Yeovil people

john wilfred sawtell



John Wilfred Sawtell was born in Yeovil in 1881. He was the son of grocer Walter Wesley Sawtell (1837-1908), originally from Finsbury, North London, and his wife Mary née Gibbs, formerly Santeu (b 1851), originally from Crewkerne. Walter and Mary had five children; Walter Robert (1879-1957), James Ralph (b 1880), John Wilfred (1881-1965), Sarah Marianne (1885-1938) and Frank Horace (1886-1967).

In the 1891 census Walter and Mary, together with four of their children, Walter's niece who acted as his book-keeper and a domestic servant were all listed living above Walter's grocery shop (photographed below) at 18 High Street (facing the Borough). Walter gave his occupation as 'Grocer (Master)', while the four children; James, John, Sarah and Frank were all listed as scholars.

By the time of the 1901 census Walter had moved his family and were now living in Kingston, close to Fiveways. He had also given up his shop and was now working as an accountant at a glove factory. 19-year-old John was working as an ironmonger's assistant and was actually working for James Bazeley Petter at his ironmongery shop in the Borough (see Gallery).

In 1901, as a financial crisis loomed, the twin sons of James Petter, Ernest and Percy, bought the business from their father following which they reorganised and renamed it as James B Petter & Sons (Ltd) with both the sons as joint managing directors. Also a director for over thirty years was John Vincent. Their father James retired from business and moved briefly to live in Bristol although he shortly returned to Yeovil to live in his house 'The Grange' in The Park but died just five years later.

While Percy and Ernest reorganised the company their brothers Harry and Hugh, trading under the name of 'HB & H Petter', managed the original business including the Foundry & Engineering Works in Clarence Street and particularly the ironmongery and hot water heating side of the company in the Borough. But, as Percy recalled later "It was however for some reason not very prosperous, and Hugh left to commence business and carry on missionary work in Buenos Aires, and later Harry left with his family to take up farming in Australia."

That business was then formed into a Company under the name of Hill and Sawtell Ltd, in which the Petter family held the principal interest. Harry Hill and John Sawtell had both been associated with the business for some years and Percy Petter remained a director of the company until the 1950's.

In the autumn of 1910, at Exeter, John married Exeter-born Daisy Florence Back (1887-1969), daughter of Company Accountant Stephen Back and his wife Mary. John and Daisy had one son, Wilfred Harvard. The 1911 census recorded John and Daisy living at 'Langstone', Hendford Hill. John listed his occupation as 'Ironmonger (Dealer)'. They later moved to 1 Swallowcliffe Gardens.

John Sawtell died on 23 October 1965, aged 84. His will was proved in July 1965 and his estate valued at £15,007 (about £500,000 at today's value).




From my collection

This postcard dates to about 1903 (and was used in many forms for the following twenty years). The shop to the left of the tree was the grocery shop of John's father, Walter Sawtell. To its left was the shop of Robert Damon and at far left was that of Edmund Damon.


A view of High Street from the Borough probably taken in the 1890's with James Petter's shop at left. William Edwards had been in business in the building at least as early as early as 1790 when he was listed as an ironmonger and cutler in the Universal British Directory. In 1827 Josiah Hannam took over the premises, later the partnership of Hannam & Gillett. The business was bought by John Petter in 1865.


This photograph of Harry Hill and John Sawtell's ironmongery business in the Borough, formerly the shop of James B Petter, was taken most likely in the 1930s.


The oldest surviving building in the Borough, appearing in the first image above. It was built originally as the ironmongery shop of William Edwards (in 1790), then Josiah Hannam, followed by James Bazeley Petter and then Hill, Sawtell & Co - in fact it was in continuous use as an ironmongery from 1790 until the 1970s, which must be some kind of record. Today it is Superdrug. Photographed in 2013.