HISTORY OF THE
The caves of
the Mendip Hills were settled during
the Palaeolithic period, and contain extensive archaeological
sites such as those at Cheddar Gorge.
Bones from Gough's Cave have been
dated to 12,000 BC, and a complete skeleton, known as Cheddar
man, dates from 7150
BC. Examples of cave art have been found in caves such as
Aveline's Hole. Some caves continued to be
occupied until modern times, including Wookey Hole.
Levels—specifically the dry
points such as Glastonbury and Brent Knoll— also have a long history of settlement, and are
known to have been settled by Mesolithic hunters. Travel in the area was helped by the
construction of one of the world's oldest known engineered roadways, the Sweet
Track, which dates from 3807 BC or 3806 BC.
The exact age of the henge
monument at Stanton Drew stone
circles is unknown, but it is believed to be Neolithic. There
are numerous Iron Age hill
forts, some of which, like Cadbury
Castle and Ham
Hill, were later reoccupied in the Early Middle Ages.
On the authority of the future emperor Vespasian, as part of the ongoing expansion of the Roman
presence in Britain, the Second Legion Augusta invaded Somerset from the south-east in AD 47. The county remained part of the
Roman Empire until around AD 409, when the
Roman occupation of Britain came to an end. A variety of Roman remains
have been found, including Pagans Hill Roman Temple in Chew Stoke, Low Ham Roman Villa and the Roman Baths that gave their name to the city of Bath.
After the Romans left, Britain was invaded by Anglo-Saxon peoples.
By A.D. 600 they had established control over much of what is now England, but Somerset was still in native British
hands. The British held back Saxon advance into the south-west for some time longer, but by the early eighth
century King Ine of Wessex had
pushed the boundaries of the West Saxon kingdom far enough west to include Somerset. The Saxon royal palace in Cheddar was used several times in the 10th
century to host the Witenagemot. After the Norman Conquest, the county was divided into
700 fiefs, and large areas were
owned by the crown, with fortifications such as Dunster Castle used for control and defence.
Somerset contains HMP Shepton Mallet, England's oldest prison still in use, which opened in 1610. In the English Civil War Somerset was largely Parliamentarian, with key engagements being the Siege of
Taunton and the Battle of
Langport. In 1685 the
Monmouth Rebellion was played out in
Somerset and neighbouring Dorset. The rebels landed at
Lyme Regis and travelled north,
hoping to capture Bristol and Bath,
but they were defeated in the Battle of Sedgemoor at Westonzoyland, the last pitched battle fought in England. Arthur
Wellesley took his title, Duke
of Wellington from the town of Wellington; he is commemorated on a nearby hill by a
large, spotlit obelisk, known as
the Wellington Monument.
Revolution in the Midlands and Northern England spelled the end for most
of Somerset's cottage industries. Farming continued to flourish, however, and the Bath and West of England Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture, Arts, Manufactures and
Commerce was founded in 1777 to improve farming methods. Despite this, 20
years later John Billingsley conducted a survey of the county's agriculture in 1795 and found that agricultural methods
could still be improved. Coal mining was an important industry in north Somerset during the 18th and 19th centuries, and by 1800
it was prominent in Radstock. The Somerset
coalfield reached its peak production by the 1920s, but all the pits have
now been closed, the last in 1973. Most of the surface buildings have
been removed, and apart from a winding wheel outside Radstock
Museum, little evidence of their former existence remains. Further west,
the Brendon Hills were mined
for iron ore in the late 19th
century; this was taken by rail to Watchet Harbour for shipment to the furnaces at Ebbw Vale.
Many Somerset soldiers died during the First World War, with the Somerset Light Infantry suffering nearly 5,000
casualties. War memorials were put up in most of the county's towns and
villages; only nine, described as the Thankful
Villages, had none of their residents killed. During the
Second World War the county was a
base for troops preparing for the D-Day landings. Some of the hospitals which were built for the casualties of the war remain in use.
The Taunton Stop Line was set
up to repel a potential German invasion. The remains of its pill
boxes can still be seen along the coast, and south through
Ilminster and Chard.
A number of decoy towns were constructed in Somerset in World War
II to protect Bristol and other towns, at night. They were designed to mimic the geometry of "blacked out" streets,
railway lines, and Bristol Temple Meads railway
station, to encourage bombers away from these
targets. One, on the radio
beam flight path to Bristol, was constructed on Beacon Batch. It was laid out by Shepperton Film
Studios, based on aerial
photographs of the city's railway marshalling yards. The decoys were fitted with dim red lights, simulating activities like the stoking
of steam locomotives. Burning bales
of straw soaked in creosote were used to simulate the effects of incendiary bombs dropped by the first wave of
Pathfinder night bombers; meanwhile, incendiary bombs dropped on the correct location were quickly smothered,
wherever possible. Drums of oil were also ignited to simulate the effect of a blazing city or town, with the
aim of fooling subsequent waves of bombers into dropping their bombs on the wrong
location. The Chew
Magna decoy town was hit by half-a-dozen bombs on 2 December 1940, and over a
thousand incendiaries on 3 January 1941. The following night the Uphill decoy town, protecting Weston-super-Mare's airfield, was bombed; a herd of
dairy cows was hit, killing some and severely injuring others.
Transcribed from: http://en.wikipedia.org