Cadbury Castle, Somerset

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This article is about the hill fort in Somerset. For other Cadbury Castles, Camps and Hills, see Cadbury.
Cadbury Castle
An aerial view over green fields and hedgerows toward a large conical hill
Alternate name Camalet
Location near South Cadbury and Yeovil
Region Somerset, England
Coordinates 51°01′27″N 2°31′54″W / 51.0241°N 2.5318°W / 51.0241; -2.5318Coordinates: 51°01′27″N 2°31′54″W / 51.0241°N 2.5318°W / 51.0241; -2.5318
Type Hillfort
Periods Iron Age
Site notes
Condition some damage
Website reference Megalithic Portal

Cadbury Castle, formerly known as Camalet,[1] is a Bronze and Iron Age hillfort in the civil parish of South Cadbury in the English county of Somerset. It is a Scheduled monument[2] and associated with King Arthur's supposed court at "Camelot".

The site has been excavated revealing artifacts from human occupation and use from the Neolithic to post-Roman eras.

Due to scrub and tree growth the site has been added to the Heritage at Risk register.[3]


Further information: British hillforts

Hillforts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron ages, around the start of the first millennium BC.[4] The reason for their emergence in prehistoric Britain and their purpose has been a subject of debate. It has been argued that they could have been military sites constructed in response to invasion from continental Europe, sites built by invaders, or a military reaction to social tensions caused by an increasing population and consequent pressure on agriculture. The dominant view since the 1960s has been that the increasing use of iron led to social changes in Britain. Deposits of iron ore were located in different places from the tin and copper ore necessary to make bronze and, as a result, trading patterns shifted. The old elites lost their economic and social status and power passed into the hands of a new group of people.[5]

Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe believes that population increase still played a role and has stated "the forts provided defensive possibilities for the community at those times when the stress of an increasing population burst out into open warfare. But I would not see them as having been built because there was a state of war. They would be functional as defensive strongholds when there were tensions and undoubtedly some of them were attacked and destroyed, but this was not the only, or even the most significant, factor in their construction".[6]


Cadbury Castle is located 5 miles (8.0 km) north east of Yeovil. It stands on the summit of Cadbury Hill, a limestone hill situated on the southern edge of the Somerset Levels, with flat lowland to the north. The summit is 153 m (500 ft) above sea-level on lias stone.[7] The hill is surrounded by four terraced earthwork banks and ditches and a stand of trees. The hill fort is overlooked by Sigwells, a rural plateau rich in archaeological remains.


Excavation at and around the site has discovered Iron Age, Roman and Saxon artifacts. Excavations were undertaken by Bennett in 1890 and Gray in 1913 followed by major work led by archaeologist Leslie Alcock from 1966–1970.[8] He identified a long sequence of occupation on the site and many of the finds are displayed in the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.

Prehistoric occupation[edit]

Earthworks at Cadbury Castle, 1911 map
Yetholm-type shield from South Cadbury. Displayed at Somerset County Museum, Taunton.

The earliest settlement was represented by pits and post holes dated with Neolithic pottery and flints.[9] A bank under the later Iron Age defences is likely to be a lynchet or terrace derived from early ploughing of the hilltop. The site was also occupied in the Late Bronze Age, from which ovens have been identified,[10] and throughout the Iron Age.[11] It was the object of a major programme of excavations from 1966–70 directed by Leslie Alcock.[12]

The castle is a multivallate hillfort built around 400 BC. Large ramparts and elaborate timber defenses were constructed and refortified at least five times over the following centuries. Excavation revealed round and rectangular house foundations, metalworking, and a possible sequence of small rectangular temples or shrines,[13] indicating permanent oppidum-like occupation. There is evidence that the fort was violently taken in around AD 43 and that the defences were further slighted later in the 1st century after the construction of a Roman army barracks on the hilltop.[14][15] A report of the prehistoric and Roman activity identified by Alcock's excavations was published in the year 2000 which somewhat modified his earlier conclusions.[16]

Radical revisions of the Bronze Age archaeology on the lower slopes[17] derived from discoveries during excavations and survey work by the South Cadbury Environs Project.[18] These found bones radiocarbon dated to 3500 and 3300 BC and showed the area to have been very busy during the second millennium BC.[12] Finds include the first Bronze Age shield from an excavation in northwest Europe, an example of the distinctive Yetholm-type. Although carbon dating implies that the shield was deposited in the 10th century BC, metallurgical evidence suggests that it was manufactured two centuries earlier. A metal-working building and associated enclosure, roughly contemporary with the period of manufacture, was discovered 2 km (1.2 mi) south east of the hillfort.[19]

Excavations of the southwest gate in 1968 and 1969 revealed evidence for one or more severe violent episodes, associated with weaponry and destruction by fire. Whereas the excavator, Leslie Alcock, believed this to have been dated to around AD 70, Tabor argues for a date associated with the initial invasion, either AD 43 or 44.[20] There was significant activity at the site during the late third and fourth centuries, which may have included the construction of a Romano-British temple.[21] Havinden states that it was the site of vigorous resistance by the Durotriges and Dobunni to the second Augusta Legion under the command of Vespasian.[22]

In the year 2000, English Heritage published a monograph covering the later prehistoric and early historic phases of occupation at Cadbury Castle. Presenting finds from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, the report explores the ramparts and southwestern gate structure, representing one of the deepest and most complex Iron Age stratigraphic sequences excavated in southern Britain.[23]

Historic occupation[edit]

Following the withdrawal of the Roman administration, the site is thought to have been in use from c. 470 until some time after 580.[12] Alcock revealed a substantial "Great Hall" (20 x 10 m) and showed that the innermost Iron Age defenses had been refortified, providing a defended site double the size of any other known fort of the period. Shards of pottery from the eastern Mediterranean were also found from this period, indicating wide trade links.[14][15][24] It therefore seems probable that it was the chief caer ("fort") of a major Brythonic ruler, his family, his teulu (lit. "family", but actually meaning "warband"), servants, and horses.

