An outstanding vicar of St. John’s, Martin Strong took up his duties here in 1690 at the age of thirty. He was born at Henlade, near Taunton, and became a Prebendary of Wells Cathedral in 1707. He kept a ‘commonplace book’ in which he recorded details he considered would benefit his successors. This reveals that when he became vicar he found a disorganised parish, a ruinous vicarage, and parishioners who were not only indolent, but did their utmost to avoid paying tithes in full.
Many pages are devoted to receipt of tithes, these showing that a large proportion of income came from flax and hemp being grown to support flourishing cloth, rope and twine industries in the area.
His detailed account of repairs to his Vicarage Street residence gives some indication of the nature of the 300 year old building which had been erected as a vicarage some time between 1377 and 1382. He stated both house and gardens were ‘miserably ruinous and out of all repair’, nothing having been done to it since Dr. Shore’s time during the Commonwealth. He says he rebuilt the ‘wall against the street which was almost all fallen down’ and had ‘set up new stone steps, and a new door’ with pillars and balls of ‘Hambden Stone’. By 1699 he estimated he had already spent £120 on refurbishment on the house, and subsequently at least another £30 on the garden, outhouses and stables and barn. A considerable sum at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
In 1714 he started what was probably Yeovil’s first free lending library. He says: ‘I caused several good practical books’ to be placed in the church under the supervision of the parish clerk. These were to be lent to the poor for a maximum period of a fortnight at a time.
Martin Strong died in 1720, leaving £40 to the charity school in the Chantry that he had largely been instrumental in founding. Among other bequests a shilling was to be given to each of two hundred poor families in Yeovil Marsh and Preston. A further five shillings each was for the inmates of Woborn’s almshouses for ‘use of their Pall’ at his burial.