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Ilchester, Somerset

Historical Description

Ilchester, a town and parish in Somerset. The town stands in a broad vale, on the river Yeo or Ivel, and on the Fosse Way, 4 miles NE of Martock station on the G.W.R., and 5 NW by N of Yeovil. There is a post, money order, and telegraph office under Taunton. Acreage of parish, 714; population, 564; of the ecclesiastical, which includes the parish of Sock Dennis, 597. Ilchester was the Pont-ivel-coed or Caer-pont-ivel-coed of the ancient Britons, the Ischalis of the Romans and of Ptolemy, and the Gifecestre or Givelcestre of the Saxons, and it was known in more recent times as Ivelchester. Its ancient British name signifies " Ivel-bridge-in-the-Wood " or " the fort of Ivel-bridge in-the-Wood," and its Saxon and modern names signify "a camp or fort on the Ivel." It is supposed to have been the chief seat of the Belgae, and it was one of the most eminent stations of the Romans. The Fosse Way ran through it, and still forms its principal street, pointing toward Shepton Mallet. The Roman station measured 300 paces by 200, formed an oblong square standing obliquely to the points of the compass, and was surrounded by a strong wall and a deep ditch, the latter filled with water from the Ivel. Vestiges of these works are still visible. A disused road called Yard Lane, anciently Zearde, marks the line of the ditch, and gardens adjoining it contain foundations, of the wall. A massive gold ring, set with a coin of the Emperor Severus, in excellent preservation, was found in an adjacent field. A castle is supposed to have succeeded the Roman station; so large a population as to have six churches is said to have been here at the Norman Conquest; and so great was the strength of the place in 1088 that it then successfully resisted a siege by the insurgent barons of William Rufus. A piece of carved ivory, supposed to have been brought to England by Richard Cceur de Lion, and representing the Annunciation of the Virgin, was found behind the wainscoting of an ancient house occupied by the family of Masters. The town was made a borough in 1297, was temporarily disfranchised in 1359, was constituted the seat of county courts and assizes in 1365, was re-enfranchised in 1471, was again disfranchised soon afterwards, was again re-enfranchised in 1621, continued thence till the date of the Act of 1832 to send two members to Parliament. The town was once represented by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. A two-arched stone bridge connects it with Northover. The town-hall, situated in the market-place, is a spacious building. The cross is a pillar crowned by a sun-dial, gilt ball, and vane. The church is Early English, and consists of nave, N aisle, and chancel, with a tower; the building was thoroughly restored in 1879-80. A Black friary was founded in the time of Edward I., and a nunnery in the time of Edward II., and the sites of both are still known. A Grey friary also appears to have been here, and a church called St Mary Minor was near the bridge. There are a Congregational chapel and a Wesleyan one, the latter rebuilt in 1861. Analmshonse was founded in 1426, by Robert Veel, and still accommodates twelve men, and has an income of £300. A weekly market was held from about the time of the Conquest, but has been discontinued. Thread, lace, and silk were at one time manufactured, but the chief trade now arises merely from the town's situation as a thoroughfare. A corporation, consisting of a high bailiff and twelve capital burgesses formerly existed, but was abolished in 1886. Roger Bacon was a native, and was educated in the Black friary. Mrs Elizabeth Rowe was also a native. The town gives the title of Earl to the family of Fox Strangways. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Bath and Wells; gross value, £175. Patron, the Bishop of London.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountySomersetshire 
Ecclesiastical parishIlchester St. Mary 
Poor Law unionYeovil 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records, in association with Somerset Archives & Local Studies, have images of the Parish Registers for Somerset online.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Ilchester from the following:


Online maps of Ilchester are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Somerset papers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of Somersetshire, 1623 is available on the Heraldry page.

DistrictSouth Somerset
RegionSouth West
Postal districtBA22
Post TownYeovil