Between 1010 and 1020, the hill was reoccupied for use as a temporary Saxon mint, standing in for that at Bruton.[14][15][12][25] Some small-scale fortification of the site may also have occurred in the 13th century.[26]


Engraving of Cadbury Castle, drawn in 1723 by William Stukeley and captioned "Prospect of Camalet Castle"

Local tradition, first written down by John Leland in 1542, holds that Cadbury Castle was King Arthur's Camelot. The suffix -bury refers to a fortification, while the castle stands next to the River Cam with the villages of West Camel and Queen Camel in proximity. (The name 'Cadbury' is generally considered to be a Saxo-Brythonic hybrid meaning "Battle-Fort", although other scholars suggest a derivation from some figure named "Cado".[27]) The site and the Great Hall are extensive, and the writer Geoffrey Ashe argued in an article in the journal Speculum that it was the base for the Arthur of history.[28] His opinion has not been widely accepted by all students of the period.

Militarily, the location makes sense as a place where refugees and the southwestern Brythons of Dumnonia could have defended themselves against attacks from the east. Refortification may have been a response to the great Saxon raid of c. 473.[29] If Arthur was indeed conceived at Tintagel, as tradition asserts,[30] he may have been a prince of Dumnonia and used Cadbury as a stronghold on his eastern frontier.

Bishop Ussher believed it to be the Cair Celemion[31] mentioned by the History of the Britons as one of the 28 cities of Britain.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Phelps, W. The History and Antiquities of Somersetshire; Being a General and Parochial Survey of That Interesting County, to which is Prefixed an Historical Introduction, with a Brief View of Ecclesiastical History; and an Account of the Druidical, Belgic-British, Roman, Saxon, Danish, and Norman Antiquities, Now Extant, Vol. II, Ch. VI, §1: "Camalet or Cadbury", p. 118. J. B. Nichols & Son (London), 1839.
  2. ^ "Cadbury Castle". National Monument Record. English Heritage. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  3. ^ "Large multivallate hillfort and associated earthworks at South Cadbury, South Cadbury - South Somerset". Heritage at Risk. English Heritage. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  4. ^ Payne, Corney & Cunliffe 2007, p. 1.
  5. ^ Sharples 1991, pp. 71-72.
  6. ^ "Time Team: Swords, skulls and strongholds". Channel 4. 19 May 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2009. 
  7. ^ Haslett 2010, pp. 72-76.
  8. ^ "South Cadbury Hillfort". Digital Digging. Retrieved 27 August 2010. 
  9. ^ "Cadbury Castle — Neolithic settlement, South Cadbury". Somerset Historic Environment Record. Somerset County Council. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  10. ^ "Cadbury Castle — Bronze Age settlement, South Cadbury". Somerset Historic Environment Record. Somerset County Council. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  11. ^ "Iron Age Hillfort, South Cadbury Castle". Somerset Historic Environment Record. Somerset County Council. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  12. ^ a b c d Historic England. "Large multivallate hillfort and associated earthworks at South Cadbury (1011980)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 5 April 2015. 
  13. ^ Dunning 1983, p. ?.
  14. ^ a b c Alcock 1972, p. ?.
  15. ^ a b c Alcock 1973, p. ?.
  16. ^ Barrett 2000, p. ?.
  17. ^ Tabor 2008, pp. 84-92.
  18. ^ South Cadbury Environs Project.
  19. ^ Tabor 2008, pp. 61-69.
  20. ^ Tabor 2008, p. ?.
  21. ^ "Cadbury Castle — Roman activity and Temple, South Cadbury". Somerset Historic Environment Record. Somerset County Council. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  22. ^ Havinden 1981, pp. 58-59.
  23. ^ Woodward, A.; Barrett, J.; Freeman, P. "Cadbury Castle Somerset: The later prehistoric and early historic archaeology". Archaeology Data Service. English Heritage. Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  24. ^ Tabor 2008, pp. 169-172.
  25. ^ Alcock 1995, p. ?.
  26. ^ "Cadbury Castle, Castle and later activity, South Cadbury". Somerset Historic Environment Record. Somerset County Council. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  27. ^ Bush 1994, p. 154.
  28. ^ Ashe, Geoffrey (1981). "A Certain Very Ancient British Book: Traces of an Arthurian Source in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History". Speculum (Speculum, Vol. 56, No. 2) 56 (2): 301–23. doi:10.2307/2846937. JSTOR 2846937. 
  29. ^ "Cadbury Castle". Photographers Resource. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  30. ^ Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae Book 8.19–24, Book 9, Book 10, Book 11.1–2
  31. ^ Nennius (attrib.). Theodor Mommsen (ed.). Historia Brittonum, VI. Composed after AD 830. (Latin) Hosted at Latin Wikisource.
  32. ^ Newman, John Henry & al. Lives of the English Saints: St. German, Bishop of Auxerre, Ch. X: "Britain in 429, A. D.", p. 92. James Toovey (London), 1844.