Summer Exhibition 2022

Secret Yeovil

Summer Exhibition 2022 - presented by Yeovil's Virtual Museum




Middle Street, c1875. The three-storey house
at left was the home and shop of murderers
Robert Slade Colmer and his wife, Jane.





Of course, very little about Yeovil's history actually remains 'secret', but there is an awful lot that is less well-known. This exhibition is therefore an attempt to uncover some of the unfamiliar facets of Yeovil’s past, concerning both the town itself and its people. Much of the information included here comes from my book 'Secret Yeovil', although all aspects of the exhibition may be found in much greater detail within Yeovil's Virtual Museum, the A-to-Z of Yeovil's History, and hyperlinks are given within the text. Enjoy.


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Secrets of the Streets

We begin with some name changes that have occurred to Yeovil's streets through the ages. Many name changes are well known; for example Pyt Lane was the original name of Middle Street probably because of a number of flax pits or tanning pits in the vicinity. Brickyard Lane, with three brickyards at one time, became St Michael's Avenue and Grope Lane, with two possible origins (groping one's way along the dark, unlit lane and a more lascivious explanation), became Wine Street. But there are several unusual name changes that are long-forgotten today.

At one time Yeovil's weekly markets were held in the streets with particular streets known for the livestock or produce being sold.

From my collection. This colourised photograph features in my book 'Secret Yeovil'.

A postcard of about 1905 (this one was posted in 1911) showing the Town Hall beyond the weekly market in the Borough.



The nineteenth century saw a subtle gentrification of parts of Yeovil resulting in some name changes, so Hog Market (by the Three Choughs, seen at left) reverted to Hendford, Cattle Market was renamed Princes Street, Sheep Lane became North Lane (both names being preferable to its earlier sobriquet, Shitt Lane) and Cornmarket once again became Silver Street. It was noted in 1846 that "Some 4,000 sheep and 600 beasts thronged Cattle Market and Sheep Lane".


Silver Street had been known by several names; in the 16th century it was referred to as Stairs Hill, alluding to the steps in the churchyard wall. A road called Silver Street often implies nearby water and, in Yeovil’s case, the Rackel stream (now below ground) created a shallow ford across the road, by the Pall Tavern. In the 12th century, the road on the other side of the ford was known as Ford Street later called Rackleford - the ford across the Rackle. In the 19th century it was called Rotten Row and was a horse market but today it is known as Market Street.

In 1825, "the new road belonging to Peter Daniell" was a road which, combined with Park Street running from the east, replaced the circuitous and very steep route of Addlewell Lane and Chant's Path. The new road was originally called New France although after a couple of years the 'New' epithet had worn off and the road became known as France Street. By 1835 it had acquired the name by which it is known today - Brunswick Street.


Larkhill Lane, seen at left from Preston Road, became today's Larkhill Road but was earlier known, certainly as late as 1841, as Down Lane and beyond the Thorne Lane crossroads it was known as Ashley Lane.

There was a John Sperwe, or Sparrow, whose will leaving lands in Yeovil, is dated 1417. What we know today as Sparrow Road was called Sparrow Lane until the 1840s but from the 1850s to the 1880s it was called Coalpaxy, or Colpexin, Lane.

At one time there was a continuous route from Yeovil to Ilchester by ancient footpaths and tracks. It started at Kingston with Red Lion Lane, continued along Roping Path to Mudford Road. It then crossed the road and entered a large field called Green Cross, lying roughly between the modern southern entrance to Yeovil College and Goldcroft. Green Cross probably spanned both sides of Mudford Road, albeit chiefly to the west. As it continued, the footpath was known as Hillon Path and is referred to in the Terrier of 1589.


Penn Way was a lane across the lower western slopes of present day Wyndham Hill, seen at left. Penn Way commenced close to the Newton Road site of the later Penstyle Turnpike gatehouse, (today the site of Ivel Court) apparently as a lane, little better than a track, for a short distance before continuing as a footpath, roughly following along the route of today's Railway Walk, to Yeovil Bridge. Penn Way even had a pub - The Sun.


George Court was little more than an alleyway linking High Street with South Street and flanked with ruinous buildings and had something of an ill reputation. In keeping with other 'courts' of all-but slum housing in Yeovil, George Court was usually home to several poor families at any one time. George Court also had stables, so with them, the meat market and the cheese market along the western side, the air in the narrow Court must have been quite 'special'.



Colloquially known as the Swastika Terraces, two un-named terraces of houses in Grass Royal feature decorative swastika patterns formed in cream-coloured brickwork. This contrasts with the local red Yeovil bricks that were almost certainly made just around the corner at the brickworks in Brickyard Lane, today's St Michael's Avenue.

