Yeovil Trades & Traders
The History of a Corner Shop
In the pre-supermarket age of 1954, Yeovil had at least 69 small grocery stores, often situated on street corners, and many Yeovilians know Montague's Convenience Store on the corner of Orchard Street and Huish. This is the story of one particular shop and its owners from when it was built. Many thanks to Ian Montague for much of the information recorded here.
Orchard Street was a development started in the mid-1890s by local businessman, town councillor and local 'character' Levi Beer. He named Orchard Street after "Beer's Orchards" that it was built on, indeed much of today's Yeovil was orchards at the time. This corner shop, originally called 'Orchard House', was built in 1893 and its first occupant was Harriett Guy.
Harriett Fanny Short was born about 1844 at Iwerne Minster, Dorset, the daughter of grocer John Terry Short (1809-1898) and Louisa née Robbins (1807-1890). In the 1851 census she was living at Iwerne Minster with her parents and older brother Charles. In the winter of 1870 she married Thomas Guy at Shaftesbury, Dorset. Thomas was the son of farmer George Guy (1814-1896) of Wick Rissington, Gloucestershire, and his wife Mary (b1829). Thomas and Harriett were to have three children; Reginald (b1872), Ida Rowina Camilla (1879-1958) and Lily Madeline Louisa (1883-1954). In the 1871 census Thomas and Harriett were living at Canford, Dorset, where Thomas worked as a Farm Bailiff. However by the time of the 1881 census they had moved to Yeovil and were living in Huish, in the cottage next door to the Beehive Inn. At this time, of course, they looked across the road to Beer's Orchards and not the houses we know today. Interestingly, Thomas listed his occupation as 'Proprietor of Threshing Machine'.
By 1891 the family, although still living in Huish, had moved further along the road and were now in a house directly opposite the newly-built Orchard Street. Thomas gave his occupation as 'Engineer & Builder' while Harriett listed hers as 'Draper & Grocer'. As noted above, Orchard House was built in 1893 and Thomas and Harriett were the first occupants at this time. While Thomas worked as a wheelwright at the rear of the shop, Harriett ran the shop itself as a combined drapers and grocers. She was also licensed to sell cider and beer - whether this was along the lines of a beerhouse or an off-license isn't quite clear. Thomas died in the early months of 1899 aged 60 and in the 1901 census Harriett was listed as a 57-year old widow and gave her occupation as draper. The census also noted that she was blind. Living with her was her 17-year old daughter Lily who gave her occupation as draper's assistant. Harriett died on 22 February 1903 and her will was proved in London the following April by Edmund Damon, draper of the Borough. Her effects were valued at £111 7s 6d (about £11,500 at 2017's value).
In 1902 the shop was bought by John Cook. John Cook was born in Over Compton just east of Yeovil in 1849, the son of agricultural labourer James Cook and his wife Ann. In the 1861 census, 12-year-old John was living with his parents at Over Compton and gave his occupation as an agricultural labourer, like his father. In the spring of 1868 John married Susan Cooper at Yeovil and in the 1871 census John and Susan, together with their three-year-old Preston Plucknett-born son George, were living in Park Street. John listed his occupation as 'Glover Leather Dresser'. By the time of the 1881 census the family had moved to Farley's Gardens, off Huish. John still gave his occupation as a leather dresser and 12-year-old George gave his as a bootmaker. There were now also three additional children; William aged five, Bertram aged two and four-month-old Mabel. The 1891 census found the family now living in Huish. John still listed as occupation as a leather dresser and there were now two additional children, Lily and Annie, in the family. By the time of the 1901 census John and his family which now included another daughter, Rose, were listed living between the sub-post office and the Mission Hall. As noted above, John took over the corner shop in 1902 and ran it until 1910 when his son, George Henry Cook took over the business. John died in 1923 aged 74.
