Cadbury Castle was built during the Iron Age, around 500 BC, and was continuously occupied until it was overrun by the Romans in the first century AD, in what seems to have been a particularly brutal and violent event. According to the Somerset County Council website, there is “clear evidence of destruction by fire and the massacre of a group of inhabitants”. However, after the departure of the Romans, the South Cadbury site was reoccupied and redeveloped in the early Middle Ages.
In 1533, a man named John Leland was given a commission by King Henry VIII “to make a search after England’s Antiquities”. This assignment took him to all corners of the country, including the Somerset village of South Cadbury, where he wrote “At the very south end of the church of South Cadbury standeth Camelot, sometime a famous town or castle” and that “The people can tell nothing there but that they have heard say that Arthur much restored to Camelot.”
In other words, Leland was saying that Cadbury Castle was nothing less than King Arthur’s Camelot!
Now King Arthur is one of the most frustrating figures in British history. Almost everyone has heard of him, but there is no firm consensus on what century he lived in, what kingdom he ruled over, or even if he existed in the real world at all. As I said last year in The Lost Tomb of King Arthur:
Down here in the south-west, the prevailing opinion is that he was the King of Dumnonia around 500 AD, a century or so after the departure of the Romans. Dumnonia roughly corresponded to modern-day Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, which remained resolutely Celtic while Wessex to the East (Dorset/Wiltshire/Hampshire) adopted the language and culture of the Anglo-Saxons.According to this view, it’s not that unreasonable to suggest that Cadbury Castle might have been associated with King Arthur – possibly even one of his main courts. It was occupied at the right time, and it’s in the right place. I made this point in my book Bloody British History: Somerset:
Cadbury Castle is one of the best natural defences on what would have been the eastern border of Dumnonia. Although the hillfort had existed for more than a thousand years in Arthur’s time, its modern name dates from precisely that period. Cadbury means ‘Cado’s Fort’... and Cado was king of Dumnonia around the time Arthur was born. Archaeologically, too, the evidence points to the site being an important military installation of the period. It was refortified in the fifth century with massive stone walls, and in the middle of the hilltop a timber-framed Great Hall was built – a splendid palace fit for a King!These days, the only structure on the top of Cadbury Castle is a stone plinth dated “2000 AD” (see picture below). The plaque on top of this shows the directions and distances to a number of other places in southwest England. I struggled at first to discern a common theme to these, eventually deciding that they're all places dear to the hearts of hippies and New Agers! There are nine places in all, as follows:
- Two other “Arthurian” sites, Tintagel and Glastonbury
- Two other hill-forts, Ham Hill and Maiden Castle
- Another Iron Age site, Hengistbury Head, which was a busy seaport and trading centre
- Two megalithic sites, Stonehenge and Avebury
- Lamyatt Beacon, the site of a Romano-Celtic temple
- Alfred’s Tower, an 18th century folly commemorating Alfred the Great