Prehistoric Burton Bradstock by Frank Cole

From a press cutting dated 1933

The River Goddess - A peep into the distant past

Special to the "Bridport News"

Few are the counties that appeal to one in search of "Quiet" and "Rest" with such irresistible force as that of Dorset, whose winding coast roads are not without their fascination, seemingly casting their spell upon those who visit them - for their pristine glory lies in their magnificent coast views, and the waters of the Channel that "rest as wild waters rest, with the colours of heaven on their breast".

The beauty and witchery of its unbeaten tracks, field-paths, and coast roads, lie in its rich treasures so dear to geologists, archaeologists, and lovers of wild life. One has seldom to walk far before one sees some old memorial of this Durotrigae Land. Vestiges of Neolithic and Palaeolithic Man, lines of Earth-works, thrown up by men who found and shaped their flints from the adjacent flint mines - and raised mounds and tumulii to their illustrious dead - are visible from every height one scales - clothing the land with an atmosphere of antiquity. Thus one cannot fail to be impressed as the imagination is stirred, making one visualise the glory of their achievements, and re-clothing the shadowy myths of those early days of Paganism with a vivid reality, as one peers into the dark background of history, and reconstructs the almost-forgotten past.

Now tradition tells that the "Fairies", by means of a magic-woven by "Oak", "Ash" and "Thorn", were credited with giving power to people "to see what they should see, and hear what they should hear, though it happened three thousand year". It was this tradition which helped to keep alive that telling of tales round the camp fire of events and happenings - some of which the imagination of primitive people verily believed, were told to their forbears by Fairy Folk - to a generation which had no literature of its own, to preserve pre-historic history.

So it is not only to the old chronicles that one must look for the history of a place, but to the folk-lore and to the research work of the archaeologist - for history gives merely "outlines" whereas archaeology reveals actual "facts", and romance and tradition supplement and fill in the colours needed for the picture.


Old chronicles clearly show the student that towns owed their names to various circumstances, such as a Port, a Market, and Abbey, a Palace, or a river; and so one is not surprised to find Burton Bradstock called Bridestone in the Doomesday Book records: thus named after the River Bride.

Every pathway even tells its story, for those who trouble to read it, for it is never built at random, there is always the human need behind it. The paths of Old England tell the story of British history in a way no general histories recount it, since, sooner or later they wend their way to, and past, the Village Church, whose records tell the divine education of civilised man, of how our forefathers, who founded the primaeval village around its precincts, fought their way through the darkness of ignorance, and through the twilight of an imperfect civilisation, and at length made law triumphant over self-will and passion. And as everything in the universe has a history of its own - a something to be found out about it - a something of how it came into existence to be unravelled - so, in the unravelling of it, there is discovered a history more interest-compelling than any fairy tale re-told. Often the unravelling stretches far back beyond the written histories of many nations, for mankind had to learn for many an aeon by bitter experience and to hand down by means of an "oral" tradition - long before the art of writing triumphed - generation to generation from father to son the knowledge acquired by previous generations.

The early colonists - builders of the megaliths, menhirs, and stone circles - so many of which may still be seen in Dorset and its neighbouring counties - who can be traced back along the natural sea-board to Brittany, Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean coast of Africa, were Pre-Aryan people.

Following the wanderings of these people along the ancient trackways of England, one finds along their road-tracks megaliths, menhirs and stone circles; and, at the end of the roads, mines of gold, lead, copper, tin, flint, and jet; gold in North Wales, Devon and Cornwall, tin in Cornwall, copper and lead in South Wales and the Peak Districts, flint in Dorset, Surrey and Sussex, and jet at Whitby. Thus were the merchant adventurers, metal seekers and pearl merchants, building their stone and "Sun Temples" alongside the roads of their travel, bringing their religion to far-off lands; sun-worshippers and metal-seekers, all seemed to follow the trail of the Eastern trading routes.


Britain undoubtedly possessed gold, tin, and an abundance of pearls, and it was the lure of metals and pearls that impelled this ancient people to seek our shores, and fortune, and whose religious needs caused them to erect their temples "in the land of their sojourn"; and the trackway along which many came was that very trackway, which in those early days started from the Cornish tin mines, and passed through Bridport eastward to the Dover Straits.

