Bride’s Mound (or Hill) is one of Glastonbury’s less known special places, yet it is a site of great archaeological interest and spiritual significance, a haven for wildlife and protected green space that is much loved by many in the town. An organisation called The Friends of Bride’s Mound was set up in 1996 to look after the site as it was threatened by development.
Bride’s Mound is on the Glastonbury Pilgrimage route and an article detailing its history and significance in more detail can be found on the Glaston Centre website. If you are not already familiar with the history of this Fifth Century religious site and the significance of Bride’s Mound in Glastonbury’s history, you might like to read it first: https://www.unitythroughdiversity.org/brides-mound.html
Interview with Dr Serena Roney-Dougal
A walking pilgrimage to the site takes place each Imbolc, led by one of the founders of the Friend’s of Bride’s Mound, a long term Glastonbury resident and author Dr Serena Roney-Dougal. We recently got together for a chat.
Why is Bride’s hill so historically significant?
“The bones found on the Hill are from the 5th century, they are all male (except for one woman and a child whose bones have been lost). They were all buried facing East-West, which was a Christian custom and shows that this was an early Celtic Christian community, with a chapel built around one stone-lined grave. We don’t know the date of that earliest person, as the bones were lost after Rahtz’s excavation, he dated them as from the Saxon period (radiocarbon dating wasn’t very accurate in the 1960s). The bones are from a period of a few hundred years, so I would suggest this was not a community, but rather a succession of hermit priests.
Fourteenth-century chronicler John of Glastonbury, wrote that Bridget visited Glastonbury in 488 A.D., from Ireland, staying for several years at ‘Beokery,’ where there was a chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene, later re-dedicated to St. Bridget, perhaps in honour of her visit.
The legends say there was Nunnery up on Wearyall Hill, though it’s not been found. In the King Arthur story, he had a dream on Wearyall Hill telling him to go to the chapel on Bride’s Mound, which is where he had a vision of Mary and child, leading to his conversion to Christianity. The myths and legends are actually being revealed as history. There’s archaeological and historical fact in there.”
Why is Bride’s Mound the focus of celebrations at Imbolc?
“The Celtic festivals come from the self-sustaining traditions of the land. Imbolc marks the very beginning of Spring and is the time when we traditionally honour the goddess Brigid, it’s about the young, the baby, lambing, ewes milk, the beginning of the sowing of the seeds going into the dark earth and the first shoots. We’re still in hibernation, the days are lengthening towards Spring equinox, but it’s a while yet until the coming together of the women and men at Beltane.
In Christian tradition Candlemas is celebrated at this time, so-called because, as the days lengthen, the poor would no longer need candles”.
I remember going to a ceremony in the Assembly Rooms when I first moved to Glastonbury in the early nineties, what I most recall is that the hall was in total darkness and that the women were led into the hall by the men. It was very powerful, would that have been an Imbolc ceremony?
“Yes! The ceremony was inspired by folklore tradition, probably from Ireland. The men prepared the hall, while the women met at the Bridget Chapel. Arriving at the Assembly Rooms the women knocked on the outer door, then the inner door to the hall. They were then led in by the men, by the hand, into the dark room, to join the men in a circle around the hall. Oshia and Jaine sang Ailshabearn, Willow went to the hall door, opening it and calling three times “Bridey, Bridey. your bed is ready”. Then a girl with a candle came in, followed by another girl with the Bridey doll, The candles in the hall would all be lit from the original candle, then the Bridey doll was put into her bed. All followed by a party in the evening”.
I wish we still did that, as a community!
“We’ve lost the magic of those days, we were fortunate we had the experience, but you can’t keep the magic by doing the same thing again and again, it’s time for the new generation to make their own magic”
The last time I went to the Mound there were still people living in caravans who had set up there during the lockdown, I know they’ve been moved on now, how did that affect the site?
“Most of the people living there really respected the land and looked after it. There was lots of communication with the Friends of Brides Mond who made sure people knew how important the site was. No one lived on the chapel or graves site. There was some rubbish left, but 75% of clean up is done”.
History of the Friends of Bride’s Mound (aka Bride’s Hill) 1980 – 1996
Serena Roney-Dougal recently wrote a piece about her experience of Bride’s Hill for the Friends of Bride’s Mound newsletter, which I’ve reproduced here:
“My story starts in 1981 when I was first taken to Bride’s Mound. We went up the track that goes from the main road past the former Mapstone farm, which is now called Northover Manor House and owned by Mr Parsons and has been turned into flats. At that time the track went on past what is now Bridies Yard and up through what are now the Friends fields to the chapel site. Since then Mr Parsons has closed off the track.
It was love at first sight. I remember being told that it was called Bride’s Mound to distinguish it from Castle Mound at the other end of Beckery Island, which is now called The Mound and is where Keswick’s Meat wholesalers are located, along with several other industrial units. This was a Romano-British site with later mediaeval castle building and was formerly known as Glastonbury Castle. It was destroyed in 1972 for industrial development.
I may also have been told that it was called Bride’s Hill, and then confused it with the Mound and called it Bride’s Mound, so the incorrect name is my fault entirely and I think we should return it to its original name that it was known by since the 1500s. So I shall call it Bride’s Hill for the rest of this story.
On that first visit, I was introduced to the story about the hiding by John Goodchild in 1898 of the Blue Bowl, under a stone in a sluice pool where a ditch flowed out to the river, this being found by Kitty Tudor Pole, and Christine and Janet Allen in 1906. This was given by Wellesley Tudor Pole to Chalice Well in 1966, where it is now kept. I was later taken to Chalice Well where I was able to hold the Blue Bowl, which at that time was kept in a cupboard in the upper room of Little St. Michaels.
