Cheddar Palace

Has been described as a Certain Palace (Royal/Bishop)

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameCheddar Palace
Alternative NamesCeddre; Cheddar Episcopi
Historic CountrySomerset
Modern AuthoritySomerset
1974 AuthoritySomerset
Civil ParishCheddar

Although now partly overlain by development the Anglo-Saxon palace site at Cheddar is a rare survival of a richly appointed Saxon building complex, later embellished by the Normans. Modern development on the site has been undertaken sympathetically with buildings raised upon rafts in order to leave untouched the early medieval halls and to avoid damage to the underlying archaeology which has been shown to comprise an extensive area of Roman occupation including buildings whose foundations survive close to the modern ground surface. The series of early medieval halls provide evidence of a rare type of building of which there are few excavated examples. The documentary evidence associated with the monument attests to its importance as a royal court and meeting place of the witan under successive Anglo-Saxon kings and as a royal property following the Conquest. The monument is known from excavation to contain archaeological information relating to the Roman and the earlier and later medieval periods. Crucially, it will provide some insight into the relationship between Roman villa estates and their later settlement usage, as well as providing information about the lives of the Roman, Saxon, and Norman peoples who lived on the site, and the development of the landscape in which they lived. St Columbanus' Chapel survives as the shell of a Norman chapel which is known to have developed from Saxon origins. Its outer walls survive although they have been considerably altered during use of the building for domestic means. The below ground remains of the earlier Saxon chapel are encompassed within the walls and the chapel illustrates the development of an ecclesiastical building from Saxon to Norman times.

The monument includes the core of an extensive area of Roman settlement overlain by an Anglo-Saxon royal palace and meeting place which was later used as a royal residence by the Normans

The medieval chapel of St Columbanus, which is Listed Grade II, stands as a ruined structure within the complex. The monument, which stretches from Station Road to the banks of the Cheddar Yeo river, lies on relatively low lying ground at the foot of the Mendip hills at the southern end of Cheddar Gorge. Its extent has been established by way of excavation, evaluation, and the recording of crop marks, over the course of several decades from the 1950s onwards. The earliest recorded occupation on the site belongs to the Roman period and pottery dating from the 2nd to the 4th centuries AD has been recovered from many evaluation trenches dug within the area of the monument in advance of building works. Roman burials uncovered north of the vicarage further attest to the presence of a Roman settlement. The occupation traces appear to be associated with a Roman villa estate, the main building of which is represented by parch marks just to the south west of St Andrew's Church. The parch marks (where the inability of the soil to retain nutrients above the underlying walls produces discolouration of the grass or crops) have been plotted to reveal a building plan which most likely represents part of the living quarters of a villa, a well known Roman building type which provided high class accommodation for its inhabitants. Its recorded extent, north- south, is about 50m but further sections of the building may lie beneath the modern graveyard to its east. Roman villas are known, in many cases, to have supported a range of ancillary buildings associated with farming and other activities. A number of hearths and furnaces have been discovered in the vicinity of the Cheddar villa whilst a large domestic building with stone foundations was found to its north west in 1999. The villa would have been served by the River Yeo which appears to have been navigable by small craft from the Bristol Channel via the River Axe in earlier times. The findings of wall plaster and tesserae (for mosaics) indicate the presence of high status buildings and a number of 4th century coin finds demonstrate that occupation may have extended towards the end of the Roman period and probably beyond. It has been suggested that the Roman site might be identified with the settlement of Iscalis listed by the geographer of Roman times, Ptolemy, in this region of the Mendips. The villa estate, with boundaries probably still recognisable and perhaps still functioning, would have attracted interest among the Saxons who arrived in the area in the 7th century AD and this, together with its prime location, may have been instrumental in the site being chosen for the establishment of an important Anglo-Saxon settlement by the 9th century AD at the latest. A major excavation by Rahtz in the 1960s, ahead of the construction of The Kings of Wessex School, demonstrated the below ground presence of the foundations of a long hall and other timber buildings on ground just a little to the north of the Roman buildings. They represent the earliest recorded phase of the Saxon settlement which could reasonably be dated to the early 9th century. This has been interpreted as a royal household in which the area occupied by the Roman buildings may have been developed as a farm or settlement which supported and supplied the needs of an adjacent royal enclosure represented by ditches and banks to the north, west and east. This settlement underwent a radical change in layout in the mid-10th century probably at the instigation of King Athelstan. The long hall was demolished and overlain by a small stone built chapel, known from later documents to have been dedicated to St Columbanus, whilst a new and larger hall on a different alignment was constructed. The changes placed the site on a new footing with the new hall being of the requisite size for meetings of the king's assembled council (the witan) and by this stage of its development the site can be interpreted as a royal palace. It appears that the complex suffered no diminution in its status following the Norman Conquest as a monumental new timber hall was constructed early in the 12th century and both hall and chapel were rebuilt on several occasions afterwards. The rebuilding of the chapel in the 13th century involved the widening of the nave and enlargement of the chancel, the earlier Saxon chapel having been levelled and engulfed within the grander structure. Documentary evidence has demonstrated that the site may be identified as the location of the Cheddar witenagemots (where the king met his council) of 941, 956, and 968. The meeting of 968, in Edgar's reign, was held at Easter and is the most completely recorded. Further documents show that the royal palace was visited by both Henry I and Henry II at various times in the 12th century. The site was handed over to the church in 1204 by King John and was acquired by the Bishops of Bath and Wells in 1230, and it was finally abandoned, apparently in the 14th century. After the Reformation, St Columbanus' Chapel passed into secular hands and was in use as a dwelling until 1910 when it was partially demolished; it survives as a roofless structure with four walls standing and is supported at its eastern and western ends by modern buttresses. (Scheduling Report)

