During the early decades of the last century there was social and political unrest across Europe.  In his book From Portreeve to Mayor – The growth of Yeovil  the late L.C. Hayward BA., B.Sc., FCA.,  wrote  –  ‘Fears of popular agitation following the revolutions in Europe in 1830 and the radical movement in England showed itself in the swearing in of 250 Yeovilians as special constables in December and the forming of the Mudford troop of Yeomanry for the protection of property…… Their services were needed during the October riot in Yeovil in 1831.’

            The cause of the  October riot arose from the defeat of William Ponsonby, the Whig Reform candidate, by Lord Ashley in a Dorset Parliamentary  election at Blandford.  There were allegations that Lord Ashley’s  agents had behaved corruptly in the election, and the protests led to rioting  in Blandford and Sherborne.

            Early in the evening of Friday 21 October, some youths and boys assembled in the Borough in Yeovil, shouting ‘Ponsonby and Reform for ever!’ and by nine o’clock, the crowd had increased until several hundred men, women and youths, many liberally refreshed with cider and beer, were milling about.  Suddenly they moved off and for a moment it was thought that the demonstration was over.  However this was wishful thinking  because during the rest of the night and into the early morning a mob rampaged  up and down Princes Street, Kingston and Hendford attacking, and in two cases looting, houses of Lord Ashley’s supporters.

            The initial assault on solicitor, Mr. Edwin Newman’s, house (now the offices of solicitors Clarke, Willmott and Clarke)  smashed all his window panes and then the mob broke through the front door. Despite Mr. Newman threatening the invaders with a loaded pistol, they rampaged through the house  smashing furniture, stealing valuables and ransacking all the rooms.  The solicitor’s wife was pregnant with their third child but with her two other children she was saved from injury by the prompt action of friends who also managed to save many valuable papers from Mr. Newman’s office.

            All the front windows of Mr. Mayo’s  Old Sarum House in Princes Street , were smashed and a few minutes later the mob stormed Mr. Francis Robins’ house in Ram Park (now  Park Road).  After smashing his windows the mob broke into the house and began to destroy furniture, book cases, ornaments and everything they could lay their hands on, including the servants’ clothes.  Articles of furniture and clothing were piled on the lawn and a bonfire lit.

            Other houses attacked were those of Mr. White, Rev. James Hooper’s Hendford Manor, Mr. John Greenham’s Hendford House (now the Manor Hotel), Mr. Edwin Tomkins, Mr. Penny and Mr. Slade, but in these cases the damage was confined to broken windows.

            The fury and size of the mob were too much for the town’s inadequate forces of law and order, who could only stand by and watch the tide of destruction which swept up and down Princes Street and Hendford until four o’clock in the morning.

            At about a quarter past eleven, local magistrate, John Goodford, whose son,  returning from dining at Montacute House had witnessed the tumult, bravely rode alone into Yeovil and the riot.  During that fearful night, John Goodford  rode about the town, accompanied in due course by several local businessmen,  and his calls for the mob to  go home were partly successful, but whether this was due to Mr Goodford’s exhortations or fatigue, we shall never know.

            During Saturday there was a feeling of general unrest in the town and the Western Flying Post reported that   –  ‘A meeting of inhabitants was held at the Mermaid Inn, when it was resolved that all legal means should be used to prevent a repetition of such disgraceful outrages.’  Several magistrates, including Mr.  John Goodford,  were also present at the meeting in the Mermaid.  By late afternoon the crowds were once again assembling in the Borough and the fear of further rioting was heightened by reports that people were coming in from the surrounding villages.  The magistrates therefore send word summoning the Mudford Troop of Yeomanry cavalry  to re-enforce the  special constables and public officers who had proved incapable of protecting property during Friday’s riot.  At about a quarter to seven, news came to the Mermaid that plans were being made to attack Mr Hooper’s property in Hendford and Mr. Thomas Hoskins, one of the magistrates, read  the Riot Act requiring the crowd to disperse within one hour, failing which action would be taken against them.  Although this  had the effect of quietening the mob  they refused to disperse.

            The Mudford Troop of Yeomanry, commanded by Captain George Harbin, trotted into town and formed up outside the Mermaid but the presence of the part time cavalrymen did little to intimidate the mob.  Only a few days before the Troop had been mustered  –  ‘ for exercise in a field on  Camel Hill, where they went through their evolutions with admirable precision’  –  and afterwards the Troop enjoyed a ‘sumptuous dinner’ at the Sparkford Inn.  Faced with an angry mob of several hundred, the Troop realised that ‘their evolutions’ would be of little use in the narrow High Street, and retired.  It was reported by the Western Flying Post that the Mudford Troop  –  ‘left the town under the idea  that their presence might be the means of bringing together a crowd.’

