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A Bit About Priddy!

By coming to Priddy, for this year’s Folk Festival, your footsteps are adding to those echoing from all who have come to this part of the Mendip down the ages.

I heard among the solitary hills
Low breathings coming after me, and sounds
Of undistinguishable motion, steps
Almost as silent as the turf they trod.
Wordsworth (The Prelude)

From the flint items that have been found in Priddy, it seems that the area was favoured as long ago as 35,000 to 8,000BC, maybe for both seasonal and permanent settlement. The Priddy Circles appear to be contemporary with Stonehenge, i.e. Neolithic circa 2180 BC. Dr Jodie Lewis, who led a tour of the circles and round Barrows during last year’s Festival, underscored that these are henge-type monuments with a ceremonial and/or ritual function and that it was likely that large groups of people congregated and participated in activities at the site. Dr Michael Costen has suggested that such henge-type monuments on Mendip indicate the presence of a self-contained population with a large degree of social cohesion.

The North Hill location of the two round barrow cemeteries, Ashen Hill and Priddy Nine-Barrows are neighbours of the Circles, would seem to imply that the area to the northeast of Priddy also held ritual significance into the Bronze Age. By the Iron Age, activity in Priddy is less visible on the surface. However, Dr JW Gough has made a case that Mendip lead was being worked as far back as 300 to 200 BC. The area to the east and to the north west of the village shows extensive patches of ‘gruffy ground’. Gough suggests that the word ‘gruffy’ derives from the grooves that were formed where the lead ore was extracted from veins near the surface. The relatively easy opencast extraction of lead was a strong attraction for the Romans, who invaded Britain in 43 AD. Lead ingots found in the neighbourhood have been dated to AD49.

Although post Roman to Saxon Priddy remains to be discovered, and Priddy is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, by the 12th century it is the subject of some charters in the British Museum. In 1174 there is a ‘Grant of Pridi to Farley Priory’ (in Wiltshire), in 1180 a ‘Grant in Pridia to Bruerne Abbey’ (in Oxfordshire), and a ‘Grant of Pridie to St. Swithin’s Priory’ (Winchester). Robin Bush, “the Time Team Man” and past Deputy Somerset Archivist who gave a fascinating and entertaining talk at last year’s Festival, advises that by 1164 there was a chapelry in Priddy and that a vicarage had been ordained in 1290. By the mid 14th century, cloth was being traded at a Fair and the long tradition of Priddy Sheep Fair was established.

So from prehistory, to the Roman arrival, to the establishment of the church, to the inception of Priddy Fair and more latterly to the AD1991 establishment of the Priddy Folk Festival, people have been coming to Priddy.

Although the Great Western Railway’s 1934 travel guide to Somerset describes Priddy as being in the lonely heart of Mendip, and AW Coysh, writing in 1954, observed that the village was remote from main roads and seldom visited by strangers, clearly events such as the Folk Festival have broadcast its presence.

Priddy, with medieval variations of spellings such as Predy, Priddie, Pridi, Pridia, Pridie and Prydde, is a name that has been ascribed to the Welsh influence that pre-dated the arrival of the Saxon English. It has been particularly attributed to pridd (= ‘earth’). This might be suggestive of the Iron Age mining activities.

The Latin words pratum (= a meadow) and praedium (= a farm) have given rise to such Alpine names as Preda and Prada and it has been suggested that they are also the root for the cymric word s prydd, pryddion meaning ‘production’, as with a fertile meadow. ‘Priddy’ could just mean ‘meadow land’.

The Rev Coleman, writing in the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society Proceedings of 1909, suggests that Priddy is a place-name possibly derived from the Welsh ‘y Pryd yr Hâf’ (= Summer tide); note the connotation of a place of water. Priddy Pool (not to be confused with the Waldegrave Mineries Pool at Stockhill), Townend Pool and Fairlady Well are all on ancient tracks that crossed Mendip and may have long provided water to those with animals grazing on Mendip, especially during the summer.

The modern Welsh dictionary opens up another possibility with praidd, preiddiau [the latter pronounced PREIDHye] (= herd, flock; including flock as in worshippers in a church). The welsh for ‘care’ is pryder [PRØder] and it appears in the Welsh Triads, or Trioedd Ynys Prydein, in the context of one who cares for his livestock, his herd, or his flock. These triadic sayings recount personages, events, or places in Welsh history. Triad 16 relates to the Three Powerful Shepherds of the Island of Britain, Riueri, Dunawd and Pryder. Triad 26 concerns the Three Powerful Swineherds of the Island of Britain, Drystan, Coll and Pryderi.

So, a final thought as you gather to nourish your spirits with a weekend of fine music. What if ‘Priddy’ relates to a place of worship?

Enjoy being in Priddy.

Some Reading:

R. Bush Somerset: The Complete Guide, The Dovecote Press, 1994
M. Costen The Origins of Somerset, Manchester University Press, 1992
A.W. Coysh et al The Mendips, Robert Hale, 1954
P. Fowler and F. Neale Mendip: A New Study (Edited by R. Atthill), David and Charles, 1976
M. Fraser Somerset, Great Western Railway, 1934
J.W. Gough The Mines of Mendip, David and Charles, 1967
F. Neale Man and the Mendips (Edited by W.G. Hall), The Mendip Society, 1971

Grateful Acknowledgement to

Dr Jodie Lewis (University College Worcester) for her submission on Prehistoric Priddy to the Priddy Parish Design Statement Team.