Ilmington from the 10th to the 21st Century

Ilmington  was known as Ylmandun in the 10th century and recorded in the Domesday Book (1086) as Ilmedone

In Middle English “dun’ meant a hill and in Old English, it derived from the Scottish or Irish gaelic for a fort. Old English was spoken sometime between the 5th and 12th centuries. Middle English was widely used late into the 11th century to around the end of the 15th century. 

It is possible the name is of Saxon origin. .  Later it became Elmington, said to be because of the many elm trees in the village but this could just have been derived from Ylmedone.  The elm trees fell victim to Dutch Elm disease but there is a huge variety of other native tree species in and around the village, many of which were planted in the last twenty years. As you walk around the village you will see  some magnificent old chestnut trees, the odd silver birch and lots of willow, lime, oak, not native, but naturalised holm oak, sycamore and ash.

Ilmington is surrounded by hills, today known as the Ilmington Downs which are responsible for giving the village its own microclimate. So the ground around Ilmington and even within the village, is very hilly. These hills shelter the village from the damp south westerly winds and the cold of the Stour valley so that often on a wintery day in Ilmington, the air is clear and sunny but as you walk or drive up Campden Hill to reach the highest point in the county of Warwickshire (we are right on the border of Gloucestershire and Warwickshire) on Ebrington Hill you may be surprised by fog. But on a clear day, you can see for miles – right over to the Malvern Hills, purple in the distance.

The Romans were here – evidence of an occupied site (discovery of pots etc) was discovered some years ago near Ilmington.  Pig lane, a track which runs across the downs is perhaps an an old Roman road?  It is thought maybe to have been a connection between the Fosse Way and Ricknield Street.

It used to run all the way to Shipston on Stour and is so called because the farmers drove the pigs along there to Shipston market in medieval times. Allegedly, according to tales of ghosts in the area the 12th century church is haunted by a former parish clerk and a phantom carriage drawn by six black, headless horses frequents Pig Lane. phantom carriage and six black headless horses, known locally as the Night Coach

In fact there is evidence of human occupation in the area since the iron age.  The Anglo Saxons built a wooden church in Ilmington and the Normans, following, rebuilt the church which has a typical Norman design.

The Domesday book of 1086 (just twenty years after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror) tells us that Ilmington had then, three farms and 30 households.  The village has grown and shrunk through the centuries.  By 1700 the village population was over 300 and nearly 200 years later, in the late 1800’s had grown to 900.  The 2011 census had the population shrink down to 712 but I suspect it has risen again since then as there has been more building in the village in the last few years. Several of the older houses have the traditional thatched roof. The majority of the new houses have been sympathetically designed and built using the local material of the Cotswold Edge – the oolitic limestone known as Cotswold stone. There were several quarries in the Ilmington Downs and as you walk up Campden Hill you can see stones lying on the surface of some fields so it is not surprising that farmers still use it to build livestock proof loose stone walls as well.  It starts off as quite a bright creamy colour. As it gets older, it mellows to a golden honey colour. In fact, it is a very ancient sedimentary stone which has been derived from the skeletal remains of marine organisms.  Our grandchildren spend many happy hours just sitting on the ground of our courtyard picking out scraps of these fossil creatures.  They find fossils from the Jurassic period, from when much of Britain was covered by warm tropical seas – in particular a brachiopod, a marine bivalve, as well as bits of fossilised sea urchins and other long dead creatures from millions of years ago. 

Although much of the farmland around is under the plough for cereal crops and animal feed, grassland, mainly for sheep grazing, still dominates the landscape.  There are also dairy farms and the one in Back Street delivers milk to our village shop. Ilmington used to have many orchards some of which still survive and a thriving cider making enterprise set up in 2014, producing ‘Grumpy Frog Cider’ made from a huge variety of village apples. They now also make an apple brandy called The Spirit of Ilmington. This is sold in the village shop which is housed in the converted former Roman Catholic Church on Upper Green.  The shop is open every day with a travelling postmaster attending to run a post office on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. There is a café attached.  We also have two pubs in the village, The Red Lion (Hook Norton Brewery) currently (2020) getting great TripAdvisor reviews for the value and quality of its food and the award winning, Howard Arms.  There are playing fields for cricket and football, tennis courts (visitors can arrange to play) and a playground.

The history of Sansome House will follow soon!