Picture of Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe

places mentioned

Letter 4, Part 2: Somerset and Wiltshire

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The county of Somerset joins to the N.E. part of Devonshire. I touched only upon one point of the county in my last, as I went west. The whole county is worth a more particular account, than can be given within the space of a letter.

I entered the county, as I observed above, by Wellington, where we had the entertainment of the beggars; from whence we came to Taunton, vulgarly called Taunton Dean upon the River Ton; this is a large, wealthy, and exceedingly populous, town: One of the chief manufacturers of the town told us, That there was at that time so good a trade in the town, that they had then eleven hundred looms going for the weaving of sagathies, du roys, and such kind of stuffs, which are made there; and that which added to the thing very much, was, that not one of those looms wanted work: He farther added, That there was not a child in the town, or in the villages round it, of above five years old, but, if it was not neglected by its parents, and untaught, could earn its own bread. This was what I never met with in any place in England, except at Colchester in Essex.

This town chooses two Members of Parliament, and their way of choosing is, by those who they call "pot-walloners," that is to say, every inhabitant, whether house-keeper or lodger, that dresses their own victuals; to make out which, several inmates, or lodgers, will, sometime before the election, bring out their pots, and make fires in the street, and boil their victuals in the sight of their neighbours, that their votes may not be called in question.

There are two large parish churches in this town, and two or three meeting-houses, whereof one, is said to be the largest in the county. The inhabitants have been noted for the number of Dissenters; for among them it was always counted a seminary of such: They suffered deeply in the Duke of Monmouth's Rebellion, but paid King James home for the cruelty exercised by Jeffries among them; for when the Prince of Orange arrived, the whole town ran in to him, with so universal a joy, that, 'twas thought, if he had wanted it, he might have raised a little army there, and in the adjacent part of the country.

There was, and, I suppose, is still, a private college, or academy, for the Dissenters in this town; the tutor, who then managed it, was named Warren, who told me, that there were threescore and twelve ministers then preaching, whereof six had conformed to the Church, the rest were among the Dissenters, who had been his scholars, whereupon, one of his own sort had, it seems, stiled him the Father of the Faithful: The academy, since his death, is continued, but not kept up to the degree it was, in the days of the said Mr. Warren.

From this town of Taunton, which is by far the greatest in all this part of the country, and has more people in it, than the city of York, we went north to take a view of the coast. Exmore, of which mention was made above, where the River Ex rises, lies in the way, part of it in this country, and extending to the sea side: It gives, indeed, but a melancholy view, being a vast tract of barren, and desolate lands; yet on the coast, there are some very good sea-ports. As,

1. Porlock, on the very utmost extent of the country; it has a small harbour, but of no importance, nor has it any thing of trade, so I need but name it. 2. Minhead, the best port, and safest harbour, in all these counties, at least, on this side: No ship is so big, but it may come in, and no weather so bad, but the ships are safe when they are in; and they told me, that in the great storm anno 1703, when in all the harbours and rivers in the county, the ships were blown on shore, wreck'd, and lost, they suffered little or no damage in this harbour.

The trade of this town lies chiefly with Ireland, and this was, for many years, the chief port in this part of England, where wool from Ireland was allowed to be imported; but that liberty is since inlarged to several other ports by Act of Parliament.

This corporation sends two members to the Parliament, which are chosen also, as at Taunton, by the pot-walloners; the town is well built, is full of rich merchants, and has some trade also to Virginia, and the West Indies: They correspond much with the merchants of Barnstable, and Bristol, in their foreign trade.

There are some very good families, and of very antient standing, in this part of the county, among which, the families of Seymour, of Portman, of Orchard, Wyndham, Popham of Wellington, Mallet, an antient family of Norman extraction, Mohun, Beauchamp, and some others, are most eminent; the Mohuns in particular were antiently lords of Dunstar] Castle, at a small distance from the sea, and very strong. Here formerly was the antient mansion, or inheritance, of the Lords Mohun, who, as above, long enjoy'd it: Who it will now descend to, that antient family being extinct in the person of the late unhappy Lord Mohun, who was kill'd in a duel with Duke Hamilton, I could not learn.

From hence the coast bears back west to Watchet, a small port also, but of no importance, that is to say, 'tis of no importance now; for if we may calculate things present, by things past, the town of Minhead is risen out of the decay of the towns of Porlock, and Watchet, which were once important places; and the reason is clear, since the increase of shipping and trade, and the improvement of the navigating skill, bigger ships being brought into use, than were formerly built; accordingly, larger ports, and deeper water, were requisite to harbour such vessels, than would serve for that purpose before; and the harbour at Minhead being fairer, and much deeper, than those at Watchet and Porlock, and therefore able to secure those greater ships, which the others were not, the merchants removed to it; and thus, in time, the town grew up, to what we now find it to be.