            During the commotion which followed the departure of the  Yeomanry, several of the mob were arrested  for throwing stones at the Mermaid and  taken inside the Inn.  Determined efforts to release them were resisted  despite the mob trying to break through the doors and pelting the front of the Inn with missiles.

            The Mudford Troop had remained just outside the town, where they were re-enforced by the Martock Troop which had also been called out, commanded by Captain Tatchell.  Both Troops now entered  the town and began to ride up and down the streets which only increased the fury of the mob.  The Yeomanry came under a hail of  stones  and assorted missiles and one of the troopers was knocked from his horse.  The position was becoming critical when at least  six shots were fired, four over the heads of the crowd and two into them.  One of the Yeomanry, a Mr. Cottle accidentally shot himself in the thigh and one of the mob was heard to cryout in pain.  There were claims that Captain Tatchell had given the order to fire but this was subsequently denied and stated that the shots had been fired  without authority.

A Yeovil Riot Jug. Three Jugs are held in the collection at CHAC. Photo courtesy of CHAC

The presence of the Yeomanry probably prevented more  destruction and damage to property but the crowds continued to pose a threat and it was not until a troop of regular cavalry from the 3rd Dragoon Guards trotted into Yeovil on the Sunday morning that the mob finally dispersed.

            The 3rd Dragoon Guards remained in town for a fortnight and special constables patrolled the streets from six to twelve o’clock every night for several months.

            Grateful townspeople presented each member of the Yeomanry with an ornate jug  in recognition of ‘their manly and forbearing character.’  Three of the Riot jugs are in the possession of  South Somerset Cultural and Heritage Access Centre –  they were presented to James Masters, G. Edwards and R. Raymond.

Twenty local men and women appeared at the Somerset Spring Assizes in Taunton in April 1832, charged with riotous assembly , and received sentences  from 6 days to 18 months  –  several were acquitted.

Jack Sweet
August 2017

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The Yeovil Rural District Council at its meeting in June 1908, received a letter from Admiral Baker complaining of the nuisance from the stench of pigs kept by some of his neighbours. The Admiral wrote that although Mr Fish, the Inspector of Nuisances, had agreed on several occasions that his complaint was not exaggerated, the official appeared unwilling or unable to get the nuisance abated. This lack of action had caused the Admiral to write to the Council and with the onset of the hot weather, he was concerned at the possibility of an epidemic illness. He went on to write that the Council appeared to have done nothing to deal with the problem and if the Inspector was unable to cope with the nuisance then the matter should be referred to the Council’s Medical Officer of Health.
     Replying to a question from Colonel H.E. Harbin, the Chairman of the Council, Mr Fish confirmed that there was an occasional smell when the wind was in a certain direction, but it was a matter of opinion whether this amounted to a nuisance.
     Colonel Blake opined that this might be a nuisance at one time and not at another. However he thought the Medical Officer of Health should visit the area and see whether it was a permanent danger to the health of the residents.
     The Reverend Armstrong suggested that the Inspector of Nuisances was showing a greater laxity to the nearness of pig styes to dwelling houses than his predecessor had.
     Mr J.G. Vaux observed that there had been no complaints before Admiral Baker came to live here and this opened up a wide question as the pig styes had been there for generations and they were from 100 to 200 yards away from the Admiral’s house.
     The Council referred the complaint to the Medical Officer of Health and the Works Committee were instructed to visit South Petherton and report back.
     It seems that the problem was cleared up to everyone’s satisfaction because a few months later the Admiral wrote thanking the Council for the action they had taken to abate the nuisance.

Jack Sweet
April 2017

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     An interesting comment on the use of the rifle in combat in the 1860s, when the main infantry weapon was the muzzle-loading rifle, from the Western Flying Post of 13 November 1860:

     ‘We extract the following amusing anecdote from the speech of John Nicholetts Esq., delivered at the meeting of the Martock Agricultural Society, which is fully reported in another place:- He would relate an anecdote in connexion with rifle shooting told by his brother who is at Palermo. On one occasion he met Colonel Peard – Garibaldi’s Englishman – who said to him, “Mind, if ever you go rifle shooting use your rifle in a scientific manner. Recollect always not to kill your man, but to wound him, then it takes two men to carry him off, and those two men never by any chance come back the same day. With a double-barrelled rifle, therefore you may get rid of six men at each discharge.” We think this worth consideration.’

