The Commonwealth

The end of the civil war found Yeovil in a sorry state - it had already suffered one fire in 1623 which destroyed four houses, and a much more severe one in 1640 when 83 houses and a great many outhouses, barns, stables etc. were demolished. Some six hundred were rendered homeless, many becoming destitute, and the damage estimated at £12,000.

A petition was presented at Wells Sessions in 1645 stating that Yeovil had been assessed to pay a weekly sum of 12s 6d to help maintain the British Army in Ireland. The petitioners asked for relief being ‘impoverished and decayed not only by the late fire’ but also by a ‘long and sad condition of sickness’. In 1647 four residents complained at Bridgwater Sessions that during the time of the ‘great contagion in Yevell wherein many hundred soules died, and the sickness so great that noe living would undertake to bury the dead infected’, the constable of the Hundred and the constable of the town had enlisted them on payment of 14d a day. The task took them eleven weeks. Meanwhile the Hundred constable had died and they had received no payment from the steward.

Overseers of the Poor also petitioned that, during the ‘late infection’, they had shut up several houses so infected, keeping their inhabitants ‘close’ and provided them with ‘all things necessary’ at their own cost. Having spent £20 none of which had been repaid, they asked for recompense. Similar petitions were presented by ‘maimed soldiers’ and other destitutes.

A parish register for part of the commonwealth period shows a registrar being nominated by parishioners and approved and appointed by George Sampson, who is given the title of ‘maior’ - a designation applied to a chief officer or magistrate for the region. The register, dating from 1653 to 1656 shows banns of marriage being called at the market cross, while the solemnisation itself was performed by the magistrate.

The church had become largely undenominational and several successive vicars suffered harassment. Samuel Seward, a Royalist supporter, was ejected in 1649; William Parsons fared little better, being alleged to be ‘a man of scandalous life, a frequenter of taverns and alehouses’. He was followed by a Dr. Shore who was also ‘turned out during the time of Oliver Cromwell’ to be finally replaced by Rev. Henry Butler.