From hence the winding shore brings us to Bridgewater. This is an antient and very considerable town and port, it stands at the mouth of the river Parrat, or Perot, which comes from the south, after having received the river Tone from the west, which is made navigable up to Taunton, by a very fine new channel, cut at the expence of the people of Taunton, and which, by the navigation of it, is infinitely advantagious to that town, and well worth all their expence, first by bringing up coals, which are brought from Swanzy in Wales by sea to Bridgewater, and thence by barges up this river to Taunton; also for bringing all heavy goods and merchandizes from Bristol, such as iron, lead, oyl, wine, hemp, flax, pitch, tar, grocery, and dye stuffs, and the like; their tobacco they generally received from Barnstable by land, which is about sixteen miles west

This town of Bridgewater, is a populous, trading town, is well built, and as well inhabited, and has many families of good fashion dwelling in it, besides merchants. The famous Admiral Blake, was a native of this town. Here it was, that the Duke of Monmouth, finding himself defeated in his expectation of the city of Bristol, and repuls'd at the city of Bath, and press'd by the approach of the king's troops, who endeavour'd to surround him, made his retreat; where, finding the king's troops followed him, and seem'd resolved to attack him, he went up to the top of the steeple, with some of his officers, and viewing the situation of the king's army, by the help of perspectives, resolved to make an attempt upon them the same night, by way of prevention, and accordingly march'd out of the town in the dead of the night to attack them, and had he not, either by the treachery, or mistake of his guides, been brought to an impassable ditch, where he could not get over, in the interval of which, the king's troops took the alarm, by the firing a pistol among the duke's men, whether, also, by accident, or treachery, was not known; I say, had not those accidents, and his own fate, conspired to his defeat, he had certainly cut the Lord Feversham's army (for he commanded them) all to pieces; but by these circumstances, he was brought to a battle on unequal terms, and defeated: The rest I need not mention.

This town was regularly fortified in the late civil wars, and sustained two sieges, if not more; the situation of it renders it easy to be fortified, the river and haven taking one chief part of the circumference; over the river, they have a very good bridge of stone, and the tide rises here, at high water, near six fathoms, whereof, sometimes it comes in with such furious haste, as to come two fathoms deep at a time, and when it does so, by surprize, it often does great damage to ships, driving them foul of one another, and oftentimes oversetting them. This sudden rage of the tide, is called, the "boar," and is frequent in all the rivers of this channel, especially in the Severn itself; 'tis also known in the north, particularly in the Trent, and the Ouse, at their entrance into Humber, and in several other places.

In this town of Bridgewater, besides a very large church, there is a fine new-built meeting-house, that is to say, built since the Toleration, in which 'tis remarkable, that they have an advanced seat for the mayor and aldermen, when any of the magistrates should be of their Communion, as sometimes has happened. Here, also, is a college, or private academy, for the Dissenters to breed up their preaching youth; the tutor was one Mr. Moor, a man who, it is own'd, was a master of good literature; what talent he had at erudition, I can give no account of, for it is not every master of learning, that makes a good instructor of others, as I shall observe on some other occasions.

From Bridgewater, there is a road to Bristol, which they call the Lower Way; the Upper Way, and which is the more frequented road, being over Mendip Hills. This Lower Way also is not always passable, being subject to floods, and dangerous inundations, I mean, dangerous to travel through, especially for strangers: All this part of the country, viz. between Bridgewater, and the sea, and on northward upon the coast, lies low, and is wholly imployed in breeding and feeding of cattle, as are also the moors, or marsh grounds, which extend themselves up the rivers Perrot, and Ivill, into the heart of the country; of which in its place.

This low part of the country, between Bridgewater and Bristol, suffered exceedingly in that terrible inundation of the sea, which was occasioned by the violence of the wind in the great storm, anno 1703, and the country people have set up marks upon their houses and trees, with this note upon them, " Thus high the waters came in the great storm": "Thus far the great tide flowed up in the last violent tempest"; and the like.

And in one place they shewed us, where a ship was, by the force of the water, and the rage of the tempest, driven up upon the shore, several hundred yards from the ordinary high water mark, and was left in that surprizing condition upon dry land.

As this country is all a grazing, rich, feeding soil, so a great number of large oxen are fed here, which are sent up to London; so that now we come into the reach of my former observation, viz. That every county furnishes something for the supply of London, and no county in England furnishes more effectual provisions, nor, in proportion, a greater value than this. These supplies are in three articles.

  1. Fat oxen (as above) as large, and good, as any in England.
  2. Large Cheddar cheese, the greatest, and best of the kind in England.
  3. Colts bred in great numbers in the moors, and sold into the northern counties, where the horse copers, as they are called, in Staffordshire, and Leicestershire, buy them again, and sell them to London for cart horses, and coach horses, the breed being very large.

As the low part of this county is thus imployed in grazing and feeding cattle, so all the rest of this large extended country is imployed in the woollen manufactures, and in the best, and most profitable part of it, viz.

In Taunton: } The Serges, druggets, &c. and several other kinds of stuffs.
In Wells,
} Knitting of stockings, principally for the Spanish trade.
In Bristol, and many towns on the Somerset-shire side: } Druggets, cantaloons, and other stuffs.
In Froom, Philips-Norton, and all the country bordering upon Wiltshire: } Fine Spanish medley cloths, especially on that part of the county from Wincanton, and Meer, to Warminster, Bruton, Castle-cary, Temple Comb, down to Gillingham, and Shaftsbury, in Dorsetshire.

I mention this at large, because this trade of fine Spanish medley cloth, being the mix'd colours and cloths, with which all the gentlemen and persons of any fashion in England, are cloth'd, and vast quantities of which are exported to all parts of Europe, is so very considerable, so vast an advantage to England, maintains and supports so many poor families, and makes so many rich ones, that no man can be just in the description of things, and in a survey of this part of England, and not enter into a particular description of it; the above you may take as an introduction to it, only I shall add but a little more, concerning this county of Somerset, and shall, upon my entering into the north-west and west parts of Wiltshire, where the center of this prodigy of a trade is, sum it all up together, and shew you the extent of land which it spreads itself upon, and give you room, at least, to make some guess at the numbers of poor people, who are sustain'd and inrich'd by it.

