Roman settlement site, Anglo-Saxon and Norman royal palace, and St Columbanus' Chapel


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Roman settlement site, Anglo-Saxon and Norman royal palace, and St Columbanus' Chapel
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Sedgemoor (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 45783 53002

Reasons for Designation

Anglo-Saxon palaces were high status residential sites usually occupied by royalty or, occasionally, by bishops. Available architectural evidence is largely restricted to royal palaces which provided accommodation for the king, his retinue, his guests, and his councillors (the witan). The focus of the complex was usually a large and elaborate timber hall. The remains of these halls can usually be distinguished by their large size or method of construction using massive timber uprights set in large pits or trenches; these often survive well below ground. In such a hall the king would hold court, receive emissaries, and summon periodic meetings of his councillors; the earliest English epic poem Beowulf describes such a setting. Around the hall, courtyards provided space for less formal gatherings, and other buildings such as a chapel of stone or timber, lodgings, kitchens, and storehouses. Activities such as metal working, milling, brewing, and animal husbandry all appear to have been carried out within the boundaries of the palace, which were often marked by large ditches. Anglo-Saxon palaces may be found across most of south east and central England and, whilst some may date from as early as the fifth century AD, most are likely to have been constructed in later centuries up until the time of the Norman Conquest. Following the Conquest, they were sometimes allowed to continue to function under royal Norman patronage or put to ecclesiastical or other use. A handful of palaces are known by name from documentary sources, usually charters recording the meetings of the witan. However, fewer than a dozen examples have been identified with certainty and even fewer have been excavated. All positively identified Anglo-Saxon palaces are considered to be of national importance by virtue of their rarity and representivity.

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. The houses on the south side of Station Road (namely, Bodele, Copper Beeches, Hanham Manor, Downderry, and Ribbons), all of the buildings of The Kings of Wessex School, the Leisure Centre, the disused railway embankment and railway arch, all modern ancillary buildings, sheds, The `Bungalow' and all modern standing structures within the Church Farm Caravan Site, and all above ground constructions of post-Reformation date, all paths, hard standing, and prepared surfaces, and all fencing and gates are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included. St Columbanus' Chapel is included in the scheduling, both above and below ground. Also included in the scheduling are the modern concrete blocks which mark the positions of the excavated post holes which formed part of the foundations for the halls of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods. These blocks provide a visual aid for the public in understanding the layout of the complex.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Broomhead, R, Evaluation at Kings of Wessex School, (1999)
Gardner, K, 'Current Archaeology' in Charterhouse-Veb-Iscalis, , Vol. 161, (1999), 199
Rahtz, P A, 'British Archaeological Reports' in The Saxon and Medieval Palaces at Cheddar, , Vol. 65, (1979)
Rahtz, P A, 'Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Nat Hist Society' in Cheddar Vicarage 1965, , Vol. 117, (1966), 52-84
Rahtz, P A, Hirst, S M, 'Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Nat Hist Society' in The Chapel of St Columbanus at Cheddar, , Vol. 131, (1987), 157-61
RAB/5/99, Broomhead, R A, Kings of Wessex Community School Cheddar. Archaeological Eval., (1999)
Title: Plan of Roman building in Cheddar Vicarage garden Source Date: 1975 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

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