Cadbury Castle, formerly known as Camalet, is a Bronze Age and Iron Age hillfort in the county of Somerset. It is located in the parish of South Cadbury, approximately 5 miles (8 km) east of Yeovil. The coordinates are 51°1′26.76″N 2°31′54.48″W.
The hillfort was created on the summit of Cadbury Hill, a limestone hill on the southern edge of the Somerset Levels. The site consists of an 18 acre plateau surrounded by terraced earthwork banks and ditches. There are four ramparts on the north-west and south sides, while the eastern side has two remaining ramparts. The inner bank that surrounds the plateau is 0,75 miles (1,2 km) in length.
Cadbury Castle is a scheduled monument. It has been added to the Heritage at Risk register due to scrub and tree growth at the site.
Museum of Somerset in Taunton
Many archaeological findings from the Cadbury Castle site are on display in the Museum of Somerset in Taunton. That includes finds from the late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age.
The site was first excavated by local clergyman James Bennett in 1890 and by Harold St George Gray in 1913. During the second half of the 1960s, archaeologist Leslie Alcock carried out a more modern archaeological excavation here, exploring the ramparts and the southwestern gate structure. Alcock’s works represent one of the deepest and most complex Iron Age stratigraphic sequences ever excavated in southern Britain.
Since 1992, the South Cadbury Environs Project has been studying both Cadbury Castle and its surrounding area, using methods that involve geologic information systems (GIS), gradiometry and electrical resistivity tomography, test pits, ploughzone sampling and deep excavations. The project is a cooperation between researchers from the universities of Oxford, Bristol, Birmingham and Glasgow and local volunteers from the South East Somerset Archaeological and Historical Society and the Yeovil Archaeology and Local History Society.
Early occupation of the site
Pits and pot holes were created here as early as the Neolithic era, and both pottery and flints from that period have been found at the site, the remnants of a small agricultural settlement.
Ovens dated to the late Bronze Age have been found here, as well as a Bronze Age shield of the Yetholm-type. Metallurgical evidence indicates that the shield was created in the 12th century BC, while carbon dating implies that is was deposited two centuries later. A metal-working building has been discovered roughly 1,2 miles (2 km) south-east of the hillfort and is believed to have been there in the 12th century BC.
Humans continued to live at the site as the Bronze Age turned into the Iron Age. Around 300 BC, a stone enclosure with timber revetting was built. In the later Iron Age, a bank was created at the site. It was probably a lynchet or terrace derived from ploughing of the hilltop.
Ploughing of the hilltop ceased during the Iron Age, and large ramparts and advanced timber structures for defence were built and refortified over a period spanning several centuries.
In the first century BC, the simple hillfort was converted into a multivallate hillfort through the addition of new lines of bank and ditch.
Around the year 43 AD, the hillfort was taken by attackers – probably Romans. According to Michael Havinden, the site was vigorously defended by Durotriges and Dobunni who were attacked by the second Augusta Legion, a legion led by Vespasian. Excavations of the site have shown significant fire destruction from this period.
Eventually, Roman army barracks were built on the hilltop.
Significant activity took place here during the 3rd and 4th century AD, and this might have included the erection of a Romano-British temple.
The Middle Ages
After the end of Roman occupation of Somerset, the site continued to be in use. The innermost defences from the Iron Age seem to have been refortified, and there was also a Great Hall present at the site, measuring 20 meters by 10 meters.
Leslie Alcocks excavations in the 1960s indicated that the site was refortified and occupied by a major Brittonic ruler from circa 470 AD, and that this early medieval settlement continued to around 580 AD. Cadbury Castle is the largest known British fortification of that period.
Despite the Romans leaving the area, trading with the Mediterranean region is believed to have continued, since shards of pottery manufactured in the eastern Mediterranean have been found at the site dating back to early medieval times.
In 1010-1020 AD, the hill was home to a Saxon mint.
The Cad part of the Cadbury name may be derived from the River Cam. That is the case for the nearby villages of West Camel and Queen Camel. It should also be noted that the site used to be known as Camalet.
The suffix –bury (also spelled byrig) means fort or town in the Anglo-Saxon language. It is often used for hillforts.
King Arthur’s Camelot?
Camelot is a castle associated with the legendary King Arthur. Camelot is not mentioned in early texts about Arthur; we first know of it from 12th century French stories. Since at least the 15th century, the location of the “real Camelot” has been debated. Today, most scholars regard Camelot as an entirely fictional castle.
In local tradition, first written down by John Leland as early as 1542, Cadbury Castle (Camalet) was King Arthur’s Camelot. It has been proposed that Arthur was a prince of Dumnonia who used Cadbury Castle as a stronghold against attacks from the east.