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Yeovil (St. John the Baptist)

YEOVIL (St. John the Baptist), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Stone, W. division of Somerset, 9½ miles (S. S. E.) from Somerton, and 122 (W. S. W.) from London; containing 7043 inhabitants. This place, from the discovery of tessellated pavements and other relics of antiquity, is supposed to have been known to the Romans. It derives its name from the river Yeo, or Ivel, the Velox of Ravennas, which, having its source in seven springs near Sherborne, separates the counties of Somerset and Dorset, and passes Yeovil at a short distance to the east, beneath a stone bridge of three arches, near which it receives a small stream, turning three mills, that bounds the town on the south. The place was anciently called the town, borough, lordship, and hundred of Yeovil, including a district which soon after the Conquest fell into the possession of the crown. Part of this district was assigned by the name of the manor to the rector of St. John the Baptist's church, in the town, by one of the kings of England, who also granted him a weekly market on Friday, view of frankpledge, and several other rights and privileges. The inhabitants were likewise incorporated, under the designation of the Portreeve and Burgesses of Yeovil; and a daily court of pie-poudre was anciently held by the provost on behalf of the rector. The manor was held by the successive rectors till the year 1418, when the then rector resigned the church, together with the town and lordship, to Henry V., who gave the manor, with all its rights and privileges, and the rectory, to the convent of the Virgin Mary and St. Bridget, which that monarch had founded at Sion, in the county of Middlesex. This grant was confirmed by Edward IV., and after the dissolution of monasteries the manor was settled by Henry VIII. on his queen, Catherine, who held it till her death. In 1449, an accidental fire consumed 117 houses in the town, of which 45 belonged to different chantries; and on this occasion, an indulgence of 40 days was granted to all who contributed to repair the loss.

The town is situated on the middle road leading from Exeter to London, and consists of numerous streets, many of them spacious; the houses, of which several are of stone, are in general well built. It is supplied with water from springs that rise at a short distance, and is sheltered on the north by a range of hills which, as well as the adjacent country, are in a high state of cultivation. On the south-east are three remarkable hills, from the summit of one of which, Newton Hill, the English and Bristol Channels can be discerned. The metropolis is chiefly supplied with what is called Dorset butter from the dairy-farms in the vicinity. The inhabitants were formerly engaged in the woollen manufacture; but this has been superseded by that of leather gloves, which are made here to the extent of 4000 dozen per week, affording employment to many hundred persons in the parish and neighbouring villages. An act was passed in 1845, for a railway from Yeovil to the Bristol and Exeter line near Bridgwater, 20 miles in length; and in the same year, an act for a railway from near Chippenham, by Yeovil, to Weymouth. The market-day is Friday, and on every alternate Friday is the great market: corn, cattle, pigs, bacon, butter, cheese, hemp, and flax, are sold in considerable quantities; and in the purchase and sale of the two last articles upwards of £1000 are frequently returned in one day. Fairs are held on June 28th and November 17th, for horses, cattle, and pedlery; each continuing for two days. The market-house is supported on stone pillars. The government of the town, which is a corporation by prescription, is vested in a portreeve and eleven burgesses; a macebearer and two constables are chosen for the town, and two constables for the parish, which has a distinct jurisdiction: the portreeve exercises magisterial authority while in office. A court of record formerly took place every three weeks; and a court-leet for the borough is still held annually, by the lord of the manor. The powers of the county debt-court of Yeovil, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Sherborne, and part of that of Yeovil. The parish comprises 4038a. 3r. 31p., of which about 900 acres are arable, 30 woodland and plantations, and the remainder meadow and pasture; the soil varies from a light sand to a strong clay, with portions of rich loam.

The living is a vicarage, with that of Preston annexed, valued in the king's books at £18; net income, £391; patron, William Phelips, Esq.; impropriators, Henry William R. W. Halsey, Esq., for one portion, and John Newman, Esq., for the residue. The church is a fine cruciform structure, near the centre of the town, in the ancient English style, with a tower surmounted by a balustrade; and, according to Leland, contained the chantries of St. John the Baptist, the Holy Cross, the Holy Trinity, and the Virgin Mary. At its western end stands a building now used as a schoolroom, of much older date than the church itself. The foundation-stone of a district church was laid at Hendford on June 23rd, 1843; it was consecrated in Oct. 1846, and the district, consisting of half the town, and containing a population of about 3000, then became an ecclesiastical parish, under the act 6th and 7th Victoria, cap. 37. The church, a cruciform structure in the early English style, cost about £3000, and is dedicated to the Trinity. The living is a perpetual curacy, with a net income of £150, and is in the gift of the Crown and the Bishop of Bath and Wells, alternately; except the next presentation, which belongs to Mr. Phelips. There are places of worship for Particular Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians. A free school, originally founded in 1707, by subscription, has been endowed with sundry bequests, including that of John Noyes, who in 1718 left estates producing about £150 per annum, partly extended to Romsey and Fisherton-Anger. An almshouse for a custos, two wardens, and twelve other persons, was founded in 1476, by John Woburne, minor canon of St. Paul's Cathedral, and endowed to a considerable extent with landed property; a chapel is annexed to the institution. The portreeve's almshouses, in Back-street, are for four women, each of whom receives a small allowance. The poor-law union of Yeovil comprises 35 parishes or places, containing a population of 27,894. In the hamlets of Kingston, Marsh, and Hendford were ancient chapels, dependent on the mother church, in which the inhabitants of those villages had a right of sepulture; the places appropriated for that purpose are still pointed out in the parish church.


Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.