Alma House

Alma House

A succession of Drapers' premises in High Street

 

Alma House, situated in High Street to the immediate east of the Mermaid Hotel, was, most likely, originally built in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century as a private town house of two storeys and three bays. Certainly by the early part of the nineteenth century it had been converted into shop premises.

It is difficult to determine the occupier from the 1841 census simply because it seems that the enumerator dodged back and forth along High Street. Having said that, what is easy to determine is that High Street appeared to have more than its share of drapers at the time. On the corner of High Street and Hendford, 25 High Street (that would later become the premises of Linsey Denner and today's Beale's store) had originally been built in 1836 for a draper's business, Edwards & Dean. By 1841 it was occupied by draper Peter Edwards. As well as a milliner, a dressmaker, a shoe maker and a collar maker, High Street was also home to draper James Curtis who had premises next to the Greyhound Inn, draper Benjamin Ryall with premises at 8 High Street (today the premises of Clement White) and draper John Hewlett who was possibly an occupier of Alma House.

A known early occupier of Alma House was draper Joseph Penny, born in West Coker in 1821, who ran a draper's shop at Alma House from 1845. In 1851 was listed in the census living above the premises with his wife Mary, a draper's assistant, a draper's apprentice and a house servant. Joseph ran his drapery at Alma House for eleven years before selling his business (although most likely not the freehold of the premises) to Albert Edwards in May 1856. Albert Edwards ran his drapery business from Alma House for the next twenty years or so, before moving his business into 8 High Street (mentioned above).

The likelihood that the freehold of Alma House had remained with the (West Coker branch of the) Penny family is, perhaps, reinforced by the fact that the next occupant was draper and outfitter Benjamin Penny. From his advertisements (see below) it would seem that Penny used Alma House as a base for his funeral services as well as a drapery and clothing department, certainly from 1882. In 1888 Benjamin Penny was advertising his 'New Combination Funeral Carriage' for hire from Alma House (see below). Benjamin Penny carried on business at Alma House until around 1908.

John Gliddon was a tailor and outfitter, specialising in ladies' millinery and gentlemen's hats and by September 1908 was running his drapery at Alma House. He was the local agent for the cloth from Puller & Sons, the Perth dye works. As his predecessors at Alma House, Gliddon also ran all aspects of the undertaking business; from mourning wear for all the family, to appropriate cloths to drape over the coffin and bier. It even hired out funeral carriages and horses.

John Gliddon died on 27 March 1947 aged 66, but the business continued. Edwin Snell's Directory of 1954 listed John Gliddon & Co of 3 High Street twice; as "Milliner & Ladies' Outfitters" and as "Undertakers". Gliddon's later had an outlet in Princes Street.

By 1932 Alma House had been rebuilt. John Gliddon's business had been replaced by Gamis' store and later by Dingles, then by Denner's. Today it is occupied by Beale's department store.

 

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A double notice placed in the 13 May 1856 edition of the Western Flying Post by both the outgoing Joseph Penny and the incoming Albert Edwards.

 

A typical Albert Edward advertisement, placed in the 22 December 1857 edition of the Western Flying Post. Albert would advertise very regularly throughout his occupation of Alma House.

 

Albert Edward's advertisement in the 30 June 1865 edition of the Western Gazette.

 

By the time this advertisement for the opening of the new Town & County Supply Stores in High Street (later the premises of Thomas Clements) was placed in the 14 July 1882 edition of the Western Gazette, Benjamin Penny was owner of both the new T&C stores as well as the drapery in Alma House on the opposite side of the road.

 

Benjamin Penny's advertisement in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1888.

 

A typical Benjamin Penny advertisement, this in the 4 May 1894 edition of the Western Gazette.

 

An Edwardian postcard showing Alma House at centre.

 


From my collection

This postcard of High Street, probably dating to the 1930s or 1940s, shows Alma House at dead centre - the short, two-storey white building with a parapet and awnings.

 

The centre section of the previous photograph enlarged to show Alma House at centre.

 

By the mid-1960's when this photograph was taken, Alma House had a new front to both floors. John Gliddon's business had been replaced by Gamis' store and later by Dingles, then by Denner's. Today it is occupied by Beale's department store.