But I must first go back again a little while into Somersetshire: The northern part of the county, I did not visit in this journey, which, as I hinted before, is only a return from my long travel to the Land's End. In omitting this part, I, of course, leave the two cities of Bristol and Bath, and that high part of the county called Mendip Hill, to my next western journey, which will include all the counties due west from London; for these now spoken of, though ordinarily called the west country, are rather S.W. than west.

But as I made a little trip from Bridgewater north, into the body of the county, I must take notice of what I observed in that part of it: The first place I came to was Glastenbury, where, indeed, the venerable marks of antiquity, however I have declined the observation of them, struck me with some unusual awe, and I resolved to hear all that could be told me upon that subject; and first they told me (for there are two pieces of antiquity, which were to be inquired of in this place) that King Arthur was buried here, and that his coffin had been found here.

Secondly, that Joseph of Arimathea was here, and that when he fix'd his staff in the ground, which was on Christmas Day, it immediately took root, budded, put forth white-thorn leaves, and the next day, was in full blossom, white as a sheet, and that the plant is preserved, and blows every Christmas Day, as at first, to this very day.

I took all this ad referendum , but took guides afterward, to see what demonstrations there could be given of all these things; they went over the ruins of the place with me, telling me, which part every particular piece of building had been; and as for the white-thorn, they carried me to a gentleman's garden in the town, where it was preserved, and I brought a piece of it away in my hat, but took it upon their honour, that it really does blow in such manner, as above, on Christmas Day. However, it must be confessed, that it is universally attested.

Where I had the sight of the white-thorn tree, I obtained a sight of Mr. Cambden, and his continuator, and was, at first, a little concern'd, that a person of Mr. Cambden's judgment, gave such an account of the legendary part of the history of this place, with a taste of his crediting the whole story; and from him I began to believe also, that Joseph of Arimathea, was really here, and that the Christian religion was preached in this island within thirty seven years after the death of our Saviour.

This, however, prompted me to farther inquiry, and the following account occurred, which is to be found, as they say, in the manuscript History of the Church of Glastenbury, now deposited in the Cottonian Library, and taken from it by Mr. Dugdale, in his Monasticon. Fol. 1, 2.


In the year 31 after the Passion of our Lord, twelve of St. Philip the Apostle's disciples (the chief of whom was Joseph of Arimathea) came into this country, and preached the Christian faith to Arviragus, who refused to embrace it, and yet granted them this place, with twelve hides of land; where they made walls of wattles, and erected the first church in this kingdom, which Christ personally dedicated to the honour of His Mother, and the place for burial of His servants, as is said in the manuscript History of the Monastery of Glastenbury in the Cotton Library. These twelve, and their successors, continuing long the same number, and leading an eremetical life, converted a great multitude of pagans to the faith of Christ. They being all, at length, dead and buried here, the most holy men Phaganus and Diruvianus, coming into these parts, and baptizing King Lucius and his people, had the aforesaid hides confirm'd to them and their successors, the same number of twelve being kept up 'till the coming of St. Patrick, who, instructing them in the monastical life, became their abbot: After whom, the holy fathers Benignus, Kolumkil, and Gildas, led a most holy life there. Next came St. David Archbishop of Menevia, now called St. David's, who added a new chapel to the church, dedicating it to the blessed Virgin, and erected a rich altar; and near the said chapel, Joseph of Arimathea, and other holy men, are said to have been buried. Tho' the church was afterwards several times rebuilt, this place still remained under the former consecration, and was held in such veneration, that kings, bishops, and all the greatest persons, thought themselves happy in adding something to its possessions, or being buried with any small parcel of its earth. St. Dunstan, and other holy abbots, always preserving the number of twelve monks, added to them several clergymen that sung well.

This church, by reason of its antiquity, was by the English called Ealdchurch, that is, Old Church; and the people of the country about it, thought no oath more sacred, than to swear by the Old Church; as being the first, and oldest church in England, and held in such veneration, that it was called a second Rome, for sanctity; because, as Rome was honoured with a multitude of martyrs, so this place was renowned for many confessors.

This island, in which this church stands, was, by the Britons, first called Ynswyxtryn, that is, the Glass Island, by reason of the river, as it were of the colour of glass, incompassing the marsh. It was called an island, because inclosed about by a deep marsh. It was called Avallonia, either from the British word aval , signifying an apple, as being full of fruit-trees, or from Avallon, who was once lord of that territory. The Saxons gave it the name of Glastingebury, that is, the Town of Glass. There are several islands about this, all belonging to it, all which together were reduced to make up the twelve hides above-mentioned, the bounds whereof may be seen in Dugdale, p. 2. and 3. All the places within those bounds enjoy all sorts of immunities, from the first times of Christianity, granted and confirmed to the church of Glastonbury by the British, English, and Norman kings.

