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St John the Baptist, Axbridge
Grid reference: ST431545
Location: 51°17’13"N, 2°48’54"W
Population: 2,024  (2001)
Post town: Axbridge
Postcode: BS26
Dialling code: 01934
Local Government
Council: Sedgemoor

Axbridge is a town in Somerset, on the River Axe, near the southern edge of the Mendip Hills. The town population according to the 2001 was 2,024.

The town is recorded in 910 as Axanbrcyg, Old English meaning as it suggests, Axe Bridge, from the River Axe. The Axe may have an older name, one of the many rivers earing a name cognate with "Esk", from an ancient word for "water".


Early inhabitants of the area almost certainly include the Romans (who are known to have mined lead on the top of the Mendips) and earlier still, prehistoric man, (who lived in the local caves) whose flint tools have been found on the slopes of the local hills. The history of Axbridge can be traced back to the reign of King Alfred when it was part of the Saxons' defence system for Wessex against the Vikings. In the Burghal Hidage, a list of burbs compiled in 910 it was listed as Axanbrycg.[1]

Axbridge appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Alse Bruge. It was part of the royal manor of Cheddar.

King John's Hunting Lodge the main square

The town received a Royal Charter in 1202, when King John sold most of the royal manor of Cheddar to the Bishop of Bath and Wells. Axbridge grew in the Tudor period as a centre for cloth manufacture, This was reflected in its early royal charters allowing it to hold markets, fairs and become a royal borough. It even had its own mint, with coins showing the town's symbol: the Lamb and Flag.[2] Trade was possible as the River Axe was navigable to wharves at Axbridge.[3]

Later the town's importance declined which led to stagnation and the preservation of many historic buildings in the town centre. These include King John's Hunting Lodge (actually a Tudor building) which is now used as a museum.

Axbridge is a very old borough and sent members to parliament in the reigns of Edward I and Edward III.[4]

During the 19th and early 20th centuries iron ore was extracted from the hill above and east of Axbridge.[5]

Axbridge railway station, on the Cheddar Valley line, opened on 3 August 1869. It closed to goods traffic on 10 June 1963 and passengers on 9 September 1963. The route of the railway is now the A371 Axbridge bypass, but the station buildings and goods shed still survive.[6]

The Square was used as the setting for a NatWest Bank advert in the early nineties, and in particular the Town Hall which doubled as NatWest Branch. The real branch of NatWest was in the High Street but closed not long afterwards.

Parish church

The thirteenth century parish Church of St John the Baptist is a Grade I listed building.[7]

Work on the current building began in the early 15th century, and grew from an earlier building dating back to about 1230. The church is built of limestone and decorated with Doulting stone, while the steps are an interesting example of Dolomitic Conglomerate (pudding stone).[8] The crossing tower is over 100 feet high, and holds six bells, one of which dating from 1723 was made by Edward Bilbie of the Bilbie family.[9] The statue on the east side is that of St John the Baptist. On the west side is a king — perhaps Henry VII, which would place it after 1485. The North aisle ceiling retains some mediæval painted panels, and amongst the carved bosses is the head of a Green Man, with leaves sprouting around his face.[10] The nave roof is Jacobean and dates from 1636.[8] Restoration was undertaken in 1888 by J.D. Sedding, who contributed the fine parclose screens.

About the town

In 2012, The Roxy community cinema was reopened after a five-year renovation programme. It has 32 seats and an art deco box office.[11] The premises used to the Axbridge Lion pub a Georgian Grade II listed building.[12][13]

The Axbridge Film Society is based at the cinema.[14]


The Axbridge Union workhouse was erected in 1837 at the south side of West Street in Axbridge. The Poor Law Commissioners authorised an expenditure of £4,496.17s.6d on construction of the building which was intended to accommodate 250 inmates. It was designed by Samuel T Welch who was also the architect of workhouses at Wells and Clifton. By 1929 the workhouse had become officially known as Axbridge Poor Law Institution.[15]


Axbridge has a very active community and holds a number of events each year.

On the Saturday of the first Bank Holiday weekend in May, the annual Somerset Showcase takes place, which is a fun filled day for the whole family featuring the best Somerset has to offer, including craft displays and market, farmers' market, entertainment, exhibitions and live music in the evening. It has become a firm favourite amongst the events held in the town each year, and attracts visitors from all over the area.

September also sees the annual Blackberry Carnival, Fair in the Square and Harvest Home which was introduced in 2007. Other events throughout the year include the Progressive Supper and Santa in the Square.

Axbridge hosts a Pageant every 10 years. This started in 1967, in celebration of the opening of the bypass. The next pageant was in 1970 & there has been one every decade since then.[16]


Axbridge Cricket Club, established in 2004 and playing around 35 friendly fixtures each season.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Axbridge)


  1. Havinden, Michael. The Somerset Landscape. The making of the English landscape. London: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 217. ISBN 0-340-20116-9. 
  2. "Axbridge visitors information". Archived from the original on 19 August 2006. Retrieved 25 August 2006. 
  3. Toulson, Shirley (1984). The Mendip Hills: A Threatened Landscape. London: Victor Gollancz. ISBN 0-575-03453-X. 
  4. Information on Axbridge  from GENUKI
  5. Gough, J.W. (1967). The mines of Mendip. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 978-0-7153-4152-0. 
  6. "Axbridge". Bristol Railway Station Archive. Archived from the original on 13 October 2010. Retrieved 28 September 2010. 
  7. National Heritage List 1173117: Church of St John The Baptist
  8. 8.0 8.1 Reid, Robert Douglas (1979). Some buildings of Mendip. The Mendip Society. ISBN 0-905459-16-4. 
  9. Moore, James; Roy Rice & Ernest Hucker (1995). Bilbie and the Chew Valley clock makers. The authors. ISBN 0-9526702-0-8. 
  10. "Church of St John The Baptist". Archived from the original on 23 July 2006. Retrieved 25 August 2006. 
  11. "'UK's smallest' cinema relaunches in Axbridge after transformation". BBC. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  12. National Heritage List 1344858: The Axbridge Lion
  13. "The History of the Roxy". Roxy Cinema. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  14. "'UK's smallest' cinema relaunches in Axbridge after transformation". BBC News. 7 September 2012. Retrieved 7 September 2012. 
  15. "Axbridge Workhouse and Poor Law Union". Archived from the original on 24 September 2006. Retrieved 25 August 2006. 
  16. "Axbridge Pageant". Axbridge Pageant Festival. Retrieved 24 September 2009.