Summer Outing July 2019:  Somerset Museum of Rural Life and Glastonbury Abbey

Summer Outing Wednesday 3rd July

This year we'll be crossing the border to Somerset (steady on! bring your passports!) for our two-site summer outing.  The coach will leave from Uffculme (time to be confirmed) and we'll go to Somerset Museum of Rural Life in the morning, where we'll be having a guided tour.  The coach will take us the short distance back to Glastonbury proper (the museum is a short distance outside the town) then there'll be an opportunity for lunch (plenty of options in the town if you haven't got your own picnic with you).  We'll reassemble at Glastonbury Abbey at 1.45pm in time for a costumed, guided tour of the abbey at 2pm (prompt!).  Trevor has kindly done some background notes to do a bit of reading before the visit to help us get the most out of the time there.  We'll circulate a printed version of these notes to people who have booked.  In the meantime, carry on reading here for a preview! 

It promises to be a fascinating day - and of course we've arranged glorious weather!  Please book your place as soon as possible with Maria.  As usual, members of the History Group will get priority, but if there are spaces we will offer them to other people in the area who may be interested.


Uffculme Local History Group Summer Outing 2019

Wednesday 3rd July


Morning:  Somerset Museum of Rural Life

Visitors to Somerset Rural Life Museum can explore rural life from the 1800s onwards and discover more about the county’s heritage including its landscape, food and farming, working life and rural crafts. The museum tells the story of Somerset’s rich rural and social history. There are five Farmhouse Galleries which explore the themes of ‘Creating’, ‘Learning’, ‘Believing’, ‘Celebrating’ and ‘Remembering.’  In the large Farmyard Gallery the major themes are ‘Working Village’ and ‘Working the Land’. Outside spaces, including the Farmyard and the Orchard, contain sculpture and family trails that interpret the history of the site and its buildings.

The magnificent 14th-century Abbey Barn remains the centrepiece of the site, providing a unique and remarkable setting for exhibitions and events.  The museum underwent a major refurbishment in 2016 and 2017.  It promises there’s “always something new to discover”.  We’ll be treated to a guided tour and hopefully there will be time for people to linger a little longer – and it may whet appetites for another, individual visit on another occasion!

The Farmyard Café is open all year round at, what the website assures us, is a  “family-friendly destination, offering high-quality locally-sourced food and drink”.


Afternoon:  Glastonbury Abbey

Some background notes and tips for the trip, courtesy of Trevor Emms

  • Bring all hearing aids and devices (including trumpets J)... even the loudest voice can become lost amongst the ancient stones!
  • Bring warm clothing even it is a hot summer’s day, as much of where we walk will be in shadow and so sometimes quite cool.
  • Be bold! Don't stand at the back during presentations and ... and don't hang back when walking.
  • Do some homework! Read the attached brief history and any more information if you can lay hands upon it. You’ll get more out of the visit.

And remember ... this is a day out and only happens once in our Local History Group year so ... spend and ENJOY!


History and Archaeology 

The Saxons, who had been converted to Christianity, conquered the ancient county of Somerset in the 7th Century.  Their King was Ine of Wessex (688 – 726, also sometimes Ini or Ina) who was widely regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of the abbey.  He was a local man who boosted the status and income of the abbey, and it is said that he put up a stone church, the base of which forms the west end of the nave. 

This church was enlarged in the 10th century by the Abbot of Glastonbury, St. Dunstan, who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 960.

In 1066, the wealth of the abbey could not cushion the Saxon monks from the disruption caused by the foreign invasion and subsequent conquest of England by the Normans.  Skilled Norman craftspeople contributed much to the abbey by adding magnificent buildings to the existing Saxon Church.  These were built to the east of the older church and away from the ancient cemetery.  The Norman betterment of the abbey was extensive.  In 1086, when the Domesday Book was commissioned to provide records and a census of life in England, Glastonbury Abbey was the richest monastery in the country.

The great Norman structures were consumed by fire in 1184 when many of the ancient treasures were destroyed.  One story goes that, in order to raise extra funds from pilgrims to rebuild the abbey, the monks dug to find King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere.  In 1191 the bones from two bodies were raised from a deep grave in the cemetery on the south side of the Lady Chapel. These bones were reburied much later in 1278 within the Abbey Church, in a black marble tomb, in the presence of King Edward I. 

After the fire of 1184, the medieval monks needed to find a new place to worship.  There is evidence that the 12th century nave was renovated and used for this purpose for almost 30 years, until some of the work was completed on the new church.  The monks re-consecrated the Great Church and began services there on Christmas Day, 1213, most likely before it was entirely completed

In the 14th century, as the head of the second wealthiest abbey in Britain (behind Westminster Abbey), the Abbot of Glastonbury lived in considerable splendour and wielded tremendous power.  The main surviving example of this power and wealth is to be found in the Abbot's Kitchen - part of the magnificent Abbot's house begun by John de Breynton (1334-42).  Privileged pilgrims might once have stayed in the abbey itself; excavations have disclosed a special apartment at the south end of the Abbot's house, erected for a visit from the English King, Henry VII.

In 1536, during the 27th year of the reign of Henry VIII, there were over 800 monasteries, nunneries and friaries in Britain.   By 1541, there were none.  More than 10,000 monks and nuns had been dispersed and the buildings had been seized by the Crown to be sold off or leased to new lay occupiers.  Glastonbury Abbey was one of principal victims of this action by the King, during the social and religious upheaval known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries.