Reprinted from Newsletter 129, dated 2009 August

Early Victorian Glastonbury

Adrian Pearse

A talk by Neill Bonham

With a fascinating array of maps and prints, Neill Bonham portrayed the evolution of early Victorian Glastonbury to the Antiquarian Society on April 3.

Medieval survivals were still plentiful in the Regency period. The Boundary Commission map of 1835 showed how little the built-up parts of the town had expanded. However, dramatic changes came by the time of the Tithe Map in 1844: grand houses such as Chalice Hill House, Abbey House, Somerset House and Blenheim House all appeared. The row of cottages between St John’s and the High Street was cleared away, and the cross by Benjamin Ferrey in the Market Place was erected in 1846.

West’s sketchbook of 1844, kept in the Victoria & Albert Museum, contains numerous vignettes of the town, including the “Madras” school beside St John’s. The sale of the Abbey site in 1850 (to James Austin) occasioned the printing of a booklet of views by Dolby, giving excellent detail and descriptions.

In the campaign in 1854 to save the canal a poster showed the canal basin and its environs, and several engravings appeared with an article in the Illustrated London News recording the celebrations when the railway opened the same year.

Early directories such as Hunts detailed the numerous coach connections through Glastonbury. The White Hart in particular concentrated on this trade, which by the early 1850s was but a pale shadow of former times.

A tourists’ booklet of engraved views around 1855, in many ways a forerunner of the picture postcard, provides several views of the town that reveal recent developments in detail, such as the remodelling of the interior of St John’s, with the new font and pulpit by Sir Gilbert Scott and gasoliers. St Benedict’s was as yet unrestored (again by Scott). Another view shows the newly erected cemetery chapels.

Neill plans to continue his review of Victorian Glastonbury in autumn lectures.