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Short History of Glastonbury in Somerset


Cradle of Christianity

Glastonbury is a small market town lying amidst orchards and water-meadows in the reclaimed Somerset Levels around Glastonbury Tor. This conical hill of about 500ft rises abruptly from the moor to be crowned by the ruined chapel of St. Michael. Its importance as a place of pagan worship may date back to the time of the Iron Age 'Glastonbury Lake Village,' the earliest known major settlement in the area. It was not until after the Romans had come and gone, however, that Glastonbury began to grow in importance. Legend has the great Abbey, for which the town is famous, being founded at this time, if not earlier. It was certainly flourishing by AD 680, under the patronage of the Kings of Wessex. The establishment was overlord of Glastonbury until the Dissolution in the mid-16th century.

Henry II granted the town a charter exempting the townsfolk from the jurisdiction of Royal officials. A fair was granted in 1127 and another in 1282. The charter rights were recognised by Edward I whilst staying at the Abbey in 1278. He complied with the abbot's insistence and held his Royal Court of Justice at the chapel of St. Gildas in Street, just outside abbey lands. In 1319, Glastonbury was required to return a Member of Parliament, but it did not comply and has not since. Queen Anne incorporated the borough in 1706 and the corporation reformed by Act of Parliament in 1835.

After the Dissolution, the abbey was granted to Sir Peter Carew by Queen Elizabeth in 1559. Foreign weavers, mostly Flemings, were introduced to teh town in order to check its decay and some settled in the abbey ruins. The local cloth trade continued to flourish for a century, when it was replaced by silk-weaving, stocking-knitting and glove-making. All these industries had died out by the turn of the 20th century.

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