The Batten Family

 

The earliest known member of this family of solicitors in Yeovil was Nathaniel Butler Batten (1712-1784), who practised as a solicitor in the town and was buried here.  His maternal great-grandfather was the Rev. Henry Butler, Vicar of St. John's church, who was ejected from the living after the Commonwealth. Nathaniel Butler's ancestors were landed gentry from North Petherton, and he himself bought the manor house at Thornfalcon, near Taunton. His eldest son, John Prigge Batten, appears to have no Yeovil connections. The younger sons however did: Nathaniel and Edmund, were both members of the Inner Temple, London, they practised there as solicitors, and Edmund in 1819 took over Daniell's Old Yeovil Bank in partnership with Sparks and Baker.

 

Their nephew, John Batten the elder, also of the Inner Temple, eventually purchased Aldon, and played a big part in Yeovil's public life as magistrate and deputy lieutenant.  In 1828 he took the lead in promoting the Improvement Bill under which in 1830 Town Commissioners were appointed to cleanse pave and light the streets, and to organise watchmen. He acted as clerk at a salary of £30 a year. The commissioners, all nominated in the Act of Parliament, were headed by three local magistrates (Mr. Phelips of Montacute, Mr. Goodford of Chilton Cantelo and Mr. Helyar of Coker Court) and the vicar of Yeovil (the Rev. Robert Phelips). Thirty nine other members were drawn from residents in Yeovil possessing property of the yearly value of £40; licensed victuallers and dealers in beer, wine or spirituous liquors were excluded.  Thus only the wealthy townsmen could serve: 14 were described as gentlemen, 11 as professional men, 11 as manufacturers (mainly glovers) and only 4 traders.  Only 15 of those nominated ever attended meetings, and the burden of work was borne by John Batten and 6 others (the Mayo brothers, John Greenham of Hendford House, Robert Taylor of Hendford Lodge, Henry Penny, a glover and Josiah Hannam, an ironmonger. Yeovil now had some local government, more efficient than the moribund corporation of portreeve and burgesses. The Commissioners provided 160 street lamps (oil at first, gas after 1834), had the roads scraped to remove dust, dirt and ashes and urged householders to sweep the pavements before their houses thrice weekly. In summer a cart was used to water the streets and lay the dust. A start was made in widening Middle Street.  Two watchmen were appointed and provided with rattles and staves; they patrolled the streets between10pm and 4 am, extended to 6 am in winter.  Two 'beats 'covered the town from Huish to Goar Knap (near Penn Mill), one for the north side of the town and one for the south.  Each beat was patrolled alternately, so that one watchman was on duty at the headquarters in George Court, now King George Street. The watchman' called the hour and the weather' as he followed his beat. The pay was ten shillings a week, with special payments for duty at the two fairs.

 

These services cost money, and John Batten had to deal with a protest against the new rate led by the portreeve, who with the four other burgesses formed the old corporation.  The portreeve threatened to campaign for the repeal of the Improvement Act if the rates were not reduced!   Neither commissioners nor burgesses were democratically elected, and John Batten supported the plan for an elected town council in 1835.Yeovil was eventually included in the new Municipal Reform Bill, but the portreeve intrigued to persuade the House of Lords to remove it. John Batten made an unsuccessful bid to restore Yeovil's mane to the Bill by journeying to Westminster to seek a personal interview with the Home Secretary.

 

John Batten the elder acted as clerk to the Yeovil Turnpike Trust, and in 1825 rode on horseback to Shaftesbury to discuss road improvements with Thomas Telford, the well-known civil engineer.  As steward of the Hundred Court Leet (which once met at the Hundred Stone), he was responsible for appointing the constables. One of his most delicate duties was to mediate in a protracted dispute over the election of the portreeve between 1837 and 1841. Robert Jennings, an ironmonger with a business in Silver Street, had held that office for ten years; during that time the old corporation had incurred a debt of £500 for rebuilding the Portreeve's Almshouses in South Street (now Dorcas House in Preston Grove), and Jennings was held responsible. A rival portreeve was chosen, a draper named James Curtis, who threatened Chancery proceedings as Jennings to hand over the town mace and seal. John Batten (now associated with his Uncle Edmund in Yeovil Old Bank), lent money to Jennings and persuaded Curtis to drop the law suit. In return Curtis became portreeve and arranged a mortgage on corporation property to pay off Jenning's debts.

 

His son, John Batten the younger, also lived at Aldon.  He too practised as a solicitor, becoming a J.P. and a Higher Sheriff of Dorset. He succeeded his father as clerk to the Town Commissioners, and played an important part in obtaining for the old corporation the market rights in Yeovil held for over two centuries by the Phelips of Montacute.  As a result, a new Market House and Town Hall was built in the High Street. It was a splendid building with a frontage of Ham Stone: a rusticated lower storey with pillars and arches supported a bold cornice and balustrade, above which a Greek Ionic façade fronted the Hall itself. The façade had massive attached columns and pilasters bearing an entablature, with five large windows decorated with cornice heads; surmounting the entablature were the cornice and attic, pierced by a circular opening for a clock. The space on the ground floor held stalls for the sale of corn, fish and meat, from which a lofty flight of stone steps with handsome cast-iron balustrades led into a well-proportioned hall lit by a gas chandelier.  The cost was £4000,and it took the builder, Mr. Rawlings, sixteen months to complete it.  Its destruction by fire in 1935 was a grave loss to the town.

 

John Batten the Younger was appointed Town Clerk when Yeovil became a borough with a mayor in 1854,a post which he held until 1881.He was deeply interested in local history, was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and President of the Somerset Archaeological Society in 1886.His published works include 'Historical Notes on South Somerset' (1894).

John Batten's younger son, Henry Butler Batten, followed his father as Town Clerk of Yeovil, retiring in 1912,when his nephew took his place, Herbert Copeland Cary Batten.

 

Colonel Batten served with distinction in the First World War, became a magistrate and deputy -Lieutenant, and Master of the Cattistock Hunt.  His retirement in 1949 closed over a century of public service to the Borough by the Batten family.

 

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