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Cheddar - - 23142.jpg
Grid reference: ST458535
Location: 51°16’44"N, 2°46’41"W
Population: 5,755  (2011)
Post town: Cheddar
Postcode: BS27
Dialling code: 01934
Local Government
Council: Sedgemoor

Cheddar is a large village in Somerset, nine miles north-west of Wells on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills, at the foot of the vast, dramatic Cheddar Gorge. This village is the first home of Cheddar cheese, which must be it greatest claim to international attention.

Cheddar Gorge, the foot of which is on the northern edge of the village, is the largest gorge in the United Kingdom and includes several show caves including Gough's Cave. The gorge contains signs of many ages of mankind, from the Neolithic to the modern age. It provides a unique geological and biological environment that has been recognised by the designation of several Sites of Special Scientific Interest.[1] It is also the site of several limestone quarry|quarries.

Apart from cheese and cider, Cheddar has been a centre for strawberry growing. The berry crop was formerly transported on the Cheddar Valley rail line, which closed in the late 1960s but is now a cycle path. The village is now a major tourist destination with several cultural and community facilities, including the Cheddar Show Caves Museum.[2]

The village supports a variety of community groups including religious, sporting and cultural organisations. Several of these are based on the site of The Kings of Wessex Academy, which is the largest educational establishment.


The name Cheddar comes from the Old English word ceodor, meaning deep dark cavity or pouch.[3]

Another theory claims that the name means "Shear Water", from the Old English scear and Welsh dŵr.[4] The Old English 'dor' however ('door' or 'gateway') seems to match the landscape better.

Cheddar is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Ceder.


There is evidence of occupation from the Neolithic period in Cheddar. Britain's oldest complete human skeleton, Cheddar Man, estimated to be 9,000 years old, was found in Cheddar Gorge in 1903.[5] Older remains from the Upper Late Palaeolithic era (12,000–13,000 years ago) have been found.[6] There is some evidence of a Bronze Age field system at the Batts Combe quarry site. There is also evidence of Bronze Age barrows at the mound in the Longwood valley, which if man-made it is likely to be a field system.[7] The remains of a Roman villa have been excavated in the grounds of the current vicarage.[8]

Reconstruction of the royal palace c. 1000

The village of Cheddar had been important during the Roman and Saxon eras. Cheddar Palace was a hall of the Kings of Wessex, which is recorded as used on three occasions in the 10th century to host the Witenagemot.[9] The ruins of the palace were excavated in the 1960s.[10] They are located on the grounds of The Kings of Wessex Academy, together with a 14th century chapel dedicated to St Columbanus.[11] Roman remains have also been uncovered at the site.[10][12]

Cheddar is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Ceder.

As early as 1130 AD, the Cheddar Gorge was recognised as one of the "Four wonders of England". Historically, Cheddar's source of wealth was farming and cheese making for which it was famous as early as 1170 AD.[13]

The manor of Cheddar was deforested in 1337 and Bishop Ralph was granted a licence by the King to create a hunting forest.[14]

As early as 1527 there are records of watermills on the river.[10] In the 17th and 18th centuries, there were several watermills which ground corn and made paper, with 13 mills on the Yeo at the peak, declining to seven by 1791 and just three by 1915.[15]

In the Victorian era it also became a centre for the production of clothing.[16] The last mill, used as a shirt factory, closed in the early 1950s.[15] William Wilberforce saw the poor conditions of the locals when he visited Cheddar in 1789. He inspired Hannah More in her work to improve the conditions of the Mendip miners and agricultural workers.[17] In 1801, 4,400 acres of common land were enclosed under the Inclosure Acts.[18]

The summer influx of visitors to the Cheddar gorge and caves began with the opening of the Cheddar Valley Railway in 1869.[19]

Cheddar, its surrounding villages and specifically the gorge has been subject to flooding. In the Great Flood of 1968 the flow of water washed large boulders down the gorge, washed away cars, and damaged the cafe and the entrance to Gough's Cave.[20][21]


