Meare and Ferran Mere
Meare is a village located on a former limestone island in the Somerset Levels, northwest of Glastonbury by a few miles. Nowadays it can be reached by road, but throughout much of history it was difficult to reach.
Even so, it has been an occupied site for thousands of years, by dint of the fact that the Somerset Levels were a rich source of food and materials. Immediately north of Meare was Ferran Mere, or Meare Pool, a shallow lake affording fine fish and game, reeds, peat and wood, and accessible to the sea via Bleadney Gap near Panborough Hill. Direct water flow to the west was prevented by gravel banks and the piling up of peat just west of Westhay, itself just west of Meare.
Around two millennia ago, two lake villages lay on the edge of Meare Pool, occupied at different times between 300 BCE and 100 CE, pre-dating the Glastonbury lake village by 50 years. The archaeological report on the Meare lake villages states:
"Meare was a centre of some material wealth with a great variety and richness of finds of food debris and manufactured artefacts. Sheep were the commonest domestic animal, with cattle, pigs, horses and dogs also present. Butchered, fragmented and burnt bones were numerous and a far greater quantity of grain was found at Meare then had been uncovered at Glastonbury. Flint had been used although there were few iron items, more bronze artefacts, and from local stone querns, grinders, polishers and hammer stones were fashioned. Bone, horn and antler was used to make combs in their hundreds, and awls, needles, polishers, hammer heads, small boxes, tool handles and spindle whorls also. Lead and tin weights including fishing weights were also found. Pottery was highly decorated and of variable fabric types. Ornaments of amber, shale and glass beads, decorated with vivid blue and yellow spiral designs, complement the material culture of the site. Meare has been considered a major centre of Iron Age glass bead production in England, due to the frequency of their discovery here, and the numerous spindle whorls suggest production of yarn and weaving on site too."
Meare was the ancient centre for this part of the Levels, serving as a local centre for farming and craft production. The island was the centre for a large number of trackways going back to 3800 BCE, laid down over time for crossing the marshes from the Polden Hills to the south and Wedmore island to the north.
At the Peat Moors Visitor Centre just south of Westhay there is a small museum about the trackways and some reconstructed round-huts, worth visiting.
Water levels rose and fell in the Levels over time, depending on season, rainfall, sea levels, climate and periodic storm inundations - one foot (30cm) variation in water levels will have had a big impact on land use and resource exploitation in the area, though Meare itself will have remained safe and relatively dry.
The Abbot's Fish House, Meare
In the days of Glastonbury Abbey, Meare was an outlier of the abbey suiting hermits and quiet activities - not least Meare's most famous hermit, St Benignus, of the late 400s - who, after his death was taken to Glastonbury (after whom St Benedict's church in Glastonbury was named). Meare was granted to Glastonbury Abbey in 670, during Saxon times. Over time it was deforested and was farmed pastorally, being the site for one of the abbey's stud farms.
Throughout the Middle Ages Meare remained a farm community, connected with Glastonbury, where there was a windmill, a fish house on the edge of Ferran Mere and various farms. It was one of a series of seven sacred islands identified by John Michell - the others being Glastonbury, Beckery, Godney, Panborough, Martinsey and Andresey (Nyland Hill). On the dissolution of the Abbey in the 1520s Meare lost significance and support, and many of the Abbey's agricultural domains declined. The Moors of the 1600s were quite dilapidated. When the Moors were properly drained in the 1800s Meare's isolated island status came to an end, and Meare Pool was drained, to reappear only during very wet weather.
Meare lake village - Wikipedia
NEXT: Panborough Hill