This medieval house, popularly called “King John’s Hunting Lodge”, occupies an important site at the corner of the High Street and The Square (the former market place of Axbridge). The building dates from the late middle ages, probably around 1460. It comprised shops on the ground floor, living areas and workshops on the first floor, and storage and sleeping areas on the second floor. We know that in 1340 a building with shops occupied the same site; it belonged to John Oldeway and was called “the stockhouse”.
This house is the finest of a number of wood-framed houses in the High Street and The Square, many now hidden behind later facades and often rendered with plaster or mortar. Some, however, are unfortunately now lost. Today it houses a museum of local history.
The site has no known association with King John, who reigned from 1199 to 1216. The Axbridge house was built about two and a half centuries after his death. It acquired the name ‘King John’s Hunting Lodge’ around 1905, shortly after it was acquired by A. J. Hawkins, a saddler.
The king owned the demesnes of Cheddar and Axbridge, known as the Royal Forest of Mendip, and he was an enthusiastic hunter, often visiting this area and spending £40 on his royal palaces here. So, given a house apparently of great age, with a crowned head on the outside, and the likelihood that John would have had a hunting lodge in the area, someone (A. J. Hawkins?) decided that it must have been the king’s residence – possibly with an eye towards publicity – echoing a Chronicle of the 16th century which blatantly suggested the king returned to Axbridge after his hunting trips.
In fact the local royal residence was excavated in 1960 in Cheddar, where the site is laid out in the grounds of The Kings of Wessex School. Nevertheless the name has stuck to the building. The carved head dates back to at least the seventeenth century, when it originally served as the inn-sign for ‘The King’s Head’ tavern, which is what the building was at that time.