Although today the swastika has connotations with Nazi Germany, it is an ancient Indian religious symbol and has a long history in Europe reaching back into antiquity. In late Victorian times - when these terraces were built - there was a brief surge of popularity for the swastika as a good luck symbol in Western culture, hence their use here.



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Secrets of St John's church

The Iron Cross
In 1415, the year of Henry V’s victory over the French at Agincourt, the king personally laid the foundation stone of the Convent of Syon at Isleworth, Middlesex. In 1420 the Abbess and 35 nuns took possession of the convent, properly known as ‘The Monastery of St Saviour and St Bridget of Syon of the Order of St Augustine’. It was built as part of 'The King's Great Work'.


In order to part-support the convent, Henry granted them the Yeovil rectory of St John the Baptist and Lordship of the Borough of Yeovil together with ‘two acres of land in Huish and a portion in Martock’.

For the next 114 years, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1534 by Henry VIII, Yeovil came under the jurisdiction of the Abbess and was administered locally by a resident bailiff in conjunction with the Portreeve and Burgesses.

There is a little-known small iron cross fixed to the eastern parapet of St John's church tower indicating that the church was exempt from taxation while the borough was held by the Convent of Syon between 1420 and 1534.



The Weathercock
A new weathercock was purchased in 1575 at a cost of £2 9s 2d (14s for supply and a further £1 15s 2d for erection - around £800 at today's value).

When the present weathercock was erected in 1745 The Churchwardens' Accounts recorded that the cost was £3 5s 6d (£1 4s 0d for supply and a further £2 1s 6d for gilding and erection - £3 5s 6d at today's price, but around £550 at today's value).

The Lectern
St John's church houses an exceptional and rare English lectern which dates to about 1450 - just a few decades after the church itself was built. It is one of only four of its type in the entire country and is the sole example still in a parish church (the others are at Eton College, Berkshire, Merton College, Oxford and King's College, Cambridge).


A lectern (from the Latin lectus, "to read") is a reading desk with a slanted top, placed on a stand, on which books or documents are placed as support for reading aloud, as in a scripture reading, lecture, or sermon. St John's double-desk lectern, is referred to in old records, such as the Churchwardens' Accounts, as the 'Dext'. It is inscribed in Latin and is complete with a picture (later defaced) of the donor monk, Brother Martin Forester. The Latin inscription, in Blackletter, reads - "Precibus nunc precor cernuis hinc eya rogate. Frater Martinus Forester vita vigiletque beate." This roughly translates as "I pray you now offer humble prayers so that Brother Martin Forester may awaken in the blessed afterlife". The lectern was acquired by the Churchwardens of St John's, John Hacker and John Parker, in 1541 at a cost of £3 (about £16,000 at today's value).

The Bosses and 'African' Masks
People rarely look upwards inside buildings, which is a pity as much is missed - especially in St John's church where there is a wealth of medieval carved roof bosses in the nave, chancel and aisles. You will need a pair of binoculars to see them properly. The bosses are thought to date to 1404-5 when the construction of the church was nearing completion.


There are many bosses featuring flowers, foliage or abstract designs but a woman’s head features, as do the head of a man and the head of Christ. One boss has four faces and another is of a horned man – perhaps Satan looking down on the congregation? At left is the face of Robert de Sambourne, builder of today's St John's church.

The painting seen on the bosses today is, of course, modern. Whether or not the bosses were painted originally is not known but unlikely, certainly not in the bright colours seen today.

Additionally, there are roof bosses in the form of grotesque 'African' masks, numbering about 30 in all and located primarily in the north and south aisles. The dating above is thought to be also applicable to the 'African' bosses. Probably unique, the origins of these strange bosses are unknown.


The Black Halos
The parish church of St John the Baptist has long been known as the 'Lantern of the West' because of the superb, large windows which admit such a flood of light. The windows are an early example of fully developed Perpendicular Gothic with the tracery of the Reticulated Transitional Perpendicular style, dating to between 1380 and about 1400.


The south window of the south transept was inserted in 1862 as a memorial to John Greenham and his wife Elizabeth from their children. It cost £210 (around £130,000 at today's value) and depicts the Last Supper. This window portrays Judas Iscariot with a black halo.

The east window was inserted in 1863 showing scenes from the Passion and here too Judas is represented with a black halo - a feature thought to be unique to St John's church.



The 'Secret' Church Mice
Finally in this section; concealed about in St John's church are hidden some ‘secret’ church mice - the signature carving work of the Yorkshire furniture maker Robert 'The Mouseman'  Thompson. Set the children the task of finding them and they'll be amused while you can take in the delights of St John's. All four are on the furniture in the South Choir Aisle Chapel (although one is not obvious) - but don't tell the kids.


