The Vining Family


The most imposing tombstone in St. John's Churchyard is a pedestal bearing an obelisk, standing centrally on the north side.  It was erected by James Tally Vining in memory of his father Charles Vining, a mason and builder who died in 1855 after a very successful career: two of his sons became glove manufacturers with premises in Higher Kingsdon, and a third, Richard, took over his father's business and also became a brick and tile manufacturer at Picket Witch.


His eldest son, James Tally Vining, was the most successful of all: he became a solicitor in partnership with John Slade in Church Street. In the 1851 census he was described as a gentleman living at Kingston House with four servants. His first wife, also commemorated on the monument, was Mary Webb Wellington, daughter of George Wellington, a druggist and burgess of Yeovil who held the office of portreeve from 1813 to 1820. She died in childbirth in 1842, and a year later her husband married Emma Mayo, daughter of George Mayo, a wealthy glover and banker who lived at Swallowcliffe.


James Tally Vining played a prominent part in the affairs of St. John's Church: he regularly attended the Vestry Meetings, was twice churchwarden, and in 1841 he presented to the choir "The Universal Psalmodist" with 300 popular and new Psalms and Hymn Tunes for four voices, organ, pianoforte and seraphine (harmonium).  As the owner of 18 seats in the church, he was involved in the controversy over pew rents in 1850,and while defending the practice; he offered to give up his seats "but not to take a gallery or back seat if his servants or the poor had a front seat". It should be added that the rents provided an extra source of revenue for church funds. Vining gave a building in Church Street to the Mutual Improvement Society, together with a £100 for furniture and books.  He was also concerned with the building of the new National School in Huish in 1845.


James Vining went into retirement at Forest Hill near London, where he died in 1871.  His executors sent back to his former office in Church Street a large tin box full of business papers and letters, which remained there undisturbed for nearly a century.  These papers revealed fuller details of the campaign to give Yeovil a democratically elected borough council during the years 1833-5 in which Vining played a prominent part.


He had the backing of a small group of Town Commissioners headed by John Ryall Mayo, but Vining also secured the support of the radical Yeovil Political Union set up in 1831 at the time of the great debate on the Parliamentary Reform Bill. A campaign was organised by a corporation committee elected at a public meeting with Vining acting as its enthusiastic and energetic secretary. Yeovil's case was presented to the Royal Commission on Municipal Reform, and the town was included in the Bill of 1835, which set up elected borough councils to provide and run municipal services. The Portreeve, Robert Jennings and one or two burgesses of the old Corporation were opposed to the change and engineered the removal of Yeovil's name from the Bill when discussed in the House of Lords.


Vining's efforts failed, but he continued the struggle, becoming clerk to the Special Commissioners appointed in 1846 to take over control of markets and fairs from the Phelips family. As a direct result, Yeovil had a splendid new Town Hall in 1849 replacing the market house and shambles which formerly stood in the Borough. After the cholera scare of 1848-9, John Ryall Mayo and Vining led the campaign for a Board of Health enquiry into the town's water supply and sewage disposal.  The resulting report by Dr.Rammell, the Board's inspector, provided a lever for a renewed attempt to secure an elected borough council, Mayo and Vining again taking the lead.  At a public meeting to discuss the question, Vining pinpointed a major difficulty when he said,  "I know how difficult it is to get a rate out of the pockets of the people of Yeovil". The attainment of full borough status with a mayor and corporation owed a great deal to the public spirit and persistent efforts of this remarkable man.


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