yeovil people

Walter Wesley Sawtell

Grocer of High Street


Walter Wesley Sawtell was born on 13 December 1836 at St Lukes, Middlesex and baptised at the Wesleyan City Road chapel on 12 February 1837. He was the eldest of the nine children of Wesleyan Methodist grocer, tea dealer and cheesemonger Walter Sawtell (1801-1877), originally from Huish Episcopi, Somerset, and Sarah Marianne née Larkworthy (1816-1848). Walter Snr and Sarah's children were five sons; Walter, James Rio (1838-1887), Joseph (1839-1927), Ebenezer (b1841), Edward (b1842), followed by four daughters, Beda (b1843), Sarah Marian (1844-1893), Mary Jane (b1847) and Eliza Rio (1848-1924). Sarah died in 1848, probably in childbirth with Eliza, and in 1852 Walter Snr married Hannah Phillips (1817-1874). Walter and Hannah were to have two further children; Hannah Welch (1857-1916) and John Hartley (1860-1936).

In the 1841 census, five-year old Walter was living with the family of carpenter John Goad at Peckham Rye, Camberwell, Surrey. By the following 1851 census Walter's mother had died and he was living with his father and siblings, together with a housekeeper, domestic servant and a grocer's apprentice at 1 North Place, Islington, Middlesex. Both William Snr and 14-year old William Jnr gave their occupations as 'Grocer & Cheesemonger'.

Walter moved to Yeovil and in the 1861 census he was listed as a grocer's assistant in High Street, living with the family of chemist and grocer Thomas Maning.

In June 1870 33-year old Walter entered a business partnership with 22-year old James Wellington and they purchased the grocery business of H Lawrence at 18 High Street. In the 1871 census both Walter and James Wellington were recorded as partners living above their shop premises with a housekeeper and James' sister Susan recorded as a visitor. Sawtell & Wellington were listed as grocers of High Street in the 1875 edition of the Post Office Directory. Throughout the early 1870s the business won annual contracts to supply groceries to the Yeovil Poor Law Union Workhouse, however the partnership was dissolved in April 1877.

In the spring of 1878, Walter was married at Chard, to Mary née Gibbs (b 1851) originally from Crewkerne. They were to have five children; Walter Robert (1879-1957), James Ralph (b1880), John Wilfred (1881-1965), Sarah Marianne (1885-1938) and Frank Horace (1886-1967).

In the 1881 census 44-year old Walter, 30-year old Mary, their two sons Walter and James, together with Walter's niece, Kate Keene, a grocer's assistant and a grocer's apprentice, were all living above the High Street shop premises. Walter gave his occupation as a grocer and Wesleyan Methodist Local Preacher. He would have preached in the new Wesleyan Methodist church that had been built in Vicarage Street and opened on 30 March 1870.

It appears that Walter traded as a grocer on his own for a couple of years and Sawtell & Co was listed as grocers of High Street in the 1882 edition of Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser. However, it seems that this same year he entered a short-lived partnership with 33-year old grocer David Wightman of Peter Street. Sawtell & Wightman advertised in the same 1882 edition of Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser with a full-page advertisement. Nevertheless, the partnership of Sawtell & Wightman was dissolved in January 1885, after which Walter traded on his own.

He was listed in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser's editions of 1889 and 1895 as a grocer of 18 High Street, and in the 1891 edition of 'Where to Buy' (see below).


In the 1891 edition of 'Where to Buy' Walter Sawtell's business was given the following description -

Mr Walter W Sawtell
Central Supply Stores
18, High Street

During the past hundred years a great many changes have taken place in most towns, but it is difficult to point to any town or place where the improvement has been so marked as in the borough of Yeovil. The High Street and 'Borough' now present a smart modern appearance which can compare with that of any town of its size in the provinces; and among the establishments which attract attention on account of their handsome exterior and well-arranged show rooms is that of Mr Walter W Sawtell, family grocer, etc., of 18, High Street.

This business has been in existence for nearly a century, and still maintains a leading position and a high reputation, and the present proprietor has been connected with it for the past twenty-one years. The premises are large and commodious, the fittings throughout of a superior character, and the entire arrangements in accordance with the requirements of the trade. The stock includes choice blends of Indian, China, and Ceylon teas, coffees, spices, tinned meats, preserves, potted fish, cheese (both English and foreign), in fact, every description of modern groceries and provisions of a superior class, and at extremely moderate prices.

Mr Sawtell does a large family trade in ales and stout, of which he always keeps an extensive selection by well-known brewers, including Bass, Allsopp, and Worthington, Burton on Trent; Guinness, Dublin; and Whitbread and Co., London; he is also agent for Messrs. W & A Gilbey's wines and spirits, and Rogers' 'A.K.' ale.

Mr Sawtell's system of business will compare favourably with any other house in the trade, and on every ground we can unhesitatingly recommend 18, High Street, to the notice of the Yeovil public, or rather to those of them who have not yet availed themselves of the advantages it offers.


In the 1891 census Walter and Mary, together with four of their children, Walter's niece who acted as his book-keeper and a domestic servant were all listed living above Walter's grocery shop at 18 High Street (facing the Borough). Walter gave his occupation as 'Grocer (Master)', while the four children; James, John, Sarah and Frank were all listed as scholars.

By the time of the 1901 census Walter had moved his family and were now living in 26 Kingston, close to Fiveways. He had also given up his shop and was now working as an accountant at a glove factory. His son, 19-year-old John, was working as an ironmonger's assistant and was actually working for James Bazeley Petter at his ironmongery shop in the Borough.

Walter Wesley Sawtell died in Yeovil on 17 March 1908, aged 71. After his death, Mary and her daughter Marianne moved to Trowbridge, Wiltshire.




The record of Walter's baptism, from the Register of the City Road Chapel (Wesleyan), City Road, London.


The notice placed in the 1 July 1870 edition of the Western Gazette, informing the public that Sawtell & Wellington had purchased the grocery business of H Lawrence.


The notice placed in the 7 April 1877 edition of the Salisbury and Winchester Journal announcing the partnership of Sawtell and Wellington was dissolved.


A full-page advertisement for Sawtell & Wightman placed in the 1882 edition of Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser.


From my collection

The Wesleyan Methodist church, built in 1870. Walter was noted as a Wesleyan Methodist Local Preacher in the 1881 census.


Walter's advertisement placed in the 1892 edition of Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser.


From my collection

This postcard dates to about 1903 (and was used in many forms for the following twenty years). The shop to the left of the tree was the grocery shop of Walter Sawtell.

The other side of the tree was James Bazeley Petter's ironmongery where Walter's son, John, would work. That business was eventually formed into a company under the name of Hill and Sawtell Ltd, in which the Petter family held the principal interest. Harry Hill and John Sawtell had both been associated with the business for some years and Percy Petter remained a director of the company until the 1950's.


From my collection

An enlargement from the previous photograph of Walter Sawtell's 'Central Supply Stores'. It was demolished in the very early 1920s, being replaced by Frederick Taylor's department store on the corner of the newly-built King George Street.