Cadbury Castle

Iron Age Hillfort

Cadbury Castle is a Bronze and Iron Age hillfort in the civil parish of South Cadbury in the English county of Somerset.

Visible from Glastonbury Tor to the north-west, 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. The hill is surrounded by terraced earthwork banks and ditches and a stand of trees. On the north west and south sides there are four ramparts, with two remaining on the east. The summit plateau covers 7.28 hectares (18.0 acres), and is surrounded by the inner bank which is 1.2 kilometres (0.75 mi) long

The hillfort is formed by a 7.28 hectares (18.0 acres) plateau surrounded by ramparts on the surrounding slopes of the limestone Cadbury Hill.

History of Cadbury Castle

Early occupation of the site

The earliest settlement on the site is represented by pits and post holes dated with Neolithic pottery and flints. These are the remains of a small agricultural settlement which was unenclosed. Bones recovered from the site have been radiocarbon dated to 3500 and 3300 BC. 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. Radical revisions of the Bronze Age archaeology on the lower slopes resulted from discoveries during excavations and survey work by the South Cadbury Environs Project. Finds include the first Bronze Age shield from an excavation in northwest Europe, an example of the distinctive Yetholm-type. Carbon dating implies that the shield was deposited in the 10th century BC, although metallurgical evidence suggests that it was manufactured two centuries earlier. A metal-working building and associated enclosure were discovered 2 km (1.2 mi) south east of the hillfort, roughly contemporary with the period of manufacture.

Human occupation continued throughout the Iron Age. A stone enclosure was constructed around 300 BC with timber revetting, and ploughing ceased within the hilltop site. Excavations have shown the signs of four and six post rectangular buildings which were gradually replaced with roundhouses. Large ramparts and elaborate timber defences were constructed and refortified over the following centuries. Excavation revealed round and rectangular house foundations, metalworking, and a possible sequence of small rectangular temples or shrines, indicating permanent oppidum-like occupation. Excavations were undertaken by local clergyman James Bennett in 1890 and Harold St George Gray in 1913, followed by major work led by archaeologist Leslie Alcock from 1966 to 1970. He identified a long sequence of occupation on the site and many of the finds are displayed in the Museum of Somerset in Taunton. The finds from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, exploring the ramparts and southwestern gate structure, represent one of the deepest and most complex Iron Age stratigraphic sequences excavated in southern Britain.

First Century BC – Multivallate Hillfort

During the first century BC additional lines of bank and ditch were constructed turning it into a multivallate hillfort which is now known as the castle. The site is a classic contour hillfort with 4 ramparts on the NW and S sides. Only 2 survive on the E, the others may have slipped down slope. Entrances at the SW, NE and E, the latter either later or un- finished. The interior is dominated by a summit plateau on its W side, with steep slopes down on its W and S.

Roman Conquest

There is evidence that the fort was violently taken in around 43 and that the defences were further slighted later in the 1st century after the construction of a Roman army barracks on the hilltop. 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, Richard Tabor argues for a date associated with the initial invasion, either 43 or 44.

It may have been the site of vigorous resistance by the Durotriges and Dobunni Celtic Tribe to the The Second Augustan Legion (Legio Secundae Augusta) under the command of Vespasian.

After period of agricultural use, there was significant activity at the site during the late third and fourth centuries, which may be related to a Romano-Celtic temple, whose presence is suggested by reused roof tiles and building stones in the later rampart and discovery of gilt-bronze letter A.

There was a long history of the unsystematic recovery of Roman material from Cadbury. Leland, writing in 1542, mentioned that “much gold, sylver and coper of the Romaine coynes hath be found ther in plouing”, while Camden, in the later 17th century, asserted that Cadbury was “a Roman work, as is shown by the coins that are dug up daily”. Stukely also referred to an abundance of Roman coins, and also mentioned “camp utensils, remains of military equipage, urns, paterae, fibulae, bolts and hand-grind-stones”. Excavations in the late 19th and early 20th century by Bennett and Gray respectively recovered Roman material including plenty of pottery, and Roman pottery featured among the many surface finds made down to the 1950s. Coin finds appear to have been similarly numerous, though few appear to have been recorded.

The excavated evidence appears to suggest little activity between the late 1st and the 3rd centuries AD, with a greater presence, though still minor compared to the density of the Iron Age occupation, in the later Roman period. Building remains, including roof tiles, flue tiles and tesserae have occurred as surface finds particularly in the NW of the interior, probably outside the area excavated, while late Roman building debris was recovered from beneath the 5th century AD rampart refurbishment.

The few coins recovered from the excavations were similarly late, predominantly 3rd and 4th century AD.

Post-Roman occupation – The Age of Arthur

Following the withdrawal of the Roman administration, the site is thought to have been in use from c. 470 until some time after 580. Alcock revealed a substantial “Great Hall” 20 by 10 metres (66 ft × 33 ft) and showed that the innermost Iron Age defences 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.  It therefore seems probable that it was the chief caer (“fort”) of a major Brythonic ruler, his family, his teulu (literally meaning “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 Ilchester.

Medieval period

According to the Domesday Book, Cadbury Castle appears to have been part of the feudal barony of North Cadbury held by Turstin FitzRolf in 1086. Some small-scale fortification of the site may also have occurred in the 13th century.


The suffix -bury (from byrig, an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “fort” or “town”) is frequently, but not exclusively, used to refer to hill-forts. The first part of the name may come from the River Cam, as with the nearby villages of West Camel and Queen Camel. Other scholars suggest a derivation from some figure named “Cador” or “Cada”. It is one of three sites in Somerset to include the Cadbury name, the others being Cadbury Camp, near Tickenham, and Cadbury Hill, which is also known as Cadbury-Congresbury to distinguish it from the other sites.

Local tradition, first written down by John Leland in 1542, holds that Cadbury Castle was King Arthur’s Camelot. The site and the Great Hall are extensive, and the writer Geoffrey Ashe argued that it was the base for the Arthur of history. His opinion has not been widely accepted by 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. If Arthur was indeed conceived at Tintagel, as tradition asserts, he may have been a prince of Dumnonia and used Cadbury as a stronghold on his eastern frontier.


Sites near Cadbury Castle