Rev Martin Strong

Rev Martin Strong

Vicar of Yeovil, 1690 to 1720

 

Martin Strong was born in 1660 at Henlade, near Taunton. Nothing is known of his early life but in 1680 he was Servitor of Lincoln College, Oxford, and in 1690, at the age of 30, he was presented to the vicarage of Yeovil by Sir Edward Phelips of Montacute who was Lord of Yeovil at the time. "Martin Strong Instituted to the Vic[arage] of Yeovil, May the 22nd 1690. Inducted the day following." (see first photo in the gallery below).

He was married twice, mentioning his 'first wife' in his will although not naming her. His second wife was called Mary. His daughter Edith was by his first wife and his younger daughter Elizabeth was by his second wife. Elizabeth was under age at his death. He also makes a passing reference to a son in his will but leaves nothing to him. He also mentions his father's 'Widdow' who remains un-named and was, presumably, his stepmother. Again un-named was his sister who was married to Alexander Procter. The final family member to be mentioned was his nephew James Strong, son of an un-named brother.

Perhaps revealing is his statement in his will concerning his daughter Elizabeth and her first cousin James Strong "And if my Daughter Elizabeth and my said Nephew can love and like each other so well as to intermarry to preserve my Name Family and Memory It is that which I could earnestly wish Will and Desire." Surprising for a vicar, since under Canon law marriage between first cousins had been prohibited as the 'fourth degree' of consanguinity since the ninth century.

Commencing in 1698 he kept a ‘commonplace book’, now in the Heritage Centre at Taunton, in which he recorded details he considered would benefit his successors. In it he wrote that when he became vicar of Yeovil he found a sadly disorganised parish, the vicarage to be in a ruinous  state, the result of chronic, unchecked neglect, and parishioners who were indolent and slack in their attendance at church.

He fought against what had become the 'prevailing' custom of private baptism, where the people expected their children to be baptised in their own homes. The problem was widespread and the Bishop of London's campaign for public baptism in church was further promoted in visitations of the Diocese of Bath and Wells among others. Martin Strong preached sermons and published on The Indecency and Unlawfulness of Baptizing Children in Private.

Perhaps what upset Martin Strong most of all was how his parishioners did their utmost to avoid paying tithes in full, pretending all sorts of strange customs to avoid paying their tithes. As a consequence, many pages of his commonplace book are devoted to receipt of tithes. Interestingly, however, these showing that a large proportion of income came from flax and hemp being grown to support the flourishing cloth, rope and twine industries in the area.

In fact the vicarage also included substantial lands in both Yeovil and Preston Plucknett parishes and had been farmed by tenants. Martin noted "In the year 1704 I took the vicarage into my own hands (having always let it out to tenants before, which I found occasioned some inconvenience, and was like to make some stubborn people worse and begin to insult my tenants and pretend to strange customs)". The annual income from both Yeovil and Preston Plucknett combined was quite substantial; in 1704 for instance it came to £180 (around £400,000 at 2017's value) with 88% derived from the Yeovil lands and 12% from those in Preston Plucknett. The breakdown of this income is interesting as it gives an insight into how the vicarage land was used and is tabulated below -

37%
43%
6%
4%
10%
< 1%

Flax and Hemp
Pasture and 'Agistments'
Apples and Orchards
Gardens and Garden Stuff
Offerings and Surplice Fees
Churchyard (ie burials, etc)

 

His first major project was to tackle the ruinous state of the vicarage. It was located in Quedam Street, later Vicarage Street. indeed the name Vicarage Street, which appears to have happily existed alongside the name Quedam Street for several centuries, was named after the vicarage of St John's church that was established there in 1377.

He stated both house and gardens were "miserably ruinous and out of all repair", nothing having been done to it since a predecessor, Dr Shore’s time during the Commonwealth. He noted that 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, stables and barn - almost a whole year's income from the vicarage lands.

"In the year 1705-06 I built the stable and woodhouse from the ground which (besides the timber, which was all my own, and is not here reckoned) cost me out of my pocket in all £9. The reason of my building it was this, viz; the barn adjoining belongs to Mr Ambrose Seward [who was Portreeve of Yeovil in 1734] who has (from his father) a good estate at Marsh. This barn, both his father in the time of Dr Beal, and the son in my time, made use of as a snare upon the vicar, for thinking that the vicar could not possibly be without the barn, they would have the tithes of their estate at what rate they pleased, or else presently the vicar was threatened he must turn out of the barn, so I myself was told by the present Mr Seward, which made me resolved to read the vicar of this snare by building on my own ground. I built this for the sake and ease of my successes for ever as well as for my own, and from my god alone I hope for reward. This cost me as I said before (beside the timber) in all £9."

In 1707 he began a public subscription in order to endow a charity school "for 20 poor boys to be taught and closed after the manner used in and about London". The Yeovil Charity School, also known as the Free School, the Latin School, the Charity Grammar School and later the Blue Coat School, opened in 1709 in the Chantry, providing a free elementary education for children up to the age of 12 or 13. Strong acted as Steward-Treasurer, together with six trustees and thirty nine subscribers. This school, he claimed in a sermon on the occasion of the opening of the school and later published as a pamphlet, was "the first [town] in all this part of the world to have set up a Charity School of this nature". In fact his 'founding' of the school was actually a revival of an old institution; the Chantry was the building that the parishioners asked the Chantry Commissioners to let them have as a school in 1547 and a school was established there at the "expense of the parish" in 1573.

