ILMINSTER (St. Mary), a market-town and parish, in the union of Chard, hundred of Abdick and Bulstone, W. division of Somerset, 13 miles (S. W. by W.) from Ilchester, and 136 (W. S. W.) from London; containing 3227 inhabitants. This place, which even prior to the Conquest had the privilege of a weekly market, is situated within a mile of the river Ile, from which, and from the church, its name is derived. It was formerly more extensive than it is at present, having been repeatedly damaged by conflagrations, of which that in 1491 destroyed the greater part of the town. The Duke of Monmouth on the day before the battle of Sedgemoor, dined in public under an ancient chesnuttree in White Lackington Park, the seat of Colonel Speke, whose son was afterwards executed at Ilminster for his adherence to the interests of that nobleman, and for the part he took in the rebellion. The town consists principally of two streets, the larger of which is more than a mile in length; the houses are neat and well built, and the general appearance of the place is cleanly and prepossessing. The neighbourhood abounds with interesting scenery: from one eminence is an extensive prospect, comprehending not less than 30 churches, and the course of the river, over which to the west of the town, is a neat stone bridge of four arches. The woollen manufacture formerly flourished to a considerable extent, but at present there is only one factory: a silkmill has been established; here are some tanneries, and a considerable trade in malt is carried on. The market is on Wednesday; and there is a fair on the last Wednesday in August. The market-house is a neat and commodious building. The town is in the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold a petty sessions for the division every month during the winter; and constables or tythingmen are annually appointed at the court leet of the lord of the manor.
The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £25. 5.; patron, J. Lee Lee, Esq.; appropriators, the Dean and Chapter of Bristol. The great tithes have been commuted for £350, and the vicarial for £499; the glebe comprises 5 acres. The church is a venerable and spacious cruciform structure, in the decorated English style, with a tower of light and beautiful design rising from the centre, and crowned with twelve pinnacles: increased accommodation has been provided, the Incorporated Society having granted £300 in aid of the expense. Among the several ancient and interesting monuments, are those of Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham, the munificent founders of Wadham College, Oxford. There are places of worship for Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians. The free grammar school was founded by Edward VI., in the third year of his reign, and endowed with lands, producing an income of £490 per annum, of which part is appropriated to the repairs of the bridge and the high roads. In 1824, William Hanning, Esq., gave land for the establishment of four exhibitions to the University, for boys of the school. A secondary establishment for boys and girls is supported by the trustees, and a third school in which young children are taught to read. Here is also a national school; and various bequests are distributed among the poor.