This church was the sacred repository of the ashes of a multitude of saints, insomuch that no corner of it, or of the church-yard,, is destitute of the same. There lie the twelve disciples (above-mentioned) of St. Philip the Apostle, with their chief, Joseph of Arimathea, and his son Josephus; also St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland; St. Benignus, disciple to St. Patrick; St. Pinius, disciple to Benignus; St. Gildas, the British historian; St. David, Bishop of Menevia; St. Dunstan; St. Indrastus, martyr, and his seven companions; St. Urban, martyr; St. Apollinaris, bishop and martyr, disciple to St. Peter the Apostle; St. Vincentius, archdeacon and martyr; three of the Holy Innocents; St. Besilius, martyr; part of St. Oswald, king and martyr; St. Valerius, and St. Salvius, bishops and martyrs; St. Canon, Anastatius, Renignius, Casanius, Abdon, and Sennen, martyrs; St. Paulinus, Bishop of the Northumbrians; St. Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarn; Coelfrid and Boisilus, abbots; Venerable Bede; St. Benedict, bishop; Hesterpine, Sigfride, and Herbert, abbots; St. Idamus, bishop; St. Teison, abbot, and his twelve companions; St. Iltwich; St. Lilianus, abbot; part of Guthlac, the anchorite; St. Poppa, Archbishop of Treves; St. Geminianus, confessor; the holy virgins Hilda, Hebbe, Begu, Crisante, Udilia, Mary, Martha, Lucy, Walburge, Gertrude, Cecily, Wenta, Mamilla, Edberga, Elfleda, Batildis, Ursula, Daria, Ealswitha; the last of these affirmed to be intire many years after she had been interred. Many more names of holy men and women were lost by the burning of the antient church, and time has worn out the memory of a still greater number.

Many holy relicks were also preserved in this church: Of those relating to the Old Testament, part of Rachel's tomb; of the altar on which Moses pour'd out oyl; of his book; of the tomb of Isaiah; some manna: relicks of the prophet Daniel; of the three children delivered from the fiery furnace; six gilt stones of the pavement of the Temple, and some of the gate. Relating to our Lord Jesus Christ: Some of the linen He was wrapp'd in; two pieces of the manger; some of the gold offer'd by the Wise Men; five stones out of Jordan, where our Saviour was baptized; one of the vessels in which Christ turned water into wine; of the stones the Devil proposed to Christ to convert into bread; of the five loaves with which our Lord fed five thousand persons; of the place where He was transfigured; of the stone He stood on in the Temple; of His hair; of the hem of His garment; and many more, too tedious for this place: Also relicks of the Blessed Virgin; of St. John Baptist; of the Apostles; of many martyrs, confessors, and holy virgins.

On this account, Glastonbury was every where held in the greatest veneration; and, as has been said, the greatest persons coveted to be buried there; most of whose names have been lost, and of some, mention has been made above.

A few feet from the Old Church stood two pyramids; that next to the church twenty-six feet high, on which were many antiquities worn out by age. On the uppermost story of it, was a pontifical image; on the second, the image of a king, with these letter, Heri, Sexi , and Blisier ; on the third, were these words, Wemerest, Bantomp, Wineweng ; on the fourth, Hate, Wulfred , and Eanfled ; on the fifth, and lowest, an image, and this inscription, Logior, Weslicas, Bregden, Swelves, Hwingendes, Bera . The other pyramid was eighteen feet high, and had four stages, on which was to be read, Hedde Bishop Bregored , and Breorward. What these words signify is not known; but it is guess'd, they were the names of the persons deposited within the pyramid. So great was the respect paid by our ancestors to this place, that they durst not utter any idle words, nor so much as spit in the church, or church-yard, unless compell'd by the utmost necessity, and even then with the utmost reluctancy and remorse: Neither durst any man bring a hawk, horse, or dog into the church, because it had been often observed, that such as had been accidentally brought in, immediately died. Even from foreign countries the earth of this church-yard was sent for, to bury with the greatest persons; and it is reported, that even a Mahometan sultan, having taken an English gentleman in the Holy Land, gave him his liberty, upon promise, that he would bring him a gantlet full of that earth, which was accordingly perform'd, and the gentleman returning to Glastonbury, declared the same upon oath.

As to the burial of King Arthur, Mr. Cambden makes no doubt of it, and gives us from Giraldus Cambrensis, an account how King Henry II. caused search to be made for his tomb, and before they had dug seven foot, they came to a great stone, having a cross of lead on the inside of it, and the subsequent letters, or inscription upon it, and in the following rude character; which the said Giraldus Cambrensis, Mr. Cambden says, was an eye-witness of, as well as of a coffin of hollow'd oak, which they found by digging nine foot deeper than the inscription, wherein were deposited the bones of that great prince.

On the top of a high hill, near a mile from the town, stands an old tower, which the people vulgarly call the TORR; what it was, we are not certain; but it is made famous by one thing in particular; that here King Henry VIII. caused Richard Whitingus, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, to be hanged for refusing to surrender the monastery.

I must confess, that I cannot so much blame the Catholicks in those early days, for reverencing this place as they did, or, at least, 'till they came to found idolatry upon their respect, if they really believed all these things; but my business is to relate, rather than make remarks.

The inscription on King Arthur's coffin, is as follows:

Inscription on coffin

Four miles from Glastonbury, lies the little city of Wells, where is one of the neatest, and, in some respects, the most beautiful, cathedrals in England, particularly the west front of it, is one complete draught of imagery, very fine, and yet very antient.

This is a neat, clean city, and the clergy, in particular, live very handsomly; the Closs, or part of the city, where the Bishop's Palace is, is very properly called so; for it is walled in, and lock'd up like a little fortification, and has a ditch round it.

The dignified clergy live in the inside of it, and the prebendaries, and canons, which are very numerous, have very agreeable dwellings, and live very pleasantly. Here are no less than seven-and-twenty prebends, and nineteen canons, belonging to this church, besides a dean, a chancellor, a precentor, and three arch deacons; a number which very few cathedrals in England have, besides this.

