Imperial Gazetteer 1870/2
GLASTONBURY, a town, a parish, and a sub-district, in Wells district, Somerset. The town stands on a peninsular tract, engirt by the river Brue, and on the Somerset and Dorset railway, at the junction of the branch to Wells, 5¾ miles SSW of Wells, and 25 SW of Bath. It occupies eminences, connected with the inferior oolite of the county; but is largely environed by marshes, and is flanked on one side by Weary-all-Hill, on another by Glastonbury-Tor. Its peninsula was called, by the ancient Britons, Yniswytrin, signifying the "glassy island, " either from the "glasten" or "blue-green" colour of its surface, or from its abounding with "glass" or "woad;" was called, by the Saxons, Glastn-Ey or Glaestingabyrig, -the former also signifying "the glassy island;" and was called, by the Romans, Insula Avalonia, or the Isle of Avalon, either from the British word "avalla, " which signifies apples, and in allusion to its having orcbards, or from a British chief of the name of Avallac. The town arose from an ancient monastery; and is alleged, by monkish historians, to have been founded in the apostolic times; but does not appear, on any good evidence, to date higher than about the year 708. It was demolished, in 873, by the Danes; was rebuilt, in 942, by King Edmund; was destroyed by fire in 1184; was restored by Henry III.; was destroyed by an earthquake in 1276; was soon once more restored; and continued, till the Reformation, to be a grand seat of monastic rule. A remarkable whirlwind, from W to E, passed over it in Sept. 1856, and tore the roofs from several of its houses.
The main interest of the town centres in its ancient abbey. The monkish writers say that this was founded by Joseph of Arimathea, sent by the apostle Philip to preach in Britain; they say also that, when the structure built by him had wasted away, a new one on its site was built, in 530, by Devi or St. David, Archbishop of Canterbury; and they say further that a reconstruction of this, in great splendour, was done, about 708, by King Ina. This last appears to have been, not really a recon-struction, but an entirely new edifice, and really the first monastery at the place; and even it was rebuilt, in 942, by St. Dunstan, and constituted a Benedictine abbey. Violent tumults occurred among the monks in 1083, and led to the dismissal of the abbot. A new minster was begun in 1102-1120, by Abbot Herlewin; suffered great damage by the fire which destroyed the town in 1184; and was restored and extended, by successive abbots, at successive dates, till 1500. The church was cruciform; measured 550 feet in length; and had a nave, with aisles, 220 feet long, -a transept with north aisle and two eastern chapels, 135 feet long, -and an apsidal choir, with broad procession-path and eastern chapel, 153 feet long. The chief parts of it still standing are three bays of the south nave aisle, the eastern piers of the central tower, an eastern bay of each wing of the transept, one of the eastern chapels of the northern transept, and the south wall, with five pointed windows, of the choir. The best preserved and most interesting portion of the ruin is a chapel, called the chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea, which stood at the west end of the church, in front of the nave. This is supposed to have been built in the times of Henry II. and Richard I.; measures 100 feet by 25; shows characters of transition from Norman architecture to early English; and had, at the angles, turret-towers, arcaded above the corbeltable, and sur . mounted by spires, -one of which remains. Under this was discovered, in 1825, a Norman crypt, 89¾ feet in length, 25½ feet in width, and 10 feet in height. The cloisters were on the south side of the church's nave, and measured 220 feet each way. The kitchen still stands; was built in 1374-1420; is all of stone; and has an octangular form, with peaked octagonal roof, and a two-staged lantern. The barn also still stands; is partly decorated English, but chiefly perpendicular; has a cruciform plan; and is lit by loop-holes. Joseph of Arimathea is fabled to have been buried in the church. Berin, Arch-bishop of Armagh, in the 5th century, also is alleged to have been buried here. King Arthur too, and his queen Guinevar, are said to have been buried here; and their supposed remains are recorded to have been found, by special search, in the time of Henry II., and to have been removed, by order of Edward I. to a magnificent shrine before the high altar. King Edmund died at the abbey in 1017; and King Edward I. visited it in 1278. The abbot had precedence of all the abbots in England till 1154; and he always was a member of the upper house of convocation, and a baron of parliament. Whiting, the last abbot, from 1524 till 1539, educated here about 300 -sons of the nobility; and, on account of refusing to surrender the abbey, he was hanged on the Tor, and his body quartered. The abbey revenue at that time was £3, 509.
