The Reformation

In the 16th century the Reformation removed four chantries from the church. It was also responsible for the destruction of ‘superstitious images’, the blotting out of certain stained glass i llustrations, the removal of a rood, the erasure of the head of a friar engraved on the book rests of the lectern, and the sawing down of ‘crosses that stood on the battlements’.

Just before the chantries were suppressed, Yeovil’s churchwardens rented from the chaplain of the Name of Jesus Chantry, a large house standing on the corner of Middle and Silver Streets, converting it for use as a ‘Church House’ - a centre for social and business functions. Confiscated by the Crown in 1548, it was purchased by London merchant brokers in 1564 who conveyed it to local yeoman for settlement on St. John’s church.

The house maintained a quantity of kitchen utensils and tableware made available for hire to landowners and villages over a wide area, usually for some special occasion. Windows of the house were rented for the display of goods, leading eventually to the establishment of shops on the ground floor. Other rooms were let for functions such as wedding receptions. The entire premises were leased at a later period, and the building was bought by Town Improvement Commissioners in 1835 to widen the entrance to Middle Street.

A memorandum in the 1548 Return of Chantries concerns a chapel in St. John’s churchyard which ‘the inhabitants desire to have for a schoolhouse’. This building had been the chantry chapel of the Blessed Virgin ‘outside the church’. It was acquired the following year, but it was not until 1573 that the churchwardens’ accounts show its conversion to a grammar school at a cost of £12 13s. 4d.

In 1707 a charity school was started in ‘The Chantry’ by the vicar, Rev. Martin Strong, who acted as steward-treasurer, together with six trustees and thirty-nine subscribers. Numbering twenty, pupils were to be ‘not under the age of six nor above the age of eight years’. A master received a salary of £16 per annum, paid quarterly. This charity school continued in the chantry following its removal from the churchyard to nearby Church Path, but following loss of charitable funds, closed in 1888.