Workshop 2: Quantock Hills
Date: 2-4 March 2011
The Quantock Hills are a mosaic of upland heath, ancient broadleaf woodland, conifer plantations, stream-cut valleys (combes), bog, ancient parkland, hunting estate and pastureland in west Somerset, overlooking the Bristol Channel. In the late eighteenth century, the region became the haunt of Coleridge and Wordsworth, and many of the essential ingredients of the romantic perspective on wild nature were developed here. The wealth of the area’s landscape history and visual beauty received formal acknowledgment in 1956, when the Quantocks were designated the first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England. The Quantocks’ biological value was recognized through subsequent designation of much of the AONB as Site of Special Scientific Interest. The area’s auspicious literary heritage is promoted by the Coleridge Way, a long-distance footpath launched in 2005 that runs for 36 miles between Nether Stowey, home of Coleridge, and Porlock in Exmoor National Park (http://www.coleridgeway.co.uk/) . A prime destination for leisure pursuits, the Quantocks receive more than 385,000 annual recreational visits. The region also enjoys a long and rich history as a working and inhabited landscape. Charcoal was burned in its oak woods. Sheep grazed its hills. Rye was cultivated on the open heath (the plough ridges of relict field systems can still be detected). Tanneries harnessed the stream power flowing off the uplands.
This nationally protected, multiple use landscape that has been subject to conservation management for half a century merits the close attention of environmental historians. The Quantock Hills are famed for their panoramic views, and one of the clearest, from the eastern uplands are of the nearby nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. The proximity of this industrial feature – which has been identified for expansion – enhances the area’s appeal as a site for intensive study and springboard for examination of wider themes and processes of environmental change.
Workshop organizer: Peter Coates, Historical Studies, University of Bristol
Project partner: Chris Edwards (manager), Quantock Hills AONB Service, Somerset County Council, Bridgewater.
Location: Fyne Court, Broomfield, Bridgewater, Somerset, TA5 2EQ. Tel. 01823 451884.
Fyne Court, the visitor centre for the AONB (and location of the Quantock Hills AONB rural archive – a collection of historic photographs), is the former estate of pioneering nineteenth-century electrician, Andrew Crosse. The house and grounds are now owned by the National Trust (the grounds are also a Somerset Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve).
Hazel Riley, the Historic Landscape of the Quantock Hills (English Heritage, 2006)
Gary Penny, Mixed Blessings: Rural Life in the Quantocks (Quantock Hills AONB, 2007)
Map of Quantock Hills
Seamless historical map provided by the National Library of Scotland.
The map is composed of map sheets from Ordnance Survey map series:
1:1 million, Great Britain, 1933; Quarter-inch to the mile, England and Wales, 1919-1921; One-inch to the mile, New Popular edition, England and Wales, 1945-1947