In this area, the first section will be about ‘Glastonbury General’. This gives a more detailed description of the history of the town and is something that we will steadily add to and build upon.
Glastonbury has a rich vein of documentation to be tapped into, and it is perhaps helpful to see recorded history as falling into a number of phases, summarised below.
Early hermits start to arrive on the island. Their number steadily increases, and in due course a monastery is established. The monastery grows into Glastonbury Abbey, second only to Canterbury in wealth and size. In the later years a steady stream of pilgrims come to the town and the Abbey is famous throughout the land. All this came to an end in 1539 with the dissolution of the monastery and the execution of its last abbot.
The Abbey roof was removed and the buildings left to fall into decay. The surrounding town lost its original purpose and became a small country town in the backwaters of the Somerset levels. There were one or two bursts of activity when Flemish weavers were brought to work in what had been the Abbot’s kitchen and a burst of excitement when a short lived spa was opened in 1750. Only a handful of pilgrims continued to visit and, in 1698, was described by Celia Fiennes as "now a Ragged poor place... very Ragged and decayed".
A burst of new industrial activity occurred with the opening of a tannery in the neighbouring village of Street by James Clark in 1825 and the setting up of a tannery in Glastonbury by John Morland in 1870. Both these activities prospered with the help of the new canal that was opened in 1834 and the railway that replaced it in 1854. By the end of the century, the town was flourishing industrially although still largely unknown as a centre of pilgrimage.
This period saw the arrival of activity of a new type. The legends and myths of Glastonbury were put to music by Rutland Boughton; the Anglican Church purchased the Abbey ruins and employed the architect, and psychic, Bligh Bond to explore and assess the ruins. Alice Buckton purchased the Chalice Well plus grounds and established a school, whilst the well-known occultist Dion Fortune became a resident in a cottage at the base of the Tor. The visionary Wellesley Tudor-Pole began to visit and the town was becoming better known. However, the numbers of people interested in its more esoteric background were still few.
The growth of the so-called ‘hippie movement’ and the so-called ‘New Age’, initiated a surge of fresh interest in the town. The town gradually became better known, internationally, as a centre of pilgrimage; the number of people interested in in this particular aspect of the town and who have moved to live here, now make up some 25% of the population.
Papers on specific projects and activities that have occurred over the years.
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- Celia Fiennes traveled around England on horseback between 1684 and about 1703 and worked up her notes into a travel memoir in 1702. See article in Wikipedia.
- Adam Stout, ‘The Thorn and the Waters, Miraculous Glastonbury in the 18th Century. 2005'. pp 13.
- Also see the article in Wikipedia.
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