The human occupation of the area started many thousands of years ago. The region of Somerset now known as "The Levels" was then an inlet of the sea, with islands of sandstone and other rocks providing refuge for the hunter/gatherer families who visited the area.
Geological section from the sandstone ridge across West Sedgemoor to Red Hill
When Neolithic peoples moved in to the area they began to clear the higher areas suitable for agriculture, but they would still have had the option of using the lower flooded ground for the hunting of seasonal birds, animals and fish. Although some early drainage may well have taken place locally, it was not until after the Norman Conquest that serious drainage schemes were undertaken.
The neighbouring Isle of Athelney (or Edelingsay) was King Alfred's base for his defence of Saxon Wessex against the invading Danes. The founder of the English monarchy, and of English literature, took refuge there in AD 872. These marshes were then a large area of fenland and marsh. Alder woods abounded. They were the home of the deer and the wild boar, and were the hunting grounds of the landowners. The Danish leader, Guthrum, defeated by Alfred, was baptised at Aller.
A monument was erected on the hill above Athelney Farm in 1801 by John Slade of Maunsel to commemorate Alfred's stay here. It was repaired by Somerset County Council in 1985. There is no public right of way to it but there is a signed permissive path. The grid reference is ST 3432 2925. There is space to park a few cars where the road from East Lyng to Athelney meets the River Tone. It is a walk of about 250 metres to the monument.
An Edwardian Outing to Alfred's Monument
Various 18th and 19th century travellers visited the area and Stoke was usually described as a collection of hamlets with a scattering of cottages around the church. These hamlets included Meare Green, Curload, Stathe & Woodhill. There were commons associated with these hamlets (Meare Green itself, Woodhill Green, Curryload Green and Warr Moor). These had all been enclosed by the early 1800s.
In 'Idler Out of Doors' (1901), Walter Raymond describes the dwellings pictured on the right that he remembered along the north bank of the Tone 50 years previously. Their origin is unusual. Each tenant of the overall landlord had a certain specified portion of "walling" on the river to perform, depending on how much land they had. This in time became an irksome duty, and was neglected, and in many cases those who took possession of the river bank (squatters) were allowed to remain in quiet possession. Hence time gave a title to the numerous freeholders on the river's bank from Curload to Burrow Bridge, and other places. As time went on the mud huts Raymond had seen were replaced by more substantial dwellings, or simply clad in brick.