The trackway eastwards is well-known, and has been accurately traced from Dorchester to Farnham, along the slopes of the North Downs, skirting the Forest of Andrewsdale near Guildford, through Shere, Dorking, Reigate, Merstham, to Canterbury, and thence to the Straits of Dover, and all antiquaries acknowledge this to be a track that dates from the earliest Tribal times, and even earlier. Recent discoveries have shown that there existed, many centuries before the Christian Era, a very close connection between this land of ours and that of the Aegean Sea.

And who can tell but what the bronze weapons of many a classic fight were forged from our precious ores, brought over this very road through Bridport in long trains of pack-horses from the distant mines of Cornwall, and down to join this very road, from the mines of Somerset, through Beiminstre (Beaminster) to Bride-port (Bridport), and thence to the Dover Straits.

In the dawn of history, along this track trekked the Durotriges who settled in the Bride Valley. Many are the traces of this pre-historic era. Palaeolithic and Neolithic; but lasting evidence is visible of this Tribe who so firmly established themselves, leaving their name to be passed down to generations yet unborn, and who were named by Roman historians as the "Durotriges" or Dorrtraigh, "Dwellers by the Water". Ptolemy mentioning them as inhabiting the country south-west of the Belgae, extending west to the Damnonii, and he imparts the information to passing generations that they were so named because they inhabited a "pebbly Spur" called "Chesil Bank", and the Lake country beyond.

A later historian in King Alfred's time, Assur by name, mentions the district, as Durn-gueis derived from Drom or Durn, "a ridge", and cass or gueis, "a leg-like shape"; vide:- Chesil Bank and Portland. The later Classic authors do not give much notice of the Durotriges, but one named Ravennas mentions a list of their settlements, indicating the presence of a strong tribe - military and agricultural.


The tribe were called the Durotriges because their territory not only comprised an unusual stretch of sea-board, but also in these Pre-Roman days, a great Inland Lake reaching from Poole up and behind Wareham converted the now-beautiful valley of the Frome, even up to the gates of Dorn-mere-caester (Dorchester) into a part-lake, part-morass, and part-fen district. Thus they were truly "Dwellers by the Water".

Their encampments and settlements, erected in their far-off days of occupation remain to-day; more conspicuous for their natural grandeur and position than for their actual design. These camps of refuge to which retirement might be made when attacked by hostile tribes - defensive strongholds, marvellous in their size and construction - kindle one's appreciation for their grandeur and impressiveness, for, considering their imperfect tools, they built master-pieces of defensive earthworks.

It was this tribe who settled in the Bredy Valley, and in the Burton Bradstock district, where traces of their agricultural work are markedly shown on the ridges round Shipton Gorge, near that British Trackway that wended its way from Dorn-mere-Caester to"Bride" Port , a settlement of the tribe connected with that larger settlement at "Bride"-tonia (Burton Bradstock).

Tradition tells one how the Durotriges bartered their fish and foods with the Tin Merchants who used the British Trackway that runs through their Bride-port Town, as they journeyed overland to the port of Rutupiae. The Phoenicians, however, traded with Cornwall for their tin, and sailed away direct from these Islands, but the Tin Merchants of Gaul took their tin overland to Rutupiae, and thence through Gaul to Asia.

Through the valley flows the "Bride" meandering its way through pastures green until it finds its way to its kin, the ocean, at Freshwater, and one discovers how the river received its name from a beautiful Goddess of far-off times of long ago. What of the people who worshipped this beautiful Goddess? A poet has written:

"Crowns, are for the Valiant - sceptres for the Bold; Thrones and powers for Mighty Men, who dare to take and hold,"

And the Durotriges "took and held".


Bride the Beautiful was a great Celtic Goddess, a Goddess of Fire, and a Goddess of Fertility; and her Festival Day was February 1st. As a Goddess of Fire, she guarded the Celtic hearth when our Celtic forefathers' fire was "covered" for the night-time to preserve the fire in the peat till the morning-time, and a prayer was offered up to Bride as its Guardian. Images in many parts of the country were, in later days, made of her, for one reads of an image described by one David Lindsay as "Sact Bryde, - weill carvit with ane KOW". The period of these Pagan Deities is that little-known but very alluring period that starts with the coming of the Menhir Builders and the birth of Christianity.

