This is one of a series of reports on the archaeology of the urban (and formerly urban) areas of Somerset commissioned by English Heritage as part of its Extensive Urban Survey (EUS). The reports were prepared by Somerset County Council in 1994-98. There is a brief history of the town extracted from the report or you can download the whole report and maps in Portable Document Format (PDF).
Wincanton is situated in the far east of the county, originally on rising ground on the east bank of the river Cale, from which the town takes the middle part of its name. The site is both a river crossing and the junction of north-south and east-west road routes. The local geology is mixed including clays and shales, calcareous sandstone and sandy beds.
Little is known of the prehistory of the area, although the discovery of a bronze age burial on the north side of the town and the occasional discovery of Roman artefacts in the vicinity of the town are suggestive of early settlement in the locality. It is not known when the settlement of Wincanton was founded but the village of 'Wincawel' was referred to in the Henstridge charter of 956 which by 1086 was called 'Wincaleton'. Wincanton was probably the site of a market in the medieval period but did not gain a market and fair charter until 1556, from when the town was known as the borough of Wincanton. A copy of rental dated to 1558 exists which lists owners, occupiers and rents paid for tenement plots within the town at that date. Like many South Somerset towns Wincanton's main industry in the later medieval and post-medieval period was cloth production which was commented on in the early 18th century by Defoe However, whereas other towns in the area declined with the advent of mechanised cloth manufacture in the north, Wincanton remained relatively affluent having the alternative industries of clock making and particularly Ireson's brick and tile works and pottery manufacture. In addition, its position on major routeways enabled the town to maintain an income from coaching traffic being home to a large number of coaching inns in the 18th and early 19th centuries. More recently, milk processing became a major industry in the town.