1987-Oct-pg21_Memorials of the Past

1987-Oct-pg21_Memorials of the Past

FRONT COVER: 13th Century Seal Matrix, Yeovil Museum Drawing:Leslie Brook

This article came from the Chronicle published October 1987. Pages. 21-22



Author: Irene Brice


Yeovil seems to be ever–changing, especially during the last few decades, so it is good and in a way comforting to see our lovely Parish Church of St. John still standing, steadfast and serene, in the midst of our modern town. Although we now have few historic buildings left, we can still boast of many near–by reminders of the past. On the outskirts of the town is the splendid Jacobean mansion of Newton Surmaville where our Society spent a very pleasant afternoon last summer. Only a few miles to the west stands the gracious Elizabethan Montacute House which attracts so many visitors. The property has belonged to the National Trust since 1932 when the Princess Royal handed the title deeds to Viscount Esher, the Trust’s representative.

However, the village of Montacute has a history far older than that of the great mansion, for it lies in the shelter of St.Michael’s hill, where, according to a legend set out in a 12th century manuscript, a shining black cross was discovered in the days of Canute. The account describes how Tofig, the local lord, had the cross placed on a waggon drawn by twelve white cows and twelve red oxen and then recited the names of various English shrines over them. The oxen did not move until he mentioned the name of Waltham in Essex and the cross was accordingly taken there and an Abbey raised to enshrine what they believed was a holy relic. 

After the Norman conquest, Robert Earl of Mortain, half brother of William I, built a castle on the hill top. The castle has long vanished and only a ring of earthworks remain surmounted by a folly built in 1760. At the foot of the hill stands a lovely 15th century gateway which is all that survives of a Cluniac priory founded in the reign of Henry I. Montacute church successfully combines Norman, Decorated and Perpendicular work and contains a number of interesting monuments to the Phelips family.