Axminster is a market town and civil parish on the eastern border of the county of Devon in England, some from the county town of Exeter. The town is built on a hill overlooking the River Axe which heads towards the English Channel at Axmouth, and is in the East Devon local government district. At the 2001 census, it had a population of 5,626. The market is still held every Thursday.
Axminster gave its name to a type of carpet. An Axminster-type power loom is capable of weaving high quality carpets with many varying colours and patterns. While Axminster carpet is made in the town by Axminster Carpets Ltd, this type of carpet is now manufactured all over the world.
The town dates back to the Celtic times of around 300 BC. It lies on two major Roman roads: the Fosse Way from Lincoln to Seaton, and the Dorchester–Exeter road. There was a Roman fort on the crossroads at Woodbury Farm, just south of the present town.
Axminster was recorded in the late 9th century as Ascanmynster and in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Aixeministra. The name means "monastery or large church by the River Axe" and is a mixture of languages; the river name Axe has Celtic origins and mynster is an Old English word.
The history of the town is very much linked to the carpet industry, started by Thomas Whitty at Court House near the church in 1755. The completion of the early hand tufted carpets was marked by a peal of bells from the parish church as it took a great amount of time and labour to complete them.
In 1210, a charter was granted to the town that included the right to hold a weekly cattle market which took place in the market square until it was moved to Trinity Square in 1834. It then moved in October 1912 to a site off South Street where it was held for 94 years. It finally closed in 2006 in the aftermath of the 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth outbreak. A building on the site then continued to be used for a general auction until all the buildings were demolished and replaced by a housing development.
Axminster railway station was opened on 19 July 1860, with the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) offering direct services between Queen Street Station in Exeter and Yeovil. The station building was designed by the LSWR's architect Sir William Tite in mock gothic style. In 1903, the branch line from Axminster to Lyme Regis was opened. This branch line was closed with the Beeching cuts, in the 1960s. One engine has been preserved on the Bluebell Line, in Sussex, while the station was dismantled and reconstructed at New Alresford, on the Watercress Line, in Hampshire.
Axminster is the southern starting point of the Taunton Stop Line, a World War II defensive line consisting of pillboxes and anti-tank obstacles, which runs north to the Somerset coast near Highbridge.
Nearby Kilmington was used as a location for the 1998 LWT adaptation of Tess of the d'Urbervilles. The celebrity chef and TV presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has his River Cottage H.Q. at a farm in the Axe valley. He has since purchased an old inn that once provided the ballroom of the town, now converted to an organic produce shop/market and canteen.