A Brief History of Brent Knoll Village.

Brent KnollKnown by the Romans as: 'Mons Ranarum', "The Mount of Frogs," the Knoll is an outcrop of the nearby Mendip Hills. 137 meters high, (449 feet) it affords splendid views of the Polden Hills to the south, Glastonbury Tor to the east, the Mendip Hills and Cheddar Gorge to the north east, the Bristol Channel and Wales to the west and the Quantock Hills to the south west. The word "Brent" may mean a beacon, a slope, lofty, steep, smooth, unwrinkled, or a round hillock. The Knoll dates from the Jurassic times of 300 million years ago when dinosaurs, primitive mammals and strange birds roamed the area. A warm, shallow sea washed around its slopes thus giving its other name of "Frog Island."

This outcrop of clays and limestone soon attracted primitive man as a secure and advantageous place. Subsequently Bronze Age and Iron Age peoples set up encampments on the summit which became a focus for religious activity and the Romans built a temple there. Roman coins of the Emperor Trajan (AD98 -117) and Septimus Severus(AD145 - 211) were found in an urn on the Knoll in 1610. The urn is now in Taunton Museum.

Horse in Brent KnollAnglo-Saxons coming up the Bristol Channel may have made good use of the Knoll as a look-out post. They were followed by the Vikings, known for their ferocity, so much so that the monks would offer up the earnest prayer: "From the fury of the Norsemen, O Lord, deliver us!"

On its eastern slopes is the site of a battle in AD875 when the Saxons drove away the Danes. Hence, the village has the "Battleborough Grange" Hotel, and nearby Battleborough Lane. The Hotel caters for local people as well as visitors to the area.

The Domesday Book, commissioned by William I in AD 1086 shows the make-up of the land near the Knoll. About 250 people were living around its base, eking out a poor existence. The land was marshy and often in flood. It dried out for summer pasturage. The next 200 years saw more efficient use of land, better drainage, an absence of invaders, rule of law and increased trade.

From the lower slopesThe Lay Subsidy Returns of AD 1327 set out actual names of about 180 residents from whom tax would be extracted. Including East Brent about 600 persons were living in the area at that time. Intricate patterns of rhynes helped improve the fertility of the land and attract people.

During the English Civil War (1641 - 1645) some Royalist soldiers caused mayhem in the village. Under the leadership of John Somerset, local people rose up against the plunderers. His effigy and those of his family may be seen in the church. John Somerset was arrested for allegedly inciting a revolt and went to prison for five weeks. He had been protecting the local people from drunken, thieving Royalist Troops who caused much trouble to residents

In AD 1607 the whole of the Vale of Avalon flooded to the depth of twelve feet as far as Glastonbury. In AD 1703 the sea broke across the land again. Drainage efforts increased in the 18th and 19th centuries and made living in the village a more viable proposition.

Ivyclad HallThe 1801 population of 500 persons had doubled by 1841 due to the temporary presence of itinerant railway workers building the Bristol to Exeter railway which runs north-south near the western base of the Knoll. Between 1875 and 1883 the village name was changed from South Brent to Brent Knoll to avoid passenger confusion with the village of South Brent in Devon.

By 1901 village population had declined to 688 persons. By 1961 it had risen barely 10%. But with the coming of the M5 Motorway, completed in 1974, people were attracted to the village so that by 1981 there were 1,092 souls.

Today several orchards grow on its lower west facing slopes. Cider making is still a small but thriving industry. Formerly a farming village, Brent Knoll is now made up of several modern developments interspersed with original but modernised farm buildings. It has a mixed population with a proportion of retired people who enjoy its quiet atmosphere.

Fox and GooseAt the A 38 junction, once a turnpike road, stands the newly refurbished Fox and Goose Inn. Originally a coaching inn mentioned on the tithe map of 1811 it was the home of the Kennels of the Brent and Wedmore Harriers. Its grounds were also home to deer which were kept for twice weekly hunts. On the Inn's side wall may be seen a Victorian Post Box.

Along Brent Street and Burton Row stand various modernised farm dwellings mixed with modern homes. Briars Cottage is dated 1688 and near the Parish Hall may be seen Ivyclad Hall, built during the reign of Queen Anne. Names of other dwellings such as The Laurels, The Croft, Myrtle, Saddler's, Phoenix, Courthay, Victoria, Lavender Cottages, Pen Orchard, Tableland Farm, Nightingale Farm, Shrub Farm and the Grange reflect the original rural nature of the village.

Red CowIn the centre of the village stands the Red Cow Public House, a red bricked building whose style of architecture suggests that parts of it were built in the 18th century at least. Tastefully modernised it caters for the modern visitor.The establishment offers splendid views of the Knoll's wooded slopes from where the visitor, whilst enjoying food and drink, may watch a variety of bird life, including buzzards and rooks which occasionally have territorial spats. Horses and rabbits roam over the lush wooded pasture.

Almost opposite the Parish Hall, shortly to be modernised thanks to the efforts of its fundraising committee, stands the Village School. Built in 1861 it retains its links with the past. It is a thriving school serving some 120 pupils from the village and the surrounding area. The school was modernised in AD 2,000.

The church, dedicated to St Michael, has a Norman doorway but the present nave was built in AD 1290.The pulpit dates from the 17th century. The most interesting features of the interior are the finely carved bench ends illustrating the story of Reynard the Fox. The remaining benches show various devices and grotesques.

Methodist ChapelIn AD 1837 a Chapel was erected by the Bible Christian Society. The founder of Methodism, the preacher John Wesley once climbed the Knoll and declared: "I know not wherever I saw such a prospect."

Nestling on the lower western slopes of the Knoll stand the large residences of the Manor House, and Ball Copse Hall which enjoy splendid views over the flat land towards Burnham on Sea. Their dominating presence adds to the ambience of the village.

Other features of the village are the Reservoir halfway up the Knoll. Several footpaths lead towards neighbouring East Brent and afford wonderful views of Uphill and the southern environs of Weston Super Mare. Walkers are strongly requested to keep to the clearly sign posted footpaths. Foxes, rabbits and badgers inhabit this area which has a range of wild flowers and insects. On the flat land to the west you may spot a hare. Apart from the usual garden birds, buzzards may be seen circling on thermals, two varieties of woodpecker may be heard, flocks of long tailed tits will suddenly appear. Jays, kestrels and sparrow hawks are also common.

In our village there are some very keen historians. Here are some contacts:-

  • John Page - Village Historian
  • Brian Freestone - Family History

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