Dugdale, in his Monasticon , tells us, that the church of Wells has given to the kingdom, one Cardinal, six High Chancellors, five High Treasurers, one Lord Privy Seal, one Lord President of Wales, one Secretary of State, all of them bishops of this diocess; the county is the diocess, and contains three hundred eighty-eight parishes, and the arch deaconries are of Wells, Bath, and Taunton.

The city lies just at the foot of the mountains called Mendip Hills, and is itself built on a stony foundation. Its manufacture is chiefly of stockings, as is mentioned already; 'tis well built, and populous, and has several good families in it; so that there is no want of good company there.

Near this city, and just under the hills, is the famous, and so much talk'd of Wokey Hole, which, to me, that had been in Pool's Hole, in the Peak of Derby, has nothing of wonder or curiosity in it; the chief thing I observed in this, is, what is generally found in all such subterraneous caverns; namely, That the water dropping from the roof of the vault, petrifies, and hangs in long pieces like isicles, as if it would, in time, turn into a column to support the arch. As to the stories of a witch dwelling here, as of a gyant dwelling in the other (I mean in Pool's Hole) I take them to be equally fabulous, and worth no notice.

In the low country, on the other side Mendip Hills, lies Chedder, a village pleasantly situated under the very ridge of the mountains; before the village is a large green, or common, a piece of ground, in which the whole herd of the cows, belonging to the town, do feed; the ground is exceeding rich, and as the whole village are cowkeepers, they take care to keep up the goodness of the soil, by agreeing to lay on large quantities of dung for manuring, and inriching the land.

The milk of all the town cows, is brought together every day into a common room, where the persons appointed, or trusted for the management, measure every man's quantity, and set it down in a book; when the quantities are adjusted, the milk is all put together, and every meal's milk makes one cheese, and no more; so that the cheese is bigger, or less, as the cows yield more, or less, milk. By this method, the goodness of the cheese is preserved, and, without all dispute, it is the best cheese that England affords, if not, that the whole world affords.

As the cheeses are, by this means, very large, for they often weigh a hundred weight, sometimes much more, so the poorer inhabitants, who have but few cows, are obliged to stay the longer for the return of their milk; for no man has any such return, 'till his share comes to a whole cheese, and then he has it; and if the quantity of his milk deliver'd in, comes to above a cheese, the overplus rests in account to his credit, 'till another cheese comes to his share; and thus every man has equal justice, and though he should have but one cow, he shall, in time, have one whole cheese. This cheese is often sold for six pence to eight pence per pound, when the Cheshire cheese is sold but for two pence to two pence halfpenny.

Here is a deep, frightful chasm in the mountain, in the hollow of which, the road goes, by which they travel towards Bristol; and out of the same hollow, springs a little river, which flows with such a full stream, that, it is said, it drives twelve mills within a quarter of a mile of the spring; but this is not to be understood, without supposing it to fetch some winding reaches in the way; there would not, otherwise, be room for twelve mills to stand, and have any head of water above the mill, within so small a space of ground. The water of this spring, grows quickly into a river, and runs down into the marshes, and joins another little river called Axe, about Axbridge, and thence into the Bristol Channel, or Severn Sea.

I must now turn east, and south-east, for I resolved not to go up the hills of Mendip at all, this journey, leaving that part to another tour, when I shall give an account of these mountains, as also of the cities of Bath and Bristol, to which they are very near, all in one letter.

I come now to that part of the country, which joins itself to Wiltshire, which I reserved, in particular, to this place, in order to give some account of the broad-cloth manufacture, which I several times mentioned in my first journey, and which is carried on here, and that to such a degree, as deserves a place in all the descriptions, or histories, which shall be given of this country.

As the east, and south parts of Wiltshire are, as I have already observed, all hilly, spreading themselves far and wide, in plains, and grassy downs, for breeding, and feeding, vast flocks of sheep, and a prodigious number of them: And as the west and north parts of Somersetshire are, on the contrary, low, and marshy, or moorish, for feeding, and breeding, of black cattle, and horses, or for lead-mines, &c. So all the south west part of Wiltshire, and the east part of Somersetshire, are low and flat, being a rich, inclosed country, full of rivers and towns, and infinitely populous, insomuch, that some of the market towns are equal to cities in bigness, and superior to them in numbers of people.

This low, flat country, contains part of the three counties of Somerset, Wilts, and Gloucester, and that the extent of it may be the easier understood by those who know any thing of the situation of the country, it reaches from Cirencester in the north, to Sherburn on the edge of Dorsetshire south, and from the Devizes east, to Bristol west, which may take in about fifty miles in length where longest, and twenty in breadth where narrowest.

In this extent of country, we have the following market towns, which are principally employed in the clothing trade, that is to say, in that part of it, which I am now speaking of; namely, fine medley, or mix'd cloths, such as are usually worn in England by the better sort of people; and, also, exported in great quantities to Holland, Hamburgh, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Italy, &c. The principal clothing towns in this part of the country, are these,

Somersetshire Frome, Pensford, Philip's Norton, Bruton, Shepton Mallet, Castle Carey, and Wincanton.
Wiltshire Malmsbury, Castlecomb, Chippenham, Caln, Devizes, Bradford, Trubridge, Westbury, Warminster, Meer.
Dorsetshire Gillingham, Shaftsbury, Bemister, and Bere, Sturminster, Shireborn.
Gloucester Cirencester, Tetbury, Marshfield, Minchinghampton, and Fairford.

