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History of East Brent

Formation of The Knoll at Brent

The Knoll at Brent, more commonly known as Brent Knoll dates from the Jurassic period when the surrounding area would have been inhabited by dinosaurs.  The Knoll that we know today was created by the erosion of the land around the hill by the waters of the Bristol Channel, during the 7 millennium leaving only the blue lias rocks, capped with sandstone that we know as Brent Knoll today, and the knoll was created an island in the Bristol Channel,  After the Ice Age, the waters receded leaving boggy marshes around Brent Knoll.

Early Human Habitation

The earliest evidence of human habitation in the area is during the Palaeolithic Era.  During this time humans eked out a primitive existence in small groups scavenging off the land.  Whilst there is no evidence that any settlements existed at East Brent, Palaeolithic humans made tools of stone, bone, and wood and evidence of such tools have been discovered at locations on the Somerset Levels, suggesting, that Palaeolithic humans may have existed at East Brent some 2.6 million years ago. The land of the Somerset levels was still largely boggy marsh.

Bronze and Iron Age

There have been settlements on and around the hill since at least the Bronze Age and the pattern of an Iron Age Hill Fort can still be seen on the summit today.  During this period the land around the knoll was still largely flooded and the area known as Brentmarse.

One explanation for the county of Somerset's name is that, in prehistory, because of winter flooding humans restricted their use of the Levels to the summer, leading to a derivation from Sumorsaete, meaning land of the summer people.

Roman Period

There is also evidence that the Iron Age Hill Fort or Romans used the hill fort.  Clay urns containing Roman coins were discovered on Brent Knoll during the 18 century.  Other finds include sandstone roof tiles and painted plaster from the Roman period.  This suggests a substantial Roman building.  Many of the finds can be viewed at the Somerset, The Weston-super-Mare and Blake Museums.

 

Image: Map of Earthworks which would have supported battlements  

Anglo Saxon Era

There are many legends referring to Anglo Saxon times and it has been claimed that the fort on the Knoll at Brent was the site on Mons Badonicus;   this was a battle between the ancient Britons and the Anglo Saxons.  Whilst it is thought to have been a major political event, there is no actual evidence that it did take place at Brent and there are many other sites which make the same claim to fame!!

It is also thought that Brent was the site of the battle in which Alfred, King of Wessex, defeated the Viking King Guthrum prior to the signing of The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum, which some people believe was signed at Wedmore.  There is again no evidence that this battle did take place at Brent and whilst The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum does exist, the place of its signing is not proved.  There are other contenders for the sites of both the battle and the treaty.

In 693AD the Saxon estate of Brent was given to Glastonbury Abbey by King Ine of Wessex.  The Abbey continued to own the land until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.

Later Middle Ages (1066 – c1500)

When William I commissioned The Doomsday book, completed in 1086, it is recorded that about 250 people were living in and around the base of the knoll, eking out a poor existence.

The Church of St Mary, The Virgin in East Brent was completed in 1298. Alterations to the church were made with the addition of a tower and spire c.1400 and it is interesting to note that the oldest two church bells date from 1440 and 1450.  The oldest of these bells was recast from the same metal during the 1990s to ensure that it was still safe to ring. 

Further evidence of occupation in East Brent can be found in Lay Returns.  These recorded in detail the inhabitants for taxation purposes.  In 1327 it is recorded that around 600 people were living in the area of Brent at that time.

Early Modern Era

In 1607 the whole area was again flooded and the whole of the Somerset levels flooded to a level of 12 feet as far inland as Glastonbury.  It is recorded that during this flood 2000 people perished.

In 1703 the area flooded once again and it was after this flood the complex system of dykes and rhynes that were originally created by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey during the Middle Ages were extended.

This system of dykes and rhynes requires constant monitoring to ensure that we are not again flooded, but also to ensure that there is sufficient water for agriculture during the summer months. 

 

Modern Era

Few people who have lived in East Brent for any length of time can fail to have heard of Arch Deacon Denison, the founder of the first Harvest Home in East Brent from which all others derive.  In the 19th century before the first Harvest Home was founded, all agricultural labour was paid for their harvest work at the end of the harvest.  Many of the men then spent all of their earning on beer and cider following the harvest and had no money left to take home to their families.  Denison decided the best way to combat this was to throw a big end of harvest party for all the workers from all the farms in the Parish where he could control alcohol consumption - The first Harvest Home was born.

Also during the incumbency of Arch Deacon Denison, East Brent suffered from many cases of typhoid as there was no mains drinking water, and the constant flooding of the boggy marshes meant water on the lower ground was often contaminated.  He built a well, taking water from the springs, on the high ground of Brent Knoll, bringing it down to the village next to the then Vicarage, which is now Rossholme House.  It was then piped to a series of stand pipes around the village.  It is said that if attendance at church on a Sunday was poor then he would cut off the water supply!!

 

 
Image: East Brent Today

During the 20th century much further work was carried out on the systems of drainage including the addition of pumping stations which assist in pumping water from the network of ryhnes into the rivers and out to sea. The monitoring and control of the water levels is carried out by the Drainage Board, whose offices are in Highbridge and without whose work, East Brent and much of the Somerset levels would be under water for much of the year.

During World War II, The Knoll formed part of the defences against German invasion and the remains of slit trenches with angle iron stakes can still be seen around the Iron Age earth works around the summit of the knoll.  It was the job of the Home Guard to patrol this and other strategic points such as the local railways.  The headquarters of the Home Guard in the parish of East Brent was a shed at Rooksbridge (exact location unknown) and it is said that the local leader of the Home Guard, Fry Clapp would take “the boys” hard boiled eggs to keep their spirits up.

During this period regular target practice was held in the skittle alley of The Brent Knoll Inn.