Meare Fish House, Somerset


South side of the house
Beam and doorways

Two floor building constructed in 1330 by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey, in an isolated location on the Somerset Levels
Meare Road, 3 miles west of Glastonbury; BS6 9SP
Meare Fish House, also known as the Abbot's Fish House, is an unusual and historic building constructed around 1330 by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey in a rather remote part of the Somerset Levels, near the River Brue and a sizeable lake (Meare Pool), both, at that time, well stocked with fish. The two-storey building was designed for storage and salting by workers at the fishery that had existed for several centuries prior, and also as lodging for visitors from the abbey, and was maintained as such for over 200 years, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, after which it reverted to regular agricultural use. An 1884 fire destroyed all the wooden components, and although the roof has since been replaced, the stonework is little changed from the 14th century; it includes such high status elements as arched doorways, traceried windows and large fireplaces.

Now, as when built, the house has a peaceful, rural setting overlooking flat farmland, with long distance views to the Mendip Hills. It sits in the middle of a field, sometimes used for cattle grazing, to which the public have access at all times. The interior is meant to be locked, the key available from Manor House Farm on the west side of the field, but it seems the door is often left open. The house has been in the care of the state since 1900, and is the only remaining monastic fishery building in the country.

The House

The little settlement of Meare, between Oxenpill and Stileway, is reached by the B3151 (Meare Road) from Glastonbury. There is parking space for one vehicle at the entrance to the field, on the east edge of the village, at the junction with Porter's Hatch Lane, and from here a very short path leads to the house. A metal door opens to the middle of three ground floor rooms, the hall, which adjoins a parlour on the west side, and, entered via a pair of doorways, a service room to the east. Another doorway in the parlour once led to a latrine in a separate turret, which was removed in the 19th century; the upper level of this probably contained a store room. The top floor of the house consisted of a great chamber, over the hall and service room, with a smaller chamber adjacent, and was accessed only by an external stone staircase, a structure that also endured until the early 1800s, before collapsing. The only surviving wooden element is a huge beam across the hall, blackened from the fire in 1884 which destroyed the rest of the floor and the original, arched roof.


Land at Meare had been owned by Glastonbury Abbey since the 7th century, providing an income partly from farming but mostly from fishing, as the adjacent lake was a particularly fruitful source, and a freshwater fishing operation at that time was a particularly prized asset. The growing importance of the lake in medieval times led to construction of the fish house, a small but architecturally advanced building, probably primarily used as a residence when the abbot or other high-ranking officials were visiting. Some of the buildings of Manor House Farm also date from around this time. After switching to agricultural use for a few centuries after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the building gradually became derelict by the start of the 1800s, when the external stairway, the latrine/store room turret and a chimney (on the south wall) were removed, but it has since been repaired and stabilised. A few hollows in the surrounding field show where ponds were excavated to hold captured fish, but the lake itself is long gone, having been drained in several stages, the last in 1718. The name Meare Pool does still appear on maps, however.