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Cheap Street in Frome is one of the most well-preserved Medieval streets in all of Europe.
It’s easily Frome’s prettiest street with lots of character and has a history dating back to the Middle Ages.
It’s filled with higgledy-piggledy buildings, old hanging street signs and you’ll even find an old leat that still runs through the middle of it!
It’s a place where you can step back in time and enjoy a wealth of independent shops and cafés.
Here’s a complete guide for Cheap Street Frome with the history and why you must visit!
The history of Cheap Street in Frome
Frome has had an ancient history since the Saxon era and it’s said that Alfred the Great held his Witan (parliament meeting) at Frome in 934!
By the time of the Domesday Books in 1086, Frome was a busy town. In 1239, Henry III granted a royal charter for Frome to hold a weekly market.
You’d be forgiven in thinking that Cheap Street refers to the poorest street or area in town. But, there is no connection to the modern meaning of cheap meaning low price or poor.
In fact, the name Cheap Street comes from the medieval word ‘Cheap’ or ‘ceap’ meaning ‘to sell’ and more loosely ‘market’. Similar to the famous Cheapside area in London.
People from all over Somerset would visit Frome to buy and trade at the markets and twice-annual Frome Fayre.
At this time, Frome predominantly made its fortune from the wool trade. It became known as a center for woolen products with five fulling mills in the area.
Therefore, Cheap Street was built up during the medieval era to host the ancient market similar to Apple Alley nearby.
You can still see many of the original medieval features today but it has been redeveloped over time. Most of the buildings now standing date back to the Tudor era in the 16th-century.
Why you must visit Cheap Street today
Nowadays, Cheap Street is one of the most well preserved Medieval Streets in all of Europe. You’ll find oodles of character around here!
There’s a hotchpotch of timber-framed buildings with upper balconies and gables. Old shop signs that creak in the wind and the ancient leat still runs continuously through the lane.
But, beyond being a pretty place to admire and photograph, there is also plenty to do here as well.
You could go shopping, have lunch in one of the many cafés, visit the famous bakery and even get a tattoo if the mood takes you!
Things to do on Cheap Street Frome
Admire all the ancient timber frame buildings
As soon as you enter Cheap Street, you’ll be transported back in time! There are so many ancient buildings here in all different shapes and sizes.
Many of them are traditional timber-framed black and white houses that date back to Elizabethan times like The Old Bake House.
One of my favourite houses along Cheap Street has to be the one found at the top of the lane. It’s circular and looks almost like a witch’s hat!
Almost every building along this street has a business that you can enter. Many residents and shop owners live in flats above them.
See the old leat running through the middle of the street
One of the most famous features of Cheap Street is the leat or runnel that runs through the middle of it. It’s a rare surviving example of medieval guttering.
Although today all our sanitary water gutters and pipes run underground, in medieval times they were all out on show!
So, although it would provide water for the street, it would also stink as people would empty chamber pots and throw all sorts of offal and refuse in here.
Fortunately in Frome today, the water is flowing and really clean. Though it’s not recommended to drink!
This leat is also quite unique as the gutter flow can’t be switched off like similar medieval leats found in Vicar’s Close in the city of Wells or the Shambles in York.
It has been running here constantly for hundreds of years and the water comes from the nearby Lion Fountain beneath St John the Baptist Church.
It can be hard to remember that there is a leat in the middle of the street here. You can easily trip over it! So, most of the shops place their street signs over the leat to help out. All I will say is be careful if you’re walking down here after a couple of drinks!
Fun fact: Did you know that Frome has 14 huge tunnels underground here that connect the town. They are now known as ‘mystery tunnels’ as no one knows who built them!
Check out the independent shops
Cheap Street in Frome has a wealth of independent boutiques that you can visit.
They sell an eclectic mix of bits and bobs so it’s perfect to browse for some souvenirs or some much-needed retail therapy!
Frome Shops in Cheap Street:
- Hunting Raven Books – This bookshop mainly specialises in children’s books but it also has some local history and arts and crafts too! They have a small café to sit down a while.
