Stoke Shop - The First Hundred Years

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Before the 19th C, along with the rest of the English rural community, Stoke people had no need of shops. The basis of the economic system was self-sufficiency within the community.  It also depended on the use of the commons. Those with commoners’ rights were not only able to supplement their animals’ diet on the poor summer grass of West Sedgemoor. They were also able to use the few remaining commons in the village throughout the year, with various rights to cut turf, collect firewood, and in some cases even lop branches from trees for buildings and fences.

At the end of the 18th Century there were still four commons left in the parish. Curload, or ‘Curlwood Green’, Meare Green (a long thin strip between the set back farmhouses, before the road was put through in the 19th Century), Warre Moor at Stathe, and Woodhill Green - the land between present day Windmill and Pincombe Drove, narrowing up to the area around the Rose & Crown. These disappeared in the first decade of the 19th Century, to be followed by the draining and ‘allotment’ of the land on West Sedgemoor by 1820.

When the enclosures took effect they removed a crucial part of of the peasant culture. The Stoke cottager was left with his garden and a pigsty, and a huge hole in the rest of the resources needed to maintain his economic system. The once self-sufficient villager turned into a spender of money. Money that would be spent in the emerging Village Shop. The 1841 census names some of the owners of these early trading establishments, but they would have been just rooms in people’s houses, where goods were sold. For many items the people of Stoke and the outlying hamlets in the parish would still get supplies from travelling salespeople. Like their urban counterparts, the corner shopkeepers, they would sell not just staples but anything for which there was a local demand. In the days before state pensions, keeping a small village shop saved many a widow or childless couple from the workhouse. The first record of such a business starting in Stoke was the arrival of Jacob Williams, first appearing in the 1841 Census, living in what became known as Jessamine House, and listed as a baker.

The Williams Family

On 31st March 1803, Daniel Williams, a dairyman in Swell parish, married Ann Boobyer. In 1820, still living in Swell, Daniel and Ann baptised their son, Jacob, in the little church of St Catherine, adjoining the Manor House. When old enough Jacob was apprenticed to a local baker. In 1841 he had set up in Stoke St Gregory as a qualified baker. He rented what is now Jessamine House from Charles Holcombe Dare'

When Jacob took over the tenancy, aged 20, he brought with him Charles Squire, also aged 20, who was listed (in the ‘next dwelling’) in the 1841 Census as a ‘Journeyman Baker’. The other entry at Charles’ address is a female servant, Martha Burges, aged 12. This building was classed as ‘uninhabited’ in the 1851 census, so Charles Squire had moved on to establish his own business in what is now Ash Grove, Meare Green.

Jacob married a local girl, Elizabeth Hunt, daughter of Lawrence Hunt, farmer, of Woodhill. By 1851 they had two children who had not long started at school  with Albert and Mary Ann looked after at home by live-in servant, Harriet Haddon, who was 19. Edwin Hunt, Elizabeth’s cousin, aged 17 was also living with them and was apprenticed as a baker to Jacob. There was also a visitor - Edward Warns, a Bible Christian Minister. By now, Jacob was listed as Baker and Grocer. He was following the trend of diversification as the local residents needed to buy more of their weekly goods.

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Jacob’s wife, Elizabeth, was buried in Stoke Churchyard on 2nd July 1856. She was 33 years old. Fairly soon after Jacob married again to Ann, born in Lyng, who was 10 years older than him. They had no children together. Around that time, Lot Watts retired from blacksmithing and moved to Watts Farm. Jacob bought his property, moved in and installed a new oven in what is now ‘The Old Bakery’. He separated ‘The Cott’ (now ‘Long Cottage’), and sold Jessamine to the vicar, the Reverend Richard Watson Moor.

In the 1861 census, Jacob was now ‘Baker and Shopkeeper’. Henrietta (16) had left school, and was now a ‘Shop Maid’. Albert, although only 12, is no longer at school but is listed as ‘Baker’. There are also three servants living in. William Winslade is an apprentice baker, and Rebecca Tuttiett is a shop maid. Ann Webber, born in Burrowbridge, is a house servant. Jacob died the following year, leaving his new wife Anne in charge of the shop. In 1871 she was still listed as shopkeeper, but by 1881 she had retired, and the sisters, Henrietta and Elizabeth, were partners in the grocery business. Albert, baker, aged 32, was still living with his sisters.

In the 1880s, the Williams family divided the building, went into the drapery business, and took on the new village Post Office. Albert married and started his own family. Henrietta and Elizabeth were still living in the family home and running the grocery business, but they had further diversified into the growing drapery market. Also living with them in 1891 was Dorcas Bobbett, age 18, of Woodhill Farm, who was later to marry Edmund Boobyer the willow grower and chair maker at Lees Farm. She was apprenticed as a draper’s assistant. Jacob’s widow, Anne, died in 1886, aged 76.

The drapery business flourished during the last decade of the century. In 1901, two drapers’ assistants and an apprentice were living with the Williams sisters. Maud Pullyblank, aged 32, from Meavy, Devon (of ‘Warhorse’ fame), and local girl, Emily Batten, aged 16, were the assistants. The apprentice, Mabel Pearce, aged 14 was also from Devon. A fourth assistant, from Stoke, was Mary Garland. By this time Charles Worthy Dare had also opened a shop in Meare Green, the building now known as the Old Stores. Some time before 1919 the post office moved to Griggs Hill, in the house now known as Norman’s. Mrs Emily Bird had opened a shop there and she became the new Sub-postmistress.

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The Chedzoy Years

In 1931 the Williams sisters retired. Stoke Shop was taken over by Henry Samuel (Harry) Chedzoy, brother of Hugh Chedzoy who had recently moved in to Slough Court. Harry’s entry in the 1939 Kelly’s directory was as Grocer, Draper, and Boot & Shoe Dealer. He employed Fred House as baker, who lived in North Curry. In 1953 the Chedzoys moved to what is now Harvest Cottage, which they had built, about 1951, as a retirement home. They sold the shop and house to Ann & Arthur Trollope, from Lynton.

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Harry Chedzoy on the Steps of his Shop & Fred House, his Baker, with the Delivery Van - an 'Overlander with 4-wheel Drive

The Square and Stoke Stores around the time Harry Chedzoy sold up. The shop had been open for nearly 100 years.

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