In passing, it was an Archbishop of Dublin who made an unsuccessful attempt to stamp out the belief in Bride's Sacred Fire, which had evidently come to be recognised as a Pagan survival, and was therefore not considered as Christian. This was in the 13th. Century, but the Pagan Celtic Goddess Bride, undoubtedly boasted Pagan Temples in her honour and the Christian Church later coverted her into a saint, and called her St. Bride, and later named her St. Bridget, whose real history seems lost in dim antiquity, who, whether a real or imaginary personage, certainly absorbs the virtues attributed to the old Pagan Deity.

As a Goddess of Fertility, one can understand the Durotriges making her their tutelary Deity, in that stretch of wonderful country where now pastures and meadows, hedgerows, streams and little sequestered villages, blend in the landscape amid a wonderful wealth of scattered woodland and unfrequented heathland, with here and there a Chequer-work of pastureland, varied with grain-growing fields, and irrigated by the fertilising flow of pastoral rivulets; and over all a dreamy blueness of the seaborne air. One can visualise the Durotriges worshipping their Goddess of Fire and Fertility, by carrying out the ancient ritual of making a circuit of the fields they tilled with lighted torches in their hands to ward off the Evil Spirits, and at the same time through the "fire" of their Goddess ensuring "fertility". Bride the Beautiful was also the Goddess of Reproductivity.


Is it not a pity from every point of view that the white horses which were such conspicuous figures at English Weddings until recent years, are entirely replaced by the motor-car, with entire lack of Tradition behind it. The White Horse has ever been an emblem of our Race, and its presence had a deep significance at Bridal Ceremonies. The high religious veneration in which the white horse was held by our forefathers, would give a peculiar sanctity to a vow taken on horseback, and no honest believer would dream of violating such an oath. The Horse had already been religiously remembered from time immemorial as the Emblem of the Sun, which to our forefathers was the symbol of Creative Life, and the attendance on horseback in those early times, apart from giving a deep significance to marriage vows, was indicative of the unspoken prayer for the fruitfulness of the Rider. When Bride the Beautiful was visualised at the wedding ceremony it was the "vision splendid" to the bride, nay more - the hour that brought the scent of the rose, and a glimpse of Paradise.

"There is never a daughter of Eve, but once ere the tale of her day is done,

She will know the scent of the Eden rose, just once beneath the sun,

And whatever else she may win or lose, endure, or do, or dare,

She will never forget the enchantment it gave to the common air;

For the world may give her content, or joy, fame, sorrow or sacrifice,

But the hour that brought the scent of the rose, she lived it in Paradise."

The Past never wholly dies, for it has been truly said, "memories of Paganism, faint perhaps, but wonderfully persistent, are with us still, and take us back to a dim and distant Past, compared with which our earliest written history is a thing of yesterday", - and to-day the name of the Goddess is immortilised in the name of the River, unchanged by the Romans, who called it Brydi, and later by the Normans, who called it Aqua de Brydie - the name slumbering in the minds of the inhabitants, and awakening to its rightful nomenclature of Bride.

Like a pall, the mists of Past ages rest over these gods and Goddesses of Bygone Days, and blur one's vision; yet there are moments when the mists seem to lift - even as sea mists do - and in imagination one can visualise the legendary visions of the Durotriges, of their revered and beautiful Goddess, astride her snow-white horse, the western sun glinting on her pure white robes, as they fluttered breeze-blown in the freshening wind, cantering down the valley, and belssing the glorious strctches of greenest scenery - so rich in verdure and wooded heights - to newness of Spring Life, and Reproductivity; blessing all that dwell therein - Horses, Cattle, Sheep and the Fruits of the Land; and the Fish of the River and its tributaries, as it wends its way to the sea.

Such is the Durotrigae vision of that bygone age, and the legend avers that still,

"You hear the beat of a horse's hoof,

And the swish of a skirt in the dew,

Steadily cantering through -

The valley of the Bride.

On St. Bride's Day"

Frank Cole

Return to Frank Cole's Home page