The parish church is St Andrew. It dates from the 14th century. It was restored in 1873 by William Butterfield. It is a Grade I listed building and contains some 15th century stained glass and ac ommunion table of 1631. The chest tomb in the chancel is believed to contain the remains of Sir Thomas Cheddar and is dated 1442.[22]

The tower, which rises to 100 feet,[8] contains a bell dating from 1759 made by Thomas Bilbie of the Bilbie family.[23]

  • Church of England: St Andrew’s
  • Baptist: Chapel was built in 1831.[24]
  • Independent: Cheddar Valley Community Church (meeting at The Kings of Wessex School on Sunday, and their own site on Tweentown during the week).[25]
  • Methodist
  • Roman Catholic


Cheddar Gorge c. 1907

The area is underlain by Black Rock slate, Burrington Oolite and Clifton Down Limestone of the Carboniferous Limestone Series, which contain Oolite|ooliths and fossil debris on top of Old Red Sandstone, and by Dolomitic Conglomerate of the Keuper. Evidence for Variscan orogeny is seen in the sheared rock and cleaved shales. In many places weathering of these strata has resulted in the formation of immature calcareous soils.[26]

Gorge and caves

Main article: Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge slices deeply through the Mendip Hills, emerging on the edge of the village. It is the largest gorge in the United Kingdom.[27]

The gorge is the site of the Cheddar Caves, where Cheddar Man was found in 1903.[5] Older remains from the Upper Late Palaeolithic era (12,000–13,000 years ago) have been found.[6] The caves, produced by the activity of an underground river, contain stalactites and stalagmites.

Reflections in Gough's Cave

Gough's Cave, which was discovered in 1903,[28] leads around 437 yards into the rock-face, and contains a variety of large rock chambers and formations.

Cox's Cave, discovered in 1837,[29] is smaller but contains many intricate formations. A further cave houses a children's entertainment walk known as the "Crystal Quest".[30]

Cheddar Gorge, including Cox's Cave, Gough's Cave and other attractions, attracts about 500,000 visitors each year.[31] In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, following its appearance on the 2005 television programme Seven Natural Wonders, Cheddar Gorge was named as the second greatest natural wonder in Britain, surpassed only by the Dan-yr-Ogof caves.[32]

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Cheddar Reservoir at dusk

There are several large areas designated 'Sites of Special Scientific Interest' around the village:

  • Cheddar Reservoir, a near-circular artificial reservoir built in the 1930s with a capacity of 135 million gallons. It is supplied with water taken from the Cheddar Yeo, which rises in Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge and is a tributary of the River Axe. Its designation is due to its wintering waterfowl populations.[33]
  • Cheddar Wood and the smaller Macall's Wood: the remnant of the wood of the Bishops of Bath and Wells in the 13th century and of King Edmund the Magnificent's wood in the 10th. During the 19th century.[34]
  • Cheddar Complex, covering 1,090.5 acres (441.3 ha) of the gorge, caves and the surrounding area.[35]


Exposed stone face of quarry, and buildings
Batts Combe Quarry from the lookout tower above Cheddar Gorge

Close to the village and gorge are Batts Combe quarry and Callow Rock quarry, two of the active Quarries of the Mendip Hills where limestone is still extracted. Operating since the early 20th century, From Batts Combe the output in 2005 was around 4,000 tons of limestone a day, one third of which was supplied to an on-site lime kiln, which closed in 2009.[36]


Cheddar Youth Hostel

The village gave its name to Cheddar cheese, which is the most popular type of cheese in the United Kingdom. The cheese is now made and consumed worldwide, but only one producer remains in the village.

