HISTORY & ARCHAEOLOGY OF WESTBURY
Men and women have lived in the landscape around Westbury for over 600,000 years. These pages will bring you photographs, reports, maps, drawings and illustrations of the history and archaeology of the area. The list below is treated chronologically beginning with the evidence of Palaeolithic hunters and ending in the twentieth century with memories from one of our oldest residents.
Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age (600,000-10,000 BC)
A massive rock fall in Westbury Quarry in 1969 revealed a cave filled with prehistoric animal bones and primitive flint implements dating back over half a million years. Read about it in The Times of June 2002. CLICK
Bronze Age (2000-700BC)
One of Westbury’s landmarks is the Beacon, a large Bronze Age round barrow or burial mound, which stands on the skyline of Mendip overlooking the Moors. It has not been excavated but it was probably robbed by 19th century antiquarians. Close by and buried in the stone wall there is a standing stone which may well be a boundary stone dating from the same period. The barrow was named from the nearby beacon set up during the time of the Napoloenic Wars.
There are over 330 barrows on Mendip making it second only to the area around Stonehenge and Avebury for the density of such burial mounds. Little is known of where people lived at this time when they had settled to become farmers but there some remains of their field systems at Westbury Sleight. CLICK
Iron Age (700 BC – AD 43)
Westbury Camp (actually in Rodney Stoke parish) probably dates from XXX and may be visited as it lies in Access Land. CLICK for a drawing reconstruction provided by English Heritage. It was probably used more for stock control rather than providing defence during a period of warfare.
Romans (AD 43-410)
One of the reasons for the Roman invasion was the capture and control of the lead mines on Mendip, both at Priddy and Charterhouse. However the Axe Valley rapidly became a farming landscape and sites of two Roman settlements have been found on the lower ground near the Moor. One site at The Straits was revealed when a wildlife pond was dug CLICK and the other has been known at Cowleaze for sometime as a result of regular ploughing CLICK. In addition various other finds have been made in gardens including this beautiful bronze brooch. PHOTO
There was over 400 years between the end of the Roman Empire and the final arrival of the Saxons around AD 700 and relatively little evidence of their presence has been found. It is likely that farming life continued and that the population became increasingly Christian. Irish and Welsh monks or ‘saints’ may well have sailed up the river Axe spreading the gospel and founding churches or chapels where they stopped. It is very likely that there was an early Christian site close to our Church during this period. The veteran yew in the churchyard may well date from this early period. A charter of 1065 listing the possessions of Bishop Giso of Wells includes the manor of Westbury.
The early Norman bishops did a great deal to create the village as we know it today. They probably replaced a small wooden church with one built in stone. CLICK for a history of the church. Bishop John of Tours in the early 12th century enclosed over 500 acres around Lodge Hill, Windmill Hill and Chalcroft Hill to create a deer park which survived until about 1600. CLICK He may also have enclosed about 60 acres of Moor later to be called Gooseland. CLICK The basic farming landscape was developed with over 20 ‘old auster’ farms – tenements that had rights of grazing for their stock on the common land of the Moor and Mendip, and obligations to the Bishop such as appearing at the regular Court Leets and Court Barons and repairing the boundary of his deer park. Court House Farm was operating as the manorial court from at least 1275. Many of the medieval farms have survived although mostly rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is these that give the village its character and led to the designation of the Conservation Area in 19XX. There were also outlying medieval farms at Ramspits CLICK and Bryants CLICK high on the scarp of Mendip.
Westbury Cross (14th century) PHOTO
Church and Society 1535-1662.
Local historian Tony Nott has written about this topic. CLICK
End of the Park
John Pond & John Spencer & Hardwichs
Quarry for roadstone
Development at Hollybrook, Kites Croft
Village Hall 1913
Bill Tyley remembers growing up in Westbury in the 1920s and 1930s. CLICK
Housing developments Station Road, Stoneleigh, Bell Close, lodge Hill, Broadhay, Back Lane & Hannahs Lane