Local history: Exmouth's development in the 19th century

Clapp's Cafe, Exmouth, in 1868

Clapp's Cafe, Exmouth, in 1868 - Credit: Mike Menhenitt

At the time of the bread riots the development of the town was already in the planning with the passing of the Rolle Estate Act in 1865, which principally gave the trustees of the Rolle Estates the power to grant 99-year leases to occupiers of any development of business premises and houses. This led to the rapid development of not only buildings, but roads, pathways, parks and gardens etc, many of which are still in evidence today.

In July 1867 Mr G Channing of Manchester House submitted on behalf of the Clinton Devon Estates to the Local Health Board (foreunners of the Local Council) copies of plans for the Development of Mr Clapp’s House on Rolle Street, on the corner of Strand. The Board met on 16 July 1867 and approved these plans which were reported on in The Plymouth & Exeter Gazette on 19 July 1867. This was my great great grandfather, William Sharland Clapp, who had the distinction of owning the first house on the new development and moved his business from West End House on Strand to it in 1868. My family’s archives have all the correspondence and plans relating to this and the finished building provided Clapp’s with business premises and living facilities for the family above. The picture (credit: Menhenitt & Clapp family archives) shows the newly completed building in 1868.

Clapp’s traded there and the building was further improved by my great grandfather, Francis William Clapp during the 1920s and again in the 1950s. There was the addition of the first floor silver service restaurant which became “the place to be seen and have ones coffee and luncheon”. My grandfather Leslie John Clapp’s retirement in 1966 forced the closure of the business after 204 years, primarily because there was no one in the family able to succeed him, me being still at school. The building is much as it was and is Grade 2 listed with currently the front part being occupied by Palm and the rear part, which was the former offices, baking ovens and kitchens, being occupied by Franklins. The interior of the building still retains its original grand staircase leading to the restaurant where the fireplace still is.

Many people in the town still remember Clapp’s with great affection as some either worked there, visited for coffee etc or had their wedding receptions there on the second floor, in the two function rooms, the Green Room and the Orange Room. In the Hayloft at the museum there is a display of the history of Clapp’s with many photographs etc which will no doubt bring back many memories for some, just as it does for me and my family.

The development of Rolle Street continued apace over the next 40 years with such names as Jabez Bennetts the high class grocers and provisions, Crews & Sons, Aclands Supply Stores, Cole Bros fire places and kitchen ranges, Anderson Drapers, Creedy’s Shoes, Chown’s Outfitters, Toone Chemists, to name but only a few.

Further up almost opposite Holy Trinity Church was The Rolle Hotel and The Post Office, which did not originally occupy that building. It seems to have moved around a lot which included occupying what was later used as the General Post Office (GPO) Telephone Exchange. It finally moved in 1911 to the impressive building at the top end of Rolle Street. Postal deliveries were at 7.30 am and 2.25pm every day including Saturdays and on Sunday one had to put up with only one delivery! A far cry from today where the Post Office occupies part of W H Smith’s shop in The Magnolia Centre and there is only one delivery which happens at any time of day and there are none on Sundays! Such is progress!

 If you would like to know more please visit the museum’s website at www.exmouthmuseum.com or you can email mike at mike.menhenitt@btinternet.com