National Gazetteer (1868) - Ilchester

"ILCHESTER, (or Ivelchester), a parish and incorporated town, formerly a representative borough and market town in the hundred of Tintinhull, county Somerset, 4 miles S.E. of Somerton, 5 from Yeovil, and 122 W.S.W. of London. The town stands on the S. bank of the river Yeo, over which is a stone bridge connecting it with the parish of Northover. It is supposed to be the Ischalis of Ptolemy, and was the chief town in the territory of the Belgæ. When the Romans took possession of the country, they fortified it with a rampart surrounded by a moat filled with water from the river Ivel, and made it one of their principal stations on the great Fosse Way, which led from Lincolnshire to Devon. By the Saxons it was called Gifelcestre, or Ivelceastre, and was a place of importance after the Norman Conquest, containing at the time of the Survey six churches and 107 burgesses. It was ineffectually besieged by Robert Mowbray in 1088, during the rebellion against William Rufus. It was incorporated by charter of King John, but the charter having lapsed, it was renewed by Philip and Mary, and the government vested in a bailiff and 12 capital burgesses.

There was formerly a considerable quantity of thread lace and silk manufactured, but these branches of industry have entirely died out, the town now depending on the local traffic and its position in the midst of a large agricultural district. The houses are in general old and indifferently built. At the lower end of the market-place, now disused, is the townhall, where assemblies are occasionally held, and at the upper a Doric pillar, supporting a vertical sun-dial. It is still a polling-place for the western division of the county, but no longer a parliamentary borough, having been disfranchised at the passing of the Reform Act. The assizes for the county, formerly held here, have been transferred to Taunton, Wells, and Bridgwater. The tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £51 10s. The living is a rectory* in the diocese of Bath and Wells, value £150, in the patronage of the Bishop of London. The church is an ancient structure with a small octagonal tower. There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyans, and a National school.

The almshouses, founded in the reign of Henry VI., and rebuilt in 1810, have an income from endowment of £150 per annum. Here was a convent of preaching friars, in which the celebrated Roger Bacon was educated, also a nunnery, called Whitehall, founded in 1220 by William Dacus as an hospital for poor travellers, and dedicated to the Blessed Trinity, which, prior to the Reformation, had dwindled into a free chapel. Ilchester gives the title of earl to the Fox family. A specimen of carved ivory, representing the Annunciation of the Virgin, and supposed to have been brought to England by Richard Coeur-de-Lion, was found hidden behind the wainscoting in the house anciently occupied by the family of Masters, and in a field nearly opposite a massive gold ring, in which was set a coin of the Emperor Severus, in excellent preservation. It gives name to a deanery in the archdeaconry and diocese of Bath and Wells. Fairs, chiefly for pigs, are held on the Monday before Palm Sunday, 2nd July, and 2nd August.

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]