ILCHESTER, a market town in the southern parliamentary division of Somersetshire, England, in the valley of the river Ivel or Yeo, 5 m. N.W. of Yeovil. It is connected by a stone bridge with the village of Northover on the other side of the river. Ilchester has lost the importance it once possessed, and had in 1901 a population of only 564, but its historical interest is considerable. The parish church of St Mary is Early English and Perpendicular, with a small octagonal tower, but has been largely restored in modern times. The town possesses almshouses founded in 1426, a picturesque cross, and a curious ancient mace of the former corporation.
Ilchester (Cair Pensavelcoit, Ischalis, Ivelcestre, Yevelchester) was a fortified British settlement, and subsequently a military station of the Romans, whose Fosse Way passed through it. Its importance continued in Saxon times, and in 1086 it was a royal borough with 107 burgesses. In 1180 a gild merchant was established, and the county gaol was completed in 1188. Henry II. granted a charter, confirmed by John in 1203, which gave Ilchester the same liberties as Winchester, with freedom from tolls and from being impleaded without the walls, the fee farm being fixed at £26, Ios. od. The bailiffs of Ilchester are mentioned before 1230. The borough was incorporated in 1556, the fee farm being reduced to £8. Ilchester was the centre of the county administration from the reign of Edward III. until the 19th century, when the change from road to rail travelling completed the decay of the town. Its place has been taken by Taunton. The corporation was abolished in 1886. Parliamentary representation began in 1298, and the town continued to return two members until 1832. A fair on the 29th of August was granted by the charter of 1203. Other fairs on the 27th of December, the 22nd of July, and the Monday before Palm Sunday, were held under a charter of 1289. The latter, fixed as the 25th of March, was still held at the end of the 18th century, but there is now no fair. The Wednesday market dates from before the Conquest. The manufacture of thread lace was replaced by silk weaving about 1750, but this has decayed.
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