If ever there was an act of architectural desecration it was the demolition of Riddingtons, the bakers, confectioners and tea rooms (formerly the premises of William Barnard
) in High Street, Epsom to make way for a branch of the NatWest bank: this happened in about 1964.
Riddingtons Tea Rooms, Epsom High Street, 1900s.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.
You will note that the title of this article is in quotation marks and the reason is that George Riddington, the proprietor mentioned in the photograph, did not exist. Tracking down his identity has been labyrinthine, involving cold towels on the head and paracetamol. I can offer you any number of bakers and confectioners called Riddington in Lewisham, Staines and Croydon and several other places, plus a number of George Riddingtons in Leicestershire, but not a George Riddington, baker, of Surrey. Yet, he appeared in trade directories and, for example, in 1911 he was listed as having two separate shops in Sutton, two more in Wallington and others in Banstead and Epsom. In 1926 he owned premises in Dorking and there was a shop in Ashtead in 1934, listed under George Riddington & Sons, so he was a considerable local presence. However, I guarantee that if you explore every census from 1841 to 1911 you will not find a George Riddington who had any connection whatsoever with Surrey.
The explanation is that the man in question was actually George Hutchings from Dorset - or George Riddington Hutchings, to give him his full name, and he became a Surrey baking/tea room tycoon from fairly inauspicious beginnings (although he did not come from a poor background and inherited money from his father, who was a coach manufacturer). He was born in about 1858 in Fordington (part of Dorchester), son of John Stoakes Hutchings and Ann Riddington, and orphaned in childhood, with his mother dying in 1864 and his father the following year; he was then placed in the charge of an aunt, Elizabeth Stroud of Haywards Heath, Sussex. By 1871 he had been incarcerated in the District Orphan Asylum in Clapton, London, which is difficult to understand, as he had plenty of Riddington relatives who could have taken him in. In 1881 he was earning a living as assistant to a baker called Thomas Curtis Bird in Lewisham. Bird was born in Dorking, so we now have one Surrey connection.
Can we find a Riddington baking connection through George's mother, Ann, because it surely cannot be a coincidence that there were so many bakers of that quite unusual surname in the country during the 19th century? Yes, we can. Ann's father was Joseph Clarke Riddington, gentleman, of Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire (now in Berkshire), but originally from Leicestershire, and she had a baking brother called Stephen, who married Frances Bird. Frances was the sister of the Thomas Curtis Bird mentioned above. I think that all of the baking Riddingtons were probably related, but enough!
Now that we have identified our man we can track him from 1891 onwards, by which time he was married to Ruth Westover from Lewisham. At this point they were in Charlton, London with four children, who were Annie Maria Riddington (born 1884, married John Reese), Gladys Ruth (born 1886, married Sutton outfitter Percy Stanley Dugan, died 1948), Harold George R (1889) and Douglas John (1891), all born in Blackheath/Charlton, London. In the 1901 census we finally pin the man down in Surrey: he is in his shop at 34 High Street, Sutton and Ruth is in what is presumably their normal dwelling house, also in Sutton. There are by now two more children, Victor George (1895) and Doris Mary S (1897), but Harold had died in 1892. In the 1911 census they are all together at the other Sutton shop - Number 8, High Street. We can almost precisely date George's acquisition of the Epsom premises, since the previous owner, William Barnard, had died in 1898 and the business was continued for a time by his copious collection of nieces and nephews (his daughter 'Lissie' was probably the owner and was living there in 1901, but her cousin, Louisa Kitchen, seems to have been running the shop). They had vacated it by 1911 and most of them moved to Croydon. In the 1911 census Annie Hutchings and her Welsh baker husband, John Reese, were running 'Ye Olde House' in Epsom High Street.
Interior of the Epsom shop.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum
George eventually went to Guildford and died there at Crofts House Nursing Home, Epsom Road on 9 March 1930. His last address was the Merrow Lodge Hotel, Guildford. He was buried at St John the Evangelist, Merrow. Ruth died on 23 January 1934, by which time her residence was the Merrow Grange Hotel (probably the same place as the Lodge) and I am assuming that the Hutchings family owned it. Until 1928 it had been a private house. The company, Merrow Grange Hotel Ltd, was voluntarily wound up in 1946.
Douglas, a confectioner, married Evelyn M Blackmore in 1915 and died in 1942. Victor married Kathleen M Kemp in 1912 and probably died in 1946.
John and Annie Reese's son, Max Meredith Reese (1910-87), was a noted public school teacher, author and sports journalist. Another of his jobs was as a publisher's reader and it was he who spotted the potential of a writer called Colin Dexter, now famous for his Inspector Morse novels. He did have a short foray into the 'catering trade', when he gave up being a schoolmaster and took over the management of a country club in order to allow himself more time for writing.
So, not in a nutshell, you have the story of 'Riddingtons' which should really have been 'Hutchings' ... but that doesn't sound quite right, does it.
Linda Jackson © March 2012