Garton and King’s High Street Emporium

190 High St     190 High St
Views of Garton & King’s shop at 190 High Street are scarce, this one, taken in 1905, particularly hard to find. The purpose of this image was to record the widening of High Street by the demolition of buildings adjacent to St Petrock’s Church. However it also offers a sharp image of the Shop Front opposite, complete with the Coat of Arms which was not removed until 1907. (Reproduced by kind permission of Devon Archives & Local Studies) This earlier image was taken sometime in the early 1890s. The chemists Holman & Co. have just moved across the road; sometime before 1896 their old shop on the North Street corner (seen empty here by the lamp post) was replaced by the current brick-fronted building - just visible in the first photo.
190 High Street with the Royal Coat of Arms was only four shops up from the junction with North Street. Some idea of the shop layout is given below. (Click on the images to enlarge)

One event that occurred on 9th February 1856 that could have had had devastating effects not only on the High Street premises of Garton & Jarvis (as it was at the time) but also on the adjoining properties. Fortunately the premises survived until its ultimate closure in 1933, some 77 years later.

Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post recorded, on the 14th February 1856:-

TERRIFIC GAS EXPLOSION – On Saturday evening an explosion of gas occurred in the shop of Messrs. Garton & Jarvis, ironmongers etc. of this city. There is a large gas pipe under the floor in the shop and between the ceiling of the cellar, in which there was a leak. A man and a boy went down to examine it, and having found the leak they turned off the gas from the meter in the shop, and proceeded to the cellar with a lighted candle. A quantity of gas having in the meantime escaped, the candle coming in contact with it, a terrific explosion took place. The floor of the shop was violently lifted, stoves were displaced, and forty panes of glass in the inner window and three panes of plate glass in the shop window were smashed. A man, who was walking across the shop at the time of the explosion, was struck by a plank, which had been removed from the floor, and violently ejected into the street. The man in the cellar escaped uninjured, but the boy was slightly burnt in the face. The cause of this violent explosion is attributed to a concentration of gas between the ceiling of the cellar and the floor of the shop. If the leak had been neglected for a quarter of an hour longer the consequences would probably have been that much more serious.

So, extinguish all cigarettes and pipes and let me set the scene for your exploration of Garton & King’s High Street Emporium!

It’s late on a winter’s day and it’s getting dark. You’re back in the reign of Queen Victoria; you’re peering through the Shop Front of Garton & King the Ironmongers at 190 High Street in the city of Exeter.

All manner of goods are on display in the Shop windows, kitchen utensils, plated wares, wrought iron goods, paints, lacquers, cutlery & pans and trivetts - the list goes on. Its cold and wet outside and the shop looks bright, warm and inviting. You push against the polished brass door handle and immediately hear the jingle of the bell. The floor is wooden and and worn; there is a heady mix of smells, the smell of seeds, of turpentine, hessian and leather. The gas lights hiss and flicker and as you become accustomed to the light you notice that a variety of items are hung from the ceiling and goods are stacked at the end of the heavy wooden counters.

Take a step or two into the front shop and you’ll notice a central set of stairs to the upper Showroom Area and to the right a door leading to the Counting House. This is where the takings are counted; the accounts are raised and the books kept and made up. Moving further into the shop and you notice the back wall, to the left is a door signed ‘Machine Room’ - to the right of this is a door leading to an outside central passageway which takes you back into the bowels of the premises.

Plan of 190 High Street

Pass through the door and down the alleyway.To the left a small toilet marked ‘Customers Only’ and a door to the right leads into an extensive and packed room displaying all the different models of stoves and ranges - from the massive Exonian Range to the small and compact Cottage Stove.

A pace or two more down the corridor and on the left is the doorway to ‘The Spade Room’ here are all manner of forks, spades, rakes shovels and hoes, some with and some without their wooden handles which appear to come in an assortment of lengths styles and shapes.

Beyond this door are two more doors.The one to the right leads to an area full of a large variety of goods, some wrapped and labelled, others neatly packaged or in sacks. Looking in to the room on the left of the passage are benches with large reels of brown wrapping paper and sharp blades against which you tear off the required length for wrapping the multitude of small goods. There are coils of string, lengths of sacking and there is a a distinctive sort of sisally smell as well as the odour of sealing wax.

Beyond this on the left is the Paint Store - oil paints, tar paints, enamels, bottles of methylated spitits, casks of linseed oil and a whole host of tins, drums, barrels and kegs.

The last door on the right before the substantial door that leads to Waterbeer Street is the Nail Store - not just nails - screws, brads, carriage bolts, square bolts, round bolts, nuts, rivets, chains, machine screws - the list is endless - and this is just at ground level!

So take a trip back in time and scan through just a fraction of the sort of goods you could see and buy back during the 1860s, 70s and 80s - enter the premises of Garton & King ...

at the Sign of the Golden Hammer
The High Street Emporium and Foundry

Updated January 2021
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