These towns, as they stand thin, and at considerable distance from one another; for, except the two towns of Bradford and Trubridge, the other stand at an unusual distance; I say, these towns are interspers'd with a very great number of villages, I had almost said, innumerable villages, hamlets, and scattered houses, in which, generally speaking, the spinning work of all this manufacture is performed by the poor people; the master clothiers, who generally live in the greater towns, sending out the wooll weekly to their houses, by their servants and horses, and, at the same time, bringing back the yarn that they have spun and finished, which then is fitted for the loom.

The increasing and flourishing circumstances of this trade, are happily visible by the great concourse of people to, and increase of buildings and inhabitants in these principal clothing towns where this trade is carried on, and the wealth of the clothiers. The town of Froom, or, as it is written in our maps, Frome Sellwood, is a specimen of this, which is so prodigiously increased within these last twenty or thirty years, that they have built a new church, and so many new streets of houses, and those houses are so full of inhabitants, that Frome is now reckoned to have more people in it, than the city of Bath, and some say, than even Salisbury itself, and if their trade continues to increase for a few years more, as it has done for those past, it is very likely to be one of the greatest and wealthiest inland towns in England.

I call it an inland town, because it is particularly distinguished as such, being, not only no sea-port, but not near any sea-port, having no manner of communication by water, no navigable river at it, or near it. Its trade is wholly clothing, and the cloths they make, are, generally speaking, all conveyed to London: Blackwell-Hall is their market, and thither they send up the gross of their clothing product; and, if we may believe common fame, there are above ten thousand people in Frome now, more than lived in it twenty years ago, and yet it was a considerable town then too.

Here are, also, several large meeting-houses, as well as churches, as there are, generally, in all the manufacturing, trading towns in England, especially in the western counties.

The Devizes is, next to this, a large and important town, and full of wealthy clothiers; but this town has, lately, run pretty much into the drugget-making trade; a business, which has made some invasion upon the broad-cloth trade, and great quantities of druggets are worn in England, as also, exported beyond the seas, even in the place of our broad-cloths, and where they usually were worn and exported; but this is much the same as to the trade still; for as it is all a woollen manufacture, and that the druggets may properly be called cloth, though narrow, and of a different make, so the makers are all called clothiers.

The River Avon, a noble and large fresh river, branching itself into many parts, and receiving almost all the rivers on that side the hills, waters this whole fruitful vale; and the water of this river seems particularly qualified for the use of the clothiers; that is to say, for dying the best colours, and for fulling and dressing the cloth, so that the clothiers generally plant themselves upon this river, but especially the dyers, as at Trubridge, and Bradford, which are the two most eminent cloathing towns in that part of the vale for the making fine Spanish cloths, and of the nicest mixtures.

From these towns south, to Westbury, and to Warminster, the same trade continues, and the finest medley Spanish cloths, not in England only, but in the whole world, are made in this part. They told me at Bradford, That it was no extraordinary thing to have clothiers in that country worth, from ten thousand, to forty thousand pounds a man, and many of the great families, who now pass for gentry in those counties, have been originally raised from, and built up by this truly noble manufacture.

If I may speak here from the authority of the antient inhabitants of the place, and who have been curious observers upon this subject, the country which I have now described, as principally imploy'd in, and maintained by this prodigy of a trade, contains two million, three hundred and thirty thousand acres of land, and has in it seven hundred eighty-eight parishes, and three hundred and seventy-four thousand people. It is true, that this is all guess-work; but I must confess myself very willing to believe, that the reckoning is far short of the account; for the county is exceeding large and populous.

It may be worth enquiry, by the curious, how the manufacturers, in so vast a consumption of the wooll, as such a trade must take up, can be supplied with wooll for their trade; and, indeed, it would be something strange, if the answer were not at hand.

  1. We may reasonably conclude, that this manufacture was at first seated in this county, or, as we may say, planted itself here at first, because of the infinite numbers of sheep, which were fed at that time upon the downs and plains of Dorset, Wilts, and Hampshire, all adjoining, as a trading town is seated, or rises gradually upon some large river, because of the benefit of navigation; and as gentlemen place the mansion houses of their estates, and seats of their families, as near the pleasant rivers, woods, and fine prospects as possible, for the delight of their living; so the first planters of the clothing manufacture, doubtless, chose this delightful vale for its seat, because of the neighbourhood of those plains, which might be supposed to be a fund of wooll for the carrying it on. Thus the manufacture of white cloth was planted in Stroud Water in Gloucestershire, for the sake of the excellent water there for the dying scarlets, and all colours that are dyed in grain, which are better dyed there, than in any other place of England, some towns near London excepted. Hence, therefore, we first observe, they are supplied yearly with the fleeces of two or three millions of sheep.
  2. But as the number of sheep fed on these downs is lessened, rather than increased, because of the many thousand acres of the carpet ground being, of late years, turned into arable land, and sowed with wheat; which, by the way, has made Warminster a market town, on the edge of Somersetshire, as it now is, without exception, the greatest market for wheat in England, with this exception only, viz. Where none of it is bought to send to London.
  3. I say, The number of sheep, and consequently the quantity of wooll, decreasing, and at the same time the manufacture, as has been said, prodigiously increasing, the manufacturers applied themselves to other parts for a supply, and hence began the influx of north-country wooll to come in from the counties of Northampton, Leicester, and Lincoln, the center of which trade, is about Tetbury and Cirencester, where are the markets for the north-country wooll, and where, as they say, several hundred packs of wooll are sold every week, for the supply of this prodigious consumption.
  4. From London, they have great quantities of wooll, which is generally called Kentish wooll, in the fleece, which is brought up from thence by the farmers, since the late severe Acts against their selling it within a certain number of miles of the sea, also fell-wooll for the combers, bought of the wooll-staplers in Barnabystreet, and sent back by the carriers, which bring up the cloths to market.
  5. They have also, sometimes, large quantities of Irish wooll, by the way of Bristol, or of Mynhead, in Somersetshire; but this is uncertain, and only on extraordinary occasions. I omit the Spanish wooll, as being an article by itself.