Weary-all-Hill commands a fine view of the town, and has a spot where the monkish writers allege Joseph of Arimathea and his fellow-travellers, weary with their journey, sat down to refresh themselves, and where Joseph's staff, then stuck into the ground, took root, and afterwards became a blooming hawthorn, budding regularly for 1, 500 years, on Christmas-day, till it was cut down, in the time of Charles I., by the Puritans. A flat stone, with an inscription, marks the spot. A haw-thorn actually grew here; grafts of it also were raised to trees on other spots; one of these trees still exists in a garden through which the abbey ruins are approached; and the blossoms of the trees were held, through the Romish times, in so much repute, that exportations of them were made from Bristol to foreign countries.-Glastonbury Tor is about 500 feet high; commands a good prospect of the surrounding country; and is crowned by a beautiful tower which belonged to a ruined church of St. Michael. The monkish writers say that the original edifice, on this site, was a small oratory, erected by Saints Phagunus and Duruvianus, about a century after the alleged founding of the abbey by St. Joseph; that a reconstruction of this was done by St. Patrick, who came out of Ireland, and was abbot of Glastonbury; and that a church and a monastery were added to the oratory by some of Patrick's successors. St. Michael's church here, whatever were its date and character, was totally destroyed by the earthquake of 1276; but it was soon afterwards reerected, in a more splendid manner. The tower is the only part of it now standing; and this has, over the doorway, two rude bas-reliefs, the one representing a woman milking a cow, the other representing St. Michael, with a pair of scales, weighing the Bible against the devil.
The town consists chiefly of two streets, crossing each other at right angles, and running to the four cardinal points. Many of the houses, in both streets, consist of stones taken from the abbey; and some of them show small features or fragments of it in their front. The Abbey House, on the east side of the Abbey-close, was built out of the ruins of the old abbot's residence, in 1714, at a cost of £8, 000; is itself in the Tudor style, but includes some relics of the old edifice; and, together with the abbey-ruins and 40 acres of land, was sold, in 1851, to Mr. H. Danby Seymour, for £10, 000. The Red Lion Inn, in St. Magdalene-street, was formerly the great gate to the abbey; retains the narrow gate-way for foot-passengers, with pointed arch and groined roof; and has, in the yard, a small chapel built, in connexion with an alms-house, about 1500. The George Inn, in High-street, was formerly the house for pilgrims resorting to the abbey; and has an interesting front of the time of Henry V II. or Henry VIII., with an archway bearing the arms of Edward IV. and those of the abbey. The Tribunal, in the same street, higher up, belonged also to the abbey; is a domestic edifice of the 16th century; and has a window which was once filled with painted glass, showing escutcheons and arms of the abbots and the kings. The market cross, at the intersection of the four streets, was originally built in 1520; was one of the most elegant structures of its kind in the kingdom; and was rebuilt, in the d corated English style, in 1846. St. John's church is later English and cruciform; has a superb tower of three stages, 140 feet high, with open-worked parapet and slender pinnacles; contains a fine stone pulpit, and an ancient coloured tomb of a burser to the abbot; and was restored in 1858-60. St. Benedict's church was partly rebuilt in 1493-1524, by Abbot Beere; has his initials, with emblems, over the north entrance and on one of the battlements; and contains monuments of the Goulds of Sharpham Park. There are chapels for Independents, Plymouth Brethren, Wesleyans, and Primitive Methodists; royal hospitals or almshouses, with £47; other charities, with £63; a bridge, a reservoir, a banking office, three chief inns, a town-hall, new assembly and reading room s, police barracks, national schools, a head post office, ‡ and a railway station with telegraph. A new Wesleyan chapel, facing High-street, was built in 1861. A canal, and the river Brue, connect the town with the Bristol channel at the mouth of the river Parret; and serve for the conveyance chiefly of timber, slates, tiles, and coal. Markets are held on the third Monday of each month; fairs are held on 19 Sept. and 11 Oct.; and a weekly newspaper is published on Saturdays. Some trade is carried on in stocking-making, tanning, and glove-making. The town anciently sent members to parliament, but was disfranchised in 1539. It received a charter from Queen Anne; and it is governed, under the new act, by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors. Its borough limits include only a part of the parish. Pop., 3, 496. Houses, 691. Henry Fielding was born at Sharpham park, in the vicinity; and the Greville family took from the town the title of Baron.
The parish includes the tything of Edgarly, and the hamlets of Week, Havet, and Norwood-Park. Acres, 7, 083. Real property, £23, 022, -of which £125 are in gas-works. Pop. in 1851, 3, 125; in 1861, 3, 593. Houses, 709. The increase of pop. arose from the opening of the railway past the town, and from the establishing here of the head-quarters of the county-constabulary. The property, in both sections of the parish, St. John and St. Benedict, is much subdivided. The rocks include has and inferior oolite; and Dean Buckland found here a rare great fossil animal which he figured in his "Bridge-water Treatise." The two livings, St. John and St. Benedict, are vicarages in the diocese of Bath and Wells. Value of the former, £195;* of the latter, £100. Patron of both, the Bishop of Bath and Wells.-The sub-district contains also seven other parishes. Acres, 31, 394. Pop., 10, 635. Houses, 2, 184.
(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))