A century ago the Yeovil Town Council became embroiled in a dispute over the purchase and type of pipe to be used for the Council’s first large sewerage scheme. The battle between the various factions on the Council rumbled on over a period of years and resulted in some incredible scenes in the Council Chamber. The following example gives a flavour of the antics of the municipal fathers during those long forgotten Council meetings.
This row broke out at the July 1900 meeting when the Sewage Committee recommended that the pipes should be bought by the Council, and then supplied at a profit to the contractors carrying out the scheme. Alderman Raymond, the Committee Chairman, pointed out that the ratepayers would benefit by the Council’s purchase of the pipes, but this was strongly opposed by Council Levi Beer who considered the whole scheme should be put out to contract. Councillor Beer was a man of strong convictions and could be guaranteed to stand by them through thick and thin; he enlivened many meetings with his strong opposition to what he believed to be the Council ‘establishment,’ Levi Beer was in business as a cheese factor, and lived in West Hendford House. He had owned the land on which Beer Street was laid out hence the name of the street.
The Borough Surveyor who was in charge of the sewerage scheme, pointed out that Council were always well treated by pipe manufactures, but this brought an immediate objection from Councillor Beer who commented that there were too many commissions being made to various parties. He was not allowed to finish as he was cut short by Aldermen Pittard and Raymond who sought an explanation of these allegations. Councillor Beer said that he could explain what he meant, ‘I am in a position to say that it is known in the trade that on nearly everything that is purchased today, there is a commission paid and that someone receives that commission.’ In trying to smooth things down, the Deputy Mayor, Alderman Cox, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of the Mayor, said that on a previous occasion, the Town Council had bought pipes and sold them to the contractor in a very profitable deal.
Councillor Beer was not going to be deflected from his cause, and he said that he did not care whether a profit was made or not, a commission was given. Alderman Pittard retorted that this was an indirect imputation on the members of the Town Council and its officers, and repudiated the idea that there was any commission. Alderman Raymond protested that unless Councillor Beer withdrew his allegations he would leave the room, because the councillor had insinuated that the Council had given the Borough Surveyor commissions. Councillor Beer objected, and shouted that he had not mentioned anyone, but Alderman Raymond angrily repeated that unless these allegations were withdrawn he would leave the room.
Uproar now ensued with councillors protesting, and the Deputy Mayor telling Councillor Beer that he had said quite enough and had disturbed the peace and harmony of the meeting. Councillor Beer hotly replied that it was a very good thing that he had said too much. Alderman Raymond shouted that Councillor Beer had stated that commissions were being taken by the Council, but which allegation Councillor Beer strongly denied ‘That is a lie!’ he returned. Alderman Raymond then exclaimed, ‘I rise to a point of order!’ to which the redoubtable Councillor Beer responded, ‘Oh yes, you always do that!’
The Deputy Mayor was now getting fed up with whole shouting match and called ‘Order, order, Mr Beer. Unless you come to order I will leave the chair.’ A councillor shouted, ‘I don’t see how any of us can stay here to hear members called liars!’ However, Councillor Beer refused to retract, whereupon Alderman Raymond left the chamber followed by at least half the councillors, and the Deputy Mayor announced that the meeting was adjourned.
Councillor Beer was heard to exclaim during the disorder that, ‘I do not withdraw it. I stick to it as an Englishman. Something will come out of this; something that will not bear investigation. I will go further!’ To which a remark an unknown voice called out ‘Yes, you will.’ Then the meeting broke up and peace returned to the empty Council Chamber. No action seems to have been taken on Councillor Beer’s allegations.
The battle of the pipes rumbled on through the next few years, and in 1901, the Western Gazette, commented with some exasperation that the business at one meeting could have been easily put into a teacup but the councillors had spent one and a half hours doing absolutely nothing except shouting at one another across the benches.
The Town Councillors could also get wound up over an invitation to Church. In July 1908 the Council received an invitation to the Harvest Festival Thanksgiving Service at the Congregational Church in Princes Street on 20 September. Councillor Levi Beer proposed that the invitation should be accepted as it was the custom of the Council to attend a place of worship with the Mayor each year. This was seconded by Councillor Gould who remarked that he had not been to church for a long time.
Councillor Matthews, whilst he was in favour of the Mayor going to his own place of worship with the Town Council on the first Sunday in November each year as a matter of tradition, felt that if the councillors went to the Congregational Church they would have all the other churches in the town asking them to attend every little meeting. He would be candid and was of the opinion that the invitation was to get ‘official recognition and to get their exchequers filled.’
Councillor Gaylard expressed his surprise at Councillor Matthews’ comments because he thought he was the last person to make such an outrageous suggestion. Councillor McMillan stated that if the Town Council held the same views as Councillor Matthews, he would on behalf of the Deacons of the Congregational Church, withdraw the invitation. Whilst the visit of the Mayor and Town Council would certainly increase the congregation, Councillor McMillan strongly denied that the invitation was to increase Church income.
Councillor Matthews then enquired what was the idea of the invitation, to which Councillor Beer remarked that this comment was an insult and he was very much surprised at him.
At this point, the Mayor interjected to the effect that unless the invitation could be accepted unanimously, it had better not be accepted at all.
No doubt with some relief, the Council accepted the Mayor’s suggestion and declined the invitation.