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Social Matters

The Hundred Stone
The 'hundred' was a tenth century Saxon division of the shire for judicial and military purposes. The geographic area of the hundred was the land required to sustain approximately one hundred households.The hundred usually took the name of the main town in the area but in Yeovil it was called the Hundred of Stone in reference to the local landmark, the Hundred Stone, at the junction of today's Stone Lane and Mudford Road - the highest point in Yeovil and its hinterland. This was the traditional hundred meeting place, where the Hundred Court was held. The Hundred of Stone not only included Yeovil, but Odcombe, Brympton, Preston Plucknett, Limington, Ashington and Mudford and covered 10,720 acres (4,340 hectares). The Hundred of Stone was one of forty historical hundreds in Somerset.


The hundred was headed by a Hundred-Man or Hundred Elder and in the immediate post-Conquest period the duties of the Hundred Elder included organising, supplying and leading the military forces of the hundred. Since in return for being granted the use of a hundred hides of land, technically the 'property' of the king in the Feudal system, the men of the hundred were bound to supply one hundred men for military service when required by the King.

The principal responsibility of the hundred gradually focused on the administration of law and justice within the area. By the twelfth century the Hundred Court would meet in the open around the Hundred Stone each month. The hundred was divided into ten tithings, each containing ten householders and their families. Each tithing was responsible for all that went on in its own small area and those living within the tithing were collectively responsible for each other’s behaviour. Twice a year representatives of each tithing attended the Hundred Court to give a report of the conduct of their members and to admit as new members all males who had reached the age of twelve years.

The administrative importance of hundreds decreased after 1834 although they were still used as a unit for census purposes until 1850. The last recorded meeting of Yeovil's Hundred Court at the Hundred Stone was in 1843.

The Yeovil Riot of 1349
In Yeovil there had been a longstanding dispute concerning taxes and other constraints regarding market rights and tolls and Sunday trading placed on the townspeople of Yeovil by the Church. Across the country survivors of the 1348 plague, perhaps encouraged by their survival, assumed a more militant stance than previously and in Yeovil simmering grievances came to a head in November 1349. Just a couple of months after the plague had ended, their resentment against the Church turned into a full-scale riot.


On Sunday 25 November 1349 during a Visitation by Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the anger and dissatisfaction of the people of Yeovil came to a head and violence erupted.

The mob attacked the Bishop and his entourage who were forced to retreat within the church (the Saxon church, not today's building), where they remained all night.

The following morning some of the rioters broke into the church. As one of the priests tried to talk with the mob, their ringleader, Roger de Warmwelle, struck the priest and the mob erupted. Of course, there were dire consequences. The church itself was interdicted by the Pope and the townspeople who had taken part in the riot were excommunicated. Roger de Warmwelle and a number of the other rioters were fined and made to do public penance and suffer humiliation at Yeovil, Bath, Wells, Bristol, Somerton and Glastonbury.

Beating the Bounds and the Hound Stone
Beating the bounds was an ancient custom dating back to Anglo-Saxon times (it was mentioned in the laws of Alfred the Great) in which a group of old and young members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish. They were usually led by the parish priest and church officials, to share the knowledge of where the extents of the parish lay, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands of the parish. Since there were few, if any, maps in former times it was usual to make a formal perambulation of the parish boundaries during Rogation Week. Some places on the outer limits of the parish might be marked with boundary stones, such as the Hound Stone in Thorne Lane, seen below.

Perambulation means "walking around" and in traditional English law, it is used specifically to mean "determining the bounds of a legal area by walking around it", meaning physically walking around the parish boundaries. In such a way the parish boundaries were verified annually. Also known as 'Beating the Bounds', it was an important custom since knowledge of the boundaries of each parish needed to be handed down to ensure, for instance, that liability to contribute to the repair of the church, or the right to be buried within the churchyard was not disputed.


The Hound Stone, an 18th century boundary marker, is located on the northern side of Thorne Lane at Thorne Cross (the staggered crossroads of Western Avenue and the Thorne Coffin road). According to local tradition, the Hound Stone (now gradually being enveloped by a growing tree) was the former meeting place of the local hunt, hence the name Hound Stone, which was also then applied to the district to the south. This, of course, is completely erroneous since 'Hundestone' was actually recorded as the name of the area in the Norman Domesday Book of 1086.


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Yeovil at Work

Evidence of Early Farming
During the Middle Ages farming was one of the most important livelihoods in the market town of Yeovil and its immediate neighbourhood. Traces of medieval farming practices still exist today in the form of lynchets (from the Old English hlinc meaning 'ridges, terraces of sloping ground') on the lower slopes of Summerhouse Hill - showing as a series or flight of stepped terraces, visible on the now grassy hill-side.