In the summer of 1888 George had married Yeovil-born Lucy Rogers Tompkins at Yeovil. Lucy was born about 1870 in Yeovil, the daughter of leather dresser Henry Tompkins and his wife, Mary. By the time of the 1891 census they were living in Bond Street. George was a cabinet maker and Lucy was a glove machinist. They had two sons; two-year old Burtram and Frederick aged one. The 1901 census is almost identical except for three additional children; Harry, Edward and Elsie. In 1910 George took over the Huish shop and the time of the 1911 census George and Lucy were living at 153 & 155 Huish, on the corner of Orchard Street (seen in the photo here). By this time they had been married 22 years and had five children, four of whom were still living at home. George had put his cabinetmaking skills to good use and described his occupation as 'Undertaker & Picture Framer (also Grocer)'. Lucy listed her occupation as 'Assisting in the Business' while Frederick was a picture framer, Harry and Edward were glove cutters and Elsie was still at school. This then was the beginnings of GH Cook & Son, Undertakers. By 1914 Kelly's Directory was listing George as a shopkeeper and beerhouse keeper and the 1919 edition of Kelly's listed him as a shopkeeper. George died in the autumn of 1919 and Lucy took over the running of the shop and the beerhouse license and she was still being listed as a shopkeeper in Kelly's Directory of 1935 and as a beerhouse keeper in the Yeovil Directory of 1936. Lucy died in the spring of 1939.
Bertram Cook took over the undertaking business as well as the shop on the death of his mother. He had married Ivy M Galpin in the winter of 1917 and together Bertram and Ivy ran the businesses. As Ian Montague recalled "Many people will remember Mrs Ivy Cook serving cider from the off-licence hatch". Bertram died in the spring of 1956, aged 68, and Ivy remained with the business until 1958 at which time the undertakers side of the business moved to its present location in Bond Street. Today the undertakers are still called GH Cook & Son despite the fact that George died in 1919.
During the Second World War Ivy Cook was involved with the 'Black Market' and bought four sides of bacon and a gammon - the equivalent to one person's ration for more than six years - stolen from the Yeovil Bacon Curing Company by one of the company's employees, Reginald Hansford, who had worked at the factory for 21 years. Ivy Cook was fined £100 (about £12,000 at 2017's value) and Reg Hansford was fined £25 (see Gallery below).
In 1958, when the Cooks left the shop in Huish, it was bought by Dennis and Betty Montague. Their son, Ian, brings the story of this corner shop up to date - "My wife and I took over when they retired in 1977. We bought the Orchard Street Post Office when the Post Master David Gillingham retired and moved it into our shop about 29 years ago and my wife, Myra, became the Post Master. The people of Yeovil have been buying their drinks from our shop for 121 years, something we are very proud of."
Courtesy of Ian Montague
The funeral cortege of the head fireman passes the Huish shop. I'm not sure of the date of this photograph but I'm guessing the late 1920s or early 1930s as at left Harold Robins is standing by his hand-cart with which he delivered fish around Yeovil. (This isn't, as has been suggested, the funeral of Auxiliary Fireman Charlie Gillard who died firefighting during a bombing raid in the Second World War).
Part of a report from the 24 April 1943 edition of the Taunton Courier outlining the 'black market' activities of Yeovilians, including a labourer of 21 years standing at the Preston bacon factory who 'liberated' four sides of bacon and a gammon from his employers, selling them to Ivy Cook. Reg Hansford's £25 fine is the equivalent of about £3,000 at 2017's value, Ivy's was four times that amount.
This photograph dates to about 1955 and although the signage above the window at left reads 'Grocery and Off License' the hanging sign reads 'Charlton Ales and Stout on Draught and in Bottles' indicating ale could still be drunk on the premises.
Courtesy of Ian Montague
Dennis and Betty Montague with their son, Ian, in the shop. Photographed in 1958.
Montague's ad in the 5 July 1990 edition of the Somerset Express.
The shop photographed in 2014.