Origins of East Ilsley

A place called Hildeslei (the original name for Ilsley) is mentioned six times in the Domesday Book. Five of the entries probably correspond to East Ilsley, whilst one corresponds to West Ilsley.

Hildeslei could mean ‘battle field’, since one of the Saxon words for battle was hilde. This is unlikely, because the corresponding Saxon word for battlefield would be Hildanlei. Also, at the time when Ilsley was established, the word lei (or leag or leah) meant woodland or clearing in this locality. Only later did it become more widely used to mean field. There is a clear link between the woodland recorded in the Domesday Book and places called lei or leah etc. Hild was a Saxon man’s name, so Ilsley more probably stems from ‘Hild’s clearing’.

Over the centuries, Hildeslei became corrupted to Ilsley. When the second village of Ilsley grew, the terms East and West were added to Ilsley, although up to the 18th Century, East Ilsley was better known as Chipping Ilsley or Market Ilsley (Chipping is from the Old English word for market).

The location of churches provides evidence for the spread of the Saxon population, supporting the idea that East Ilsley was established around 1,000 AD (there were no churches in the Downs until 11th Century and very few are recorded in the Domesday Book; East Ilsley’s church dates mainly from the early 13th Century).

booklet is available which describes the likely origins of the village and the derivation of its name.