A lynchet, also known as a strip lynchet, is a bank of earth that builds up on the downslope of a field ploughed over a long period of time.

They are slowly formed by disturbed soil slipping down the hillside to create a lynchet. Lynchets therefore represent the legacy of ploughing, although not necessarily consciously created as a feature, though some initial construction may have been required on the steepest ground.

The lynchets are the result of the repeated action of the plough's mould-board turning the loosened soil outwards and downwards; over time forming a level strip or tread for cultivation with a scarp slope (a 'riser') down to the next strip below. Reflecting the practical nature of their creation, they follow the contour lines of the natural slope. The northern flanks of Summerhouse Hill still retain these reminders of Yeovil's medieval farming past.

Minting your own Money
Following the death of Charles I in 1649 no copper coinage was minted during the Commonwealth. The resulting paucity of small coinage was met by independently-produced and completely unauthorised coins - actually trade tokens - of brass, latten (a copper alloy similar to brass) or pewter. Most Yeovil trade tokens were issued by tradesmen in order to overcome the lack of small change in general circulation and enable trading activities to proceed. The token was, in effect, a pledge redeemable in goods although not usually for currency.

These tokens never received official sanction from government but were accepted and circulated quite widely. Even the Portreeve, on behalf of the Borough of Yeovil, minted and issued halfpennies, seen above, during 1668 and into 1669. From 1672, in the reign of Charles II, official farthings and halfpennies were minted again with the consequent demise of trade tokens. The value of a farthing in the 1650s was roughly equivalent to £2 at today's value.

During the end of the eighteenth century a number of private banks were established in Yeovil. Private banks were allowed to issue their own banknotes. Far from being ordinary currency as we are used to today, the £1, £5 and £10 notes issued by these banks were not for use in everyday shopping transactions. For example the £5 banknote of Yeovil Old Bank issued in 1818 illustrated here would have a value of about £335 at today's value.


Dobell Clockmakers
Robert Dobell was born in Wiltshire in 1808. He married Elizabeth Tucker at St John's church in 1830 - the same year Pigot's Directory listed him as a "Watch & Clock Maker of Middle Street". In the autumn of 1837 Elizabeth died and in the spring of the following year Robert married Mary Ann Hardy at St John's church.


Robert was listed as a 'Watch & Clock Maker of Middle Street' in the Somerset Gazette Directory of 1840. In the 1841 census he was listed as living with his new wife Mary, three children and a servant in Hendford on the corner of High Street. 35-year old Robert gave his occupation as a Jeweller.

In 1843 Robert and Mary had a son, Frederick, but by the time of the 1851 census Mary had died and Robert was listed as a widower. He was still living in Hendford, with children John, Ellen and Frederick and a domestic servant. Robert gave his occupation as a Silversmith and both John and Ellen were listed as his Assistants. In an advertisement of 1859 he described himself as "Watch and Clock Manufacturer, Goldsmith, Silversmith, Jeweller, Optician, Engraver, Etc".

In the 1861 census, 53-year old Robert and 19-year old Frederick, together with a domestic servant, were listed at Hendford and both father and son gave their occupations as Jewellers. Robert Dobell died in the spring of 1868 aged 61. His business was carried on by Frederick.



Yeovil clay was suitable for brickmaking and several brickworks were to be found in the town producing the soft, bright red bricks found everywhere in the older parts of Yeovil. The main Yeovil brickfields, seen below, were located north of Reckleford in the general area of Eastland Road, at this time known as Kiddle's Lane. Early maps show a clay pit from which the raw material was obtained as well as a brick kiln to the northwest of Dampier Street and to the east of Kiddle's Lane.

From my collection 

This postcard dates to about 1905 and shows, at centre, the chimney of the Yeovil Brickfields Co Ltd on the southeast corner of Eastland Road with its associated buildings clustered around its base. Running across the centre of the photograph is Station Road with the Alexandra Hotel at right. In the top half of the photo, Eastland Road runs behind the chimney with fields either side!

Extensive brickworks were also to be found at St Michael's Avenue which, indeed, was originally known as Brickyard Lane. The section from Milford Lane to Mudford Road was still called Brickyard Lane on the 1928 Ordnance Survey. There some fourteen other, smaller brickworks in the town such as at New Town, Preston Road and Ilchester Road.

Most of the Yeovil brick-making sites were small in scale and didn't last for long, which suggests short-term investment by builders and others to meet new local housing needs. In fact the majority of Yeovil's brick makers were already in the building trade.


