AXMINSTER, a market-town in the Honiton parliamentary division of Devonshire, England, on the river Axe, 27 m. E. by N. of Exeter by the London & South-Western railway. Pop. (1901) 2906. The minster, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, illustrates every style of architecture from Norman to Perpendicular. There are in the chancel two freestone effigies, perhaps of the 14th century, besides three sedilia, and a piscina under arches. Axminster was long celebrated for the admirable quality of its carpets, which were woven by hand, like tapestry. Their manufacture was established in 1755. Their name is preserved, but since the seat of this industry was removed to Wilton near Salisbury, the inhabitants of Axminster have found employment in brush factories, corn mills, timber yards and an iron foundry. Cloth, drugget, cotton, leather, gloves and tapes are also made. Coaxdon House, the birthplace in 1602 of Sir Symonds d’Ewes, the Puritan historian, is about 2 m. distant, and was formerly known as St Calyst.
Axminster (Axemystre) derives its name from the river Axe and from the old abbey church or minster said to have been built by King Æthelstan. The situation of Axminster at the intersection of the two great ancient roads, Iknield Street and the Fosse Way, and also the numerous earthworks and hill-fortresses in the neighbourhood indicate a very early settlement. There is a tradition that the battle of Brunanburh was fought in the valley of the Axe, and that the bodies of the Danish princes who perished in action were buried in Axminster church. According to Domesday, Axminster was held by the king. In 1246 Reginald de Mohun, then lord of the manor, founded a Cistercian abbey at Newenham within the parish of Axminster, granting it a Saturday market and a fair on Midsummer day, and the next year made over to the monks from Beaulieu the manor and hundred of Axminster. The abbey was dissolved in 1539. The midsummer fair established by Reginald de Mohun is still held.
See Victoria County History—Devon; James Davidson, British and Roman Remains in the Vicinity of Axminster (London, 1833).