Ilchester Roman town


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Ilchester Roman town
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Somerset (District Authority)
South Somerset (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 52042 22873, ST 52060 22639, ST 52120 22423, ST 52332 22408, ST 52482 22602, ST 52491 22468


Parts of the Roman small town, Anglo-Saxon burh, medieval town and ecclesiastical foundations at Ilchester.

Reasons for Designation

Five types of town are known to have existed in Roman Britain: coloniae, municipia, civitas capitals, Roman provincial capitals and Roman small towns. The first four types can be classified as `public towns' because each had an official status within the provincial administrative system. Roman small towns are settlements of urban character which lack the administrative status of public towns, but which are nevertheless recognisably urban in terms of morphology, features and function. They tend to lack the planned rectangular street grids, public buildings and well-appointed town houses of the public towns and instead are generally characterised by mainly insubstantial timber or half-timbered structures. Some small towns possess an enclosing wall, while others have masonry or earthwork defences. Additional features include temples, bath houses, ovens, kilns and cemeteries. Roman small towns began to emerge in the mid-first century AD. However, the majority of examples appeared in the later first and second centuries, while the third and fourth centuries saw the growth and development of existing establishments, together with the emergence of a small number of new ones. Some small towns had their origins in earlier military sites such as fort-vici and developed into independent urban areas following the abandonment of the forts. Others developed alongside major roads and were able to exploit a wide range of commercial opportunities as a result of their location. There are a total of 133 Roman small towns recorded in England. Anglo-Saxon centres, usually known as burhs, are defended urban areas that are characterised by a planned, ordered layout, sometimes including a regular grid of streets. They date mainly from the late ninth century AD, as King Alfred's response to the threat of Danish invasion. There are some earlier, eighth century examples in the kingdom of Mercia. They include large towns covering around 58ha, and smaller forts ranging in size from 1ha-9.5ha. Their defences are usually either restored Roman town walls or newly built earthen ramparts. Documentary evidence suggests that mints and markets were established in most of the larger centres. Most original buildings, including churches, dwellings and outbuildings, were simple timber structures, traces of which may survive in the form of fragile below ground features such as post holes, sill-beam slots and pits. Other contemporary features include water supply and drainage systems, burgage plot boundaries, middens and street furniture. Fortified centres are a rare monument type with around 90 identified examples across southern, eastern and central England. The greatest concentration lies within the late Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, and they cluster in areas with favoured royal residences such as Somerset and Wiltshire. They are a comparatively well documented monument class, with 35 fortified centres of Wessex listed in the Burghal Hidage, a document which dates to the early tenth century AD. They are one of the earliest groups of planned medieval towns in Western Europe. A nunnery was a settlement built to sustain a community of religious women. Its main buildings were constructed to provide facilities for worship, accommodation and subsistence. The main elements are the church and domestic buildings arranged around a cloister. This central enclosure may be accompanied by an outer court and gatehouse, the whole bounded by a precinct wall, earthworks or moat. Outside the enclosure, fishponds, mills, field systems, stock enclosures and barns may occur. The earliest English nunneries were founded in the seventh century AD but most of these had fallen out of use by the ninth century. A small number of these were later re-founded. The tenth century witnessed the foundation of some new houses but the majority of medieval nunneries were established from the late 11th century onwards. Nunneries were established by most of the major religious orders of the time, including the Benedictines, Cistercians, Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans. It is known from documentary sources that at least 153 nunneries existed in England, of which the precise locations of only around 100 sites are known. Few sites have been examined in detail they remain as a rare and poorly understood medieval monuments. A friary is an institution housing a community of friars. The friars (from the Latin "frater" meaning "brother") were a novel religious movement which began in Italy in the late 12th century and which advocated a "mendicant" life- style. Owning no property of their own, they lived by moving from community to community begging for the alms and gifts of benefactors as they went. Unlike the older monastic orders, who were dedicated to a continuous round of prayer within a single monastery, the friars main concerns were preaching, evangelism and learning as they moved from friary to friary. Friaries were established in England from the early 13th century onwards, the first houses being founded in Canterbury, London and Oxford during 1224. By the time of the dissolution of the religious orders in the 1530s approximately 189 friaries had been founded for a number of different groups of friars, each with their individual missions of which the Dominicans (the Blackfriars) were represented by 50 houses. The parts of the Roman small town, Anglo-Saxon burh, medieval town and ecclesiastical foundations at Ilchester survive comparatively well and archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the construction, development, strategic importance, trade, industry, defence, domestic arrangements, commercial, industrial, social religious and political significance of the town and its gradual decline through time, as well as its changing landscape context will be retained.


See Details.


This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 20 August 2015. This record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.

This monument, which falls into six areas, includes parts of the Roman small town, Anglo-Saxon burh, medieval town and ecclesiastical foundations situated on the flood plain of the River Yeo in and around the current settlement of Ilchester. Whilst most survive as entirely buried deposits layers and structures, some including parts of the town defences survive as upstanding features. Although there is some evidence for an earlier prehistoric settlement, the main focus of settlement began in the 1st century with the establishment of a fort with a double ditch dated to c. 90 AD. The associated Roman settlement was originally enclosed by a rectangular earthen rampart with outer ditch, parts of which are still visible. This was partially levelled between the years 150-200 AD and more houses were constructed over the levelled defences and urban expansion had begun. By the 3rd century the town of ‘Lindinis’ was at its peak with extensive suburbs, a gridded street pattern, stone built town houses with mosaics and hypocausts, at least ten cemeteries, a port for extensive trade, a market serving the nearby important agricultural villa estates and industry in the form of potteries and glass production. The earthen rampart was superseded by a stone built town wall in the 4th century. In 1969 partial excavations revealed the foundations of part of the wall and a gate tower. Other partial excavations carried out at various locations throughout the town have revealed wattle and daub built houses of the 1st century, wells, tesserae and wall foundations of several buildings one at least interpreted as a possible villa and at least two pottery kilns.

The settlement was a walled burh during the Anglo-Saxon period and continued as an important market town containing a mint, minster church and castle. At the time of the Domesday survey 107 burgesses were recorded in Ilchester. It was the second largest town in Somerset during the Norman period. In 1204 King John issued a charter confirming the loss of a charter of Henry II which had granted the burgesses all the customs of Winchester. The medieval town was also walled, possibly with double defences and had four gates. The street plan was similar to the present layout. It contained at least eight parish churches, a Dominican Friary, an Augustinian nunnery, two hospitals the county gaol and four mills. After 1300 it had begun to decline. It was also re-fortified during the Civil War.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
SO 404
Legacy System:


PastScape Monument No:-196658, 196578, 196590,196599, 196596, 196602 and 196504


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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