The Yeovil Motor Car

James Petter’s twin sons, Ernest and Percy, had always been interested in transport and even at the age of twelve Percy, under the guidance of his eldest brother, had "made some hand-propelled velocipedes.... and later used to hire a wood wheeled 'penny farthing' boneshaker. By 1892 Percy and Ernest had designed and produced a self-propelled oil engine and in 1895, together with their inventive engineer, designer and foreman Ben Jacobs (who remained in service with the Petters until he was in his late seventies), they developed a new engine of one horse-power designed specifically to propel a 'horseless carriage'. They produced the first motor car with an internal combustion engine to be made in Britain, using a converted four wheel horse-drawn Hill and Boll phaeton and a 3hp Petter horizontal oil engine. The vehicle was constructed at the Park Road carriage works of Hill and Boll. It had a top speed of twelve miles per hour.


The Yeovil Car - the first motor car with an internal combustion engine to be made in Britain. This photograph appeared in the 3 April 1896 edition of 'The Engineer' magazine, captioned "Petter and Hill & Boll's Oil-Motor Carriage" with an accompanying article and plans.

Believing they had a great opportunity the brothers, with their father, formed the Yeovil Motor Car Co Ltd in 1895 with a thousand pounds capital and a factory was built on the site of James' garden in Reckleford, later to be expanded as the Nautilus Works. The company was to make small two-person motor carriages, initially at their foundry in Huish / Clarence Street and then at Reckleford in conjunction with carriage makers Hill & Boll of Park Road. In all
, some twelve different 'horseless carriages' were developed. This same year the company was one of four that offered automobiles for trials at Chelsea and their twelfth model, the 'Yeovil Car', was exhibited at the 1897 Motor Car Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace.


Yeovil's Commemorative Medallions

It has long been a tradition for Yeovil schoolchildren to receive a commemorative medallion at the times of the monarch's jubilee or other celebration.

The above medals are, from left to right,

The Diamond Jubilee medallion celebrating Queen Victoria's 60-year reign, inscribed "Presented by the Directors of the Western Gazette and Pullman's News Newspapers Co Ltd. 1897".

A scarce commemorative medallion given to Sunday school children of Yeovil by the then Mayor of Yeovil, Sidney Watts, to commemorate the 1893 marriage of HRH Prince George (1865-1936), later King George V (reigned 1910-1936), to HSH Princess Mary of Teck (1867-1953).

Another scarce commemorative medallion given by Henry Stiby, later Mayor of Yeovil, to school children to commemorate the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII (reigned 1901-1910) and Queen Alexandra (1844-1925).

This commemorative medallion was given by Henry Stiby to younger schoolchildren in 1911 to commemorate the coronation of King George V (reigned 1910-1936).



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Some Lesser-Known Yeovilians

John Perry
Technical Blacksmith and Temperance Hotelier

John Perry was born in 1810 in Somerton and moved to Yeovil around 1839 with his wife Jemima and their first two of five children. They initially lived in Park Street and John worked as a journeyman whitesmith (tinsmith). By 1851 John had moved his family to Hannam's Lane (today's Tabernacle Lane) where he took over Henry Bragg's smithy. 


John regarded himself as a 'Technical Blacksmith' and created intricate clockwork mechanisms as later described in a journal of 1899 - "Amongst local inventions the clockwork 'modles' of the late John Perry of Yeovil, take high rank. They all worked by a penny-in-the-slot arrangement. There were about a dozen of them, such as a church showing ringers at work in the belfry, a man at a pump pumping lemonade into a glass, a smith's workshop, etc. They were exhibited at a working man's exhibition in London. First shown in Tabernacle Lane, Yeovil, and afterwards at fairs all over the country."

Certainly by 1856 John Perry was running Perry's Family & Commercial Temperance Hotel in South Street and was hosting temporary photographic portrait rooms to visiting professional photographers. The hotel was across the road from Hannam's Lane and was situated between the Globe and Crown and the Baptist Chapel.

In August 1865 Hanham & Gillett sold their ironmongery establishment in the Borough to John Petter and at this time John Perry, having also been the manager of Hanham & Gillett's workshops for some 23 years, set up his own engineering business in South Street in partnership with his son. John Perry died in the spring of 1875 aged 66.

Doctor William Fancourt Tomkins
Surgeon of Magnolia House and Borough House

William Fancourt Tomkins was born in Yeovil in 1825, the eldest of the seven children of Yeovil surgeon William Tomkins and Hannah née Holland. He was brought up in the family home of Magnolia House in Princes Street.


William qualified as a Doctor of Medicine and was noted as such in the 17 September 1846 edition of the London Medical Gazette. He was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons in January 1847. In the 1851 census William Snr gave his occupation as "M.D. London College Consulting Physician" and his eldest son, 26-year old William Fancourt, gave his occupation as a "Practicing Surgeon".