Royal palace at Cheddar known to have existed from the mid C10 to the early C13 when it was given to the Dean and Chapter of Wells. Ruins of a chapel dedicated to St Columbanus survive. Excavations in 1960-62 found this was the latest of three chapels, the earliest dated to C10 and was replaced in C11 and rebuilt in the late C13 or early C14. The chapel was converted into a house during C17 and remained in use until the early C20. The earliest chapel overlay a Long Hall which was associated with two buildings to the west and southwest. This hall was replaced by the West Hall during C10. It was rebuilt in C11 and C12. Another hall, East Hall was built to the east of the west hall in C12. This was rebuilt in C13 and C14. (PastScape)

Gatehouse Comments

The manor was transfered to the bishop of Bath and Wells in 1230 and had some residential use by the bishop until about the mid C14.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 2 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceST457531
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  • Emery, Anthony, 2006, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 3 Southern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 673
  • Keevill, Graham D., 2000, Medieval Palaces, An Archaeology (Stroud; Tempus) p. 19-21, 23, 117-8 (plan)
  • Thompson, M.W., 1998, Medieval bishops' houses in England and Wales (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing) p. 170
  • Rahtz, P., 1979, The Saxon and Medieval Palaces at Cheddar (Oxford; British Archaeological Reports British Series 65)
  • Colvin, H.M., Ransome, D.R. and Summerson, John, 1975, The history of the King's Works, Vol. 3: 1485-1660 (part 1) (London) p. 907-9 (plan)


  • Blair, J., 1997, 'Palaces or Minsters? Northampton and Cheddar reconsidered' Anglo Saxon England Vol. 25 p. 97-121
  • Croft, R.A., 1988, Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society Vol. 132 p. 221
  • Rahtz, P. and Hirst, S.M., 1987, 'The chapel of St Columbanus at Cheddar' Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society Vol. 131 p. 157-170
  • Rahtz, P., 1964, Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society Vol. 108 p. 99-112
  • Rahtz, P.A., 1962-3, 'The Saxon and medieval palaces at Cheddar, Somerset; an interim report of excavations in 1960-62' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 6-7 p. 53-66 (Photographs, plans) online copy


  • Payne, Naomi, 2003, The medieval residences of the bishops of Bath and Wells, and Salisbury (PhD Thesis University of Bristol) p. 150-52 (available via EThOS)
  • Richardson, Miranda, 2003, An archaeological assessment of Cheddar (English Heritage Extensive Urban Survey) online copy
  • Payne, N., 1999, The residences of the medieval Bishops of Bath and Wells (unpubl MA dissertation, Bristol)