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Ilchester in 1841

Ilchester or Ivelchester (from the river Ivel or Yeo, on which it stands) is in the hundred of Tintinhull, 124 miles west by south of London by Andover and Amesbury, and 22 miles east of Taunton by Langport. This town is of great antiquity ; the British name is given by Nennius as Caer Pensavelcoit, which is said to signify 'the city at the head of the river’s mouth in the wood' : it was the Ischalis of the Romans, mentioned by Ptolemy, as one of the chief towns of the Belgae. The Roman town was defended by a wall and deep ditch, comprehending an oblong quadrangle, through which the Foss-way passed from north to south. The ditch and the foundations of the wall may be traced in many places, the latter consisting of brick and stone work regularly mingled. Roman hypocausts and baths, tessellated pavements, urns, lacrymatories, paterae, fibulae, bracelets, and other relics of antiquity have been repeatedly discovered, and medals, especially of Vespasian, Trajan, and Antoninus Pius. 'Vast arches and immense foundations of ancient buildings,' says Collinson, ‘lie beneath the surface of the ground, and the entire site of the old city is filled with subterraneous ruins.' Some traces of the paved ford by which the Foss was carried across the river are still visible near the bridge. Under the Saxons, who called the place Givel-cestre, it was a place of note, and at the time of the Domesday Survey contained 107 burgesses, who had a market. It was besieged without success in 1088, by the forces of the lords who had claim of Robert of Normandie to the crown against William Rufus. It sent members to parliament in the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, and in the reign of Edward III the county courts and assizes were ordered to be held here, but the elective franchise was suspended till the reign of Edward IV, and then again suspended after a short interval till the reign of James I: it was disfranchised by the Reform Act. There were three religious establishments in the town ; an hospital called White Hall, subsequently converted into a nunnery, and then into a free chapel ; a house for lepers, with a chapel annexed; and a house of Dominican or Black friars.

The town is in a rich valley, and may be considered as consisting of two parts, Ilchester proper and the village of Nothover ; these are separated by the river Yeo or Ivel, which is crossed by a stone bridge of two large arches. Ilchester proper consists of four streets of indifferently built houses ; and there are some large piles of building, formerly inhabited in separate apartments by burgage tenants, for whom these dwellings were erected by the patrons of the borough. The church is an ancient building, consisting of a nave, chancel, and north aisle or chapel, with a low octagonal tower, ‘constructed,' says Collinson, 'of Roman stone.' The county gaol, which is still at Ilchester, though the assizes are no longer held here, is a spacious building of freestone from Hamden hill. The town-hall is a neat modern building at one end of the market-place, at the other end of which is a sun-dial with four faces, supported by a Doric pillar. There are some remains of the Dominican friary, used some years since as a silk-factory : those of White Hall were removed some time since.

The parish comprehends an area of 690 acres ; the population in 1831 was 975, without reckoning the inmates of the county gaol ; to this statement we may add 220 acres and 138 inhabitants for Northover : total 910 acres, 1,113 inhabitants. The trade of the place is trifling ; some women are engaged in the glove manufacture, of which Yeovil is the centre. The market has been discontinued, and two of the three yearly fairs are falling into neglect. The corporation still exists, but it exercises no jurisdiction, and is of little importance ; it was not included in the Municipal Reform Act.

The living of Ilchester is a rectory, in the archdeaconry of Wells, in the diocese of Bath and Wells, of the clear yearly value of £282 ; that of Northover is a vicarage, of the clear yearly value of £106.

There were in the parish in 1833, two day-schools, with 62 children (31 boys and 31 girls), and two Sunday-schools, with 73 children (42 boys and 31 girl's).