Ploughing on …

A week’s holiday gave me time to read (at last) Michael Costen, The Origins of Somerset; and a few points were relevant to my argument (re arx Cynuit).

I had wondered whether it was realistic to suppose that an OldWelsh/Celtic/British name dating back, presumably, to the pre-Roman era could possibly survive in a modern place name. Or, how unlikely is it that Condate/Condatis has survived in the name Countisbury? I found Costen had a parallel example (p 46), though there remains an element of speculation there as well.

Celtic deity Brigantia

Celtic deity Brigantia

Starting from Ekwall’s derivation of British briga, meaning ‘a high place’,  connected with the Celtic goddess Brigantia, the suggestion is that these lie at the origin of the names Brean (Down) and nearby Brent (Knoll), the Celtic deity Brigantia being the goddess of high places. And Costen notes that the churches both at Brean and at nearby Chelvey are dedicated to St Bridget (or St Brigid of Kildare), a very unusual dedication for early parish churches in England: it is argued that St Brigid was a ‘Christianisation’ of Brigantia, who in turn was equated with the Roman Minerva.

The remains of a 4th-c. Romano-Celtic temple on Brean Down hold no evidence to show which deity or deities were worshipped there.

To quote Costen: ‘Both names [i.e. Brean and Brent] have been derived from the British briga, which meant ‘a high place ‘ (Ekwall 1960), as well as referring to the goddess [Brigantia] (Ross 1967, p 360).’

So we have the development:

1. Briga ‘a high place’ 2. Brigantia the goddess of high places (and of water?)  3. modern place names Brean (Domesday Brien) and Brent, speculatively deriving from briga/Brigantia (Roman Minerva).

And the parallel:

1. Condate ‘a confluence/watersmeet’ 2. Condatis the god of confluences 3. modern name Countisbury (Domesday Contesberie), speculatively deriving from condate/Condatis (Roman Mars).

Brean Down and Brean village

Brean Down and Brean village

Just as modern Countisbury is not exactly at the confluence, nor is the present village of Brean on the height of the Brean promontory (where the prehistoric remains are). Quite the contrary: it is very low, level with the adjacent sandy beach – no coastal cliffs here. The parish church, for example, is about 2 miles from the landward end of the promontory, about 2.4 miles from its centre.

The archaeology of Brean Down is very rich: Bronze Age remains, an Iron Age fort and Celtic field systems – hillfort, occupation, burials and a 4th-century Romano-Celtic temple.

The parish church in Countisbury village is, as the crow flies (there’s no direct route), about two thirds of a mile from the Iron Age Myrtleberry North hill-slope enclosure, and from the watersmeet which is directly overlooked by the enclosure set at the end of the hill spur.

Myrtleberry, the watersmeet, Countisbury

Myrtleberry, the watersmeet, Countisbury

I’m still trying to find out more about Myrtleberry but there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of archaeological work done here, and nothing that seems very useful. It’s broadly contemporary with the Iron Age rampart by Wind Hill, and seems to have been a settlement rather than defensive. Its outer enclosure is of the type associated with the keeping of livestock (vide

Perhaps Wind Hill, where there are no signs of any settlement/occupation, was the defensive fortress  serving the (only slightly) more accessible Myrtleberry – the name, incidentally  seems very modern, named after Myrtleberry Cleave. No surprise in that, since there has been very little needing a name on the site for millennia: any original name will surely have been long lost, if it ever had one.

If so, then as at Brean, at a much later date a settlement would have been made in the lower, less protected site, firstly because the threat of enemy attack no longer existed; and secondly because in more peaceful times the priority became communication with other parts of the region and this was much easier from the more open position.

I think my examination of arx Cynuit, Countisbury and related matters  are coming to an end. Brean Down and the surrounding area, as well as being in Somerset, seem well worth revisiting.



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