Talk on ‘Okehampton of Yesteryear’, 7 December 2021

Members enjoyed a very informative zoom talk by Paul Rendell otherwise known as Dartmoor Paul.  Paul took us on a guided tour of the town using old postcards and photographs. Amongst some of the businesses was Gunn’s mineral water which was sold across Devon. Mr Gunn also sold coal and had a coal yard up Station Rd adjacent to the railway. One of the largest stores in town was Cecil Coles who sold everything including pianos.

With the advent of the railway in 1871 an arcade was built which became a very upmarket shopping centre.   It provided the most direct route from the town centre to Okehampton Station. It was built by local builder Henry Geen on the site of the old Savile House, which he bought for princely sum of £2,250. It featured Luggs the photographer and framer, Germans shoe shop selling Dartmoor shoes (I always knew them as Oke damp defiers!) as well as many other shops.

Sydney Simmons is probably the most well-known name in Okehampton. He was born in Okehampton but moved away , returned in 1851 when his father died. He became an apprentice at a draper’s shop and later went to London to work for a large carpet manufacturing company. He travelled to America and Canada and acquired the rights for a mechanical  process for carpet cleaning. He became a very wealthy man and often visited Okehampton and started to buy up land in Okehampton. In 1911 he acquired Okehampton Castle and the medieval deer park and spent time renovating the area and repointing the castle.  The land where Okehampton Golf course stands was given to the Club by Mr Simmons.

In around 1905, Sydney Simmons acquired the meadow and woods beside the East Okement River in order to stop any house building and paid for it to be landscaped as a park with ornamental fountains and waterfalls and a beautiful Swiss style chalet for the enjoyment of the people of  Okehampton. In 1906 he presented the park to the town and it was opened to the public on 8th July 1907 and named Simmons Park after the town’s generous benefactor. The opening was attended by The Lord Mayor of London.

In 1921 Okehampton Town Council acquired Kempley Meadows, which now form part of Simmons Park, and Sydney Simmons provided the funds to have the recreation grounds, including a bowling green, laid out with it being a condition that the work be done by the men of the town who were out of work.

Susie Hewitt


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