One of the things that attracted us to Exmoor House when we were looking round for an Exmoor bed and breakfast or guest house to buy: it has a very interesting history. You might think that Exmoor House, with its large picture window, looks a bit like a shop, and you’d be right: it was built as a tailor’s shop for Robert Melhuish, back in the early 1900s. Not just a shop, though: as well as the fitting and cutting rooms, and plenty of living space for the tailor, his family and staff such as apprentices, there was a village reading room attached.
The house, like much of the area around Wheddon Cross, was part of the Bouverie Estate, which was sold off in 1926. At that time the reading room was described as the ‘Village Club Room’ and there was also a skittle alley at the back of the building. Mr Melhuish paid £20 a year for the Exmoor House lease (‘a very low rent’ according to the sales particulars) and the village club committee paid a nominal rent of £1 a year.
Mr Melhuish specialised in making hunting gear, which would have been in big demand at that time, though we know that he did make other garments too (we’ve met somebody who had his wedding suit made here). Dunkery View, the house next door, was also a tailor’s shop and there was plenty of work for both businesses.
A neighbour tells us that Mr Melhuish sometimes used to ride his pony over to the Brendon Hill chapel (also known as the Beulah Chapel) near Ralegh’s Cross, to preach there. Another neighbour has memories of their grandfather cycling up the hill from Dunster, carrying a bolt of cloth on his back.
Exmoor House stopped being a tailor’s shop in 1945. For a while it was an ‘open all hours’ general store. Some people in the village remember the reading room being set up as a kind of Christmas grotto each year so that children could go there to choose their presents.
In the 1960s the house was split up into flats and bedsits, and we believe that it became a guest house in the late 1960s or early 1970s. An advertisement from the Exmoor Review of 1973 proclaimed that there were ‘three bathrooms with a continuous supply of hot water’. We have a few more bathrooms now! Intriguingly, though, some old photos taken when the house was still a tailor’s shop show ‘guest house’ signs on the wall. We think that the family probably rented out rooms to passing journeymen.
Nowadays we have people from all over the world staying in our lovely – and charmingly quirky - house to enjoy this beautiful part of Exmoor. The former shop is now the dining room for guests and the reading room is our guest sitting room. There are plenty of books and magazines in there - and no TV - so it’s still a good place to read. I wonder what Mr Melhuish would think if he came to visit?