Pomparles Bridge and Bride’s Mound

Blog post, May 8 2014

Pomparles Bridge, ‘Pons Perilus,’ was first built in Roman times (though of course it’s been rebuilt a couple of times since). The road from the bridge to the roundabout just outside Street (A39) runs along what is in fact a medieval causeway – to the left of the bridge in the picture; this would have held back the water on the upstream side, creating the lake into which Sir Bedivere is said to have hurled Excalibur after King Arthur’s final battle.

Just before you get to all this there is Clyce Hole (‘Clyce’ is an old word meaning a sluice). Here the river has clearly been heavily engineered in fairly recent times, and when the river is full there is a substantial rush down an artificial waterfall. There’s also the beginning of the Mill Stream, which is not actually joined to the main river though I’m sure that once it was. The Mill Stream used to power the mills at Northover and Beckery.

Beyond Pomparles Bridge the main river channel flows past Bride’s Mound (also known as ‘Beckery island’) and then takes an unnaturally straight course towards Meare. This is the beginning of the medieval canal works. I imagine that before the river was diverted it could have split into two channels either side of Bride’s Mound. One would have approximately followed the course of the present Mill Stream (to the right of the Mound); the other would have gone to the left, and met up with it somewhere near where Snow’s Timber yard is now.

Bride’s Mound used to be roughly the furthest point you could reach by boat up the river Axe/Brue. It is here that St Bridget (Bride) is said to have stayed when she came to Glastonbury from Ireland (AD 488). Certainly there was a chapel here more than 1,000 years ago.

The County Council’s notice boards on Bride’s Mound give dubious information. For instance, the river was not diverted towards Meare around 900 AD. Historians give different possible dates, but all between about 1250 and 1320.

The medieval course of the Brue was probably similar to that shown on the Council’s board, though the course shown is partly the modern river and partly the Pilrow Cut. Until the thirteenth century the Brue itself flowed through the Panborough-Bleadney gap and joined the River Axe. I was told that the course shown is based n LiDAR data, which I’m sure is easy to misinterpret.

It may be true that the Brue ran through a huge swamp here, but that changed considerably over time and also depending on the time of year. Once the Roman causeway had been built (about 50 yards upstream from the medieval causeway) it would have held a lot of the water back on its upstream side, so that by the fifth century (if you are interested in either Sir Bedivere or St Bridget) it would probably have been flooded below the bridge in winter but not in summer. I prefer the idea of a lake with a lady to that of a gigantic swamp.