Axbridge is a picturesque former market town on the southern fringe of the Mendip Hills. This small town has a medieval market square, narrow streets and old buildings, including timber framed buildings. These include some interesting Tudor houses and a 13th century parish church
The flat moorland of the Axe Valley lies to the south of the town. In spite of the name, the River Axe is over a mile away in this direction. It is possible that the river once flowed closer to the town. The mediaeval town is strung out along its main street, on the road which links Cheddar to the coast.
The limestone caves in the surrounding hills have been used since prehistoric times. There is substantial evidence of Roman occupation of this area and aerial photographs have produced confirmation that there is still much to be excavated from this period.
The town was recorded as a borough as early as the beginning of the 10th century, when there was a royal residence at Cheddar. A mint operated in the town for at least two periods at the end of the 10th and beginning of the 11th centuries. In the Domesday Book it is described as a borough under the royal manor of Cheddar.
At the start of the 13th century, King John passed the manor of Cheddar to the Bishop of Bath and Wells. This was the time that a charter was granted to hold a market at Axbridge. A later charter of 1229 freed local traders from tolls and a fair was granted 10 years later.
By the 14th century Axbridge was well-established as a town trading in cloth, probably because it was on one of the main routes to Bristol and had access to the River Axe. As the cloth industry declined, so did Axbridge. Although there was originally a railway link to the town, this was closed in the 1960s.
A large number of early listed buildings still line the main streets of Axbridge. One of the most interesting is a mediaeval merchant’s house in the square, known as the King John Hunting Lodge. This is now a museum which has various exhibitions on the local history of the area. Farmers markets are held in the square, where there is also a prize winning butcher’s shop.
Axbridge today remains a small town, but it has a number of hotels, bars and restaurants and is in an ideal situation for exploring the Mendip hills, the Somerset Coast and the famous Cheddar Gorge.