History of a once-famous landmark

Sidmouth High Street back in the past.

Sidmouth High Street back in the past. - Credit: Archant

The Sid Vale Association (SVA) has purchased part of the two-storey building above the Trump store in Fore Street, writes Nigel Hyman.

A photograph of Sarah Trump who married John Trump in 1836.

A photograph of Sarah Trump who married John Trump in 1836. - Credit: Archant

This has the dual purpose of providing an HQ and meeting room for the SVA, as well as an outreach for the museum, specifically a newspaper library and study area and a depository for some of its extensive collection.

Trumps exterior in a more recent time.

Trumps exterior in a more recent time. - Credit: Archant

Now is the opportunity to look back at the history of this once-famous Sidmouth landmark.

The outside of Trumps.

The outside of Trumps. - Credit: Archant

In 1813, the present building, Cosmopolitan House, was built on the west side of Fore Street.

Richard Stone and William Gove established the business (Stone and Gove Grocer) the same year. William’s daughter Sarah married John Trump and in 1836 he took over the business and gave it his name.

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Sidmouth was now establishing a thriving carriage trade for the gentry and middle classes. Successful businesses included Trump and also the drapers, Hall and Gale in Market Place (the precursors of Field); Potbury, cabinet makers in High Street, and Hayman, lace makers in Old Fore Street. John decided to pass the business to his two sons in 1876. This decision may have been due to the death of Sarah that same year. The Sidmouth Journal reported: “William and John on succeeding to the Grocery and Wine and Spirit Business, so many years conducted by their father, respectfully solicit the patronage of the Nobility, Clergy, Gentry and Inhabitants of Sidmouth, and the neighbourhood.”

The wording neatly reflects the ranking of the social orders. There were clearly problems in the new succession as only a year later in the same journal, William advised that the business was now in his name only ‘by mutual arrangement’.

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In the late 1870s, William established a bakery in Old Fore Street, adjacent to Cosmopolitan House, on the New Street side. He was to become a prominent local citizen - including chairman of the council. Anna Sutton in A Story of Sidmouth remembers back to her early childhood and describes William in old age as ‘a fine genial man, with side whiskers, appearing in his doorway with gold watch chain stretched across his imposing figure’.

In 1904, the store itself was renovated. On one side was the provision counter with white marble slabs, art tiles and polished brass work. The opposite side of the room had glass cases, mirrors and handsome tea-canisters. These had a decorative design of a copy of the gold medal for tea-blending won at the Royal Agricultural Hall in London and a source of great pride. The tradition continued of seats for the customers at the counters. At the back of the shop was the cash desk with an overhead ‘cash railway’ on a cable connected to the different counters. The account and money in a metal capsule sped from counter to cash desk and sped back with change and a stamped account - a source of constant delight to children. Mahogany wall panels added to the stylish appearance. At the rear of the store coffee beans were roasted, tea was mixed and wine was bottled from large barrels. A passage connected the store to Old Fore Street where carts were loaded and unloaded, which allowed easier access for customer carriages at the Fore Street entrance. A walk down Old Fore Street would have included a heady aroma of wine, coffee, tea and bread as well as horse dung.

A sales price list from 1907 includes a message from William Trump exhorting customers to use his store rather than a London equivalent.

The first quarter of the 20th century represented the golden age for the firm. In 1910, High Hall, a mid-Victorian building in Fore Street and adjacent to Kings Lane, became Trump’s Café on its first and second floors; the ground floor was a cake and sweet shop. On the side of High Hall fronting Dove lane was Trump’s Winter Gardens, a large room with a glass roof. It was popular for dances and music recitals and was frequently used for staff events. Have a look at the building now and its appearance is in sharp contrast to a century ago.

Edwin Gove Trump, William’s son and known as EG, was now in charge and organised the centenary celebrations in the Winter Gardens in February 1914. If one was being pernickety, it could be argued that the centenary should have been the year before or even delayed until 1936 as it was in 1836 when the store was first named Trump. However, EG’s great-grandfather was William Gove, the co-founder in December 1813, hence his second name. No doubt it was felt that the 1913 Christmas festivities would have been a distraction.

During the Great War, Trump was one of three Sidmouth stores that had news relayed by telegraph daily which was then written down and placed in the windows. The other two stores were Culverwell (printers) and Sanders (cabinet maker). In 1916, EG wrote to the Sidmouth Observer, saying that he had received a letter from a soldier serving with the 4th Devonshire Regiment (which included Sidmothians) in Mesopotamia and he quoted him: “This is an awful country! There are millions of flies and they bite like anything. We have a lot of bully beef and hard biscuits but no chocolate, fancy biscuits or tinned fruits.”

EG said he would be sending necessary provisions. It is difficult to know whether the letter reflected patriotism or self-promotion.

A branch store had opened in Axminster before the war in 1910 and now in the inter-war period Ottery St Mary and Colyton opened in 1919 and Seaton and Beer in 1926.

A break with the past is reflected in a 1923 sale notice which indicated the decision to replace delivery horses with vans: “A valuable six-year-old black cart horse, a bay cob, two black ponies, all quiet and good workers, five crank axle floats, four-wheel spring trolley, four-wheel spring van with hood, smart well-built governess cart, pony governess cart, dog carts, four-wheel hand trolley, quantity of harness, two chaffcutters and root pulper.”

Garages and storage were in Trumps Yard in East Street (these were demolished in 1983 and replaced with Trumps Court sheltered accommodation).

In 1926, the store was again modernised with a replaced mosaic floor and new electric lighting.

In 1940, the Sidmouth Herald ran an article to inform readers that the store was to promote the novel idea of selling a range of peas, beans and strawberries. It was novel as the produce, called Birds Eye, had been ‘frosted quickly and packed in special containers and can be consumed when thawed’.

In 1957, all the branch stores were sold off. In succeeding decades, the growth of competition within the town and the rapid growth of supermarkets clearly affected business. It remained within the family until 1971 and subsequently changed hands on a number of occasions. A poignant reminder of the past occurred in 1975 when items were found in the Fore Street attic which included snuff scales, a brass hydrometer for measuring the specific gravity of whisky and the 1902 Gold Award for tea blending. It is a pity they were not donated to the museum.

A constant cause of confusion both in newspaper articles, and indeed the signage itself, was the name of the firm and the imaginative use of the apostrophe. Trump or Trumps or Trump’s or Trumps’. It is safest to stay with Trump as written, at least at the moment, on the sign on the building.

In September 2014, the store finally closed after almost exactly 200 years. The exterior now looks rather sad, but we are hopeful that many of the interior fittings will be retained as a reminder of its famous history.

I am grateful to Rab and Christine Barnard for newspaper sources and to Peter Soper for library items, all from museum archives.

Sidmouth: Yesterday’s Shops by John Ankins is an important reference.

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