Then, in 1986, (if my memory is correct!), we started the Imbolc ceremonies. On Imbolc eve a woman would make a Bridey doll which was brought to Chalice Well at 10.00, and a circle of women would give gifts to the Bridey doll.
The men would be creating a bed for Bridey in the Assembly Rooms, which is where we all met up in utterly memorable ceremonies in the evening, but this meant that the women had the day, and so I started to take people down to Bride’s Hill. One year, on a rainy day with a wind from the West, just two of us left Chalice Well to walk down and were met by Sue with her child in a pushchair, and the three of us walked to Bride’s Hill. Another time Tipi Jean was with us and, along with a horse and a dog and Jean playing her pennywhistle, a whole crowd of us walked down. Another time Maya Love played her bagpipes all the way from Chalice Well to Bride’s Hill.
One time there was a rather feisty horse grazing the field, which startled people rather, so I climbed over first, caught hold of its halter and spoke to it in stern horsey woman tones, which subdued it sufficiently to let the people pass on up. Fortunately, there was a man with us this time who also understood horses, and who found a rope with which we were able to tether the horse and join the others on the Hill. When we had finished and were returning he and I went to free the horse and found it had managed to tangle itself in the wire fence, but fortunately was unhurt and we were able to set it free once again.
At one time, Sue Palmer recorded me telling her all about it for the Glastonbury Internet radio that she and Steven Clarke had recently started up. Up until then, we had just been climbing over the barbed wire fence to get in, as the gate which is at the bottom of the Friends track, was padlocked. At this time it was still owned by Morlands and the sheepskin factory was in its last days. And this year Mr Wilkey, who was manager for Morlands, had given us the key to the padlock so that we were officially and legally meeting on Bride’s Hill!! Hence the recording of a historic occasion. And since that time we have always had permission to hold Imbolc ceremonies on the Hill.
Doing this Imbolc walk every year meant that Bride’s Hill started to get known about. One day Tina Redpath, who was running the Goddess and Green Man shop in the Glastonbury Experience Courtyard, stopped me in the High Street to say that an Irish man had been in her shop complaining about the dreadful state of Bride’s Hill, and why were the women of Glastonbury not taking better care of it. That year, Mrs Parsons had her Jacobs sheep on the land and at least one of them had died. So Tina and I contacted several women and we all met in Tina’s house, which at that time was in Magdalene St. We all decided that we need to do something and each of us took on a different task. Mine was to research the history of the chapel site, and so I joined the Antiquarian Society and bought Philip Rahtz’s book about his excavations of the chapel. This formed the basis of the article I wrote for Avalon magazine in 1996.
Around the same time, Jaine Raine had a meeting of women in the Bridget Chapel, which was in the Glastonbury Experience and is now the Library of Avalon. The Bridget chapel was the place that the women would all meet on Imbolc in the evening to prepare for the ceremony in the Assembly Rooms, so it was a very fitting place for me to talk about Bride’s Hill and the need to take care of it. One of the women there, Natasha Warner, was a landscape architect and she got enthused to the point that she did a series of landscape drawings showing the vision we had created during that meeting. This vision is still slowly being realised.
By this time Morlands had been sold to GF Holding Co. who had put plans into Mendip District Council (MDC) to turn the bottom end of the Brides Hill field into a lorry park. Mendip District Council were at that time developing their Local Plan and so it was really important that we protect the land from development. The other thing to come out of that meeting in the Bridget chapel was that of forming the Friends of Bride’s Mound on 10th May 1996, as an Unincorporated Charitable Association, a legally recognized group that could present our objections to the development and ask for the land to be outside the development limit.
At Imbolc earlier that year, 1996, I announced the planned formation of the Friends and asked women to sign up as founder members. Jaine Raine, Patti Howe, myself and Sue Barnet then created the cooperative constitution, opened up a bank account and the Friends were formed. We also organized a display in the Library which at that time was in Northload Street, which included the beautiful banner made by Annie Rudder which used to hang in the Bridget Chapel.
Patti Howe, Janie Raine, myself and many other helpers then set to preparing all the documents we needed to present to the Inspector at the Mendip District Council Local Plan Public Inquiry, as well as starting an application to become a Charity. One sentence which hides hours, weeks and months of work!! We contacted Martin Palmer of the Sacred Land Project, and John Smith from that project came down to the meeting with the Inspector in June 2000. John Brunsdon, a Town Councillor and chair of the Conservation Society, also supported us at that meeting and the Inspector found in our favour – the land would be outside the development limit and protected!”
Event – Imbolc 2022 Walk to Bride’s Mound
The Friends of Bride’s Mound invite you to join us for the day on Tuesday 1st February, traditionally known as Imbolc, the feast day of St. Brigid.
Meet outside the White Spring (Wellhouse Lane), where the White and the Red springs join at 1 pm then walk to Bride’s Mound with Serena Roney-Dougal. Wear clothing and footwear suitable for wet and muddy conditions! At 2.30 pm there will be a gathering around the fire on Bride’s Mound. Everyone is very welcome to join us either for the whole walk or just for the gathering on Bride’s Mound.
Membership of Friend’s of Bride’s Mound
The Friend’s of Bride’s Mound are keen to welcome new friends to support their work, please join them, membership is only a few pounds a year and they also accept donations to their invaluable work. Details can be found on their website:
Please send any enquiries to email@example.com
Find out More
Bride’s Mound is part of the Beckery Island, I wrote about this fascinating part of Glastonbury here:
You can keep up to date with the Friend’s of Bride’s Mound on Facebook.
Glastonbury Gabriel has made a great video walking around the site:
Video of the procession to Bride’s Mound and ceremony in 2010:
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