yeovil's First council Houses

yeovil's First Council Houses

Opened in 1912 by the Rt Hon John Burns MP


In the first decade of the twentieth century Yeovil, like many other towns and villages throughout the country, suffered from an acute shortage of good, affordable houses for local people to rent.

In 1910, the Town Council agreed to build an estate of 150 dwellings in the area that would become known as Newtown, on the site of a former brickyard to the east of Eastland Road. The scheme was designed by Yeovil architects Petter & Warren at a total contract cost of £30,000 (around £3 million at today's value).

Rents were fixed at four or five shillings (£20 or £25 at today's value). At that time, a workman's weekly wage was normally between 15 and 35 shillings (£75 to £175 at today's value). The scheme was intended to be financially self-supporting.

When the first 12 houses were ready for occupation, the larger-than-life labour leader and politician the Rt Hon John Burns MP was invited to perform the opening ceremony. On Saturday, 2 November 1912, he was met at Pen Mill Station by the mayor, Norman Buchanan, and conveyed to the Town Hall where he was entertained to lunch with more than 70 guests, including the local MP. There was a display of bunting in High Street, and the interior of the Town Hall was decorated by Messrs Maynard & Son of the Boro' Restaurant who served luncheon.

After the meal, the party travelled to the new estate where a large crowd had gathered in Southville. With a ceremonial key, surmounted by the town's coat of arms, Burns unlocked the front door of one of the houses, then proceeded to a roped-off area where he planted an oak tree. The tree, still known as the 'Burns Tree' survives to this day (see Gallery).

He then gave a speech which was reportedly "of considerable length". In brief, he said that the Town Council had met a real difficulty with a real remedy in a serious, generous and practical way; he congratulated them for the public spirit they had displayed by providing good houses at fair rents for decent tenants so that they could live healthy, happy, sober and, therefore, comfortable lives. If all local authorities in Somerset and elsewhere followed the example of Yeovil Town Council the back of the housing problem would be broken within two to three years, he suggested.



Crowds gather as the Right Hon John Burns MP, officially opens Yeovil's first council house in Southville, in this colourised photograph of Saturday 2 November 1912.


Courtesy of Jack Sweet

The Burns Tree photographed in August 1999.


Courtesy of Jack Sweet

Locals gather at the Burns Tree to celebrate on 17 November 2012.


The Burns Tree photographed on 17 August 2016 from Southville, with Westville at the right.


The Burns Tree photographed on 11 June 2018.