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Somerset ALSF National Mapping Programme project

Parts of the Somerset Levels and East Mendip Hills were surveyed to National Mapping Programme (NMP) standards to provide baseline information and an indication of the potential archaeological resource visible on aerial photographs in mineral producing areas. This contributed to the Somerset County Archaeological Resource Assessment carried out by staff at Somerset County Council, funded by English Heritage (now Historic England) through the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF project 3994).

Colour aerial photograph showing a large quarry cut deep into the ground with several levels of activity
Halecombe Quarry, Leigh on Mendip photographed on 24-MAR-2004 (NMR 23439/08) © Historic England

The East Mendip Hills

The character of the undulating East Mendip Hills is mainly influenced by large limestone quarries and pastoral agriculture. The NMP project area extended from Wells in the southwest to Frome in the northeast. The survey revealed a landscape of intensive arable farming in the medieval and post-medieval periods.

Colour aerial photograph showing rollong hills, largely covered in pasture fields, but with some bare soil
Lynchets to the south of Higher Allam photographed on 07-SEP-2006 (NMR24325/29) © Historic England

The late 18th to early 19th centuries was a period of land improvement and experimentation on the Mendip Hills. Evidence of this can be seen from the varied examples found by aerial survey of the upland version of the water meadow, the catchwork system, used to irrigate and fertilise farmland.

Examples of catchwork water meadows have been found between Cranmore and Chesterblade. Areas with possible surface drainage features, probably also land improvement works, were recorded through the study area. These features take a variety of forms, from one or two field gutters to a complex of parallel drains.

Black and white vertical aerial photograph showing a number of small fields with hedges and some small lanes
Catchwork water meadow north of Chesterblade (RAF/CPE/UK/1944 2248). Historic England RAF Photography

The Paget family of Cranmore Hall owned much of this land and were probably responsible for the construction of some catchwork water meadows. It is known that from 1814 they began a programme of land improvements, including drainage and tree planting.

Colour aerial photograph showing a large country house with parkland, playing fields and grassland in front
The earthworks of former garden paths and cultivation ridges around Cranmore Hall photographed on 07_SEP-2006 (NMR 24326/28) © Historic England

The Somerset Levels

The Levels have a distinctive landscape consisting of peat moorland formed around raised rock islands capped with sand deposits. The survey area includes Sowy Island on which the villages of Westonzoyland, Middlezoy and Othery are located and the surrounding peat moor. The historic battlefield of Sedgemoor is in the north of the area. The aerial survey identified sites from the prehistoric through to the Second World War sometimes in the same area. Archaeological remains of various periods, including Bronze Age burial mounds, lie within the extent of the Second World War airfield at Westonzoyland.

Colour aerial photograph showing extensive lowlands with some evidence of flooding, with a large mound rising in the foreground
The Somerset Levels, looking east over the hillock Burrow Mump with the ruined church of St Michael’s on top photographed on 23-JAN-2007 (NMR 24516/15) © Historic England

Westonzoyland airfield was first used in 1926 and the site was closed in 1958. A sequence of aerial photographs taken from 1942 onwards record the development of the Second World War airfield at RAF Westonzoyland. Two main phases were observed: the smaller 1942 layout, with grass runways, and its expansion and reconstruction after 1943. Imitation field boundaries were painted over the centre of the airfield to camouflage it from the air.

The main technical buildings were in the north-western corner arranged in a semi-circular arc with a second technical area in the south. A number of anti-aircraft installations, including a searchlight battery, were located around the airfield surrounded by barbed wire. Aircraft are visible on the aerial photographs dispersed around the perimeter of the airfield for safety. The aircraft are possibly Lysanders, although Masters, Martinets and Mustangs were also used here up to 1942.

Black and white vertical aerial photo showing what seem to be fields, but with some structures, ancillary buildings and aircraft
RAF Westonzoyland photographed on 11-JUL-1942 before its expansion and showing the fake field boundaries used in an attempt to camouflage it (RAF/FNO/37 5008). Historic England RAF photography

The airfield was enlarged and improved in 1943 and these improvements are visible on aerial photographs taken in the late 1940s. Main and subsidiary runways replaced the grass ones and hard standings where aircraft could be parked were placed around the perimeter of the airfield. The main technical area is still in the north-west corner but the southern technical area was moved to the south-east. An incendiary bomb store was located in the extreme north east of the airfield.

Black and white vertical aerial photograph showing an airfield with three runways in an
RAF Westonzoyland photographed on 23-JAN-1947 after its expansion in 1943 (RAF CPE/UK/1944 2053). Historic England RAF photography

Elements of the pre-1943 airfield layout can be seen as cropmarks on aerial photographs of the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s. The camouflage pattern of painted field boundaries and many of the roads and trackways are visible as cropmarks, the buried structures or paint having caused the grass to be parched on the surface. Two dotted lines of cropmarks indicate the buried remains of rubble piles left when the base of the hangar in the pre-1943 southern technical area was broken up.

Colour map showing various archaeological and historical features in various colours against a greyscale map background
NMP map of RAF Westonzoyland with elements of the earlier airfield plotted from cropmarks. NMP mapping © Historic England; OS base map © Crown copyright. All rights reserved 100023366 (2006)

The NMP mapping and monument records are available from the Somerset Historic Environment Record. The key findings from the projects can be found in two project reports:

The Aggregate Landscape of Somerset: Predicting the Archaeological Resource  - An Interim Report for the Aerial Survey Component - Eastern Mendip Block 1

The Aggregate Landscape of Somerset: Predicting the Archaeological Resource - An Interim Report for the Aerial Survey Component - Eastern Mendip Block 1

Published 1 April 2006

An interim report from the Mendip Hills AONB ALSF Mapping Project looking at results from East Mendip.

The Aggregate Landscape of Somerset: Predicting the Archaeological Resource  - Report for Aerial Survey Component Block 2: Somerset Levels

The Aggregate Landscape of Somerset: Predicting the Archaeological Resource - Report for Aerial Survey Component Block 2: Somerset Levels

Published 1 April 2006

An interim report from the Mendip Hills AONB ALSF Mapping Project looking at results from the Somerset Levels

The images used on this page are copyright Historic England unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project, please contact the Historic England Archive.

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Remote Sensing Team please contact us via email using the link below.

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