Yeovil

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Yeovil (/ˈjoʊvɪl/ YOH-vil) is a town and civil parish in south Somerset, England. The parish has a population of 40,000, although the wider urban area had a population of 42,140. The town lies within the local district of South Somerset and the Yeovil parliamentary constituency,situated at the Southern Boundary of Somerset, 130 miles from London, 40 miles south of Bristol and 30 miles from Taunton.

It has palaeolithic remains, was on an old Roman road and was recorded in the Domesday Book as the town of Givle, and later became a centre for the glove making industry. During the Middle Ages the population of the town suffered from the Black Death and several serious fires. In the 20th century it developed into a centre of the aircraft and defence industries, which made it a target for bombing in the Second World War, with one of the largest employers being AgustaWestland who manufacture helicopters. Several other manufacturing and retail companies also have bases in the town. In the 21st century Yeovil became the first town in Britain to institute a system of biometric fingerprint scanning in nightclubs and the first English council to ban the children’s craze Heelys. Plans have been proposed for various regeneration projects in the town.

Yeovil Country Park, which includes Ninesprings, is one of several open spaces in the town. There are a range of educational, cultural and sporting facilities. Religious sites include the 14th-century Church of St John the Baptist. It is on the A30 and A37 roads and has two railway stations on two separate railway lines. Yeovil Pen Mill is on the Bristol to Weymouth line served by First Great Western train operating company services, whilst Yeovil Junction is on the London Waterloo to Exeter line served by South West Trains. There is also a small railway museum.

Archaeological surveys have indicated signs of activity from the palaeolithic period, with burial and occupation sites located principally to the south of the modern town, particularly in Hendford where a Bronze Age golden torc (twisted collar) was found. Yeovil was on the main Roman road from Dorchester to the Fosse Way at Ilchester. The route of the old road is aligned with the A37 from Dorchester, Hendford Hill, Rustywell, across the Westland site, to Larkhill Road, and Vagg Lane, rejoining the A37 at the Halfway House pub on the Ilchester Road. The Westland site has evidence of a small Roman town. There were several Roman villas (estates) in the area, including finds at East Coker, West Coker and Lufton.

Yeovil was first mentioned in about 880 as Gifle. The name was derived from the Celtic river-name gifl “forked river”, an earlier name of the River Yeo. The town was recorded in the Domesday Book as Givele, a thriving market community. The parish of Yeovil was part of the Stone Hundred. After the Norman Conquest the manor, later known as Hendford, was granted to the Count of Eu and his tenant Hugh Maltravers, whose descendants became Earls of Arundel and held the lordship until 1561. In 1205 it was granted a charter by King John. By the 14th century, the town had gained the right to elect a portreeve. The Black Death exacted a heavy toll, killing approximately half the population. In 1499 a major fire broke out in the town, destroying many of the wooden, thatched roofed buildings. Yeovil suffered further serious fires, in 1620 and again in 1643. After the dissolution of the monasteries the lord of the manor was the family of John Horsey of Clifton Maybank from 1538–1610 and then by the Phelps family until 1846 when it passed to the Harbins of Newton Surmaville. Babylon Hill across the River Yeo to the south east of the town was the site of a minor skirmish, the Battle of Babylon Hill, during the English Civil War, which resulted in the Earl of Bedford’s Roundheads forcing back Sir Ralph Hopton’s Cavaliers to Sherborne.

During the 1800s Yeovil was a centre of the glove making industry and the population expanded rapidly. In the mid-19th century it became connected to the rest of Britain by a complex set of railway lines which resulted from competition between the 7 ft 0 14 in (2,140 mm) broad gauge lines of the Great Western Railway (GWR) and the 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge lines of the London and South Western Railway (LSWR).

The first railway in the town was a branch line from the Bristol and Exeter Railway near Taunton to a terminus at Hendford on the western side of the town, which opened on 1 October 1853. As an associated company of the GWR, this was a broad gauge line. The GWR itself opened Yeovil Pen Mill railway station on the east side of the town as part of its route from London on 1 September 1856 (this was extended to Weymouth on 1 January 1857), and the original line from Taunton was connected to this. The LSWR route from London reached Hendford on 1 June 1860 but a month later the town was by-passed by the extension of the LSWR to Exeter. A new station at Yeovil Junction was provided south of the town from where passengers could catch a connecting service to Hendford. On 1 June 1861 passenger trains were withdrawn from Hendford and transferred to a new, more central, Yeovil Town railway station.

