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Narrative History of the County of Somerset
by Brenda Ralph Lewis & David Nash Ford


Introduction to Somerset's History

The Anglo-Saxons took a long time to arrive in Somerset after their first invasions of eastern Britain in the 5th century, but when they came, in AD 658, they were the first to give Somerset an identity. The Old English name for Somerset was Sumersaeton which came from the village of Somerton, meaning "farmstead used in summer" and the suffix saete, meaning "house". The word settler has a similar route. It was not until the Norman Conquest, after 1066, however, that Somerset became the name for the whole shire.

Somerset has a prehistory going back at least as far as 11,000 bc when families lived in Gough's Cave, near Cheddar, and hunted for food in the Cheddar Gorge. In about 4,300 bc, wooden causeways were built across the marshes. Somerset was only lightly populated then, but over the centuries, as more and more newcomers settled, it became a dangerous place where defence against attack was imperative. Great Iron Age hillforts were built, like Cadbury Castle, around 700 bc; but even these could not withstand the might of Rome.

Next: Roman Times

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