Yeovil is a town and civil parish in south Somerset, England with a population of 40,000 The town lies within the local district of South Somerset and the Yeovil parliamentary constituency, situated at the southern boundary of Somerset, from London, south of Bristol and from Taunton.
It has palaeolithic remains, was on an old Roman road and was recorded in the Domesday Book as the town of Givele or Ivle, 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. Additionally, the Fleet Air Arm has a station RNAS Yeovilton (HMS Heron), the primary base of the Royal Navy's Westland Lynx and Sea King helicopters, several miles north of the town and is a major local employer (Ministry of Defence). 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 to 1610 and then by the Phelips 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 broad gauge lines of the Great Western Railway (GWR) and the standard gauge lines of the London and South Western Railway (LSWR). In 1853 the Great Western Railway line was opened between Taunton and Yeovil.
The first railway in the town was a branch line from the Bristol and Exeter Railway near Taunton to a terminus at 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 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 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 led 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 closed on 2 October . Long-distance trains from Pen Mill had been withdrawn on 11 September 1961 leaving only 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.