Discover Ilminster’s rich history
- Credit: National Trust Images/Neil Campb
With its stunning architecture, the picturesque market town of Ilminster may not look like it has changed much through the years but its many historic buildings tell a different story
WORDS BY CLARE BOURKE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS GLADSTONE
The Minster Church
Ilminster gets its name from the River Ile and also from its Minster, the Church of St Mary the Virgin.
The earliest record for the town dates to AD 725 when, as the Minster in the Ile Valley, it was a part of the lands given by the Saxon King Ine to Muchelney Abbey.
The church had been completed by AD 762 although most of the current church dates from the 15th century. More recently new engraved glass doors were added to the nave entrance to mark the Millennium.
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Today the church remains a strong focal point in the town with a large Sunday congregation, plus a host of regular activities and events for both adults and children alike.
The historic Dillington House, which dates back to the 16th century, has an impressive façade with its stunning architecture, set in vast gardens and mature parkland.
During the 1700s the manor was the home of Lord North, Earl of Guildford, who was Prime Minister to George III from 1770 to 1782.
The house has since seen many changes. In the early 19th century, it was remodelled in the Jacobethan style and is now listed Grade II* by English Heritage. The Mews building was constructed in 1875, while 2009 saw the opening of The Hyde, a much more contemporary building that includes 15 bedrooms.
Although owned by Lord Cameron, Dillington has been leased to Somerset County Council since 1950 as a residential adult education centre and used for conferences and business meetings, as well as weddings and social events. A host of events take place through the year, details of which can be found on the website.
Just behind the Minster is Court Barton which comprises some of the town’s oldest architectural examples.
The collection of stone buildings are now all private homes but originally they had very different uses.
The Chantry, a former priest’s house, was built in the mid 15th century and then later extended in the 18th century.
The old Boys’ Grammar School was founded in 1549 and the Girls’ Grammar School quite some time later in 1877. Both closed in 1971.
The Cross House dates to around 1700 and was used as home for the headmaster of the grammar school from 1822-55.
The estate at Barrington Court had been in existence since the 11th century. The current building is a Tudor manor house completed in the 1550s, replacing an earlier moated house.
It then passed through several hands before falling into dereliction in the 19th century. In 1907 it was one of the first large properties acquired by the National Trust. In the 1920s, it was leased to Colonel A A Lyle of Tate & Lyle who refurbished the house and renovated Strode House, the former stable block.
Today, the National Trust continues to maintain the house and estate, which is open to the public every day from February to October and at weekends between November and January.
Visitors are encouraged to use their imagination as to what the house would have looked like and sounded like inside as it is free from collections and furniture.
The Meeting House
The Meeting House in East Street was one of the first non-conformist chapels, built in 1719. In the 19th century it became a Unitarian Church until 1988 when it closed. In 1993, it was fully restored and has now become the Ilminster Arts Centre, founded by local artist Mary Atherton.
It holds exhibitions, music events, art workshops and craft markets, as well as having a craft shop showcasing local artists.
This month, see an exhibition entitled Four From The Forest, starting on 23 February, which showcases the work of four artists from the Forest of Dean who use a variety of media to showcase the beauty of nature.
The railway and Stop Line
In the 1860s, a railway line was built linking Chard and Taunton, with a railway station built at Ilminster along the route. Prior to the arrival of the railway, the town’s canal, which can still be seen at the edge of the recreation ground, had been the main form of transportation for getting heavy goods to Ilminster. A century later, the railway too became surplus to requirements and was closed in the 1960s.
In 1940, Ilminster formed a part of the Stop Line, a World War II defensive line that ran from the Bristol Channel to the English Channel. Some of the line followed the route of the old railway and some of the concrete blocks can still be seen along the old route. The old railway line now forms part of the coast to coast Sustrans cycle track, linking Chard and Ilminster.
Ilminster has always been known as a thriving market town and follows a medieval pattern with its Market Square and colonnaded Market House at its centre.
By 1280, it had been granted the right to hold a weekly market and annual fair. The market was the focal point for the area’s traditional wool and cloth trades and general local produce.
Although the Market House is not the same sort of meeting place it would once have been, the weekly market continues, on a Thursday, plus other seasonal markets take place during the year.