Since the 1880s, Cheddar's other main produce has been the strawberry,[37] which is grown on the south-facing lower slopes of the Mendip hills.[10] As a consequence of its use for transporting strawberries to market, the since-closed Cheddar Valley line became known as The Strawberry Line after it opened in 1869.[38][39] The line ran from Yatton to Wells. When the rest of the line was closed and all passenger services ceased, the section of the line between Cheddar and Yatton remained open for goods traffic. It provided a fast link with the main markets for the strawberries in Birmingham and London, but finally closed in 1964,[40] becoming part of the Cheddar Valley Railway Nature Reserve.[41]

Cheddar Ales is a small brewery based in the village, producing beer for local public houses.[42]

Tourism is a significant source of employment today: around 15 percent of employment in Cheddar and its rsurrounding district is provided by tourism and within Cheddar it is estimated to employ as many as 1,000 people.[43]

Culture and community

  • Cheddar Vale Lions Club
  • Mendip Rotary and Mendip Inner Wheel Club

The clubs raise money for projects in the local community and hold annual events such as a fireworks display, duck races in the Gorge, a dragon boat race on the reservoir and concerts on the grounds of the nearby St Michael's Cheshire Home.[44]

Sights of the village

Photochrom of Cheddar Market Cross in the 1890s

The market cross in Bath Street dates from the 15th century, with the shelter having been rebuilt in 1834. It has a central octagonal pier, a socket raised on four steps, a hexagonal shelter with six arched four-centred openings, shallow two-stage buttresses at each angle, and an embattled parapet. The shaft is crowned by an abacus with figures in niches, probably from the late 19th century, although the cross is now missing. It was rebuilt by Thomas, Marquis of Bath. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument[45]

Hannah More, a philanthropist and educator, founded a school in the village in the late 18th century for the children of miners. Her first school was located in a 17th-century house. Now named "Hannah More's Cottage",[46] the Grade II-listed building is used by the local community as a meeting place.[47]


Kings Fitness & Leisure, situated on the grounds of The Kings of Wessex School, provides a venue for various sports and includes a 20-metre swimming pool, racket sport courts, a sports hall, dance studios and a gym.[48] A youth sports festival was held on Sharpham Road Playing Fields in 2009.[49]

In 2010 a skatepark was built in the village.

  • Cricket: Cheddar Cricket Club, formed in the late 19th century[50]
  • Football: Cheddar Football Club, founded in 1892 and nicknamed "The Cheesemen"
  • Rugby: Cheddar Rugby Club[51]
  • Running: Cheddar Running Club
  • Tennis: Cheddar Lawn Tennis Club, formed in 1924[52]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Cheddar)


