Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Visiting England: Yeovil,Somerset

My 9th great grandparents Stukely Westcott and Julianna Marchant were married in St. John's Church in Yeovil, Somerset on 5 October 1619. Stukely was from Ilminster, a town a few miles away, but the bride's Marchant family had deep roots in Yeovil. Family connections provided a perfect excuse for a visit to the town when we were in England this past summer.

St. John's Church, Yeovil
St.John's Church dates from 1380 and is built from  local limestone thought to have been quarried just north of the building. St.John's is famous for its large windows that give it a sense of light and space. It does not take much imagination to picture Stukely and Juliana, both in their late 20's, taking their vows here.

Interior of St. John's Church, Yeovil

Stukely and Juliana soon became parents to a growing family: Robert, Damaris, Samuel, Amos, Mercy and Jeremiah were all born in England and were probably all baptised here between 1619 and 1635. The baptismal font is as old as the church and would have been used in their baptisms.

Baptismal Font in St. John's Church

An early King James Bible (pictured below) in a case in the chancel was given to the church in 1617, some half dozen years after this version was first published. This Bible would have been in the church by the time of Stukely and Julianna's wedding and the baptisms of their children.

Early King James Bible

Stukely and Julianna did not live out their lives in Yeovil. On 1 May 1635, they and their 6 children boarded a ship to move to America, settling first in Salem and then moving to Providence, Rhode Island where they were among the founding families. It would seem that, notwithstanding their ties to the beautiful and traditional St. John's Church in Yeovil, they were among the legions of dissatisfied English folk heading to New England in search of a different form of religious expression. In the case of Stukely and Julianna, their connection with Roger Williams in Providence is clear evidence that they were ardent Baptists.

But the family connection to Yeovil did not end or begin with Stukely. Julianna's family had ties running even deeper in Yeovil. Her grandfather Captain John Marchant and his wife Eva Cominge had also been married in St. Johns. Their marriage was celebrated here on 18 July 1568.

The church tower rises 90 feet and contains 14 bells, some dating from the 15th century. One wonders if the bells would have pealed for their wedding. Or for that of Julianna's parents John Marchant Jr. and Joan Cotington; no date has yet been found for their wedding, but it was probably held here as well.

In addition to marriages, many family baptisms occurred here over the centuries, as well as funerals and burials. Community gardens have replaced much of what might once have been burying grounds. Not surprisingly there were no signs of any Westcott, Marchant, Cominge or Cottington tombstones here.

Community Gardens in the Church Grounds at St. John's Yeovil