     Meanwhile over at Castle Cary, the Pulman’s Weekly News of 11 March 1863 issued a warning to its readers:

     ‘About a week since, an individual appeared here who has since succeeded in duping more than one of the inhabitants. He represents himself as having just arrived from Australia, and it is singular that he can give correct accounts to their relations of many persons who are now in Australia, but sometimes inaccuracies are apparent in his statements. He represented himself as the grandson of one poor old man. Of course the old man was delighted to see him come back safe from the distant continent. He therefore housed him for a day or two, and on his stating that he was short of cash, he even supplied him with some until he could get his Australian bills cashed. Having obtained what he could of the old man, he has since decamped, and it has transpired that he was no relative whatever. It is rumoured that he has been successful in several instances, by similar representations, of duping many in this locality. He is about five and a half feet high, of a dark complexion, and appears about 25 years old.’

     In the autumn of 1874 there was a variation to the quotation of ‘A bull in a china shop’ at Crewkerne, as reported in the Western Gazette of 2 October:

     ‘On Thursday afternoon, some bulls were driven through this town by a drover employed by Mr. Pattinson, cattle dealer. On arriving in Sheep Market Street, and seeing the gate leading to the yard of Mr. Tout, ironmonger, open, three of the animals walked quietly into the yard and one of them unceremoniously entered and took possession of the back kitchen, and it was not until he had broken four panes of glass, and then with some difficulty, he was driven out. The animals then proceeded on their way through Sheep Market Street, but on reaching the dwelling house of Mr. Fone, tailor, whose front door they found open, two of them entered the passage. Mrs. Fone was sitting in a room at the left hand side of the passage with tea laid awaiting the return of her children, and on seeing the head of her unexpected caller thrust into the room she was much alarmed. She, however, managed to leave the room through another entrance and the drover of the bulls crawled underneath its legs into the room, and succeeded in driving it out.’

     Pulman’s Weekly News reported relief in West Coker in April 1899, when;

     ‘A large number of parishioners met at The Laurels on Monday evening to welcome home Mr. Arthur Herbert Gould, eldest son of Mr. Job Gould, twine manufacturer. Mr. Gould had recently undergone a very successful operation at the College Hospital, London, where his leg was amputated at the hip. The operation caused the gravest anxiety to the parishioners at large, and the ringing cheers with which he was greeted on his arrival testified to the sincerity of the welcome he received. Mr. Gould has been for some years an active member in the firm of Messrs. Gould & Sons, and it is hoped that he will be long spared to push forward the industry of the village, whose interest he has so much at heart.’

     However, on 17 October 1899, Pulman’s Weekly News reported relief of a somewhat different and slightly mysterious kind at East Chinnock:

     ‘Miss Kate Rendell, who mysteriously disappeared from home on Thursday week, returned home on Wednesday evening, to the intense relief of her relatives. She was in too weak a condition to give any explanation of her absence.’

     I wonder where she’d been and her explanation!   The record is silent.

Jack Sweet
May 2017

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On 15 July 1960, the Western Gazette announced on the front page that Mr Herbert Swetman had retired after 46 years service with the South Western Gas Board and its predecessor, the Yeovil Corporation Gas Department. Whilst 46 years service was a matter for congratulation, Mr Swetman was remembered fifty years ago by many Yeovilians as the hero of the Town Hall fire in September 1935.

At about half-past three on Sunday morning 22 September 1935, fire broke out in the gas-lit turret clock on the top of the Town Hall roof, and within minutes the upper floor of the building in the High Street was in flames. Despite the Yeovil Fire Brigade’s early arrival, the flames had spread rapidly and the fire was too far advanced to save the century-old building.

The Brigade turned its attention to confining the blaze and prevent it spreading east to the Municipal Offices in King George Street and west to Messrs Clements’ adjoining grocery shop. However, a group four of gas meters and pipes under the stairs leading up to the Town Hall had been smashed by falling debris and high pressure jets of blazing gas were playing on the wall of the grocery shop. As fast as the firemen’s hoses extinguished the burning gas, the flames lit the gas again and unless the taps could be turned off, the fire would break through into Messrs Clements’ premises.

At about four o’clock that morning, Mr Herbert Swetman was woken by the police and told of the fire, and asked to try to turn off the gas. He was one of the Corporation’s senior gas fitters and was quickly on the scene. As Mr Swetman made his first effort to reach the meters and close the gas taps, stones were falling about him from the superheated walls, but he managed to turn off one before he was forced out by the heat and smoke. After a short breather, back he went into the heat and swirling smoke and turned off the second, before he was driven out again into the fresh air. Herbert Swetman was determined to finish the job and after another short breather, he went back in. In the dense smoke and flames he finally located the two remaining gas taps, turned them off, then collapsed unconscious and was pulled from the blazing building by Fireman F Clarke and given artificial respiration. With the gas turned off, the danger passed and the fire was contained.

