water; St. Edgar's chapel is oppofite to it; but there is not much left of it befides the foundations. The prefent work is 44 paces long, and 36 wide, without moft part of the roof is wanting. Two little tur¬rets are at the corners of the weft end, and two more at the interval of four windows from thence; which feem to indicate the fpace of ground the firft chapel was built on: The reft, between it and the church, was a kind of anti-chapel. Underneath was a vault, now full of water, the floor of the chapel being beaten down into it: it was wrought with good ftones. Here was a capacious re¬ceptacle of the dead. They have taken up many leaden coffins, and melted them into cifterns. The roof of the chapel was finely arched with ribwork of ftones. The fides of the walls are full of fmall pillars of Suffex marble, as like-wife the whole church; which was an ufual way of ornamenting in thofe times : they are moftly beaten down. Between them the walls are painted with pictures of faints, ftill vifible. All the walls are overgrown with ivy which is the only thing in a flourifhing condition; every thing elfe prefenting a moft melancholy, though venerable, afpect. On the fouth fide of the cloifters was the great hall. The townfmen bought the ftones of the vaults underneath to build a forry market-houfe; not difcerning the benefit accruing to the town from the great concourfe of ftrangers purpofely to fee this abbey, which is now its greateft trade, as formerly its only fupport; for it is in a decaying condition, as wholly cut off from the large revenues fpent among them. There are many other foundations of the buildings left in the great area; but, in the prefent hands, will foon be rooted up, and the very footfteps of them effaced, which fo many ages had been erecting.
The abbot's lodging was a fine ftone building; but could not content its late tenant, who pulled it down, and out of it built a new houfe, abfurdly fetting up the arms and cognizances of the great Saxon kings and princes, who were founders, and of the abbots, over his own doors and windows. Nothing is left entire but the kitchen; it is a fquare building without, but of an octagonal form within, and has four fire-hearths; the fhafts of the chimneys are circular; from the floor to the roof is 20 feet; the roof is octagonal, fupporting a lanthorn, ln which are two concentric cylinders, one to carry off the fteam, and the other from windows therein to illuminate the roof. This curious piece of architecture is built without a peg of wood in it. The abbot's hall was curioufly wainfcoted with oak, and painted with coats of arms in every pannel. The mortar of thefe buildings is very good, and great rocks of the roof of the church lie upon the ground, chiefly confifting of rubble-ftone untouched by the fanatical deftroyers, who chiefly work on the hewn flone of the outfide, till a whole wall falls, when undermined a little. The monks pretend that it was the refidence of Jofeph of Arimathea and St. Patrick, but for this affection they produce no good authority. The abbey when ftanding furpaffed (in value and antiquity) every other abbey in England, Weftminfter excepted. The very ruins of it are fo grand that they fill us with admiration and wonder, and give us fome idea of what it was when in its glorv. Its abbot lived in almoft as much ftate as the royal donors, with an income of 40,000l. a year; and a vaft tract of rich land, which he could fee from the Tor in his own poffeffion, exclufive of feven deer-parks, belonged to his abbey, which is walled round a mile in compafs, and was rated in the king's book at 700I. a vear more than the a schbifimprkik of Canterbury, and 2000I. a year more than the bifhoprick of Durham. The abbot had the title of lord, and fat among the barons in parliament. There were 61 abbots who governed it fucceffively for near 600 years; and had fuch power, by a grant from king Canute the Dane, that, without their leave, no perfon whatever, not even a bifhop or prince, durft fet a foot in the ifle of AvaIon. Richard Whiting, who was the laft abbot, for refufing to furrender his abbey ro king Henry VIII. &c. was condemned at Wells, and carried, with two of his monks, on a hurdle to the Tor, where he was hanged in his pontificalibus on St. Michael's-Tower; his head fet on the gate of his abbey, and his quarters difpofed of at Bath, Wells, Bridgewater, and Ilchefter. This Tor, fo callel from the tower which ftands on it, is a hill fo high, that it is an excellent fea-mark.
The mineral waters of this place are ftrongly impregnated with iron, fixed air, and foffil alkali, from whence they derive their various properties. It is found very efficacious in all fcorbutic and fcrophulous complaints; and is a powerful remedy for the afthma, dropfy, leprofy, king's evil, ulcers, St. Vitus's dance, and all other nervous affections, and bilious diforders, where ftrengthening the fyftem is neceffary.
South-eaft of the town ftands the famous Tor, on the top of which ftood St. Michael's church, which was deftroyed by an earthquake, on the 12th of Sep¬tember 1276, the tower of which is now ftanding; on the weft fide of the fame arc feveral curious emblematical figures of great antiquity. The afcent to the tower is very difficult; it probably coft more to raife the ftone to this height than to erect the building; halfway up is a fpring, which is certainly higher than any ground within ten miles of the place.
Near this town are found a great variety of petrefactions, refembling fnakes, cockles, mufcles, and oyfter-fhells.
This place is greatly reforted to by ftrangers, none of whom depart hence, without expreffions of the utmoft fatisfaction and pleafure.
The Glaftonbury Thorn, fo famous in antiquity, buds and bloffoms in the depth of winter. The ftory of its budding always upon Chriftmas-day is well known: that circumftance, however, is falfe; though, if the winter be mild, it always buds at the latter end of December, but later if the winter is fevere.
Among the curiofities of this town we muft not omit to mention a blind man, who is now totally dark, and yet he makes, after a wonderful manner, a great variety of moving figures and curious toys.
The mail-coach comes through Glaftonbury from London every day.
N. B. Thofe perfons marked thus * are aldermen of the town and corporation, and thofe marked thus + are burgeffes.
Bott Mr. John, (F.)
Hodge Rev. Mr. Matthew, (F.)
+ Burgess John, ( F.) Surgeon and Apothecary
Chapman Richard, (F.) Attorney
Anger John, Parish-clerk
Metford William, (F.) Shopkeeper
Sir Henry Gould, and the Hon. James Grenville, have seats in the vicinity of this Town.