Wrington, Somerset: In the wall is a tablet marking the site of the cottage where the philosopher John Locke was born
Going northwards, the M5 crosses the rivers and manmade waterways that drain Sedgemoor, then passes the sudden mound of Brent Knoll and the western end of the line of Mendip hills as they taper down to the promontory of Brean Down, and, a few miles out to sea, the rocky island of Steepholm. A little way inland there are ridges, gorges, combes and caves, exposed limestone rock faces and narrow, fertile valleys.
We turned inland north of the Mendips and found Goblin Combe, a modest relation of Burrington, which itself does not compare with the massive Cheddar Gorge. From timbered heights we looked down across the valley of the Congresbury Yeo, where the one-time market town of Wrington was identifiable by its church tower, whose grandeur and proportions led the architect Charles Barry to use it as model for his Victoria tower in the palace of Westminster. The tower and church, set in a grassy churchyard with a great, spreading yew tree, combine with broad streets and stylish terraces to give Wrington an air of substance and prosperity.
At one time, the sandy loam of the valley used to yield a good crop of teasel, whose spiky seedheads made natural combs for teasing the fibres of woollen cloth and were sold at the annual Wrington fair. But Wrington’s modern fame rests principally on two of its former residents. Set in the churchyard wall is a tablet marking the site of the cottage where, in 1632, the philosopher John Locke was born.
And the inscription on a fine tomb in the churchyard which attracts visitors from far away lists the names of five sisters buried there, one of whom, Hannah More (1745-1833), was a teacher, playwright, poet, friend of Dr Johnson and close colleague of Wilberforce in the fight against slavery. Later, she set about founding schools for the children of the rural poor, in the face of severe opposition from landowners who feared an educated working class.
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