- – Cheddar Village Google Street View (2009 imagery) – -
A brief history of Cheddar
Cheddar is unique. Its distinguishing feature is the natural phenomenon of Britain’s largest Gorge. The Cheddar Yeo in Gough’s Cave is Britain’s biggest underground river, and the Gorge Cliffs are Britain’s highest inland limestone cliffs.
The Gorge is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the calcareous grassland, Karst limestone buttresses and Horseshoe Bats. It is also home to the Cheddar Pink. Peregrine Falcons nest on the cliff face and Soay sheep keep the scrub in check. Beneath the surface lies an extensive underground network of caves and caverns that route water from the Mendip plateau down to the public showcaves and the lower gorge.
Gough’s Cave is an internationally famous archeological site because of its Late Upper Paleolithic finds (12-13,000 years old) and contained Britain’s oldest complete skeleton (9,000 years old). The Gorge itself lies within the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Village of Cheddar has a long and ancient history, having been an important Roman and Saxon Centre. Cheddar’s Kings of Wessex Academy occupies the historical site of an Anglo Saxon Palace, with the ruins of the 13th century chapel of St. Columbanus still visible today. As early as 1130 AD, the beauty of the 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. Cheese is still made in Cheddar today and some is stored in the caves to mature.
The Market Cross in the centre of the village dates from the 15th Century and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, although has been repaired several times after impacts from traffic. The 17th Century Hannah More Cottage in Lower North Street is Grade II listed. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, the many watermills ground corn and made paper, and, from the Victorian period large scale production of clothing and shirtmaking was carried out (see this map of local industrial sites).
Popular tourism began with the opening of Cheddar Valley Railway in 1869/1870, which provided workers from towns with the opportunity to enjoy a day’s outing for the first-time as a Bank Holiday. The railway was also popularly known as the Strawberry Line, because it passed close by the many strawberry-growing fields in the largely south-west facing slopes on the Cheddar side of the valley. “Strawberry Special” trains ferried the fruits by rail to all parts of the country, until the line was axed in 1965. Cheddar strawberries are still grown on these slopes today and in season are available to buy from stalls on the roadside between Cheddar, Draycott, Rodney Stoke and Westbury-sub-Mendip. The line itself is now a long distance footpath.
For a great deal more about the history, geography and modern day living in Cheddar, visit :
CHEDDAR THROUGH TIME
This new book explores Cheddar past and present from the top of the gorge to the substantial reservoir beyond the village below. Includes many previously unpublished photographs.
A very informative read whether you are a visitor to the area or someone who lives in Cheddar and wants to find out more about the history of the gorge and the buildings in the village.
Local historians – please feel free to send over any additional words and pictures, relating to any aspect of Cheddar’s history and heritage, that you would like to have published on this site (with a credit of course).
Cheddar – meanings
The global origin of the word Cheddar comes from over a thousand years ago when the English village was originally referred to as “che-dwr”, a combination of English and Gaelic terms which became the “Cheddar” village name we know today. If domain names had existed back then, cheddar.org would have rightly belonged to the village elders (nowadays it’s being cyber-squatted by a domain re-sale agent, but that’s another story)!
The cheese made using the process which originated here is the second meaning of the word. And in modern slang the word “cheddar” can also mean money or wealth, and also a way of scoring a goal in football. There is also a mobile productivity “app” called Cheddar, and there is a popular word game called “Cheddar Gorge”.