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Axbridge, and King John's Hunting Lodge
Axbridge, and King John's Hunting Lodge, Somerset
Axbridge is a village in Somerset, near Cheddar. Legally, by some quirk of history it has the status of a town, while the much larger Cheddar is classified as a village. In practice, however, Axbridge has the atmosphere of a village.
Many villages have their origins in Saxon times. Villages were settlements founded by the rural Saxon people who displaced the more urban Romans. Although there is some evidence of Roman habitation in the area, it is in Saxon times that Axbridge really began to develop. The Saxon King, Alfred the Great fortified many settlements in his attempt to secure south western England against the threat of Viking invasion. These fortified settlements were known as burhs. Axbridge is recorded in the early tenth century as one of King Alfred's burhs.
On the corner of Axbridge's central square stands a building now known as King John's Hunting Lodge (shown above). "King John's Hunting Lodge" is a misnomer, since the building did not belong to King John, and was not a hunting lodge. It was in fact a late medieval merchant's house, probably built in the late 1400s. The National Trust have restored the building, recreating open arcaded shop booths on the ground floor, with decorative Tudor windows above. Axbridge Museum is located here. Most displays concentrate on the trading history of Axbridge. Axbridge acquired great prosperity from the cloth trade, particularly in the 1400s, when King John's Hunting Lodge was built. In the 1500s the policies of Henry VIII were to wreck England's cloth industry, and this decline had the effect of stopping development in Axbridge. It is often the case with historical towns that some kind of misfortune preserves them. This is true of Axbridge, preserved by the disastrous collpase of its cloth industry. The square's buildings may have been refaced and extensively repaired, but the general appearance of the centre of Axbridge has remained the same for centuries.
As is the case with many long established English villages, there is a great sense of being enclosed. A village will usually try to present a "closed vista", where an observer is prevented from seeing right through the village to the countryside beyond. This gives a sense of shelter from what Eric S.Hill in Historical Britain terms the "emptiness outside". In the central square there is no sense of the wide world beyond. The only sense of distance comes from the position of the church in a gap in the buildings surrounding the square. In this way the importance of the church is given visual emphasis. The view is literally controlled by the church.
Directions: Axbridge is just off the A371 in Somerset, just west of Cheddar. Click here for an interactive map centred on Axbridge.
Visiting details for King John's Hunting Lodge
Opening Times: Opening hours for National Trust properties are complex. Please use contact details below.
Address: King John's Hunting Lodge, The Square, Axbridge, Somerset BS26 2AP
Directions: Click here for an interactive road and satellite map centred on Axbridge.
Access: Only part of the building offers level access. Space is also rather tight.
telephone: 01934 732012