Home of Downland
The name Ilsley appears to
be derived from Hilde-Laege
meaning 'Place of Conflict'. One
of the villages bearing this name is therefore thought to be the site of
the Battle of Ashdown (AD 871) which is known to have taken place
somewhere on the Downs. It was here that Prince (later King)
Alfred won his magnificent victory over the invading Danish armies;
though there are good reasons for supposing this took place in adjoining
The Italian Archbishop, Marco Antonio de Dominis, apparently
became a resident in the village in 1616 when he was appointed the
rector. He had had a row with the Pope and turned to Protestantism for a
while before eventually recanting. He was also made Dean of Windsor
though, so he probably wasn't in Ilsley that often. He still managed to
make himself unpopular however, searching local leases for legal
loopholes which enabled him to extract some £1,600 from the tenants.
The villagers eventually complained to the Church. When he returned to
Rome, he was tortured by the Inquisition.
Prior to the Civil War, the villagers met on the Downs near this village
to discuss the hardships imposed upon them by the King. They decided to
petition him for exemption. In 1644, Charles I was actually entertained,
at the Rectory here, by the rector, Dr. Godfrey Goodman. He paid dearly
for his loyalty for he was ousted from his position by the civil
authorities two years later. He later became Bishop of Gloucester.
William of Orange and his Dutch troops also passed this way whilst on
their march towards Reading and then London where he was to take the
throne as William III.
West Ilsley was the original home of the Morland Brewery of Abingdon –
now owned by Green King, but remembered in their Morland Original and
Old Speckled Hen brands of beer. John Morland, a local farmer, started
brewing in 1711 and his ale and porter became much sought after in
London pubs. The business was only relocated to Abingdon in 1887.
In the mid 19th century, West Ilsley had its own village witch. She was
said to turn herself into a hare and race across the Downs. One day,
however, she was chased by some dogs. She managed to escape by jumping
through the keyhole of her cottage door but, as she passed through, one
of the dogs bit her. She was found by her neighbours, in her own form,
sitting by the fire nursing a dog-bite! Thereafter she was never able to
cast her magic again.