At Upper Godney (as Phoebe had said) the Sheppey is ‘a different kind of river’ to the Hartlake, meaning that it appears to follow a natural course rather than being a straight canal. This seemed odd, since Michael Williams clearly refers to the waterway between Hurn and Nineacres (Upper Godney) as being straightened and refurbished some time after 1326.
From Upper Godney, to the eye the land slopes gently downhill towards the hills between Fenny Castle and Bleadney, so it is curious that the river Sheppey flows in the opposite direction. This helps to confirm the thought I had already had, that when the River Sheppey was redirected towards Meare they utilised part of the Brue’s abandoned watercourse, presumably digging out the bed of the river so that the direction of flow was reversed. This would have been when the waterway between Hurn Farm and Upper Godney was created (part of diverting the Sheppey into Meare Pool, and then later into the new Brue) some time between 1326 and 1630.
In Bleadney I met an old man – though fit enough to be out digging his garden – who used to work for the Somerset River Authority. (“When it changed to the Wessex Water Authority, that’s when things started going downhill.”)
He told me that the river Axe rises in Wookey (half way between Bleadney and Wells) and that it splits into two channels - the one coming down to Bleadney is actually a Saxon mill stream built around 950 ad, which used to supply several water mills; the other, the main channel (though from the look of the map disappeared into the rhyne system now) rejoins it further downstream, at Marchey.
He confirmed that the Brue used to flow across the moor to Bleadney, though very wiggly and meandering. He said it used to flow through 'our' orchard, until the river was diverted in 1280. He was very definite about the date 1280, almost as if he had been there and witnessed it himself. I got the feeling that this was local folk memory, and I am more inclined to believe it than the more vague extrapolations of the historians.
In 1326 there was one of many disputes between Glastonbury and Wells, and with the old river now thoroughly silted up, a new rhyne was constructed to mark the boundary between land controlled by the two ecclesiastical prelates. This rhyne was know as the ‘Rid,’ (as in ‘getting rid of the water’) and Reed Farm on the edge of Bleadney was actually called Rid Farm. From MW’s book, this would seem to have been a straightening of the Sheppey, which would still have flowed into the Axe at that date.
The mill stream from Wookey was originally constructed to join the Brue at Bleadney, so the stretch of river from Bleadney to Marchey (Martinsey), marked ‘Lower River Axe’ on the map, actually follows the course of the ancient Brue. I looked forward to exploring this and the river Axe.