  1. "Cheddar Gorge and Caves". Bristol-link. Retrieved 31 January 2011. 
  2. Cheddar Man—Museum of Prehistory - Cheddar Caves
  3. Atthill, Robin (1976). Mendip: A new study. Newton Abbott: David & Charles. p. 75. ISBN 0-7153-7297-1. 
  4. Robinson, Stephen (1992). Somerset Place Names. Wimborne, Dorset: The Dovecote Press Ltd. p. 43. ISBN 1-874336-03-2. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Tourist hotspots—Cheddar Gorge". BBC. Retrieved 12 August 2007. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Gough's Cave, Cheddar Gorge, Cheddar". Somerset Historic Environment Record. Somerset County Council. January 1983. Retrieved 7 February 2011. 
  7. Lewis, Jodie (2003). "Results of geophysical surveys at two barrow sites in Cheddar and Priddy Parishes, Mendip". Proc. Univ. Bristol Spelaeol. Soc. 2003. University of Bristol. p. 11. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Leete-Hodge, Lornie (1985). Curiosities of Somerset. Bodmin: Bossiney Books. p. 20. ISBN 0-906456-98-3. 
  9. Rahtz, Phillip. "The Saxon and Mediæval Palaces at Cheddar, Somerset-an Interim Report of Excavations in I 960-62" (PDF). Archaeology Data Service. Retrieved 31 March 2008. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Richardson, Miranda (2003). "Cheddar Archaeological Assessment" (PDF). Somerset Extensive Urban Survey. Somerset County Council. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 
  11. National Heritage List 1173737: Former chapel dedicated to St Columbanus
  12. "School dig uncovers Roman grave". BBC News. 20 January 2006. Retrieved 31 March 2008. 
  13. Searle, Muriel (2002). West Country History: Somerset. Venton Publications. p. 130. ISBN 978-1-84150-802-3. Retrieved 7 February 2011. 
  14. Bond, James (1998). Somerset Parks and Gardens. Somerset Books. p. 25. ISBN 978-0861834655. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Outhwaite, John. "A Short History of Cheddar". Cheddar Parish Council. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  16. "A brief history of Cheddar". Cheddar Web Site. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  17. Coysh, A.W.; Mason, E.J.; Waite, V. (1977). The Mendips. London: Robert Hale Ltd. pp. 96. ISBN 0-7091-6426-2. 
  18. Havinden, Michael (1982). The Somerset Landscape. The making of the English landscape. London: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 133. ISBN 0-340-20116-9. 
  19. "About Cheddar Village, Somerset". Cheddar Village. Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  20. "40 years since the Great Gorge Flood". Western Mercury. 10 July 2008. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 
  21. "The Chew Valley floods of 1968". Environment Agency. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 
  22. National Heritage List 1173613: St Andrew’s Church, Cheddar
  23. Moore, James; Rice, Roy; Hucker, Ernest (1995). Bilbie and the Chew Valley clock makers. The authors. ISBN 0-9526702-0-8. 
  24. National Heritage List 1296121: Baptist Chapel
  25. "Cheddar Valley Community Church". Cheddar Valley Community Church. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  26. "The Cheddar Complex" (PDF). English Nature. Retrieved 17 July 2006. 
  27. "Cheddar Gorge: Not entirely cheesy". Geotimes, a publication of the American Geological Institute. May 2005. Retrieved 12 August 2007. 
  28. "Gough's Cave excavation site". Natural History Museum. Retrieved 7 February 2011. 
  29. "Cheddar Gorge". British Geological Survey. Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  30. "Cox's Cave and the Crystal Cave". Cheddar Caves and Gorge. Archived from the original on 29 November 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2009. 
  31. "Access Q&A: Cheddar Gorge". British Mountaineering Council. 1999. Retrieved 12 August 2007. 
  32. "Caves win 'natural wonder' vote". BBC. 2 August 2005. Retrieved 7 February 2011. 
  33. SSSI listing and designation for Cheddar Reservoir
  34. SSSI listing and designation for Cheddar Wood
  35. SSSI listing and designation for Cheddar Complex
  36. "Jobs may go as kiln is closed". Cheddar Valley Gazette. 26 March 2009. Retrieved 29 March 2009. 
  37. Rendell, J. (1973). Economic problems of the protected strawberry crop in south west England. International Society for Horticultural Science. Retrieved 6 February 2011. 
  38. "The Strawberry Line" (PDF). Sustrans. Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  39. "Archive". The Strawberry Line. Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  40. Daniels, Gerald David; Dench, Leslie Alan (November 1980) [1964]. Passengers No More (3rd ed.). Shepperton: Ian Allan. p. 16. ISBN 0-7110-0951-1. OCLC 16551162. 
  41. "Strawberry Line". Forest of Avon. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  42. "Discovering Cheddar Ales" (PDF). Pints West No. 72 Winter 2006/2007 edition. CAMRA Bristol. p. 7. Retrieved 21 January 2008. 
  43. Nagle, Garrett (1999). Focus on Geography: Tourism, leisure and recreation. Nelson Thornes. pp. 54–56. ISBN 978-0-17-444705-4. 
  44. "St Michaels". Leonard Cheshire Disability. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  45. National Heritage List 1173642: Market Cross
  46. National Heritage List 1344881: Hannah More's Cottage
  47. Hannah Mores Cottage, Cheddar - British Listed Buildings
  48. "Sport and Leisure". Cheddar Web Site. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  49. "Summer festival of youth sports receives £2,000 boost". This is Somerset. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  50. Cheddar Cricket Club: History
  51. Cheddar Rugby Club
  52. Cheddar Tennis Club