Mr Swetman was taken to the nearby Mermaid Hotel, where he recovered, but the effects of the heat, smoke and escaping gas took its toll of his health which required treatment for the next 14 months. Being unable to continue as one of the Corporation’s senior gas fitters, Mr Swetman was promoted to Inspector, which post he held until his retirement.

Mr Herbert Swetman, was no stranger to action, having joined the army three months after the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, and saw active service in Egypt and Palestine. He was twice wounded, and on demobilisation in 1919, returned to his former employers, the Yeovil Corporation Gas Department.

Jack Sweet
Decemeber 2019

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In celebration of King George V’s Silver Jubilee on 6 May 1935, several local journalists produced a Souvenir programme. One of the contributors looked forward to Yeovil in the year 2000 and this was his vision (tongue somewhat in cheek perhaps) of the town in the brave new world 65 years later:

     ‘The flood-lit air port was astir with the busy hum of machines and hurrying figures when I arrived by the night mail. It was my first glimpse of Yeovil after many decades. I had returned to take part in the city’s celebrations at the birth of the year 2,000.

     ‘I knew that the one-time old Somerset market town had become the hub of the West, the key town to one of England’s most flourishing shires, but the transformation that had taken place was startling. Looking out of the windows of my host’s car as it glided silently through the town, ablaze with light, it might well have been a dream city.

     “No wonder you fail to recognise it” said my old friend, smiling at my bewilderment. “Of course you must remember that a very large area of Yeovil as you knew it was scheduled for demolition long ago and has been rebuilt,” he explained.

     “One of the first steps taken by the City Council was the re-planning of Yeovil into industrial and residential zones. There has been a clean sweep, and most of the old landmarks have disappeared. There are still some romantic old-world corners left, but you will have to go out into the countryside to find them for many of the villages of your day are now suburbs of Yeovil.”

     ‘It had been a gala day in Yeovil, and thousands of people were present at the opening by the National Director of pastimes of the huge new sports stadium, where a display had been given by many famous speedway “stars.” Now the night-life of the city was in full swing, and Yeovil’s “Broadway” glittered with light.

     ‘Later I was to discover that in spite of the robot-like efficiency with which the life of the city was carried on, the architect, in planning the new Yeovil, had built with the mind of an artist, and had given it a new beauty. There were spacious parks, broad avenues and boulevards that had taken the place of narrow, crowded streets with great motor ways.

     ‘Garden cities, with their own communal halls and social centres, had replaced the old housing estates, while in the industrial zone itself, though the factories were working at full pressure, smoke and grime were things of the past. The system of employment was so designed that there was work for all.

     ‘The feature of the new Yeovil was its imposing Guildhall, the centre of civic administration, with its lofty Gothic pillars and noble facade.

     ‘For the old market place, nestling under the shadow of the Mother Church, now a cathedral, I looked in vain, but on a new site, covering many acres, Yeovil Market had grown to become another Smithfield.

     ‘Despite the growth of aviation and the impetus it had given to one of Yeovil’s most flourishing industries, railways continued to play an important part in the nation’s life as far as heavy freightage was concerned. This was apparent by the big railway depot, Yeovil Central, which had taken the place of the three stations that formerly served the town.

     ‘With its rise to fame and the cosmopolitan character it had acquired, there had sprung up a new culture. Yeovil had become one of the most musical towns in the country. Its schools and colleges were well known, the Engineering Institute having gained world-wide repute.

     ‘Yeovil Hospital, too, in its park-like surroundings, had also moved with the times, and was the centre from which sprang many new health services, ranging from delightful hostels for mothers and babies to the rest home for the aged in the eventide of their lives.

     ‘What fascinated me most, perhaps, was the new accent that the inhabitants had acquired. Had any one asked, in the plaintive tones of the old days, “Where be I too?” he would have been regarded with as much curiosity as an aborigine. Fashions had also changed, but it was the men who now set the pace in raiment of colourful hue.

     ‘Sleepy Somerset had gone for ever. As the vision of Yeovil faded, I realised the very name of the place had changed. Yeovil was no longer Yeovil but Yeotopia.’

Jack Sweet
April 2017

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During the First World War one of the most dangerous threats to Britain’s survival came from the interruption of our supplies of food and fuel by German mines, and nearly 600 British warships, merchant ships and fishing vessels were lost to mines between 1914 and 1918.

To deal with this menace, the Royal Navy at first adapted fishing trawlers as minesweepers and later purpose-built vessels entered service. Minesweeping was a very dangerous task and two hundred and fourteen minesweepers were sunk or damaged.