On 30 October 1855 at Piddletrenthide, Dorset, William married 34-year old widow Sarah Palmer, formerly Sarah Flower. William and Sarah set up home at Borough House  in High Street, which also served as William's medical practice until his retirement around 1890.

Henry Monk
Headmaster of Yeovil Charity School and Yeovil Grammar School

Henry Monk was born in 1833 in Harrow Weald, Middlesex, the son of James and Mary Monk. Henry was a student at St Andrews College, Harrow. In May 1859 he was elected to the post of Master of the Yeovil Charity School which marked his move to Yeovil. On 9 January 1860, at the age of 27, Henry married Elizabeth Henrietta Hawkins at Harrow All Saints Church, Harrow Weald. They were to have nine children. In the 1861 census Henry and Elizabeth were living on Sherborne Road. Henry gave his occupation as 'Grammar Schoolmaster' while Elizabeth listed her occupation as 'Superannuated from the War Department'.

A photograph of Monk's school dated 1909. Henry Monk is at right and his daughter Edith at left.

During the 1860s Henry and Elizabeth moved to Hendford Hill where Henry opened his own school. In the 1871 census Henry and Elizabeth and their children were listed at Hendford Hill together with eighteen boarding pupils, a cook and a nursemaid. Henry simply gave his occupation as Schoolmaster. In the 1870s Henry moved his family yet again to 8 Hendford, today known as Flowers House. This was to become famous towards the end of the nineteenth century as Mr Monk's Grammar School.

Henry moved from Hendford to the Chantry in Church Path in 1897 (presumably due to the sharp drop in the number of pupils attending) and the Grammar School in Hendford was put up for sale. By 1901 Henry had moved his family to Ashgrove, Mudford Road. He was listed in the census as a 68-year-old schoolmaster with 67-year-old Elizabeth and three of their children. Henry was still teaching in 1909 at the age of 76, but by 1911 he had retired and was living in Ryme Intrinsica, Dorset, with Elizabeth and their two daughters Edith and Laura.

Frederick Cox
Builder of Frederick Place

Frederick Place connected Middle Street with Vicarage Street for pedestrian traffic and had houses on both sides until the 1970s. It is now a link from Middle Street to the Quedam shopping centre. Frederick Place was named after Frederick Cox, a local builder, who had a builder's yard there in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Frederick Cox was a Freemason, initiated into the Lodge of Brotherly Love in Yeovil on 14 August 1861. He served as Worshipful Master of the Lodge in 1868 and the photograph below shows him in his Masonic regalia.


Frederick Cox was born in 1825, the son of builder and Town Councillor John Cox and his wife Mary. By 1881 Frederick was married, had seven children, two servants and was still living in Middle Street. He listed his occupation as 'Builder employing 25 hands'. Three local projects built by Frederick Cox were the Fiveways Hospital (1871), the Congregational Church in Princes Street (1877) and the Corporation Baths in Huish (1885). The carved stone head on the arch keystone above the Middle Street entrance to Frederick Place is reputed to be a likeness of Frederick Cox although it clearly isn't and the stone head isn't as old as you might think, dating from when the adjoining Albany Hotel was rebuilt in 1873.

Frances Connelly
Yeovil's first Lady Voter

Women were not allowed to vote in Great Britain until the 1832 Reform Act and the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act. However it would not be until 1872, with the formation of the National Society for Women's Suffrage and later the more influential National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies that the struggle for women's voting rights became a national movement. By 1906 the movement was beginning to shift opinion in favour of women's suffrage and it was then that the militant campaign began with the formation of the Women's Social and Political Union. In 1918, a coalition government passed the Representation of the People Act 1918, enfranchising women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications. Ten years later, in 1928, the Conservative government passed the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act giving the vote to all women over the age of 21.


However, the first female to vote in Yeovil was Mrs Frances Connelly of Reckleford who claimed, and cast her vote, in November 1911. The following report is from the Taunton Courier & Western Advertiser's edition of 29 November 1911 "The election will be remembered for the first time in the history of the constituency a woman claimed and was allowed to exercise the Parliamentary franchise. At the very moment a Suffragist's car was touring Yeovil displaying to an amused crowd the legend "Mothers want votes", a lady was putting her cross against the name of Mr Aubrey Herbert - at least she is supposed to be on the Unionist side - at the Town Hall. Mrs Frances Connelly, of Reckleford, Yeovil, discovered that her name was on the register and claimed to vote.

The presiding officer (Mr WW Henley) demurred. The lady consulted the Conservative agent, Mr Harold Fletcher, who, having in turn discussed the situation with Mr WT Snell, barrister of the Western Circuit, who happened to be assisting in the Committee room. He interviewed the presiding officer and represented to him that the lady's name being on the register he had no alternative but to allow her to vote, the only conditions being that she was the person described on the register and had not previously voted in the election. The point was carried, and Mrs Connelly voted. What is more her vote was recorded in the ordinary way - not upon a 'tendered' paper - and was counted with the others."