In 1714 he started what was probably Yeovil’s first free lending library. He wrote "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 at the age of 60, 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. Most of his lands, chattels, and so on, as well as £500 each (about £1.1 million at 2017's value), he left to his daughters Edith and Elizabeth - while his wife Mary was merely left "Ten Pounds The Bed which we lye upon with all belonging to it my Silver Watch and the Square Chest of Drawers". At the end of his will he then had the apparent effrontery to state "my earnest Desire and Will is that my dear Wife do Live piously soberly and in the fear of God".

 

The Will of Martin Strong

 

 

In the Name of God I Martin Strong Vicar of Yeovill do make and appoint this my last Will and Testament as follows propria manu [Latin phrase -see note below] Imprimis I commend my Soul into the hands of God who gave it humbly hopeing and earnestly praying for pardon and mercy thro the merrits of Jesus Christ my Saviour My Body I commit to the dust to be gravely and modestly interred in a few days after my decease chose by my Deare Children without any needless vanity or extravagance at the discretion of my Trustees and Executive herein after named in hope of a Joyfull Resurrection And as for all my worldly Goods Lands Chattells Money Plate [etc] I give and dispose of them as follows First I give two hundred poor families of Yeovil, Marsh Preston Ten pounds [viz] one shilling to each Family to be impartially distributed the morning after my funerall at the Church presently after prayers. And to the Ten poor people of the old Almshouse in Yeovill I do give fifty shillings for the use of their pall at my Buriall [viz] five Shillings to each person And to the poor of Riston and Henlade the place of my Nativity I do give to each place 20 Shillings and to the poor of Yetminster in Dorset I do give Ten shillings to Ten poor families to be paid in three months after my Decease Item I do give to Edward Phellipps of Preston Esq forty pounds to the intent and on Trust that he pay the said forty pounds in six Months after my Death to the Treasurer of the Charity School Yeovill for the Sole use and benefitt of the poor Boys of the said School But if ever the said School Should fail or cease which God forbid then my Will is that the said forty pounds be given and applyed to the use and benefitt of the Woborns Almshouse in Yeovill But if I should happen to purchase a peice of Land and Settle it upon the said Charity School in my Lifetime which I fully designe Then my Will is that the aforesaid forty pounds shall not be paid to the school but go to my Executor hereinafter named Item I do hereby nominate and appoint my daughter Edith to be the next Tenant and taker to my Customary estate at Yetminster in Dorset And I do also give to the said Edith whatever Rents Shall remain due to me from the Tenants of the said Estate at the time of my Death. And I do also give to my daughter Edith all the papers Bonds [word illegible] Debt -- Credits Accounts whatever that were any way due to or that did anyway concern my First Wife her Mother from or with any person or persons whatever I do also give to my daughter Edith all the Goods that were her Mothers [viz] large silver plate the small copper picture the Brass Dogs with great round heads the dozen of pewter plates marked [with ?] her Mothers name the smaller Brass kettle All the Boxes and the Small Trunk in my Studdy I do also give to the said Edith the Chest of Drawers in the Kitchin Chamber which she now uses and the Damask Board Cloth and one dozen of Damask napkins [abbreviation] I do also give to my daughter Edith the Reversionary Lease of a Life or Lives which I have in a Tenement in Acreman Street in Sherborn Dorset to be disposed of in what manner I shall by word or writing Will and Direct her hereafter And I do also give to my daughter Edith five hundredd pounds in Money to be paid her in one year after my death But if the said Edith happen to Dye unmarriedd Then my Will is that the said five hundredd pound Shall after the said Ediths death unmarried be paid to my Daughter Elizabeth Item I doe give to my Daughter Elizabeth five hundredd pounds to be paid at her age of 21 Years and also the Chest of Drawers which I myself now use And my Will is that the use and Interest of the said five hundredd pound Shall goe and be applied to the Education and maintenance of my said daughter Elizabeth untill she come to the said age of 21 Years All of it Except only forty eight shillings p ann [per annum] which I am obliged to pay Yearly to my Fathers Widdow for her Thirds during her life and no longer which said 48 Shillings shall be yearly paid out of the Interest of the last named five hundred pound till she the said Widdow dy and then all to goe to my daughter Elizabeth Item I do give to my Nephew James Strong of Bruton St George all those Books and pamphletts which I have purposely placed in that corner of my study which is next to my Bed and Chamber Window which I desire him to keep and preserve well for my Sake And if my Daughter Elizabeth and my said Nephew can love and like each other so well as to intermarry to preserve my Name Family and Memory It is that which I could earnestly wish Will and Desire As for all the rest of my Books my Will is that they be sold not Rashly but to the best advantage the Care of which I commend to my fine Friends Mr John Gale and Mr Bowyer of Martock and as for the money whith which the said Books do yeild My Will as that it goe to the use and benefitt