My Sidmouth with Richard Eley
- Credit: Archant
What does businessman Richard Eley love most about Sidmouth? He shares his memories with Sidmouth Resident.
My first home was a flat in the High Street, but Mum and Dad soon moved us to Newton Poppleford where I went to school. I can still remember being goalkeeper for our football team, and letting in Alan Davey’s back pass, which cost us the local tournament. I went to King’s School on a bus that had ‘maximum speed 25mph’ painted on the side - after giving up the school run, it went straight into a museum.
We moved back into Sidmouth when I was 14 and I started playing golf. Junior membership was £3 a year: John Mortimore told me the other day that I used to say I was playing for less than a penny a round. Playing golf at Sidmouth has given me a lot of fun over the years. Then, one day, Deven Easterbrook persuaded me to play hockey and I carried on for the next 15 years, despite being useless.
And I played quite a lot of cricket over the years: bowling Keith Baker first ball still gives me a warm glow. Sport in Sidmouth is great and I have made lifelong friendships from it. Everyone should play sport for Sidmouth, no matter how bad they are.
I had four years at Cambridge University, which I look back on very fondly. I’m still in touch with my college friends and always attend the reunions. I graduated in 1980 in the middle of a recession and didn’t know what to do, so Dad asked me to work, with my brother, in our family estate agency. We also had auction rooms in East Street where Trumps Court is now situated. Then, on a whim, we bought the Swan Inn in York Street. By that time, my wife Jayne and I had two young children, so working hard, playing sport, owning a pub and raising a family meant quite a juggling act. But Jack and Jenny Stokes were a brilliant landlord and landlady, and I still think of those days as the most enjoyable we have had in business.
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We also had shops in town, Delderfields and I Want, I Need... Sidmouth is a wonderful place to do business – customers are always polite and friendly, and it is easy to find great staff.
Jayne and I have been fortunate to live in some lovely and interesting houses. My favourite was The Old Chancel in Coburg Terrace, a fascinating house, built by the greatest Sidmouthian, Peter Orlando Hutchinson. His History of Sidmouth is superb and it has encouraged my interest in local history. We now live in Barrington Villa, our third house in Salcombe Road, where we run our seasonal tea garden.
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Everybody has an affection for their home town, and I’m the same; I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Sidmouth, as everyone knows, is a special place. But it is not really because of our architecture or the quality of the countryside, important though they are; Sidmouth’s distinctive quality is its enduring sense of community. That is why we play sport so well, why everyone reads our unique local newspaper, and why we have so many thriving clubs and societies. When you represent Sidmouth, in whatever sphere, you know that you have the support of an entire town. That is why teenagers aspire to play rugby at the Blackmore, why so many teams turn out every weekend to represent us, and why every obscure club somehow finds someone to be secretary and treasurer. We don’t have the oldest civic society in the world by chance.
I was born in the cottage hospital, but, in my view, everyone who lives in our fine town is a ‘Sidmothian’. As Ern Whitton once said: “You can be a Sidmothian in five minutes or you can never be a Sidmothian; it’s up to you.” In other words, it doesn’t matter whether you were born here or not, it is what you contribute to our community that counts.
So I love people who move to Sidmouth and immediately start helping out – without them we would be just like any other seaside town.
I’m optimistic for the future. We have been through quite a sticky patch, but if anything it has made us stronger. I think people care about Sidmouth even more than they used to. So there is every reason for confidence. We still have that attractive combination of quality independent shops, nice hotels and lovely countryside.
People will always want to visit and to live here, as long as that ‘holy trinity’ is maintained. But we cannot be complacent – there are so many ways in which we can improve. We mustn’t abandon the ambition that has served us well for generations, or settle for mediocrity. Only the best for Sidmouth, please... n