memories of yeovil

A Yeovil Childhood

A Poem by Heather Murphy


The town’s population was twenty three thousand
It must be double that now.
Little market town so lovely then
What would my grandparents say?
Middle Street boasted the ancient George Inn
Tudor jettied, timber framed, survivor of wars
Beneath it, Chubb's Bakers where mother bought yeast
To bake homemade bread and two ounces of rainbow drops
For me for a treat.
One Good Friday morning town planners (God damn them),
Sent men to demolish these bastions of history
And widen the road to make way for traffic.
Within a heartbeat road changed to precinct,
Those medieval frames died in vain.

The street still thrived with so many shops -
Drapers, Home and Colonial and Timothy Whites.
Lower end vibrant - Hodges Bakers, Lushes greengrocers,
Childrens’ clothes and Hockey’s toy shop
Where young brother bought Matchbox toy cars.
They all looked so welcoming with their sunshine canopies,
None boarded up, no slot machines, takeaways or charity shops.
Princes Street bustled, Sawyers fish shop, butchers, bakers and ironmongers.
Whitby’s book shop had pillars and creeper clad greenery.
We bought penny brown envelopes to reseal our school reports
Before we got home, parents unaware of our sneak preview.

Policemen with tall hats walked through the town,
So much respect then, schoolboys raised their caps to adults.
Murder a rare and terrible crime of national importance.
The gallows a strong deterrent to most of today’s heinous crimes.
St John’s churchyard full of ancient old graves
and fading headstones.
“Don’t walk on the grass” we were told “it’s disrespectful”
So we kept to the paths.
Now college students call it “the beach”
And disport themselves all over.
The headstones long gone.

At Pen Mill Junior each class planted trees
Around the edge of the school playing field.
Ours, class seven, a splendid horse chestnut.
Mr Whale said “When you are grown you will sit in the shade
with your own boys and girls”.
Fifty years later I went back again.
The field was much smaller with neat houses on.
No one remembered the old school as it was,
Or teachers and pupils, no sign of our tree.
It felt like bereavement, a longing and loss.

Ninesprings more natural then, magic playground for children
A tiny thatched cottage housed an old couple.
For sixpence you’d sit on the porch and drink lemonade.
Now, a few hamstone steps the only clue
That the fairy tale house ever existed.
Lovely steam trains - Pen Mill, Yeovil Town and Junction stations,
Huge coal fires glowing in the waiting rooms.
I remember the turntable where mighty engines changed direction.
Numerous glove factories, exceedingly smelly but providing employment
For large swathes of the community.

Out in the suburbs, grocery stores on many street corners.
I remember the meat slicer - no plastic ham then.
My sixpence pocket money eagerly spent
On Fry’s Five Boys chocolate, bright sherbet and gobstoppers.
Most of my childhood confectionary withdrawn
Years ago to protect todays little darlings.
Our teacher told us that salt was precious
To be added to most things including cake mix.
Streets full of children laughing and playing -
During school holidays we stayed out all day.
Hopscotch, roller skating and making dens - so few cars then.
If it rained we amused ourselves - drawing, painting, reading and sewing.
Big brother with Meccano, plaster of Paris modelling
Or developing snaps from an old Box Brownie.
No TV or electronic gadgets for us.
Old fashioned plain cooking with bread to fill up.
Olive oil something bought in the chemist for baby‘s earache.
Contented and healthy, the phrase “I’m bored” had not been invented.

The dawn chorus was deafening but as estates grew
Fields and woodland shrank and the birdsong faded.
Do my ancestors sleep peacefully in the town cemetery?
I’ve learned to look up now over the brash shop fronts
Look up to the Georgian windows above.
Sometimes a whisper, a ghost of a memory
Recalls that lost time of innocence.


Heather Murphy