Frances Connelly died in Yeovil in 1917, aged 48.

Fred 'Johnny' Hayward
Holder of a record that will remain unbeaten

Fred Hayward, known as Johnny, was born in Yeovil in the spring of 1887. He was the youngest of the seven children of glove cutter William H Hayward and his wife Mary Ann née Tutchings. When he was little the family lived in Wellington Street, moving to Huish by the time 14-year old Fred/Johnny was working as a solicitor's clerk. His career in law was short lived and most of his working life was spent as a glove cutter like his father. In August 1912 he married Mabel Alice Harbour. They set up home in Everton Road and were to have seven daughters and two sons.


Johnny's passion was football and from April 1907 he played for his local team, Yeovil Town Football Club. Johnny played for the club until 1927, usually positioned as centre forward and for many years captaining the team. His football career was interrupted by war service when he enlisted in the Machine Gun Corps during May 1916.

Nevertheless, despite this wartime interruption in his football career, Johnny Hayward holds the record for being the highest goal scorer for a single club in the history of English football. During his career he achieved an extraordinary number of goals - at least 548 (some data on matches in those days was incomplete) and claims a record that will surely never be beaten.

At his peak, he netted 52 goals in just 33 games during the 1919-20 season and 50 more in the 1921-22 season. Fred 'Johnny' Hayward retired from football in 1927 and died in 1958 aged 71.


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Dark Deeds

A Few 'Snippets'

We begin with some crimes that would, perhaps, today be considered less than heinous yet occasionally were accorded the ultimate punishment. We start with some snippets from the past, in date order.

"To Ivelchester Gaol: William Scott and Margery Chapeley, his mother, for burglary; Scott is twenty-three years of age, about five feet high, was born at Yeovil."  Police Gazette, 29 July 1774.

"Wednesday executed at Ilchester, Alex. Pearce, aged 19, for setting fire to his master's [Thomas Garland of the Greyhound Inn, South Street] house and stables at Yeovil.... Alexander Pearce was born at Sherborne, and apprenticed to a tailor, but losing a finger by accident, was obliged to decline that business, and turned labourer. Many strong circumstances appeared on his trial, which plainly proved his guilt, though he declared his innocence to the last of ever having any knowledge of the fact for which he suffered. He appeared very insensible of his approaching fate, and declared that he had never robbed or intentionally injured any one."  Bath Chronicle & Weekly Gazette, 2 September 1790.

"Gibraltar, March 6 1768. A private Soldier of the 19th Regiment under my Command here, has confessed himself a Murderer, enclosed I have taken the Liberty to transmit to you a Copy of his Confession, viz. "I Nathaniel Jones, Soldier in the 19th Regiment, in Chapel Norton's Company, do confess, that about the Month of April, 1765, I murdered a Woman dressed in a Stamped Cotton Jacket, and a Check Apron (the Colour of the Petticoat I forgot) near Yeovil in Somersetshire, in the cross Country Road leading from Beaminster to Yeovil; and then having taken what Money I could find upon her, threw her into a Marl Pit near thereto." Derby Mercury, 22 April 1768.

"On Thursday evening a quarrel took place at the Penn Mill Inn [not today’s Pen Mill Hotel, but a cider house on the Sherborne side of the railway line], near Yeovil, between a journeyman glover, named Allen, and an itinerant dealer in corks, named Smith, in consequence of which the former challenged the latter to a fight. Smith, who was in some degree intoxicated, was at first unwilling to comply; but, provoked by his antagonist, and urged on by his wife, he at length entered into the contest and in the second round received a blow to the neck, which, in the state of excitement arising from liquor and the anger he was in at the moment, caused instant death. A coroner’s inquest was held on the body on Friday evening, by Mr Uphill, when a verdict of 'Manslaughter' was returned against Allen, who has absconded." Western Flying Post, 9 October 1828.

"A banditti of turnip stealers, forty in number, attacked and cruelly beat the four sons of Mr Symes, a farmer, of Yeovil, Somerset, who, with five others, were stationed to protect a turnip field from their depredations.... Although two of the farmer's party were so much beaten that their lives are in danger, they succeeded in repelling the plunderers, and securing three of them, who are committed to Ilchester gaol for trial." Stamford Mercury, 12 December 1916.


From my collection

A contemporary sketch of Ilchester Gaol, the temporary residence of many a Yeovilian.



