Long-gone Walton’s store in new book
PUBLISHED: 12:30 04 July 2015 | UPDATED: 09:55 07 July 2015
For more than 60 years, the iconic Walton’s department store was Exmouth’s answer to Grace Brothers in the sitcom Are you Being Served, complete with haberdashery and lingerie departments, menswear and ladieswear, a huge toy department and perfumery.
Today, the front entrance of the old shop, which closed in 1989 and then reopened as Thornton’s, stands empty. But in its heyday, it was the hub of the town’s shopping district.
It was opened in 1926 by George Walton Turner, a philanthropist.
He had opened an Exeter store in 1905. The Exmouth store stayed in the family until its closure in 1989.
George Walton was a generous man and a year earlier he had opened the Rest Haven Convalescent Home in Gussiford Lane for poorer people.
Walton’s is one of many shops that have come and gone in the town and is featured in a new book, Great Stories of Old Exmouth; The Lost Shops, by former Journal reporter Ian Dowell.
Ian said: “Many Exmouth people will remember Christmas Fairyland in Walton’s store, with its maze of tunnels and tableaux, snow-covered fairy folk and the latest from Dinky, Hornby and Meccano.”
From 1939, trade was difficult; with World War Two came rationing and utility furniture replaced the extravagant pre-war options.
However, Walton’s continued to support local causes during the war by fundraising and loaning flags and bunting for special events.
And then, on January 18, 1941, the shop was utterly destroyed.
In total, eight 5501b bombs were dropped in Exmouth.
Three bombs fell on the Cross and Chapel Street. Two hit what is now the Co-op in the Magnolia Centre.
A third demolished the site which is now the Post Office.
Ian said: “Walton’s escaped a direct hit from the bombs, but was burnt down when gas pipes ignited.
“The bombs had followed a line towards the gas works and it was thought that the gasometer was the target.”
Walton’s moved to a store, rented from Crews, further up Rolle Street until a new store was built on the blitzed site.
After the war, new innovations were introduced. A system of ‘stamps’ worth 1 shilling and 2s 6d could be earned and redeemed for goods. Christmas Fairyland continued through the post-war years, to the delight of the ‘baby boomer’ generation.
The store reopened on November 18, 1954, with manager Norman Denham handing the first 80 customers a free table cloth.
The store was run for many years by the founder’s great-grandson, Ian Walton Turner, and his wife, Judy.
Fierce competition from national chains led to Walton’s other store, in Exeter, closing in 1972.
The Exmouth store closed in 1989.
Its St Andrews Road carpet centre lasted until 1991.
The book is available in several Exmouth outlets, including Best Books, and the proceeds will go to Exmouth & Lympstone Hospiscare.
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