Saxon Somerset - The Birth of a County


"The Origin of Somerset lies in that period of uncertainty known as the Dark Ages",  or at least the concept of the area of as a location and the name derives from this time. Human activity is widely known throughout the country in the previous Prehistoric and Roman eras however it is not until Saxon Chronicle of the year 845 that we discover the county's name: 'Sumorsaete'

It is unknown precisely when the concept of Somerset first appears, however the name itself is based on a people living in or around, or dependent upon the town of Somerton. This town was certainly in existence by 733 as it appears in records of invasions of Wessex. Exact dates aside, it is from this murky period that Somerset is born and in the Anglo-Saxon era it would see lots of activity.


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Perhaps one of the most, if not the most, enduring and famous figures from Dark Age Somerset is King Alfred the Great, as well as holding the honour of being the only king in English history to have been named 'The Great' he held much of the county in his kingdom. Somerset has many monuments and remains from this epoch however one of the more stunning items from this time is the fabled Alfred Jewel. The Jewel was discovered in 1693 at Newton Park, North Peneton and called the Alfred jewel because it bears the inscription: AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN which translates as 'Alfred has this made' Its exact purpose is somewhat debated however it is believed to be the jewelled head of an ornate pointer. The artefact itself currently resides in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford however a few authentic replicas were made, one of which is held here at the Community Heritage Access Centre.

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