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Ilcester Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Northover House; Gaiole ad Iuelcestr'; gaiole de Yuelcestr'; prisona regis apud Ivelcestr'

In the civil parish of Ilcester.
In the historic county of Somerset.
Modern Authority of Somerset.
1974 county of Somerset.
Medieval County of Somerset.

OS Map Grid Reference: ST52132274
Latitude 51.00231° Longitude -2.68335°

Ilcester Castle has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a probable Masonry Castle.

There are no visible remains.


Traditional site of Norman 'Ilchester Castle' This is a doubtful antiquity as there is no further supporting evidence. (PastScape)

Complying with the order made in 1166 to build gaols in counties where no gaols were to be found, the sheriff in 1166–7 planted a gaol for Somerset at Ilchester, or at least then caused work to be done on an existing gaol there. In the 13th century it was used not only for felons but for forest trespassers, and, at times at any rate, served Dorset as well as Somerset. Orders for delivery began in 1233. The building was expensively repaired in 1186–7 and repaired again on ten occasions between 1194–5 and 1213–14. Further works upon it were ordered four times between 1225 and 1272. When surveyed in 1283 it was of both wood and stone. It was abandoned in the 1280s. The last orders for delivery were issued in 1281–2 and in 1283 there was a plan to give the building materials to the Dominican friars of the town. This plan was probably not carried out, for in 1429 a recognizable tenement in or near the market-place, perhaps near St. John's church, was said to be one in which the gaol was wont to be of old (ab antiquo). By 1280 a gaol, to replace Ilchester, had been established at Somerton, where it remained until 1371. (VCH)

Ilcester was the site of the county gaol from 1166 until 1280's when it was moved to Somerton. The gaol was, however, returned to Ilchester between 1366 and 1371 in an attempt to aid the town's flagging economy. (Dunning 1974:185) The location of this prison was probably within the triangle formed by the Foss and Dorcester Roads, near to the market place (Aston and Leech 1977:74). (Richardson 2002)

Ilcester was in the C11 and C12 the county town for Somerset. All other county towns had castles of royal foundation, although some of these were quite small (i.e. Derby and Stafford). Gatehouse is not aware of any medieval gaol, other than episcopal gaols, that was not also a castle. Ilchester is mentioned in 1086 when it has 107 burgesses paying the king 20s. suggesting the need for a administrative centre to collect this revenue. These pieces of circumstantial evidence do suggest a small Norman castle. Ilcester was in decline possibly even before the Conquest so it is not surprising that the Norman castle was not later developed.
The traditional site of the castle, at ST52202289, is outside the town walls and on the opposite side of the river Yeo and can be rejected as the site of the medieval gaol/castle. It was the site of a later gaol.
The rejection more general rejection of a castle somewhere in Ilcester appears ill considered. There is considerable evidence that there was a royal administrative centre here; a residence for the sheriff, a court house and a gaol and these must constitute a castle, even if the term castle was not attached to them. The question may be, for those who reject a castle at Ilchester, what possible reason could there be for not having a castle in this county town; royal manor; base for the county sheriff and legal centre? However there is also a question as to the reason for this site so constantly being referred to as a gaol when functionally and, probably, architecturally, it can have been little different from many castles of county sheriffs?
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:29

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