In 1854, the town gained borough status and had its first mayor. In the early 20th century Yeovil had around 11,000 inhabitants and was dominated by the defence industry, making it a target of German raids during World War II. The worst of the bombing was in 1940 and continued until 1942. During that time 107 high explosive bombs fell on the town. 49 people died, 68 houses were totally destroyed and 2,377 damaged.

Industrial businesses developed in the area around the Hendford railway goods station to such a degree that a small Hendford Halt was opened on 2 May 1932 for passengers travelling to and from this district, but the growth of road transport and a desire to rationalise the rail network lead to half of the railway stations in Yeovil being closed in 1964. First to go was Hendford Halt which was closed on 15 June along with the line to Taunton, then Yeovil Town closed on 2 October . Long-distance trains from Pen Mill had been withdrawn on 11 September 1961 leaving only Yeovil Junction with a service to London, but the service between there and Pen Mill, the two remaining stations, was also withdrawn from 5 May 1968.

In April 2006 Yeovil became the first town in Britain to institute a somewhat controversial system of biometric fingerprint scanning in nightclubs. Individuals wishing to gain access to one of the town’s nightclubs were asked in the first instance to submit their personal details for inclusion in a central system. This included a photograph and index fingerprint. Thereafter, each entry to one of the participating premises will require a fingerprint scan. If the system is proved successful at reducing crime and violence, it will be introduced in towns throughout the country. In February 2007, Yeovil Town Council became the first English council to ban the children’s craze Heelys in the centre of the town and High Street. Skateboards, roller skates and roller blades are also illegal in the area. Councillors have stated this is due to “numerous complaints about the activities of youngsters”.

In late July 2007, South Somerset District Council plans were made public by the Western Gazette to build a £21 m ‘Yeovil Sports Zone’ on Yeovil Recreation Ground, which has been a popular open green space used by the local community for over seventy years. Residents fought to protect the Rec, leading to rejection of the proposals in 2009, and further consultations in 2010.

The free, informal recreational space of Mudford Rec, as it is known colloquially, was frequented by England Cricket great Ian Botham during his childhood stay in Yeovil. Another regeneration project was to have included the demolition of Foundry House, a former glove factory, however a local campaign led to this becoming a listed building and it will now be converted into a restaurant and offices and new shop and houses will be built on the surrounding site.

Officially designated as Yeovil Municipal Borough in 1854, the town continued to lend its name to the area with the creation of the local government district of Yeovil on 1 April 1974, with the merging several neighbouring rural and urban districts, which is today known as South Somerset. Some of the suburbs fall within the civil parishes of Yeovil Without and Brympton.

Yeovil still has a town council which took over the functions of the Charter Trustees in 1982.

Yeovil is a county constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The constituency covers the towns of Yeovil, Chard, Crewkerne and Ilminster in Somerset. Yeovil also forms part of the South West England constituency for elections to the European Parliament.

Yeovil is situated at the southern boundary of Somerset, close to the border with Dorset, 130 miles (209 km) from London, 40 miles (64 km) south of Bristol and 30 miles (48 km) from Taunton. The suburbs include: Summerlands, Hollands, Houndstone, Preston Plucknett, Penn Mill, New Town, Hendford, Old Town, Forest Hill, Abbey Manor, Great Lyde. Outlying villages include East Coker, West Coker, Hardington, Evershot, Halstock, Stoford, Barwick, Sutton Bingham, Mudford and Yetminster. Other nearby villages include Bradford Abbas, Thornford Corscombe, Montacute (where one will find Montacute House), and Pendomer. The village of Brympton, now almost a suburb of Yeovil, contains the medieval manor of Brympton d’Evercy. Tintinhull is also a village close to Yeovil featuring the National Trust owned Tintinhull House and Gardens.

Ninesprings Country Park is in the south east near Penn Hill. It is linked to by a cycleway following the route of the old railway to Riverside Walk, Wyndham Hill and Summerhouse Hill forming the 40-hectare (99-acre) Yeovil Country Park.

The Yeovil urban district had a population of 41,871 at the 2001 census, although the civil parish was home to 27,949. The parish is made up of Yeovil Central Ward which has a population of 7230, Yeovil East 7300, Yeovil South 7802, and Yeovil West 7280. The urban area also includes Yeovil Without which has a population of 7260 and Brympton with 5268.

