A visit to the historic market town of Frome in Somerset
Frome is an historic market town at the eastern edge of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England. The town of about 27,000 people is home to independent shops, artisans, historic buildings, and a thriving performance arts scene.
I first encountered Frome in 1994 on a very brief stop during a tour of south-west England. The town intrigued me and I hoped to see more of it some day. That opportunity arose this fall when I spent a few days with friends at their vacation home in Frome.
The town of Frome dates to around the seventh century when a monastery, long since disappeared, was built. Frome was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086 and was a thriving centre for wool and cloth production from the fifteenth century into the early eighteenth century.
The compact town centre retains its historic look with many of the streets still cobbled and buildings dating to the 1700s. Frome is best explored on foot. Streets are narrow, some pedestrian only.
Cheap Street is one of the best preserved medieval streets in Europe. It still has a gutter running down the centre, known as a leat or runnel. Frome means “brisk running water” and the town developed around natural springs in the area.
Frome has tunnels underneath it, on average twenty feet below the surface, four feet in width and five feet in height, and brick-lined. They are often referred to as mystery tunnels, because who built them, when, and why are unknown. Speculation as to their purpose includes a medieval water system and an escape route for smugglers and Catholic priests during the time of the Reformation. In recent years, a team of “tunnel myth” enthusiasts has been researching, excavating, and documenting the tunnels. They organize occasional tours.
One of the most recent digs occurred under the Lamb and Fountain, which has a number of cellars leading to tunnels. One of the tunnels contains the remains of a brick vaulted Elizabethan ice house. I did not have opportunity to tour Frome’s tunnels, but I did have a beer at the Lamb and Fountain. The pub is known locally as “Mother’s” after Frieda Searle, the landlady for over a quarter of a century. The pub is traditional and definitely un-fancy with a clientele of regulars and a nice view of Frome out its back window.
Frome has a lively arts scene. Silk Mill Studios in a restored late-eighteenth century textile mill houses art galleries and hosts a variety of musical and social events. The Cheese and Grain is home to markets and entertainment events. There are other theatres in town and pubs regularly feature live music. The town also hosts festivals and special markets throughout the year.
Bath, Wells, Glastonbury, and other tourist attractions such as Wookey Hole Caves, Stonehenge, and Cheddar Gorge are less than an hour from Frome, making Frome a great base from which to explore. The proximity of these attractions also means that Frome is often bypassed as people visit these other sites. I think a visit to Frome deserves to be included in an itinerary of the area. Frome evokes a strong sense of history and an authentic feel of that history continuing to present day life. There are interesting shops and galleries to explore. I hope my next visit to Frome is timed around one of its festivals.
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Would love to take one of the tunnel tours. I wonder what that excavation will uncover?
Deb, I have mixed feelings about the tunnel tour because I get claustrophobic at times, but it sure sounds interesting.
It looks amazing. It looks like a well maintained town. It’s interesting about the tunnels underground, it must have been built a while ago if no one knows why they were built. I will have to add it to my list of places to visit. Thanks for sharing.
Sabrina, it is an interesting town with an authentic, historic feel.
Frome sounds like an absolutely fascinating place and I love your photos. I think it would be amazing to take a tour of the various tunnels. I have never been to the UK and you certainly make it sound appealing.
I have to agree with you that it’s too bad that Frome gets bypassed for some of its neighbors because, although it’s off-the-beaten-path, it looks like a fascinating little town with a long and ancient history. I’d love to try the tunnel tour and learn more about why they were built and St John the Baptist Church looks like another great place to see. I’ve really enjoyed your series of posts on the UK towns, Donna. Anita
Anita, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my U.K. town posts. I certainly enjoyed visiting them. It will be interesting to see if they discover more in the next few years about the original purpose and uses of the tunnels.
What a beautiful village. I have never visited Somerset before, looks as though I have missed this hidden gem! The cobbled streets add to the quaintness of the village.
I like the outdoors – nothing like a walk under the sun in dry weather.
Phoenicia, there is lots to see in Somerset – Frome and more- if you do get a chance to go.
What an interesting looking place. The streets look more European than British. I’m sure I would enjoy a visit there. Thanks for showcasing it.
Ken, there is definitely a medieval look to the streets.
Fascinating, the tunnels of Frome and the town in general. Another on my to do list:)
Jacquie, if you’re like me the list keeps growing. There are lots of great places to visit in the world.
I’ve never heard of Frome but this looks like a place I could live! I love the feel and the cobble stones are wonderful. Even the tunnels are fascinating. Seattle underground is one of my favorite sites from that city. Thank you so much Donna. You have definitely sparked my desire to return to England and do a bit of exploring.
Thanks Marquita. I think Frome would be a very livable town. Seattle is on my list to see (maybe this spring). I will have to remember to go underground.
With Frome being reasonably close to Bath, Wells, and Glastonbury it definitely seems like a stop to be added to any visit to the area. I always wanted to visit Bath simply because the Wife of Bath is one of my favorite characters in the Canterbury Tales.
Jeri, Bath is a great city to visit. It had been a place I’d long wanted to visit too, although I haven’t read Canterbury Tales. Frome would make a nice stop on that trip.
I’m sure Frome has turned up in one or another of the British mysteries I binge on from time to time–it resounds. Love the pictures and think going during the festivals would be a marvelous treat!
Rose Mary, I love those Birtish mysteries too. I’ll be looking for familiar locations now.
Hi Donna, that church is incredible. The first thing I did after finishing your post was higher it to see more pictures and check out the inside too. Awesome. Like the mystery of the tunnels too. 🙂
Susan, I’m glad you found this interesting. (And I assume you meant to say google it and autocorrect changed it!)
Donna — what a charming town. Thanks for taking us in a tour with your wonderful photos. So typically British. Fascinating about the tunnels. Too bad you didn’t have time to visit them.
I’m glad you enjoyed the photos Jeannette.
Couple of those pictures looked like you stepped back in time.
I truly enjoy when you can find a town that has maintained a historical look. Too many times, because of business or decay, the old buildings are wiped clean from the face of the earth. The towns that still are there in an older version are truly gems.
William, I did sometimes feel as I’d stepped back in time.