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Chard's name was Cerden in 1065 and Cerdre in the Domesday Book of 1086. This is derived from the Old English word ceart which means a rough common, overgrown with gorse, bracken or broom. Before the Norman Conquest Chard was held by the Bishop of Wells.  The town's first charter was from King John and another from the bishop in 1234, which delimited the town and laid out burgage holdings in 1-acre (4,000 m2) lots at a rent of twelve pence per year.  The parish of Chard was part of the Kilmersdon Hundred.

Most of the town was destroyed by fire in 1577.  After this time the town was largely rebuilt including Waterloo House and Manor Court House in Fore Street which were built as a house and courtroom, and have now been converted into shops and offices.  Further damage to the town took place during the English Civil War with both sides plundering its resources, particularly in 1644 when Charles I spent a week in the town.