The Aberdares were a class of successful minesweeper and one of them was HMS Yeovil, which commenced the dangerous task of minesweeping off the west coast of Scotland on 16 November 1918.

In April 1919, HMS Yeovil departed the west coast and steamed across the North Sea to the Norwegian port of Lervick, south of Bergen. The Germans were not the only nation who used mines against their opponents’ shipping, all the belligerents laid them. Between May and November 1918, American and British warships planted over 70,000 mines between the Shetlands and Norway, mainly to catch surfaced or submerged U-boats, and Yeovil was one of the minesweepers engaged in clearing them. This was hard and dangerous work, with five days at sea and three-day interludes at Lervik. For most of the time, Yeovil was partnered with HMS Belvoir, and in May 1919 the two ships swept 1710 mines between them, 175 exploding in the sweep wire close enough to bodily lift the ships.

HMS Yeovil tour was completed at the end of September, she was then transferred the Reserve Fleet off Chatham and broken up in 1928.

Throughout the Second World War communities and organisations became involved in a wide variety of voluntary activities to support the fighting forces, including fund raising to ‘buy’ aircraft and ‘adopting’ warships.

During the National Savings ‘National Savings‘, in February 1942 Yeovil factories, shops, and office held collections and the final sum raised from all sources was over £425,000 which exceeded the target by £125,000. The townsfolk ‘adopted’ the destroyer HMS Hesperus and sent books, cigarettes and other comforts to the ship’s company. The destroyer served with distinction in the North Atlantic, where she sank five U-Boats, including the U-357 which the destroyer sank by ramming, and damaged several others At the end of her short but distinguished career in 1947, the ship’s ensign is laid up in St John’s Church, and on 3 October 1993 a Service of Dedication and Remembrance to Honour the Crew of HMS Hesperus was held in the Parish Church.

However, some two years before, Yeovil Rotary Club ‘adopted’ the Quiet Waters a 117 ton trawler working as a Royal Naval Auxiliary patrol craft in the North Sea and English Channel. And in April 1940 the Yeovil Review wrote:

‘Yeovil may be situated deep in the heart of the west country, away from the briny, but this has not stopped the Rotary Club from “adopting” the Lowestoft trawler, “Quiet Waters,” which is now operating with The Navy.

‘The Club is keeping the crew supplied with smokes and games, while the ladies of the Inner Wheel have undertaken to provide woollen comforts.

‘The crew must have thought Father Christmas had arrived (although a bit late) when Secretary W. Hicks paid a visit to the trawler when it was at Weymouth during Easter, and took with him a dart board, a monster parcel of books and 400 cigarettes, not to mention stockings, mittens, scarves and jerseys which had been knitted by Rotarian Ladies.

‘The members of the Inner Wheel have certainly put their shoulders to the wheel and must have been knitting overtime for they have not only made comforts for the men of the trawler, but also for the Somerset Light Infantry, Yeovil Hospital and the Red Cross Society.

Quiet Waters” would seem to be as inappropriate a name to give a minesweeper, as to call an Inn “The Quiet Woman” (I have yet to hear of one). But however stormy and hazardous may be the lot of the trawler’s crew we all wish them a safe return and if they ever visit Yeovil when the war is over we can promise them plenty of good fishing in the River Yeo, although they will have to be content with rod and line.

‘I am reminded of one Yeovil soldier who was seasick five times when he crossed the Channel. He must have wished he was on board the “Quiet Waters” for, after all, there is something in a name. The only regret I have is that the Yeovil is not sufficiently navigable to permit of the “Quiet Waters” sailing gently up stream to the town that has adopted it. What an attraction it would be. However, congratulations to the Rotary Club and the best of luck to the skipper and his crew.’

The Quiet Waters survived the War and was returned to her original owners in 1946.

Jack Sweet
Decemeber 2019

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Winter Talks-2021/22

Fri 1st Oct 2021 – ‘Henry Hunt’s Mistress Revealed’, a juicy story of Georgian scandal.

Fri 5th Nov – ‘St Ivel the History of Aplin and Barrett’.

Fri 3rd Dec – ‘The Art of Dowsing – Exploring subtle energies in South-West England’.


From the Clynick Collection (1980's) - Cadbury-Camp-2 From the Clynick Collection (1980's) - Cadbury-Camp-6 From the Clynick Collection (1980's)  - Peugout 1904 Brighten Run From the Clynick Collection (1980's) Roman-Pavemant- 8 Arrow-Heads-from-Ham-Hill- From the Clynick Collection (1980's)  - Peugout 1904 Brighten Run