Thus, in short, as those that see the numbers of sheep fed on the downs and plains, as above, and that see the quantity of wooll brought to the markets of Tetbury, and other towns, and the quantity sent from London, all into this one vale, would wonder how it was possible to be consumed, manufactured, and wrought up; so on the other hand, those that saw the numbers of people imploy'd, and the vast quantity of goods made in this part of England, would wonder where the whole nation should be able to supply them with wooll.

And yet, notwithstanding the whole country is thus imploy'd in the broad-cloth manufacture, as above, I must not omit to mention, that here is a very great application to another trade or two, which I am obliged, by my first scheme, not to forget to mention, viz. The supplying the city of London with provisions; though it is true, that the general imployment of the people in all this county, is in the woollen manufacture; yet, as the spinning is generally the work of the women and children, and that the land is here exceeding rich and fertile, so it cannot be supposed, but that here are farmers in great numbers, whose business it is to cultivate the land, and supply the rest of the inhabitants with provisions; and this they do so well, that notwithstanding the county is so exceeding populous, yet provisions of all sorts are very cheap, the quantity very great, and a great overplus sent every day to London for the supply of their demand, which, as I said before, is great enough to exhaust a whole nation.

All the lower part of this county, and also of Gloucestershire, adjoining, is full of large feeding farms, which we call dairies, and the cheese they make, as it is excellent good of its kind, so being a different kind from the Cheshire, being soft and thin, is eaten newer than that from Cheshire. Of this, a vast quantity is every week sent up to London, where, though it is called Gloucestershire cheese, yet a great part of it is made in Wiltshire, and the greatest part of that which comes to London, the Gloucestershire cheese being more generally carried to Bristol, and Bath, where a very great quantity is consumed, as well by the inhabitants of two populous cities, as also for the shipping off to our West-India colonies, and other places.

This Wiltshire cheese is carried to the river of Thames, which runs through part of the county, by land carriage, and so by barges to London.

Again, in the spring of the year, they make a vast quantity of that we call green cheese, which is a thin, and very soft cheese, resembling cream cheeses, only thicker, and very rich. These are brought to market new, and eaten so, and the quantity is so great, and this sort of cheese is so universally liked and accepted in London, that all the low, rich lands of this county, are little enough to supply the market; but then this holds only for the two first summer months of the year, May and June, or little more.

Besides this, the farmers in Wiltshire, and the part of Gloucestershire adjoining, send a very great quantity of bacon up to London, which is esteemed as the best bacon in England, Hampshire only excepted: This bacon is raised in such quantities here, by reason of the great dairies, as above, the hogs being fed with the vast quantity of whey, and skim'd milk, which so many farmers have to spare, and which must, otherwise, be thrown away.

But this is not all, for as the north part of Wiltshire, as well the downs, as the vales, border upon the river Thames, and, in some places, comes up even to the banks of it; so most of that part of the county being arable land, they sow a very great quantity of barley, which is carried to the markets at Abingdon, at Farrington, and such places, where it is made into malt, and carried to London. This imploys all the hill country from above Malmsbury to Marlbro, and on the side of the Vale of White Horse, as 'tis called, which is in Barkshire, and the hills adjoyning, a tract of ground, able to furnish, considering its fertility, a prodigious quantity of barley, and does so.

Thus Wiltshire itself helps to supply London with cheese, bacon, and malt, three very considerable articles, besides that vast manufacture of fine Spanish cloths, which I have said so much of, and I may, without being partial, say, that it is thereby rendered one of the most important counties in England, that is to say, important to the publick wealth of the kingdom. The bare product is in itself prodigious great; the downs are an inexhausted store-house of wooll, and of corn, and the valley, or low part of it, is the like for cheese and bacon.

One thing here is worth while to mention, for the observation of those counties in England, where they are not yet arrived to that perfection of husbandry, as in this county, and I have purposely reserved it to this place: The case is this, The downs or plains, which are generally called Salisbury Plain; but, particularly, extend themselves over the counties of Southampton, Wilts, and Dorset, were formerly all left open to be fed by the large flocks of sheep so often mentioned; but now, so much of these downs are plowed up, as has increased the quantity of corn produced in this county, in a prodigious manner, and lessened their quantity of wooll, as above; all which has been done by folding their sheep upon the plow'd lands, removing the fold every night to a fresh place, 'till the whole piece of ground has been folded on; this, and this alone, has made these lands, which in themselves are poor, and where, in some places, the earth is not above six inches above the solid chalk rock, able to bear as good wheat, as any of the richer lands in the vales, though not quite so much: I say this alone; for many of these lands lie so remote from the farmers houses, and up such high hills, for the farmers live always in the valleys, and by the rivers, that it could not be worth their while to carry dung from those farm-houses, to those remote lands; besides, the draught up hill would be so heavy, and the ways so bad, that it would kill all their cattle.