of my Executrix herein after named Item whereas I did sometime in the year 1719 make a Dormant Surrender of my Customary Estate at Henlade to Mr Thomas Gale and Mr Alexander Procter in Trust to and for the use of my last Will and Testament My Will now is that the said Tho Gale and Alexander Procter Shall Surrender back the said Estate to my Daughter Elizabeth and to her heirs according to the Custom of the mannor of Taunton Item On condition that the Said Elizabeth my Daughter shell permitt and Suffer Mary her Mother quickly to hold and enjoy the Said Estate so long as she Lives according to a [coccody ?] or Jointure which she has upon the said Estate in Barr of Dower as by Marriage Articles appears And if my said Daughter and Nephew think fitt to intermarry My Will and Desire is that they make the House at Henlade to be their common dwelling house after the Mothers death or before if she please to let them [word illegible] as Tenants to her Item I do give my Dear Wife Mary Ten Pounds The Bed which we lye upon with all belonging to it my Silver Watch and the Square Chest of Drawers Item I do give to my hon[ourable ?] Friends the Lady Phellipps of Montacute and to her two daughters and to Edw[ard] Phellipps Esq to each a Ring of 20 Shillings value in token of my gratefull sence of their kindness to me I do beg the said Mr Phellipps to be an overseer of this my Will -- to see it Justly performedd and I do earnestly request my good Lady Phellipps and her good daughters and Mr Edward Phellipps to be Friends and advisers to my Daughter Edith and not to suffer her to be wronged and let this my request be communicated to them as soon as may be And I do also hereby earnestly request my Good Friends the Rev Mr Bowyer Minister of Martock and my Brother Alexander Procter and my Nephew James Strong to be Trustees to see this my Will in all points exactly performed and to be Guardians for and of my Daughter Elizabeth till she come of age for which great favour I do as a small aknowledgment give to each of the said Trustees a Ring of 20 shillings value and to my sister Procter I give a Ring of 15 Shillings value desiring her to be kind to my Daughter Elizabeth Item after my few Debts if any are apid and after all my legacies and funerall Expenses (which I desire may be modest) are first fully paid and discharged My Will is and I do hereby give all the rest of my Goods, Plate Money whatsoever not before disposed of to my Daughter Elizabeth whom I do make and appoint Sole Executrix of this may last Will and Testament And my Will and desire is that a True and perfect Inventory be taken and a Just appraisement made in two days after my funerall of all my said Goods and of the Just value of them in order to preserve as many of them for my Son & Daughter as she shall think fitt to keep and the Rest to be Sold for her use and Benefitt Item I do give and allow to my Trustees and Executrix fifty pounds for the Modest and Decent Discharge of my Funerall and I desire no more may be appended in it And my earnest desire and Will is that my written Sermons whatever may be all burnt within six hours after my Death and I charge my Wife and Children that this be Religiously observed as they hope to answere it to God Lastly my earnest Desire and Will is that my dear Wife do Live piously soberly and in the fear of God and that my Children do the same and that they continue in a Strict and Stedfast Communion with the Church of England And I charge my Children upon my Blessing never to depart from this Church but to hold fast the Doctrines and to live up to the pious principles of it To live in perfect love peace and unity with each other To be very kind and dutifull to their Mother and Trustees and in all things of moment to ask their advice and consent and Never to Differ about small matters Particularly I do earnestly commend my Daughter Edith to the Care and kindness of my Good friends at Montacute & my other Daughter Elizabeth I commend to the particular care and kindness of her Uncle and Aunt Procter to whom I do especially bequeath her And my Will is that my above named Trustees Shall not Suffer and Damage for their kindness in this Trust but shall be indemnifyde and [word illegible] harmless both in Law and equity for any loss of money or for any other accident that may unavoidably happen without any fault or neglect of theirs I only begg and beseach them to use their best care to prevent all such bad accidents and to Trust what I have left to the uses by this my Will intended so far as possibly they can for which may God bless and Reward them Amen Martin Strong Signed Sealed Published and Declared to be my last Will and Testament this fourteenth Day of May Anno Dom[ini] 1720 in presence of Nath[aniel] Bridges James Foot William Newman..

Probate [in Latin] granted to Elizabeth Strong 22 March 1721

 

Transcribed by Bob Osborn 

 

Note: "Propria manu" is a Latin phrase meaning "(signed) with one's own hand".

 

gallery

 

Written in his own hand in his 'commonplace book' - "M. Strong Instituted to the Vic[arage] of Yeovill May the 22nd 1690. Inducted the day following:"

 

Again written in his own hand in his 'commonplace book' -

"Here follows an Exact Account of what I have done and laid out about the repairs of the Vicarage House and Gardens, Since the Year 1690.  Total about ----- 120 - 0 - 0

When I came to Yeovil in the year 1690 I found the Vicarage house and Gardens miserably ruinous, and out of all repair, nothing considerable having been done w[ith] it from the turning out of Dr Shore in the time of Oliver Cromwell."