A WALK INTO THE PAST - CROOK'S ANGLO SAXON VILLAGE AND RACE COURSE
Bawdrip Local History Group in 1999
On the quest for more information about Bawdrip's history we arranged an outing to Great Crook field, the site of the very popular Race Course at Crook Bend which was abandoned in 1905. This land is owned by Mrs Carol Hudson, who is a descendant of the Greenhill family, whose great great grandfather Benjamin Cuff Greenhill built Knowle Hall. Mrs Hudson kindly agreed to take us to visit the site and also show us the remains of the Anglo Saxon village which is located in one of the fields on the way.
Six of our group duly assembled with eager anticipation on Sunday 20 June 1999 at the entrance to Rose Valley Cottage on Bath Road, some quarter of a mile beyond Crandon Bridge. Mrs Hudson warmly greeted us at the gate and we began our trek over the fields. Our initial interest in Crook Bend Race Course had been awakened by Owen Jones, one of our group, who had researched the track at the Records Office in Taunton.
As we began walking across the field, Carol pointed out that the track we were walking along was the original route to the Anglo Saxon village. The track, which at one time would have been double hedged, is flanked on one side by a beautiful old hedgerow, maybe medieval, with its mixture of different species. The next meadow we entered had the remains of the old holloway leading to the village. There is not much to see of the old settlement except some bumps and deviations in the contours of the ground. Mick Aston, of Time Team fame, has however verified the site.
In the same field as the old settlement, is a natural hump in the landscape which stands out against the flat land around. This hump was the vantage point for the races and a grandstand was constructed here. It cost 2/6d to view from the grandstand and l/6d to stand on the hill. We were lucky to have a beautiful sunny, but windy day and as we stood on the hillock I closed my eyes and imagined the sound of the excited cheers from the crowd as the horses raced the course, negotiating the jumps on the mile long circuit. I could visualise the ladies and gents dressed in all their finery and the ordinary people having a wonderful day out. Mrs Hudson said that Benjamin Cuff used to ride to the track from the Hall in his Coach and fours and ride the circuit giving a genteel wave to the crowd as he went. The races known as the Bridgwater Steeplechase and Hurdle Races began at Crook in September in 1820 and were run under National Hunt rules. As many as 3,000 spectators attended, some arriving from Bristol and Exeter by trains which stopped at Dunball Station.
|Advertisement for the Races Sept 1900|
Carol then showed us the larger of the natural ponds on her land surrounded by reeds which she hopes, in time, to restore lo its former glory. There is another smaller pond which is almost a perfect oval in shape, again edged by reeds and fed by a natural spring. This natural spring may have been the reason the original Anglo Saxons settled here. This smaller pond was also used as a Duck Decoy Pond and we were told that there used to be five tunnels coming out at various points from the pond into the fields. Dogs would be let into the water, the ducks would then make their escape from the pond into the tunnels where they would be netted and, presumably, ended up on the dinner table. We would like to thank Carol for giving up so much of her time to spend with us and for her very knowledgeable history of the area. We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and look forward to one day reading the book that she is writing about her family. From the little snippets she gave us on our afternoon, it will be well worth waiting for, as she said herself "they were a scandalous lot".
Edited Article 2017 from Suzie Scudamore Bawdrip History Group published in the Link Magazine July/August 1999