10th December 2013

Uphill to Hutton

<b>Uphill Quarry</b>
Uphill Quarry

Crisis at Christmas! No more than a couple of hours before the December meeting was due to begin our Programme Secretary Vivien Pratt received a telephone call to say that the speaker for the evening had been taken ill. Ever resourceful, Vivien briefly put on her thinking cap and then phoned Chris Richards. Ever generous with his time, Chris responded. Lo and behold we had a speaker and the show went seamlessly on!

On his way over to the Hall, Chris decided on the subject of his talk,which was to take us on a tour of the interesting, yet relatively unsung sites along the southern fringe of Weston.

Beginning at Uphill Chris reminded us of the celebrated Neanderthal finds discovered there. He suggested that the site was of global interest", being only one of about 80 representing that period across the world. The discovery in 1898 of a collection of stone artefacts that had been washed down into a gully at the foot of Uphill Hill revealed the presence some 35,000 years ago of Neanderthal humans, the now extinct contemporary of our own species.

Moving inland from Uphill at the extremity of Mendip we come to Hay Wood Cave in Oldmixon, where human skulls have been discovered. Radiocarbon dating established that they were of Early Neolithic date and thus evidence of the presence of an early transition to farming. At nearby Woodside local archaeologist and historian of Hutton Harold Coward found evidence of Roman pottery and discarded animal bones, suggesting a site of Roman occupation.

More Roman pottery was found when Chris happened on significant amounts in a trench cut along a field near Ludwell Farm and so we continued up Windmill Hill, past the site of the old village quarry where more bones had been found, possibly associated with others higher up the hill, which were thought to date to the 'Dark Ages'. On Windmill Hill itself stands an Iron Age Hillfort.

Elborough is a little further on from Hutton and it was here that the Elborough Hill Silver, Lead, Calamine and Barytes Company was opened by adventurous Cornish miners in the nineteenth century, and at the top of nearby Canada Coombe is Hunter Cave where mining for yellow ochre took place in the eighteenth century. In 1757 miners broke into a cave filled with sludge and animal bones (including elephant). The eighteenth century philosopher Alexander Catcott took this to be evidence of the Biblical Universal Deluge, as endured by Noah. The cave became filled in" was rediscovered by William Beard (of Banwell Bone cave fame) in the nineteenth century and has again been lost, despite Chris's efforts to identify it. He did however discover a new one, now named Bleadon Cavern containing amongst other things the bones of lions and short tusked elephants.

Chris ended his talk with a couple of mysteries. Montague Porch (the third husband of lady Randolph Churchill) who was a volunteer at Weston Museum, had a collection of Upper Palaeolithic flints found in Hutton and Banwell. But it is not know where they were found, and no others have been found since.

In the late nineteenth century there was a report of a labourer returning home along a footpath in the Hutton area being attacked by a kangaroo. No further details are recorded but it maybe related to the fact that Hutton Court was owned at that time by Edward Bisdee, who had made his fortune in Tasmania!

As usual, Chris's intimate knowledge of his subject matter made for an enthralling evening and plenty of inspiration to get out For more information Harold Coward's " Story of Hutton" is available online from Hutton Parish Council's website (Google Story of Hutton Coward) and cave enthusiasts should visit the site of Bristol Exploration Club and seek out Belfry Bulletin No' 496 from April 1998 which contains an article entitled "The Bleadon and Hutton caverns. "

Peter Johnson