YEOVIL'S first literary festival has highlighted a significant record of life in Yeovil during the late 19th and early 20th Century, as seen through the eyes of a young woman.

Louisa Charlotte Harris who was born in Yeovil in 1861, kept her diary in a collection of small notebooks. 

When these were presented to the Community Heritage Access Centre some years ago by a descendant of Louisa’s older brother Herbert, it was felt they should reach a wider audience.

Louisa’s Diary 1887 – 1920: A picture of life in Yeovil was edited by CHAC volunteer, Jean Harper and published by South Somerset District Council.

Cllr Sylvia Seal, portfolio holder for leisure and culture, said:  “We are fortunate to have this illuminating and touching diary of daily life in this part of Somerset more than a hundred years ago.  Louisa’s writings have given us an important record of social history.”

In her foreword to the diary, editor Jean Harper writes: “Louisa was the daughter of George Sherring Harris, a man of substance.

"She lived with her parents and three younger sisters, Emmie, Bessie and Maud, and a maid, at 2 Clarence Street, on the site formerly occupied by Douglas Seaton’s car showrooms and now covered by Tesco’s car park.

"A photograph of the house shows it to have been a commodious dwelling and it must also have had a sizeable garden, since at a time of heavy snow, Louisa writes that her father had to pay a man to come and clear a way to the fowls’ houses, greenhouses, etc.

"The Harris family continued to live in Clarence Street until their removal to Weymouth in 1920.

"The four sisters going about the town would have been remembered by many, particularly as Louisa was always in a wheelchair.”

Even though Louisa used a wheelchair all her life, she hardly refers to her disability. 

Jean notes:  “The first ten years provide a fascinating picture of life in Yeovil….the County Agricultural Show at Huish Field; the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees, alongside the ‘wider world’ of the Boer War and First World War. 

"We are offered a fascinating picture of the life and times of one maiden lady born and brought up in Yeovil at a time of great change in the world.”

Louisa’s Diary has also helped Heritage staff gain greater insight into other items in the centre’s collections. 

Joseph Lewis, heritage information assistant, explains: “We realised from reading Louisa that a photograph labelled “Lizzie Little in front of one of the arches on Newton Road, 1887” shows part of Yeovil’s celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. 

"And the diary entries have also added to our knowledge of notable people: for example, Louisa writes about the death of Mr Edgar - the first business partner of J.B. Petter and part of the origins of the Petter and Westland businesses. 

"He is still evident in our community today, named - with J.B. Petter - on a bollard in Waterloo Lane. 

"But fundamentally, the diaries are of greatest interest because of Louisa’s unique voice and historical perspective.”

The original diaries and other aspects of the collection can be viewed by appointment - call 01935-462855 or email heritage.services@southsomerset.gov.uk