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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Historic Places Investigation
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The survey of the Mendip Hills AONB was carried out to National Mapping Programme standards by staff from Somerset and Gloucestershire County Councils