DELLER’S OF BEDFORD STREET
Talk by Ed Williams-Hawkes
Wednesday, 11 October 2017 at Jurys Inn
Our speaker, Ed Williams-Hawkes, introduced his talk by explaining that he had only recently discovered an extensive collection of family documents. Today only people over 90 years of age will have known the Deller's Cafe, as it was burned down by an incendiary bomb during the Blitz.
Edwin Deller, who was a glazier-cum-grocer, died 15 years before the first ever Deller’s Cafe opened. The man driving the Deller’s business was William Lambshead, who was married to Edwin Deller’s daughter, Elizabeth.. He was the son of the Methodist Minister at Ipplepen and his mother Mary was from the Palk family, the very wealthy landowners who were spreading their largesse developing Torquay and Paignton. Elizabeth Deller was the only surviving local member of the Deller family.
Ed believes that the Palk family contributed generously to the expansion of Lambshead’s business. That included the opening of their first Dellers Café in 1906. It was on the site of the old Exeter Bank premises in Cathedral Yard (latterly the Michael Caines Cafe, destroyed by fire last year) and alongside the Royal Clarence Hotel.
In 1911, Deller’s opened a café in Paignton. Constructed with Dutch and Swedish bricks, the design was, along with all the other Deller’s Cafes (with the exception of Exeter High Street branch), by local architect Henry Hems. By 1914 the Deller’s company also owned the Broadmead Hotel which was demolished to become the new Paignton Picture House. It opened with “Tilley’s last Romance’. The company also purchased part of the Singer estate and created the Palace Hotel.
In 1916 a much larger new Deller’s Cafe premises was built in Exeter’s Bedford Street next to Lloyds Bank, on the site of the Half Moon Hotel. We were shown plan 1A of the proposals for four floors of Dellers. When the café was completed, the lower floor had a bandstand and a grand staircase leading up to the next floor. There were also four lifts. This floor (see left) was surrounded by alcoves with green curtains screening the occupants having private meals! Dinner was served through the curtains by a white- gloved hand - total security assured! The upper floor was simply laid out with scattered tables.
Ed then showed us an early photo taken outside Deller’s Café showing his Grandmother and Grandfather standing on the entrance steps.
This was the period of Art Nouveau and a time of plenty in the city. Deller’s was part of that and their creativity and strong financial situation enabled them to organise magnificent events and dress their staff superbly, even for just a one-night show on New Year’s Eve.
We also saw a plethora of advertisements & menus for various New Year festivities. Samples of advertisements of the time included a 1922/3 “New Years Eve Special Fan Night”, with the menu printed on fans (right).
A “Crazy Night” poster for January 2nd showed Dellers’ waitresses all dressed as Sandwich-board Men.
In 1923 the poster “Dellerland”, a spoof on the Express & Echo in 1950” (below), was an obvious forward look!
Agatha Christie was known to visit Deller’s and in her book “The Sittaford Mystery” she actually had protagonists taking tea at Deller’s. A further twist is that when she disappeared in 1932 she was discovered at a spa in Harrogate, where two generations of the Williams-Hawkes family had worked before going to Deller’s.
Despite many locals’ forecasts Deller’s was successful. The Lambshead strategy of success was all encompassing even making their own postcards and producing Deller’s Cycling Maps for their customers. This was a time of plenty in the city and Deller’s was part of that. Weddings were celebrated here, with menus outlined with bell shapes!
After further expanding over Lloyd’s Bank in 1923 Deller’s could serve 500 covers on each floor. They also did outside catering. There are records of catering for a wedding with 900 meals in Topsham and 1200 for the Exeter Gas Company. That event required 6,040 pieces of cutlery, 5,000+ pieces of china, 67 waitresses and 40 cooks. 96% of the food was British and all the meat and chicken Devon-reared.
Due to licensing monopoly laws Deller’s was never licensed for alcohol, but it seems they got around this by bringing in drinks from the pub next door which had a counter solely for Deller’s trade!
Ed then brought his talk to an end by showing an analysis of profits made by the three cafes in Exeter, Taunton and Paignton over a three-year period of 1928/31. Consecutively all the Cafes’ ‘takings decreased year on year, including the Bedford Street Cafe Exeter, but here in Exeter their profit actually rose 40%, showing that careful management and detailed control of the business was a major factor in its success. Only the roof fire caused by a German incendiary spreading from Bobby’s Store, next door brought it to a premature end.
One particularly sad event brought the talk to a close. A Land Girl from Cornwall wrote that was so pleased to be evacuated to Exeter to work, as she had always dreamed of visiting the legendary Deller’s Cafe. The Exeter family where she was billeted booked a table but alas, it burned down before the afternoon tea reservation a few days later. Years later her granddaughter’s wedding was the first ever function booked at the Williams-Hawkes’ current business, the Salutation Inn in Topsham, but she sadly passed away shortly before that opened.
Ed invited us to search the internet on http://www.dellerscafeexeter.c