northload meare orig

The late 12th century channel from Northload to Meare Pool, now part of the Glastonbury mill stream.

Great Withy Rhine, north of Glastonbury, showing the line of the ancient river bank.

The River Brue’s original route from Glastonbury to the Axe valley, from the map of Central Somerset in the 13th century; Bruce Garrard, The River.


Information leaflet, September 2019

The River Brue did not originally flow west from Glastonbury and on to the sea at Highbridge. Until the fourteenth century it flowed north across the moors and through the gap in the hills between Panborough and Bleadney, into what is now the Axe valley. The River Axe was a tributary of the Brue, which reached the sea at Uphill near to Brean Down.

This changed as a result of medieval engineering works, designed to improve and extend the transport system. At that time, travel and transport by water was easier and cheaper than by  road. A series of alterations and additions to the river, carried out between the late twelfth century and the mid-fourteenth, led to it silting up north of Glastonbury and ceasing to flow along its natural course. Details of these alterations are available in the book The River. A summary is as follows:

1. The creation of a new channel from the River Brue near Northload at Glastonbury to Meare Pool (estimated to be circa 1186-1189).
2. Continuation west of Meare Pool at least as far as Mark on the Pilrow Cut, and later joining the River Axe near Rooks Bridge (c 1190).
​3. Construction of embarkation ports at Rackley (for Wells) and Rooksbridge (for Glastonbury), each facilitating sea trade. (c 1175 and c 1225).
4. Construction of Pomparles Bridge and related developments, including the Glastonbury mill stream and Beckery mill (c 1240-1250).
5. Excavation of the ‘Back River’ – now the section of the Brue between Pomparles Bridge and Coldharbour Bridge towards Meare (c 1280).
6. River Brue extended through to Highbridge (c 1300).
7. River Brue from Hurn (now on the River Sheppey) to Bleadney straightened and made fit for navigation, having been previously silted up (1326).
8. Rivers Hartlake and Sheppey redirected to join the new River Brue near Meare (c 1350s).

It is possible to follow the former course of the Brue across the moors from Glastonbury to Bleadney and the River Axe; a lot of it is visible as rhines and field boundaries that follow natural curves rather than straight lines. On Crannel Moor, where the old Brue was obliterated by its tributaries the Hartlake and the Sheppey being redirected at right angles to the former river, the Godney/North Wootton parish boundary is ‘river-shaped’ and can be seen on an ordnance survey map. North of Garslade Farm, a section of the redirected Sheppey utilises an old channel of the Brue. And approaching Bleadney, where the Brue and the Sheppey once both flowed into the Perry Lake, the northern edge of the former lake is identified by Perry Lake Lane.