Yeovil's Stocks
Stocks, popular with civil authorities from medieval times, were yoke-like devices formed from hinged wooden boards into which the legs of one or more offenders would be locked, thereby restricting their movement. The stocks were invariably located in the open air, subjecting the offender to all weathers, and were situated in the most public location. This ensured that as a public form of punishment, it combined a physical punitive element with public humiliation.

For centuries Yeovil, like most towns, possessed a set of stocks. These were situated between the pillars of the Market House - essentially a roof supported by columns that covered the market traders' stalls - that stood in the middle of the Borough. Yeovil’s stocks were last occupied on Thursday 24 September 1846 by a man named Stoodley. He was found guilty of being drunk on a Sunday afternoon and was confined in the stocks for three hours.


Death of a Mendicant

James Beare became one of Yeovil's early law enforcement officials, known in the 1830s as a Watchman, and was based at the Tolle Hall in the Borough.

The town's Watch-House or lock-up (seen at left) was in cellars of the building where they remain today, roughly beneath the War Memorial. On 8 January 1838 a drunken mendicant, or beggar, 42-year-old Isaac Justins, was thrown in the cells but left there without food, water or heat for two days, resulting in his death. Consequently James Beare, and co-Watchman George Hill, were charged and tried for manslaughter.

It must be presumed that the case against James Beare was ultimately dismissed although he almost certainly lost his job as a Watchman since, immediately after the case, he became a beerhouse keeper at the fledgling Beehive Inn in Huish.


Murder of Constable Penny

Just before midnight, during the evening of Saturday 18 January 1862, Police Constable William Hubbard of the Somerset Constabulary was on duty on Hendford Hill when, without warning, he was assaulted by a gang of navvies who had been employed on the railway. Hubbard then met Constable William Penny, and told him what had happened.  

From the Police Gazette

The rest of the navvies then gathered round and, being greatly outnumbered, Hubbard and Penny let the gang move on along Hendford Hill. The two Constables then met their Sergeant Keats and explained to him what had occurred.

Together they returned to the gang of navvies, following them along the Dorchester Road, close to the Red House public house. A fight ensued and PC Penny was knocked to the ground, where the navvies viciously kicked him.

Constable Penny was then taken into the Red House, where he was attended by doctors. William Penny never rallied properly and died the following Saturday. Three of the navvies were later tried for manslaughter; two were acquitted and the third received a sentence of four years.


Robert Slade Colmer

Sadly, space precludes an in-depth study of a man who was probably one of the worst Yeovilians of all time - Robert Slade Colmer. He was a herbalist and… a paedophile (he got off on that one), a back-street abortionist (actually a Middle Street abortionist), he was tried for manslaughter, made a bankrupt and he was an adulterer. Oh yes - he was also a murderer and the father of Ptolemy Colmer who, despite his father, became a physician, surgeon and Mayor of Yeovil .

On 9 December 1844 at Taunton winter assizes Robert, aged 27 was tried on the charge of "Carnally abusing a girl between the age of 11 and 12 years". For lack of evidence (and the court clearly didn’t believe the testimony of a child) he was found not guilty.

In October 1863, an inquest was opened before Dr Wybrants, at the Castle Inn, on the body of Elizabeth Fox, a young woman who had been living as a servant at Rimpton. It appeared that she was pregnant and that she went to Colmer for medical advice. She remained there some days, and death is said to have taken place early on Sunday morning. On post-mortem examination, a frightful laceration of the womb was found. After a lengthy inquest the jury bought in a verdict of manslaughter against Robert Slade Colmer. He was indicted for slaying Elizabeth Fox and was also indicted for misdemeanor or, in other words, concealment of birth. The evidence at Colmer's trial was all of a circumstantial nature and ultimately the jury returned a verdict of 'Not Guilty'.

In March 1880 Robert and his wife Jane, also a 'herbalist', were visited by a widow, Mary Budge of Crewkerne. Mary was pregnant by her young lodger and, in short, the Colmers performed an abortion after which Mary returned to Crewkerne on the train with her lover. She died in agony during that night. Robert and Jane Colmer were both tried at the Old Bailey, found guilty and convicted for the willful murder of Mary Budge at Yeovil, by illegal operation. (For full details of the trial, click here). On 3 August 1880 both Robert and Jane were sentenced to death. On 19 August 1880 the Home Office commuted the sentence of death on both Robert and Jane to one of penal servitude for life. In the 1881 census Robert Colmer, aged 66, was listed as a convicted felon in Pentonville prison, London. Jane was serving her sentence at Millbank prison, London.

Robert Slade Colmer died in prison at the age of 73 in the winter of 1889. Jane, however, was somewhat luckier than her husband and was released from prison. In the 1891 census she was 'living on her own means' in Peter Street with her herbalist daughter, Cleopatra. Jane died later that year aged 76.


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