10 facts you never knew about Cheddar
At Majestic, we’re proud of our Cheddar roots! That’s why we set up shop here, with manufacturing facilities in Cheddar business park. Proud Cheddarites as we are, we decided to find out more about our picturesque Somerset town…
1. Cheddar has a population of 5,093 people
According to the 2011 census, the village of Cheddar has a population of 5093 people, with an average age of 43!
2. Famous Cheddarites
Cheddar has a number of famous citizens. The village was the childhood home of Bros members Matt and Luke Goss. Jack Bessant, bass guitarist for the band Reef grew up nearby too. Trina Gulliver, who is an eight-time World Professional Darts Champion, also currently lives in Cheddar.
3. Britain’s oldest skeleton was found here in 1903
In 1903, in Gough’s Cave, the skeleton of the Cheddar Man was found; to this date, the oldest surviving skeleton ever found in the UK. Dating back to the Mesolithic period – approximately 7,150 BC, a hole in the skeleton’s skull suggests that he died a violent death.
In 1997, scientists were able to sequence DNA extracted from one of the Cheddar Man’s molars, and astonishingly were able to find two people living in the village that shared the same DNA as him, making the Cheddar Man a very distant ancestor!
4. Cheddar Gorge is the largest gorge in the United Kingdom
With a maximum depth of 137 m (449 ft) and covering a massive 3 miles, Cheddar Gorge is the largest gorge in the UK. It was formed over the last 1.2 million years by floods caused by the end of ice ages.
During these periods, permafrost blocked the entrance of the caves and made the underlying limestone impermeable. When this ice melted, water was forced to flow along the gorge’s original surface, which eventually carved out the impressive gorge as we know it today.
5. Flocks of feral sheep and goats live on the gorge
A familiar sight to anyone who’s ever driven down the gorge in the summer, the gorge is home to both goats and a rare breed of primitive sheep, the ‘Soay’. These animals help to keep down the growth of vegetation and scrub on the gorge.
The Soay is an extremely rare breed of sheep that’s native to Britain, and they’re at risk, with only 900 registered Soay Ewes. Introducing the sheep to the gorge has enabled them to thrive in a natural habitat. Interestingly, the word ‘Soay’ comes from the Old Norse for ‘sheep’.
6. There’s a Saxon royal palace under the Kings of Wessex Academy…
Believe it or not, but the Kings of Wessex Academy, Cheddar’s secondary school, is home to an ancient Saxon royal palace.
Archaeological excavations have shown the remains of an ancient Anglo-Saxon palace in the school grounds. The site is even mentioned in King Alfred’s will of 901 AD, and the Anglo Saxon Chronicle mentions that the Witan – the Anglo Saxon Council – met on the site in 942, 956 and 968 AD.
In 2006, construction was halted on the building of a new Languages block when two Roman skeletons were unearthed. Archaeologists have found that the earliest phase of activity on the site dates back thousands of years back to the prehistoric period.
7. The ‘Cheddar catchment’ of caves are famed for their beauty
Cheddar Gorge and the surrounding Mendip Hills are famed for their fairly short, but geologically varied caves. The ‘Cheddar catchment’ consists of a number of cave systems, such as GB Cave, Charterhouse Cave, Longwood Swallet, Manor Farm Swallet, Upper Flood Swallet (a ‘Swallet’ is a term for a cave in which water flows). These caves are known for their intricate stalagmites. They all flow into the ‘Cheddar Rising’: a river that emerges from beneath the gorge’s cliff face.
Caves in the gorge itself comprise of Gough’s Cave, Cox’s Cave, Great Oones Hole, Long Hole and Reservoir Hole.
8. Gough’s Cave contained evidence of prehistoric cannibalism
In 2011, scientists from the Natural History Museum published an analysis of skulls found in the Cheddar Gorge cave which argued that many had been deliberately fashioned into ritualistic drinking cups and bowls. They suggested that other evidence such as specific cut marks on bones suggested that prehistoric cannibalism had been practiced either at the cave, or by visitors to the cave. Scary!
9. Cheddar once had a railway that was known as ‘The Strawberry Line’
As well as being famous for producing cheese, Cheddar and the surrounding countryside was famed for its strawberries. The tasty fruit has been cultivated on the gentle slopes of the Mendip hills for hundreds of years.
In the 19th century, demand for Cheddar strawberries from growing cities such as Birmingham and London became so great that a railway was built from the Yatton to Cheddar to link the village to Brunel’s mainline. It became known as ‘The Strawberry Line’. The line closed in 1964, but it has recently been transformed into a popular cycle track.
10. Cheddar cheese was supposedly discovered by accident
A popular legend states that Cheddar cheese was discovered by accident, 800 years ago. Apparently a milkmaid accidently let a pail of milk that was being stored in the caves go bad, eventually turning into cheese. The locals liked the tanginess of the new cheese so much that they decided to make some more in the same way. Cheddar cheese as we know it was born.
The caves’ constant temperature of 7 degrees provides the optimum temperature for cheese to mature. Cheese is matured in the same caves, in the same way, to this very day!