History & Legends
Origin of Names:
The name of Beckery is first recorded in a charter dated 670AD, when it was given by the Saxon king Cenwealdh to Glastonbury Abbey. It may have been derived from the Old English word ‘Beocere’ meaning ‘Bee-keeper’s Island’ or from the Gaelic word ‘Becc-Eriu’ meaning ‘Little Ireland’. Either are possible as Little Ireland would connect with the visit of St. Bridget and other Celtic saints, and communities would have kept bees for honey.
The origins of (the use of the name) ‘Bride’s Mound’ seem to be relatively modern, perhaps due to the burials found by Philip Rahtz in his 1967 excavations. The area was known as Bride’s Hill, and for a while Bride’s Hay meaning Bridget’s Island. Adam Stout has written that a manor of Beckery was included among the demesne lands of the abbey in 1322 -3. The site of Brides or Beckery, alias Brides manor, was mentioned among the abbey demesne lands in 1539 and before that date it had formed part of the lands assigned to the prior of the monastery. The site was leased by the Crown to Nicholas Speke in 1544. In 1580 Queen Elizabeth gave land in “Becorie alias Bryde in Glastonbury” to Richard Upham.
A entry in a rental of the Cavendish estates in 1628 called it Bridhill “neare Backrey mill.” This mill is where the old Baily’s building stands and was also called Bride’s Mill. An account in 1799 of a sale called it “Bride’s Hill, in the Occupation of Robert Bath.” The map of this sale shows the chapel field and the land which is now the Western end of the sewage works to be Bride’s Hill, with Bride’s Mill also marked. The shape of these fields is identical with those on a map by Senior dated to 1628. So we have a long heritage of the appellation Bride for this land, presumably because the chapel was dedicated to St. Bridget.
1799 Map showing the two fields known as Bride’s Hill and the nearby Bride’s Mill, where the old Baily building now stands. These two fields continued to be known as “The Brides” until recent times.
There is evidence of human use of this site from Neolithic times, through the Iron Age, the Roman period, the early Saxon era up until the Dissolution of Glastonbury Abbey in 1539. The site fell into disuse as a chapel after the dissolution, and has been used solely for agriculture until now. The ruins of the chapel were still visible in the late 1790s.
This continuity suggests that the land may have been a shrine (or sacred) in prehistoric times, as early Christian sites are often on earlier pagan sites.
According to William of Malmesbury, who wrote circa 1129, an Anglo-Saxon charter of 670 includes the island of Beckery as one of the seven islands granted to Glastonbury Abbey by the Saxon King Cenwealh. Bishop Haeddi of Winchester confirmed the charter in 680. The seven islands were the Isles of Avalon, Beckery, Godney, Martinsea, Meare, Panborough and Nyland. A Papal Charter of 1168 refers to Beckery as the ‘first of the islands in the Glastonbury Abbey Estates’, which illustrates its importance to them.
Both William, and later John of Glastonbury, who wrote circa 1340, state that St. Bridget visited Glastonbury in 488 A.D., from Ireland, and stayed for several years on the island called ‘Beokery,’ where there was a chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene. This chapel was later re-dedicated to St. Bridget, perhaps in honour of her visit.
Myths and Legends
John of Glastonbury states that there was a ‘monastery of holy virgins’ on Wearyall Hill. According to legend, King Arthur, whilst staying there, was told, in a recurring dream for three consecutive nights, to visit the chapel at Beckery. He did, and received a vision of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus. This experience led Arthur to adopt a new banner depicting the Virgin and Child, in place of the older banner of the Dragon. Some sources state that this contributed to Arthur’s conversion to Christianity. There is a beautiful stained glass window depicting this in King Arthur’s Hall of Chivalry at Tintagel.
According to Grail Romances, the mortally wounded Arthur was brought by barge to Avalon, stopping at a spot which from the descriptions could be Beckery, and where Bevedere threw Excalibur into the River Brue, near what is now Pomparles Bridge – Pons Perilous of legend.
Bridget’s Perpetual Flame:
As part of the Goddess Conference in 2005, Sister Mary and Sister Rhita of the Brigidine Order ‘Solas Bhrde’ in Kildare, Ireland, brought the Perpetual Flame of St. Bridget to Bride’s Mound.
According to Goodchild who put the blue bowl into Bride’s Well, Beckery was known known as the ‘Women’s Quarter’; the reason is lost in obscurity.
Fiona Macleod wrote of St. Bridget’s association with Druids in ‘Iona’, and Alice Buckton wrote a pageant play, ‘The Coming of Bride’, about the visit of St. Bride to Glastonbury, where she was met by Druids, so a Druidic link is possible.
Bride’s Mound and its environs have become a place of pilgrimage since the far past, probably due to its proximity to the River Brue where pilgrims coming from the west would land. Pilgrims to the Isle of Avalon are said to have spent a night in the chapel at Beckery before proceeding to Glastonbury.
In the 1920’s Alice Buckton devised a Pilgrimage Route down Benedict Street and Porchestall Drove onto what is now the Friend’s land, stopping to hang rags, known as ‘clooties’, on a thorn tree near the sluice (or lost Bride’s Well), as offerings in return for blessings or healing, a survival of the Celtic practice of votive offerings, before proceeding to Bride’s Mound. This is only part of Alice’s Pilgrimage Route, which takes in the whole of Glastonbury.
The Blue Bowl
In 1897, Dr. John Goodchild was told in a vision to bury a blue bowl purchased in 1895 in Bordighera, Italy, as soon as possible after his father’s death. This he did, placing it in the pond by the sluice (or lost well) near Bride’s Mound, as the vision directed. Dr. Goodchild made a pilgrimage back to this spot every year between 1899-1906, only missing the year 1905. Eventually on 3rd September 1906, Janet and Christine Allen found the bowl in the pond, but replaced it. They were friends with the Tudor Poles and on 1st October Kitty Tudor Pole removed the bowl, with Dr. Goodchild’s consent, to a shrine in her family home in Bristol. Today the bowl is back in Glastonbury, under the guardianship of the Trustees of Chalice Well.
A stone marks the place where the blue bowl was found, though it is unclear whether the stone is in the place where the pond and sluice used to be.
The 'Brides Well' stone was erected in the early 1900's.
Photo by Wellesley Tudor Pole.
Wellesley Tudor Pole's father at Bride's Well in the 1920's
For the full story of the Blue Bowl and much more:
‘The Avalonians’ by Patrick Benham, published by Gothic Image, 1993 & 2006