Population since 1801 – Source: A Vision of Britain through Time
Year 1801 1851 1901 1911 1921 1931 1941 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001
Population South Somerset 70,769 93,075 85,080 84,280 85,001 85,729 92,313 99,407 106,462 114,020 129,310 143,395 150,974

AgustaWestland manufactures helicopters in Yeovil, and Normalair Garratt, builder of aircraft oxygen systems, is also based in the town.

Yeovil’s reputation as a centre of the aircraft and defence industries lived on into the 21st century despite attempts at diversification, and the creation of numerous industrial estates, the principal employer is the aviation group AgustaWestland. This firm was created through the acquisition of Westland Helicopters by Agusta in 2000. In January 1986 the proposed sale of Westland to the American Sikorsky Aircraft group led to the Westland affair, a crisis in the Thatcher government, the resignation of Michael Heseltine as Secretary of State for Defence and the resignation two weeks later of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Leon Brittan, after his admission of leaking of a governmental law officer’s letter which harshly criticised Mr Heseltine.

Yeovil Aerodrome (ICAO: EGHG), sometimes known as Yeovil/Westland (to avoid confusion with nearby RNAS Yeovilton), is located 1 nautical mile (1.9 km) west of the town centre. British defence giant BAE Systems also operate a site which produces high-integrity networked software solutions primarily for the military.

The Screwfix company is based in Houndstone having started life as the Woodscrew Supply Company in 1979. However the warehouse was relocated to Stoke-on-Trent following failure to gain planning permission for building expansion.

The Quedam Shopping Centre is a complex of around 45 shops. As well as the usual array of British high street shops, the centre houses several independent retailers and a multi-storey car park of approximately 650 spaces.

The Yeovil Times is a free weekly newspaper, published and distributed in South Somerset, in association with the Western Gazette. It is owned by Northcliffe Media, part of the Daily Mail and General Trust newsgroup. Its content is a largely based on local issues.

One of the symbols of Yeovil is “Jack the Treacle Eater”, a folly consisting of a small archway topped by a turret with a statue on top. This is actually located in the village of Barwick, just to the south of the town. The hamstone Abbey Farm House was built around 1420 by John Stourton II, known as Jenkyn, and the associated Abbey Barn dates from the same period.

The Museum of South Somerset is in Hendford, and based in the former coach house to Hendford Manor. There are displays of local history and geology particularly local industries such as leather and glove-making, flax and hemp production, stone working, engineering and newspaper printing. The manor house itself was built around 1720 and has since been converted into offices. It is a Grade II* listed building. Newton Surmaville is a small park and house which is also known as Newton House. It was built between 1608 and 1612, for Robert Harbin, a Yeovil merchant. It has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building.

Yeovil has two theatres; The Octagon, and The Swan, a ten-screen cinema and 18-lane ten-pin bowling alley. Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust provides local health services. The Yeovil Railway Centre is a small railway museum at Yeovil Junction. It was created in 1993 in response to British Rail’s decision to remove the turntable from Yeovil Junction. Approximately 0.25 miles (400 m) of track along the Clifton Maybank spur is used for demonstration trains.

The town has two railway stations on two separate railway lines. Yeovil Pen Mill is on the Bristol to Weymouth line served by First Great Western train operating company services, whilst Yeovil Junction is on the London Waterloo to Exeter line served by South West Trains. Both stations are situated some distance from the centre of Yeovil, with Pen Mill station being just under 1 mile (1.6 km) to the east and Junction station being just over 1 mile (1.6 km) to the south.

The Anglican Church of St John The Baptist dates from the late 14th century. The tower is 92 feet (28 m) high, in four-stages with set back offset corner buttresses. It is capped by openwork balustrading eatching the parapets which are from the 19th century. There are two-light late-14th-century windows on all sides at bell-ringing and bell-chamber levels, the latter having fine pierced stonework grilles. There is a stair turret to the north-west corner, with a Weather vane termination. The tower contains two bells dating from 1728 and made by Thomas Bilbie of the Bilbie family in Chew Stoke. The “Great Bell” was recast from 4,502 pounds (2,042 kg; 321.6 st) to 4,992 lb (2,264 kg; 356.6 st). It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building.

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