If this way of folding sheep upon the fallows, and plowed lands, were practised, in some parts of England, and especially in Scotland, they would find it turn to such account, and so effectually improve the waste lands, which now are useless and uncultivated, that the sheep would be more valuable, and lands turn to a better account than was ever yet known among them. In Wiltshire it appears to be so very significant, that if a farmer has a thousand of sheep, and no fallows to fold them on, his neighbours will give him ten shillings a night for every thousand.

I am come now to Marlborough: On the downs, about two or three miles from the town, are abundance of loose stones, lying scattered about the plain; some whereof are very large, and appear to be of the same kind with those at Stonehenge, and some larger. They are called by the country people, not for want of ignorance, The Gray Weathers. I do not find any account given of them in history, or by the greatest of our antiquaries, so I must leave them as I find them.

At Marlborough, and in several villages near, as well as on the downs, there are several of those round rising mounts, which the country people call barrows, and which all our writers agree, were monuments of the dead, and particularly of soldiers slain in fight. This in Marlborough, stands in the Duke of Somerset's garden, and is, by that means, kept up to its due height. There is a winding way cut out of the mount, that goes several times round it, 'till insensibly it brings you to the top, where there is a seat, and a small pleasant green, from whence you look over great part of the town.

This is an antient town, and, at present, has a pretty good shop-keeping trade, but not much of the manufacturing part. The river Kennet, lately made navigable by Act of Parliament, rises just by this town, and running from hence to Hungerford, and Newbery, becomes a large stream, and passing by Reading, runs into the Thames near the town. This river is famous for craw-fish, which they help travellers to at Newbery; but they seldom want for price.

Between this town of Marlborough, and Abington, westward, is the Vale of White Horse: The inhabitants tell a great many fabulous stories of the original of its being so called; but there is nothing of foundation in them all, that I could see; the whole of the story is this; Looking south from the vale, we see a trench cut on the side of a high green hill, this trench is cut in the shape of a horse, and not ill-shap'd I assure you. The trench is about two yards wide on the top, about a yard deep, and filled almost up with chalk, so that at a distance, for it is seen many miles off, you see the exact shape of a White Horse; but so large, as to take up near an acre of ground, some say, almost two acres. From this figure the hill is called, in our maps, White Horse Hill, and the low, or flat country under it, the Vale of White Horse.

It is a very fertile and fruitful vale, and extends itself from Farrington almost to Abington, tho' not exactly in a line: Some think 'twas done by the Saxons, whose device was a white horse, and is so still.

Having spoken of what is most remarkable, or at least, what most occurred to my observation from the Land's End to Newbery in Barkshire, I must here take the liberty to look round upon some passages in later times, which have made this part of the country more famous than before, I. On the hills on this side the Devizes, is Roundway Down, where the Lord Wilmot, and the king's forces, beat, and intirely routed, the famous Sir William Waller, in the late Rebellion, or Civil War; from whence the place is called, by some, Runaway Down to this day. A little nearer towards Marlborough, is St. Ann's Hill, where, notwithstanding several high hills between, and the distance of twenty-two miles, or more, is a fair view of Salisbury-steeple, or spire, which is, without all dispute, the highest in England. The defeat of Sir William Waller, take in the few words of one of the most impartial historians of those times.--- The action was, in short, thus,

Waller had always the misfortune to be beaten when he pursued nis enemy to force a fight. This was his case now: He heard that the Lord Wilmot, with a body of the king's forces, were marched into the west to joyn Colonel Greenville, Sir Arthur Slanning, and the loyal troops in Dorsetshire: Upon this, he makes long marches to overtake, and intercept them, pretending to fight them, joyn'd, or not joyn'd; but my Lord Wilmot advancing with 1500 horse of the king's best troops, joyn'd the western forces at the Devizes, and facing about upon Waller, met him upon Roundway Down, not far from St. Ann's Hill, mentioned above.

As I said, he who was seeking out his enemy, must himself be easy to be found, and therefore they soon came together; for though Waller seeing too late, that he was in an error, would have been glad to have got off without fighting, yet seeing the king's troops advance in full march to attack him, boldly drew up in order of battle, and marched forward to meet them: Upon which ensued an obstinate, and very bloody, fight; for Waller was brave, and his men had been enur'd to victory, especially his infantry, and though they were gallantly attacked by Colonel Slanning, and Greenville, the latter of whom was slain, yet they stood their ground, and could not be broken, but rather gain'd upon the Royalists: But the Lord Wilmot charging with an irresistable fury at the head of the cavalry, the rebel horse were broken, and put into confusion, a body of Wilmot's horse pushing them quite out of the field: Lord Wilmot then falling with the like fury upon the rear of the foot, while the king's foot lay hard upon them in the front: They were, at last, broken also; and, in a word, quite overthrown: And there being no way to escape the horse, upon an open wild down, as that is, they were most of them cut in pieces, or taken prisoners. All their cannon and baggage were also taken, with their arms and ammunition; and Waller himself, with great difficulty, escaped. This was in the month of August, 1643.

From this action, as I said, this place was ever after called Runaway-Down, instead of Roundway-Down.

Daniel Defoe, A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies (London: JM Dent and Co, 1927)

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