St Mary Major, Ilchester, Somerset

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Feature Sets (2)


Ilchester is a village in the South Somerset district, 8 km N of Yeovil. In the Roman period it was named Lindinis and was the site of a fort and a town on the Fosse way. Its present name is taken from the River Ivel, which is the name for the Yeo in this part of its course. It lies either side of a crossing of that major Somerset river in an essentially low-lying and level area conducive to communications and agricultural development (but these are not the Somerset Levels, which are some way to the W and NW). Without considering any possible exploitation before Roman times, its position must derive from where the Fosse Way between Bath and Axminster met the road between the Polden Hills and Dorchester; the junctions were at the town centre and several hundred metres N of the river, so the roads coalesced for 600m. Nowadays, the route SW of the Fosse Way from Ilchester is represented by the A303 (which now bypasses the present village), and its route N towards Bath by the A37 (which is the Bristol road, to be exact); the A37 now runs close round the S side of the village before resuming its ancient course towards Dorchester via nearby Yeovil; the road towards the Poldens (via Somerton to Glastonbury) is now the B3151 and has been for some time. There are no rail connections nearer than at Yeovil. Although through traffic now skirts the village, one can still easily get a sense of a busy town at the intersection of nationally important highroads.

Geologically, the more important settlement abutting the S bank of the river Yeo (or Ivel), rests on an island of Head slightly above (at about 14m OD above sea-level) the Alluvium of the river valley.

The church is approximately 150m S of the river. The present building is 13thc and later, and consists of a chancel with a 16thc N chapel, a nave with a S aisle and a W tower porch. Nave, chancel and tower are all 13thc, but the aisle was added in 1879-80. Construction is of local lias stone, cut and squared, with Hamstone ashlar dressings.

The only Romanesque sculpture here are two graveslabs attached to the S interior wall of the tower porch.


The Domesday Survey describes Ilchester as a town with a market and 107 burgesses paying rent. It was held by Queen Edith in 1066, and in 1086 it was held by the crown, apparently passing to successive queens until the death of King John’s second wife, Isabella of Angoulême, in 1246.

There were at least six parishes in the town in the 13thc, but St Mary Major is one of only two to survive to the present day. It was a rectory in the patronage of Muchelney Abbey until 1239, when the advowson was acquired by exchange by the Bishop of Bath and Wells.  




Graveslab 1

The L of the two slabs, and the cruder in its workmanship. It carries below a rectangle containing an incised saltire cross a cross with tapered arms which rests on a long stem terminating on a splayed base; it will be seen that the lower arm of this cross straddles the stem (rather than flowing into it, as is the case with graveslab 2). An interesting detail is that the cross is contained within vertical incisions continued down from the saltire. There are also small graffiti at the top edge.

Max. height 0.53m
Max. width 0.25m

Graveslab 2

The slab to the R of the pair is larger. It is more regularly carved than slab 1, and carries a cross of similar design but the stem is carried within a trellis work of lozenges; it seems that this slab is more obviously fragmentary than its neighbour, being so sharply cut off at the bottom.

Max. height 0.57m
Max. width 0.28m


The slabs are not mentioned by VCH or the List Description. Orbach and Pevsner (2014) calls them a 'C12 double lid with differing raised crosses.'


  • Historic England Listed Building 263426 (included in Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Records).

  • J. Orbach and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset. New Haven and London 2014, 372.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset. Harmondsworth 1958, 204.

  • Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 52514.

  • Victoria County History: Somerset, III (1974), 179-203.

Tower porch from W
Grave slabs 1 and 2


Site Location
National Grid Reference
ST 523 226 
now: Somerset
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Somerset
now: Bath & Wells
medieval: Sherborne (to 909), Wells (to 1090), Bath (to 1245), Bath & Wells (from 1245)
medieval: St Mary the Greater (pre-Reformation)
now: St Mary Major
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Robin Downes 
Visit Date
09 October 2008