- Fine Fettle Fashion – You’ll find a wealth of clothes and jewellery here that is reasonably priced. It’s also Fair Trade, ethical & sustainable too.
- Sass and Boo – A popular chain that started in Bath is now in the Cotswolds and here in Frome! They have unique clothing collections and new things are brought out every season.
- Black Moon Tattoo – If you’ve always fancied getting a tattoo, then Cheap Street could be the place to do it! They have friendly tattoo artists that provide custom work.
- Sagebury Cheese – Cheese lovers will fall in love with over 100 types of cheese here! But, they also have homemade pastries and local produce on offer too.
- Frome Wholefoods – You’ll find all sorts of organic, vegan, and local produce here. Including a deli, herbs, and spices.
Visit The Old Bake House
One of the prettiest timber-framed buildings on Cheap Street is The Old Bake House.
It looks like a bakery straight from the Middle Ages but it’s actually a family-run business founded eight years ago!
As well as baking additive-free and gluten bread options daily, these artisan bakers create all sorts of cakes and pastries to buy. It’s perfect for a quick lunch stop.
Pop inside a Cheap Street café
If you fancy a pick me up while shopping, there are quite a few cafés here to choose from;
- Cafe La Strada – A modern, welcoming café that serves up afternoon tea, coffee, and home-baked cakes! Also, there are milkshakes and lunch time bites. They also have a wonderful ice cream bar and chocolate counter.
- The Settle Restaurant – This restaurant serves up traditional British fare. You’ll find a full English breakfast and tea and scones galore!
Check out The Lion fountain
The Lion Fountain spring is an important part of Frome’s history and is partway responsible for the town’s growth hundreds of years ago.
In the Saxon era, this would have been an important holy relic and so St John’s church was founded as a place of worship nearby in 685 AD.
It was also an important water source for the town. The spring here provided water to Cheap Street through the leat that runs through the lane.
It’s well worth taking a look but, unfortunately, you cannot drink from the fountain.
You can find this historic spring underneath St John’s Church. It’s regarded as one of the most spectacular in the West Country.
Wander around St John the Baptist Churchyard
At the very top of Cheap street, you’ll see the dramatic St John the Baptist Church with the Gothic Via Crucis tableau (Way of the Cross) lining the stairway to the entrance. These steps leading to the Lion Fountain are over 700 years old!
When it was first built in 685AD by St Aldhelm, it would have been a Saxon building made of timber. It was later replaced with stone in the late 12th-century.
There are lots of unique features in this churchyard including the ornate archways that welcome visitors. Also, underneath the church is an underground blind room with no windows that used to be a jail!
If you did happen to visit while it’s open, there are lots of things to see inside. Look out for the Lady Chapel, stained glass windows, and an ancient font showing the seven deadly sins!
How to visit Cheap Street in Frome
Cheap Street can be found in the centre of Frome which is located in the heart of Somerset.
You can easily visit by navigating your way to St John’s Church or from the main High Street by the old Boyle Cross. You’ll see a small archway with an old oil lamp above it!
The easiest way to visit Frome is to drive. It’s located near to the town of Shipton Mallet, Melksham, and the famous landscape gardens at Stourhead.
There’s plenty of parking in town but the nearest to Cheap Street can be found at the top of King Street.
If you were visiting Somerset car-free, there is a railway station in Frome that connects with Bath Spa and Bristol.
Also, there are bus services from Shipton Mallet, Warminster, Devizes, Bradford-on-Avon, Trowbridge, Westbury, and Melksham.
Looking for more pretty streets in Frome?
Frome is a historic market town that is littered with idyllic streets to stroll through.
The best way to see them is to head to St Catherine’s which is the vibrant artisan quarter in Frome. The area is named after an ancient shrine which origins are now unknown!
From here, you can head up Catherine Hill which is a cobbled lane full of amazing independent shops like Bramble & Wild.
Also, the hill is connected to other pretty streets like Sheppard’s Barton, Palmer Street, Paul Street, Stony Street, and Catherine Street. There is also Market Place and the picturesque Gentle Street too!
You’ll find plenty of photography locations, shops, restaurants, and pubs on these streets to pop into.